A poor man’s Andy Carroll? I don’t think so


Just two weeks ago the lights dimmed and a lone voice welcomed over 45,000 people to the opening of Europe’s 2nd largest indoor arena (Schalke’s Veltins Arena is classed as the biggest). The 2.8 billion Swedish Kroner Friends Arena had finally arrived, years after talking, debating and finally construction in Solna, just north of the city centre in Stockholm. The opening event featured the best of Swedish music including appearances by Björn and Benny themselves (the BB in ABBA silly) as well as Roxette. Alas, other classic Swedish music acts such as Ace of Base, The Cardigans and Europe were missing from the line up.

But the Arena wasn’t just built just for Swedish House Mafia concerts. It will primarily be a football stadium, home of AIK and the national team. So it was only fitting that the opening game to be played here should be against a team who have a passionate away following, who could generate some real noise and atmosphere. Unfortunately, Denmark had a previous engagement with Turkey so England agreed to step in. The good news was that I was already due to be in the city for work purposes; the bad news was that it was likely the ban on the England band from Poland wouldn’t be in force for this game. Continue reading

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The start of the gravy train for another season


“Ce sont les meilleures équipes
Sie sind die allerbesten Mannschaften
The main event!”

Of course we all recognise the above three lines as the opening verse of the Champions League anthem.  The music that stirs our loins for a night of the “best football in the world” ©UEFA and seduces us into thinking that we are the privaliged few in being able to watch the superstars.  For those trivia buffs amongst you you may want to know that the song was commissioned by UEFA in 1992 and was aired on the night of the first ever round of games in the tournament in August 1992.  In fact for you real real trivia buffs you may want to know that it was first played on the 19 August in the Ta’Qali stadium in Malta when the teams from Valletta and Maccabi Tel Aviv took to the field.

It was written by English composer Tony Britten and he adapted George Frideric Handel’s “Zadok the Priest” from the Coronation Anthems, and the piece was performed by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

On the eighth day of Christmas…the best atmosphere


On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, an atmosphere so red-hot it will make you wee.

The best atmosphere we have seen in 2010 is quite a difficult one to judge as in many games there are times when the atmosphere is cranked up to 11 due to a goal, a controversial incident or simply hatred against an opposition player, team or set of fans.  It is also related to the number of fans in the ground.  So a ground of 50 vocal fans in a crowd of a few hundred will generate a fair amount of noise.  But for us, the three teams below generate an impressive noise, show and support wherever they go, home or away.

Malmö FF- For the past few years things haven’t been too rosy for Malmö FF.  They had seen their dominance from the late 1980’s under Roy Hodgson disappear, unable to compete with the new challengers like Kalmar and Elfsborg.  Crowds at the old Malmö stadion started declining and the outlook was bleak.  But then things changed.  A new ground was built behind the old stadium and Roland Nilsson took over team affairs and since they haven’t looked back.  This season saw The Blues snatch the title from bitter rivals Helsingborgs in front of packed crowds at the Swedbank Stadion.  And do they love a show?  Oh yes.  Noise, colour and inventive fan behaviours.  Every game is a different show and you will be a fool to miss it.  Get there or be square!

FC United of Manchester – “Bring on United”…repeat to fade.  I guarantee that days after visiting Gigg Lane, Bury to watch FCUM you will still be singing that little line such is the noise, passion and commitment the home fans sing the song from five minutes before the kick off.  What FCUM have built is special.  A community borne out of frustration, to quote James, who have a common vision and goal.  And the fans respond with noise the like that Gigg Lane has not seen since Gracie Fields launched her new album there.  Flags decorate every spare section of the ground to show the passion and the songs carry on for the whole 90 minutes.  Just imagine when (and not if) the crowds are five times the size.  Deafening!

Brondby IF – On the field Brondby have seen any chance of getting the better over bitter rivals FCK disappear into the ether.  Their dominance of the domestic game is growing season upon season, and their run to the second stages of the Champions League will only see them get richer at the expense of the league.  However, one area where they do have the edge is the passion created off the field.  Go to any game at Brondby stadium and take a place on the Faxe Tribune and you will literally feel the stand shaking underneath your feet.  Follow them across down to Parken for the Copenhagen derby and you will see real atmosphere.

We’re gonna party like it’s 1989


Right straight to the point.  We love Malmö FF.  We love their new stadium (we actually loved their iconic old stadium which still sits next door to the new Swedbank Stadion), we love the pale blue shirts, we love their passionate fans and we love their press office who on asking for accreditation this week told us that:-

“Of course…We appreciate all of the interest around the club at the moment, but when it comes from the home of football it warms the heart a little extra.”

They had me on “of course”.  But this season has been special for Di blåe.  With just four games to go they went into round 27 with a 3 point lead over local rivals (and also a top club by the way) Helsingborgs IF thanks to the passionate win last month.  With both teams kicking off at 7pm on Monday night, the right result could almost put the Allsvenskan on a bus down to Malmö from Stockholm where AIK had been hiding it in a cupboard.  Helsingborgs were away to recent champions IF Elfsborg whilst Malmö were hosting Kalmar FF, themselves Allsvenskan Champions in 2008. Continue reading

And now for some proper atmosphere


Last week we were lucky enough to be at the Malmö FF v Helsingborgs IF game and we waxed lyrical about the unbelievable atmosphere.  Well don’t just take our word for it – watch the video below – hairs standing up on back of the next time!

And people wonder what’s wrong with the Premier League eh!

Skane and Abel


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. Continue reading