AIKy breaky heart

Sweden's number one

Another day, another country.  Today’s 4am start took me across the Oresund and back to Stockholm, just a week after I was last here.  And as luck would have it AIK Solna, arguably Swedens biggest team were at home. Well they are now…

Swedish football is an enigma to me.  Every year a new team tends to dominate – if you look at the Allsvenskan winners in the past few years you can see a pattern emerge:-

2009 – AIK
2008 – Kalmar
2007 – IFK Göteborg
2006 – Elfsborg
2005 – Djurgården
2004 – IF Malmo

The treble winners in 2009...2010??

Every season the team that seems to do well is the one that has the most home grown players.  With Sweden playing March to October they essentially only have the August transfer window to make their changes, by which time the league is often all but over.  So clubs develop their squads, do well and win the league and then sell off all of their best talent.  Of course for the champions this means that by the time the Champions League campaign starts the following July, all of their decent talent has gone and more often than not their campaign is over quicker than they realise.  And this season was so far no different.  After such a stella campaign last season, AIK came into this game 2nd to bottom with just two points, and one goal from their five games.

2009 – Kalmar – eliminated at 2nd qualifying round
2008 – IFK Göteborg – eliminated at 2nd stage of qualifying
2007 – Elfsborg – eliminated at 3rd stage of qualifying
2006 – Djurgården – eliminated at 2nd stage of qualifying
2005 – IF Malmo – eliminated at 3rd stage of qualifying

So next July when qualifying starts again AIK Solna will hopefully get to the “promised lands” of the Group Stages, something no Swedish team has done since 2000/01 when IF Helsingborgs reached that stage.  In the same period of time, look at Norway with Rosenborg and you can see what a disappointment it has been for the Swedes to fail to see their teams progress.

So back to Stockholm on this sunny Tuesday.  Allmänna Idrottsklubben, or “The General Sports Club” are the biggest club in Sweden.  How can I quantify this?  Well they are the current Allsvenskan Champions, the Swedish Cup winners and Swedish Super Cup holders.  And to make matters better, they beat bitter rivals IFK Göteborg in the final of all three.

The old 2 balls on the field trick

Whilst the league is not a “winner takes all” game but played over seven months, but last season’s Allsvenskan actually came down by random luck to the last game of the season when 2nd placed IFK hosted league leaders AIK.  One point separated the two teams and when IFK took the lead in the first half it seemed the title was going back to Göteborg.  But it was left to AIK’s captain Daniel Tjernstrom to net the winner and bring the trophy home to Solna for the first time in eleven years.

The last few years have been disappointing for AIK. A gap of ten years without a major honour has been hard to bare for the loyal fans.  In that last title winning season they had also made it as far as the Champions League group stages, playing Barcelona, Fiorentina and Arsenal in their season of misery when they played their European games at Wembley.

The club have been the best supported in Sweden for many years, taking advantage in some ways of playing at the Råsunda, the 36,600 capacity national stadium.  Their fans are notorious across the whole of Scandinavia, both in terms of their vorocious support but also in terms of their organised displays at home games.  Groups such as the  AIK Tifo, Black Army, Ultra Nord and Sol Invictus are well known across all Scandinavia and try to promote the club in a positive light.

Unfortunately that has not always been possible, and a chat over lunch with two Swedish football fans filled me in on some of the more recent stories about the antics of fans at the top teams.  I myself saw a strange incident at the Helsingborgs v IFK cup game last season and how the police seemed to set a trap, or “honey pot” as I prefer to use, for the home fans (you can read all about it here).  Most of the issues have occurred in games between the three clubs from the city, which have a diverse range of supporters.  For the visit tonight of Halmstad from the west coast I hadn’t come expecting to see fireworks off the pitch.

Where has everyone gone?

