Playing away from home

I have a few mistresses in my life. Those loves that you try and keep secret, but almost like a drug you are drawn back time and time again. And damn they are expensive. I can see a few of you reading this nodding along sagely. We know it is wrong. We know that we are being unfaithful, breaking one of those seven deadly sins but on the other hand we only get one life and I am a firm believer in a “no regrets” policy.

Before everyone who knows we starts getting out the voodoo dolls and inviting CMF to various councilling sessions I am of course taking about football. What else would I be talking about on a website called The Ball is Round (well apart from cricket, baseball, handball and even the odd darts game). As every TRUE fan knows, you are married to our team, through thick and thin. For richer and poorer, until death do you part. Unfortunately I am stuck with a partner who appears to be living in a poor episode of Eastenders. Farce is high on the agenda these days at Upton Park and you couldn’t ask a team of Hollywood screenwriters of the calibre of Patrick Marber to make up some of the stories they seem to involve themselves in.

So a few years ago I started “playing the field”. I met a fine club in Lewes and am proud to have her as my second team in a world where it is still technically acceptable to have a favourite Non League Team. After all, with the momentum behind such initiatives as Non League Day and Non League Notes, everyone should have a little fling in the grass roots. During my frequent travels I came across one or two clubs who offered the “continental option”. “You don’t see many of those down in E14” I would often say, aghast at some of the things they would offer me in terms of experience. But one club has me coming back time and time again for more.

Confession time then….I am in love with Malmo FF. Ever since I saw them play Nottingham Forest in the 1979 European Cup final and stared in awe at the “ö” in their name and those pastel blue shirts I had a very soft spot for them. I loved them when they were winning the league every season under “Woy” Hodgson, yet back home nobody had heard of him. With my move out to Scandinavia I was at last within touching distance of my affections.

I saw them for the first time at the iconic Malmö Stadion, one of the architectural masterpieces built for the 1958 World Cup. Yes it was crap to watch a game in, but it looked pretty. Many things in Sweden are great to experience at but don’t have much substance – the beer for instance which is watered down just in case the locals get too excited. Björn Borg pants are another, but let’s not go there on a Sunday afternoon.

In 2009 they moved into a brand new stadium, the Swedebank Stadion literally behind their old one. It was built with the fans in mind with a big terrace behind one goal and two tiers of seats forming the rest of the stadium. No grand ambitions with the capacity, with 21,000 seats being perfect for the club.

Last season, after a six year gap, they won the Allsvenskan, the Swedish championship, playing some scintiliating football in the process. I was lucky enough to see them almost win the title at home to Helsingborgs, their greatest rival both for the title but also in terms of a local derby, before almost handing it back to them with a dreadful nervy performance against Kalmar. On both occasions the stadium literally bounced with atmosphere. The one thing that can never be levelled at the fans is that they lacked passion.

This season I had taken them for granted. Not returning their calls, ignoring important events and dare I say not even reading the emails when they came. But like an addiction to all bad things I was craving my fix. And when I sent an email on the off chance of a last minute press pass I was staggered by my reply from the club.

“Of course you are welcome. We have missed you”.

Four words that just melted my heart. How could I resist. I kissed goodbye to CMF and the Little Fullers at Kastrup airport and under the pretence of going back to work I changed platforms and carried on my journey under/above the Øresund to Malmö. Ten minutes after getting off at the new Trianglen station I was picking up my pass with a big smile from the familiar faces on the media desk. Just how long we would all be smiling was another matter.

The whole of Copenhagen had been shook to its foundations on Saturday night by a huge thunderstorm. We are talking biblical in its vericity and more rain fell in a two hour period than Denmark had seen in the past thirty years. Pity those people who were in a field at the Roskilde festival. No, really, there is nothing funny about being stuck in a tent during the worst rain in over a quarter of a century…..

And it appeared the storms were coming back. After another very hot day the clouds started gathering overhead. CMF’s flight back to London was delayed due to a very localised storm over Copenhagen (Thanks to Easyjet she was eventually delayed 3 hours, with no food or drink or even seats.  But what do you expect?).  I felt guilty about her pain, but I was being distracted. For in front of me the sky blues were turning on the style.

Sunday 3rd July 2011 – Malmö FF 2 Norrköping IF 1 – Malmö Stadion

It took just 90 seconds for the team to give me the perfect welcome back present. The usual stirring anthem had ended with a huge cheer, and with that still ringing in my ears Jimmy Durmaz tip toed through the Norrköping defence before curling the ball into the top corner. Bosh – take that and party.

Goals have been a bit of an issue this season for Malmö. It is fair to say that if they had a player in form up front they would not find themselves in 8th place with over a third of the season gone. They had scored just 14 from 14 games, a far cry from last season’s title winning performance. Time moves on, as too did last season’s manager Roland Neilson who had hopped on a Øresundstag train to Copenhagen to manage FCK. New boss Rikard Norling hadn’t yet endeared himself to the Malmö faithful and with their first Champions League campaign due to start in just a few weeks time it was important that their form started to return.

The visitors should have equalised and even taken the lead as Khalili headed wide, obviously taking too much inspiration from his Christmas present of Carlton Cole’s greatest headers, whilst Ajdarevic smashed a shot against the inside of a post whilst the keeper Melicharek could only look on. It was only at this point I noticed he was actually wearing a Spurs home kit. Absolutely identical to their home kit from last season bar the sponsors logo. Perhaps Spurs could try and take them to court…no stop it Stuart, don’t go down that road.

One became two on the stroke of half time when top scorer Larsson was set free, drew the keeper before curling the ball into the top corner. Foreplay, mere foreplay I hoped for what was to come.

The second half was much of the same. Malmö tried to get the ball wide as much as possible, using the pace of Larsson, whilst the away side obviously fancied their chances from distance against the Gomes-a-like in the Malmö goal.

The saying “the calm before the storm” was so evident here. On seventy five minutes with the sun still shining brightly on half of the ground a deathly hush fell over the stadium as Norrköping attacked. The clouds had filled the sky overhead, the wind picked up and then the rain started. Norrköping saw this as a sign of divine intervention and took advantage of the home side’s nervous looks to the heavens to pull a goal back when Khalili headed home a free kick unmarked.

It is amazing how easy you slip back into the old ways, and as I sat at the press conference afterwards awaiting Rikard Norling’s words I was amazed how many familiar faces I saw. I couldn’t feel more at home than if I had a pair of slippers on and I was sucking on a Skippers Pipe (before anyone jumps to any rude conclusions it is a licorice pipe which is very popular in Denmark). Sure Malmö had huffed and puffed to a win, and I am sure they will need to up their game to make progress in retaining their title as well as reaching the land of milk and honey in the Champions League, but for one night let’s forget all about the world outside and just bask in each other’s company.

More pictures can be found in our Flickr feed here.

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