I’ve been to a few tasty games in my life. Those where you wake up the next morning with cordite still wafting around your nose, a persistent ringing in your ears from the screams and chants, and if you are really lucky wearing nothing but a strange football scarf (hats off to Mr Danny Last for the last one). Whilst we may claim to have the “Best League in the World” (©Sky Sports) we are woefully bad at generating a real atmosphere at a game. Occasionally we get a game that may have some passionate followings, but we are so scared of the thought of two sets of fans in the same postcode at the same time that we are now experts at the “Bubble Games” – where away fans are bused in and out of a city/town/village/out-of-town shopping centre irrespective how they want to get to the game. All in the name of safety the authorities will have us believe.
Probably the best atmosphere I had experienced was at a Milan derby in the days when Inter were crap. So crap that they lost 6-0 in this particular game. I had a seat, well bit of plastic bolted to the concrete in the top tier. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, the top tier in the San Siro is a long way up. You can either walk up approximately 200 steps, or take the long winding slope around the edge of the turrets you see on the edge of the stadium. I chose the latter, taking around 7 minutes to get to the top. Just as I stopped for oxygen there was a huge roar – 1-0. I rushed into the stadium to be met with a cloud of smoke. I was above the tifosi and their flares had created an immovable blanket. After a few minutes it cleared enough for me to see that Milan had taken the lead, only for them to score again, and thus another five minutes of watching nothing but my neighbour chewing his nails.
And the relevance for this trip down memory lane? Well here I was sitting in the Swedbank Stadion in Malmo watching two sets of fans putting on quite a show of support for their team. Two questions at this point – when (and where) do they have the time to practice their “moves” and two, how do they get these massive flags made and transported. I mean the Helsingborgs offering stretched the length of the whole stand – about 30metres.
Football in Sweden as you will know from reading our fantastic sister blog, called Football in Sweden is normally quite sedate and a raised voice can sometimes lead to ejection from the ground. And away support isn’t always made in great numbers (our lone IP Bromma fan for instance at Helsingborgs earlier this season) but there are a few games that really tick all of the boxes for a passionate affair. Two such “rivals” are Malmö FF and Helsingborgs IF, separated by 40 miles of west coast highway in Skåne. Normally these affairs are loud and noisy, but throw into the equation that after 22 games the two teams were locked together at the top of the table – something that has not happened for quite a few years. In fact it is six years since Malmö last won the league, and over ten for Helsingborgs so the meeting of these two great rivals was seen simply as the biggest game of the season.
I love a trip over the Oresund to this part of Sweden, and since Malmö moved into their 24,000 seater Swedbank Stadion two years ago I have been a regular visitor, thanks to Patrik Jandelin, the Press Officer for the club who is a big fan of our work and is on our Christmas card list. So a pass for this one was never going to be turned down, and as luck would have it I was in town for work (now that is a surprise!).
The festivities in the stadium started some ten minutes before the teams emerged with the Helsingborgs fans pulling their huge flag across the away end. Impressive. Malmö, as you would expect from the home fans, pulled out all of the steps. Every man, woman and child in the away end had been given a flag and the simultaneous waving created an impressive blue and white carpet that rippled with excitement. Then from the top of the stand their huge flag slowly rolled down, engulfing them all whilst the clubs anthem blared out of the sound system. The flag showed the stars of the Malmö team from 1979 – the team that won the Swedish star for their amazing run in getting to the European Cup Final where they narrowly lost to Nottingham Forest – respect where respect is due. Painting a good picture yet?
Then from underneath the banner came the flares, lighting up the whole show. Not to be outdone the Helsingborgs fans unleashed their firecrackers, making the whole stadium sound like a war zone. In the theme of OptaJo…Special.
Malmö FF 2 Helsingborgs IF 0 – The Swedbank Stadion – Wednesday 15th September 2010
Both teams gave 100% from the first whistle and the referee had to have eyes in the back of his head, or at least once in a while look up at the big screens to see what he missed off the ball (such as Helsingborgs Mattias Lindström deliberately running at a MFF player and giving him a kick whilst the ball was nowhere near).
Despite some near misses it took until the 17th minute for the first shot on goal, and that produced the opening score as Dardan Rexhepi smashed the ball home after the Helsingborgs team had failed to clear and then gave him too much space.
Both teams had good shouts for penalties turned down in the opening period as passions ran high on and off the pitch. It is still strange to see in Swedish football the sight of goal highlights from the other games being played at the same time being shown on the big screens during the game. And interviewing players from both teams on the pitch as the teams go off at half time. Strange. Very strange.
The second half started much as the first had ended with both teams attacking each other with pace and just a slight hint of aggression. The game ebbed and flowed with both keepers put under threat, but without actually having to make a save.
With four and a half minutes of the three (yes you read that right) played, Malmö went on one last attack and the ball was played out to Wilton Figueiredo who jinked inside before unleashing a powerful shot into the roof of the net to seal the game for the home side.
The final whistle was treated by the home fans like a cup final win, but with still half a dozen or so games left it could be a bit premature. Bragging rights for now would be with the light blues. The official crowd of 23,743, a record for the stadium certainly got their monies worth (bear in mind the average price for a ticket for this game was less than £20).
And for me? I had the usual Swedish transport experience on the way home – the one that makes our railways and Easyjet look competent that essentially involved sitting on trains that were due to go that didn’t, moving to other trains and then watching the original train depart and then finding out the train you are on has been cancelled and is now heading Stockholm. A normal experience in Sweden really. Five games in six days (plus last night’s marathon Champions League session in the pub in Copenhagen – marathon in terms of bank balance) has left me with a bit of football fatigue? Could I get my mojo back in time for the Lewes 125th Birthday on Saturday? Well only time will tell!
More pictures (and video now we have learnt how to press the right buttons) can be found from our Flickr stream here.