After tearing myself away from the Ice Bar at the Nordic Sea hotel where I was staying it was a short ride on the T-bana to the ground.  I was surprised at how few fans were on the train, especially as it was such a good nice – perhaps the lure of Arsenal v Spurs, or dare I say Lewes v St Albans on TV was more important to them.  The station was built with the stadium in mind (take note Wembley!) and you are signposted clearly to where your entrance is so just a few minutes after alighting the train you are in the stadium.

AIK Solna 0 Halmstads 1 – Rasunda Stadium – Wednesday 14th April

Two home games, 1 point, no goals scored – the unenvious record of AIK coming into this game.  On a lovely spring evening all but the hardcore fans had stayed away for this one and it took a rousing rendition of the clubs anthem to generate any atmosphere in the ground.  It was a pity that the team wasn’t on the field at the time as their offering in the first half was poor to say the least.

They lined up with just one player who had actually found the net this season, and he was a centre back (Walid Atta) and it was the visitors who made the early running, spurred on by their following of 46 (that was how dull it was for a while that I had an opportunity to count them!).  The home fans kept up a continuous display of passion but it simply did not filter through to the players.

The first chance came to the visitors in the 11th minute when the Lewis Hamilton look-a-like (the racing driver, not the Lewes FC full back) was tripped as he accelerated dangerously into the penalty area but the free kick from a perfect position deflected away for a corner.  Ten minutes later Alexander Prent’s shot from the edge of the box was well tipped over by AIK’s keeper Tommy Maanoja.  From the resulting corner Emir Kujovic was presented with a great chance but he hit his shot straight at Maanoja.  Then Kujovic again came close when his shot from distance was fumbled by the Finnish keeper but the ball trickled the right side of the post for AIK.

The dirtiest player in Sweden - FACT

In the 37th minute the home team had a chance at last.  Martin Kayongo-Mutumba (don’t fancy paying for a replica shirt with his name on) found some space on the edge of the box and curled a shot towards the top corner but Johnsson in the Halmstads goal did well to tip it over.  One player that did catch my eye for the home team was Kenny Pavey – hardly a Swedish sounding name, and a quick t’internet check revealed he is a Londoner who started his career at Millwall before a spell at Ryman’s League Sittingbourne.  Last season he was actually voted “Sweden’s Dirtiest Player” by his fellow professionals – the first Englishman ever to win the award!

And it was Pavey who created the first chance of the second half as his run into the box and low cross just eluded the two in rushing AIK forwards. On 64 minutes AIK midfielder Sebastian Eguren found himself in acres of space in the Halmstads area. It was too good to be true surely – and it was with the linesman flagging for offside. Eguren put the ball into the net just to remind the crowd what it was like to score a goal (there is a song in there somewhere) and got a yellow card for his troubles.

AIK threw men forward and in truth should have scored at least one if not more from one of the headers that fell to the forwards.  As the game wore on so did the desperation and with just a few seconds left of normal time Halmstads took the lead with a shot from distance from Jonas Gudni Saevarsson that seemed to take a deflection on its way into the back of the AIK net.  Despite there still being four minutes of injury time to go, AIK knew they were beaten.  Their heads went down and the body language said it all.  This was a team who last season dominated Swedish football – tonight they sat in the relegation zone with just two points and one goal from six games.

Facing the music and dancing

I wandered down to the press conference afterwards to listen to the Halmstads manager, Lasse Jacobsson say he was “over the moon” with the result but despite the team climbing up to sixth but he was still “taking each day as it came”.  Or that is what his body language said he was saying anyway!  AIK’s coach meanwhile could hardly look anyone in the eye and talked about regrouping and moving on, but you could see the fight had been knocked out of him.

So that was that – an overall disappointing experience – I had expected more fans to be behind the team at the stadium.  Those who were there cheered the team passionately but they were restricted to the few thousand Tifosi in the north stand.  I do not think there is any long term danger of relegation for AIK, especially as the season stops for 6 weeks for the World Cup and will give AIK a chance to regroup and re-assess the squad before the August transfer window opens.  Quite why the Swedish league has to shut down is a mystery to me – after all its not as if many players are going out to South Africa is it!

More photos from the game can be seen on our Flikr page here.

About the Rasunda
The Råsunda Stadium is the Swedish national football stadium. It is located in Solna Municipality in Metropolitan Stockholm. It was opened in 1937 and has a capacity of 35,000–36,608 depending on usage. The stadium is the home stadium for AIK, and is used for many derbies between Stockholm clubs. It also hosts the headquarters of the Swedish Football Association, and stages 75% of the home matches of the national football team each year, with most other matches being played at Ullevi in Gothenburg. These two stadiums are UEFA 4-star rated football stadiums.  The record attendance is 52,943 and was set 26 September 1965, when Sweden played West Germany.

Råsunda is one of two stadiums in the world to have hosted the World Cup finals for both men and women. It hosted the men’s final in the 1958 World Cup and the women’s final in the 1995 Women’s World Cup. The other stadium with this honor is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, USA (men in 1994 World Cup, women in 1999 Women’s World Cup).

The stadium is a mixture of styles with one stand behind the goal dominating proceedings.  Think the old stand at Goodison Park and with three tiers and supports down the middle and put them at each end and you are not far from what the ground looks like.  The hardcore home fans are located at the north end of the stadium.

On April 1 2006 the Swedish Football Association announced a plan to switch to a new stadium to be built in Solna. The new arena will be completed and ready for sporting events at 2011, and by then Råsunda Stadium is to be demolished. The new stadium will have a capacity for 50,000 spectators. The name of the new arena will be Swedbank Arena – Swedbank bought the name for 150 million SEK.[3]

Fabege AB and Peab AB signed an agreement to acquire Råsunda Football Stadium and existing office buildings from the Swedish Football Association on December 11 2009. All activities on the arena will remain until the Swedbank Arena stands finished.

How to get to the Rasunda
A really easy ground to get to if you are coming from the centre of Stockholm.  Simply get on T-bana line 11 in the direction of Akalla for five stops from Central Station.  Follow signs for the relevant stand you are in at the ticket hall and you will pop out right next to the ground – can anything be simpler.

You can also get a suburban train from the central station to Solna station, turn right onto Frösundaladen and follow this until you see the stadium on your right hand side.  Both journeys cost 60SEK return.

How to get a ticket for the Rasunda
AIK Solna get on average 20,000 for home games meaning there are plenty of tickets available for all games, although some matches such as the local derbies against Djurgården and IF Hammarby are often made all ticket affairs and are not for the faint hearted.  Tickets can be purchased online from and range in cost from 130 SEK behind the goal to 275 SEK in the main stand.  Tickets can be printed at home.

The sound of the suburbs

My week of travelling

Five games in seven days.  Apart from a major tournament this is a record at TBIR towers but not one I fancy repeating too often.  After heading to the far west of Scandinavia last week for the joys of Esbjerg and Herning, to the barren north of Ilkeston, the chavtastic Dartford (speaking as someone who grew up just a few miles away before I get abuse) to the east of Sweden and the outskirts of Stockholm for my second Allsvenskan game of the season and the fabulously named IF Brommapokjarna.

As I flew into Stockholm I noticed that the snow and ice that had blighted my life for the first part of 2010 was still in abundance across the Swedish countryside.  In fact many of the lakes were still frozen completely and there was clear tyre marks on many as they had been used for impromptu race tracks.  With temperatures forecast to be hovering just above freezing point it had been a wise move to pack the old hat and gloves to avoid a repeat of the Danish frozen fingers syndrome.

The view of the suburbs

Idrottsföreningen Brommapojkarna were formed back in 1942 and by my reckoning have the longest name in any top league in division, a title that Borussia Monchengladbach had proudly held for so long.  The club are actually one of the biggest in the world as well in terms of organisation.  They can boast over 250 affiliated teams, ranging across juniors, youth, senior and veterans levels for both male and females.  But it has only been in recent years that the senior team has made its mark on Swedish football, rising to the Allsvenskan for the first time in 2007.  After relegation the following season they bounced straight back up and finished 12th last season to give them another term at the highest level.

One player the club did develop was Bojan Djordjic who went on to play a single game for Manchester United, and there was a rumoured link up between the two clubs although the only thing they have shared since is the same black and red colours they play in.

Grimsta IP

So after a busy day in our new Stockholm office I headed off to Bromma which sits almost at the end of the T19 T-Bana line some 30 minutes from central station.  Bromma is considered to be Suburban Stockholm and can count former residents Christer Fuglesang (the first Swede in space) and Per Albin Hansson who was Prime Minister in 1946 when he died on a tram. Today the area is more known as the home of Stockholm’s City airport which is the fourth largest in Sweden and a darn site nearer to the city centre than any of our offerings in London.

IF Brommapojkarna 1 GAIS 0 – Grimsta IP – Tuesday 7th April 2010

Red sky at night, Stockholm's alight

IF Bromma are one of the few teams in the top leagues in Sweden allowed to use an artificial pitch.  They have no such problems as our friends at Durham, and are allowed to play in all competitions.  Judging by the snow around the ground it appears to be a necessity on these cold spring days and would otherwise have lead to numerous postponements.  The Grimsta is a funny old affair.  One old covered stand is augmented by single stands all over the place, some wooden, some metal terracing and some concrete.  Plus there is an uncovered area of seating which in inclement weather would not be too nice.  The typical Swedish grills form the focal point at each corner and from my seat in the main stand I had a view of suburbia, which provided some entertainment in a very sterile first thirty minutes where there was not one single chance on goal.

First goal of the season calls for a big cuddle

The hundred or so travelling fans from Goteborg tried to make a noise, and there was a random drummer banging away for IF Bromma but nobody could take away the tedium of the game.  Had so many games in such a short space of time taken away the magic of the game or was this genuinely that bad?  Coming into this game IF Bromma has drawn two and lost one of their first three games, the game we had been to at Helsingborgs on day one actually. Worryingly the three games had yet to produce a goal for IF Bromma although they had only conceded one.  And with our friend Kristoffer Nordfeldt back in goal after his indiscretion at Helsingborgs they had at least been tight at the back.  Visitors GAIS had faired slightly better winning  one, drawing one and losing one of their three games so far and it was them who came closest to opening the scoring in the 35th minute when full back Romario Pereira Sipiäo ( I don’t think he is Swedish somehow) rasping shot from twenty yards just flashed wide.

Top save

Just three minutes into the second half and we had some genuine excitement as firstly Nordfeldt made a great save from a GAIS free kick and then almost with the next attack Tim Björkström tried his luck with a lob from 25 yards that GAIS keeper Jankulovski could only tip onto the bar and someone the rebound stayed out.  But IF Bromma smelt a goal and two minutes later they opened their account for the season as a quick throw in into the penalty area found Joakim Runnemo and he smashed the ball into the roof of the net.

IF Bromma then started to play as if they had been leading in every game, passing the ball around.  If truth be told I lost interest on the 80 minute mark.  Denmark finger syndrome started to take hold and the media seats were the most uncomfortable seats I have ever sat in – they were positioned so far away from the desk that you had to sit on the edge of the seat, which is fine if the game is an edge of the seat game, but when its not its blooming painful.

So the end of my marathon session of football.  Would I do it again? Not in a hurry that is for sure.  Perhaps it was just that the quality was poor, or was it that after 69 games my season interest was coming to an end.  For IF Bromma it was just the start as a win took them up to the dizzy heights of 8th, although whilst the long winter was ending I could only feel their long summer of pain was just about to start.

More photos from the game can be found by clicking here.

About Grimsta IP
A real mixture of stands and styles at the 60 year old Grimsta.  The main stand is covered with seats put directly onto the terrace and a big walkway separating the front rows from the pitch.  Behind each goal are small wooden terraces although at the south end this only extends part of the way as the club house takes up the rest.  On the far side of the pitch are two stands – one is uncovered seating and the other is a more permanent concrete terrace.  The ground can in theory hold 8,000 although it would be creaking at the seams if it did.  The club played for a while at the Olympic stadium to make the necessary improvements for Allsvenskan football.  Picturesque in the summer months, harsh the rest of the year is a fair assessment!

How to get to Grimsta IP
Hop on the green T-bana line from central Stockholm in the direction of Håsselby Strand on the T-19 line and get off at Johannelund which is two stops from the end of the line.  The station is in zone 3 and a return ticket is 60SEK.  When you exit the station, turn right and then right so that you are walking along the main road.  Cross the slip roads on the roundabout (at the crossings!) and walk straight ahead down the incline.  You will see the stadium straight ahead behind the training pitches.

How to get a ticket for Grimsta IP
Unless the visitors are one of the big four (AIK, IFK, Djurgården or IF Hammarby) then you can buy tickets on the gate.  Ticket prices are 250SEK for a seat in the main stand, 200SEK for an uncovered seat or 120SEK for a spot on any of the numerous terraces.  Concession tickets are 50SEK.  You can also buy tickets online at Ticnet
where instructions are also given in English and you can print your own tickets off.  Last season the club had the lowest average attendance in the Allsvenskan at 2,860.  Only one game, the derby against AIK Solna sold out the 6,800 ground.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” said Hamlet eating Danish Blue Cheese

In 30 days time the holiday plans for thousands of Danes and Swedes for next summer will be decided. One, or potentially both, will certainly be heading off to South Africa to watch their country in the 2010 World Cup. The decider is on the 10th October when the two countries meet in Parken in Copenhagen. Denmark, sitting pretty on top of Group A know that a draw will all but confirm their place in the finals and damage Sweden’s play off chances let alone what a win would do.

Passions run very high between the countries. You only have to look back two years to a qualifying game in the run up to Euro2008. Sweden had come to Copenhagen, on top of the group and raced into a 3-0 lead. The Danes rallied and pulled it back to 3-3 with ten minutes to play. Then Sweden were awarded a penalty, with the Danes being reduced to ten men. A fan ran onto the pitch and assaulted the referee, the game was abandoned and awarded to Sweden, thus eliminating Denmark and sending the Swedes to Austria.

The two countries live next door to each other in a cordial way. Danes and Swedes mix on a daily basis, the Swedes heading over to Denmark to buy their alcohol, and the Danes setting up homes in Sweden to benefit from lower taxes. Whilst the opening of the Oresund Bridge has opened up a whole host of new opportunities, the legacy of their centuries of conflict can be seen up the coast.  Thirty miles north of Copenhagen is the town of Helsingor, home to Hamlet’s castle. Just a mile across the water is Helsingborg, home to Henrik Larsson and Ikea. A regular ferry across the water has run for centuries and it was this route that I was planning on taking all in the name of football.  The narrow stretch of water has always been closely guarded by the Danes, and used to be a huge source of income as they taxed all foreign boats trying to pass by – and those that refused to pay were fired upon from the castle battlements.

I was going to take in a game in either country, crossing between them on this narrow channel via ferry.  First up was to be a game at the old national stadium, Osterbro. Next door to the shiny new Parken stadium sits the old ground, now an athletics track but also used by a couple of Danish Second Division (East) teams including Skjold.  As the game kicked off at 7pm it would finish in time for the start of the Champions League, and McGraths bar opposite would be a perfect venue for that avenue of pleasure.   I hopped on the train at 6pm – rush hour.  Now not for the first time in my stint in Copenhagen I walked into a carriage full of drunks.  In fact the train was going nowhere as one of them, in an attempt to vomit had got his head stuck in a bin.  His mate, who had obviously just pissed himself – whether in laughter or incontinence had pulled the emergency cord so we were stuck.  Eventually a railway worker came, got out an allen key and removed the top of the bin, with drunk number one’s head still attached and we were on our way.  The rest of the carriage hardly batted an eyelid as if this was a normal occurence!

Skjold 1 Vanløse 1 – Osterbro Stadion – Tuesday 15th September 2009

Impressive bust

Impressive bust

I was in luck for this 2nd division game as a chap who had worked for me for the past few years brother played for the visitors (a few stops along the Metro) and so I was invited to the “hospitality” area once I had paid my 80Dkr to enter the ground.  The stadium had gone through a massive redevelopment phase in the past few years to turn it into a first class athletics venue complete with iconic statues around the edge of the pitch.  The crowd was no more than 73 – OK I admit I counted them twice, and most were also invited to the “hospitality” area, which turned out to be a big grill where sausages were being dished out free of charge and beer was on sale at a bargain 20Dkr (bear in mind that a bar would charge 3 times that normally and you can see this game was worth coming to!).  With the sun setting on another beautiful sunny day in the capital of cool we sat and enjoyed the moment, trying to ignore the poor showing of football on the pitch which was about the same level as Brimsdown Rovers from a few weeks ago despite only being the 3rd tier of Danish football.  Half time and no goals but three sausages, setting a personal best and beating my 2 1/2 bridies (Scottish pasty things) I did in the 15 minute interval at Inverness Caledonian Thistle back in 1999.

A goal apiece in the second half was scant reward for such a loyal crowd which had swelled as soon as the turnstile operator had gone for a pee with people from the bars around the ground who realised it was half the price for a Carlsberg outside, and simply walked into the ground, got their beer and walked back out again.  With 10 minutes to go I headed off, timing my 2 minute walk to the bus stop with perfection as the 1A was just arriving, and exactly 13 minutes later I was on the sofa flicking between Besiktas v Man Utd and FC Zurich v Real Madrid with a Carlsberg gold in my hand.  Sometimes I love Denmark.

Twenty four hours later and I was on the train north to the wonderful town of Helsingør where I was to hop on the short fifteen minute crossing (almost Channel ferry type as well as opposed to Woolwich Ferry with duty free, bars and 1000SEK fruit machines) to Sweden for the Cup Semi-Final between Helsingborgs IF and IFK Goteborg. With the Swedish season coming to an end, both of these teams were keen to end the season on a high.  The visitors were within one point of top spot coming into this game with just 6 weeks to go in the season, whilst Helsingborgs, still with king Henrik Larsson up front were just outside the European spot in 5th place.  Both teams had got here with relative ease and the winner would be playing AIK Solna in the final in Stockholm in October.

The stadium is located on top of the hill overlooking the whole town and the Oresund straits across to Denmark.  The downside is it is bloomin’ hard walk uphill to get to the ground.  Despite talk making the local front pages for years, the stadium still had not gone through its redevelopment programme, and the latest date for work to commence is now in 2010.  Quite why this is necessary to simply built four new stands with the same capacity is lost on me, but then again what do I know about football stadiums!  It had been over two years since I was last here (see post here) and this time I had bought a ticket in amongst the “lively” home fans….

Helsingborgs IF 1 IFK Goteborg 3 – Olympia IP – Wednesday 16th September 2009

Olympia, helsingborgs not Mount

Olympia, helsingborgs not Mount

When I eventually got to the stadium I remembered why it was called Olympia…Nothing to do with the Olympics movement but that the steepness of the hill reminded locals of Mount Olympia in Greece.  I needed oxygen, or beer which ever I found first.  Unsurprisingly it was the latter that won and I had forgotten all of my lessons from previous trips and took a big slurp of non-alcoholic larger….yum yum…On the opening day of the Allsvenskan back in sunny April this fixture attracted over 13,000.  Tonight there seemed to be a third of that in the ground (later confirmed as 4,851), and I counted a disappointing 93 away fans, although a few had decided to sit in the home end around me and pitched their flag on the concrete wall (more of that in a moment!).

Another fact that is unusual about the ground is that the hardcore home fans locate themselves in the upper tier of the seats, at the far end to the away supporters on their open terrace.  None of this traditional crowd behaviour here I can tell you.  The teams were taking this game as seriously as the crowd judging by the line ups.  Now we all know modern football is a squad game but IFK’s team pushed this to the limit.  Normally a team’s squad numbers from 1 to 11 reflect the starting line up at the beginning of the season.  For this game the total numbers on the back of the IFK team was 156 – take away the goalie (number 1) and the average was 15.5!

The game started with both teams playing open attacking football.  After 5 minutes a message was boomed out over the speakers and on the TV screen – a 0-0 draw would pay out at 11.65 (in our betting terms this is around 15/2).  This encouraged the visitors to attack and they had the ball in the net on 11 minutes when the IFK centre forward lost control of a ball in the penalty area, pushed the defender over and as he fell he inadvertently kicked the ball into his own net.  The referee in these situations has a duty to award the goal for the end of season “blooper” tapes but in this instance he had a humour failure and disallowed it!  With the away fans singing a plausible rendition of “You’re just a small town in Denmark” to the home fans the opening goal came five minutes later as a corner could only be punched onto the head of the unaware Sebastian Eriksson and he said that you very much….seconds later we were informed that the odds of a 0-1 win were 11.03 (still around 15/2).

The game continued at a pace and both teams forced corners (more than 12  – 14.75) and free kicks in dangerous positions.  IFK’s Tobias Hysen should have doubled the lead when he took the ball around the keeper but blazed wide on thirty minutes much to the amusement of the home fans.  And they had more to cheer a few minutes later when Erik Sundin got on the end of a decent knock down and smashed the ball home for Helsingborgs to draw them level (7.67 on a 1-1 draw).

The highlight of halftime was seeing Henrik Larsson warming up on the pitch and trying to hit the crossbar from varying distance – unfortunately we didn’t get any odds for doing this.  Both teams emerged on time but stood around like lemons whilst the TV company conducted an interview with an ex-pro on the pitch, completely ignoring the referees requests to fcuk off!  The second half was barely a minute old when two tough looking chaps wandered past me and made a beeline for the IFK flag hanging a few yards away.  Within seconds riot police and undercover cops pounced on them, beating them to the ground with batons.  Some of these undercover cops had been sitting next to me during the first half.  So this was a honey trap, and the two home “fans” had fallen for it and were lead away.  Shocking tactics!

The temperature plummeted in the second half and even a spicy hot dog and an appearance from Henrik Larsson couldn’t warm me up.  In the 76th minute our friend Hysen went round the keeper again but this time slotted the ball home (1-2 was a bargain at 9.31) and IFK made sure with a couple of minutes to go when Theodor Bjarnason made it three (8.17).  I decided this was my queue to leave, retracing my crampons I left on the upward ascent.

Helsingborgs is a great looking small town.  Lots of cobbled streets, bars and restaurants that looked very tempting, but I needed to be back on the ferry and back home.  As we sailed past Hamlet’s castle I could imagine him on the battlements laughing at those Swedes shivering across the water.  A young couple stood close to me on the deck and it was obvious from their conversation and animation that he fancied losing his “sea cherry”.  She was having none of it and he gave up in the end, perhaps recalling the words of the Bard when he said “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.  I’ll get my coat…..

Ny grund , samma historie

For those of you who slept through O-Level Swedish (showing my age there – anyone under the age of 30 will assume O-levels are services offered by call girls and escorts)  you may not know that the above means “New ground, same story” and that sums up the history of Malmo FF in recent times.  Last season they looked like they may break the mid table mediocrity for a period in the summer, but in the end 6th place was a disappointment.  I had visited the lovely little town on the other side of the bridge from Copenhagen twice before (See my posts from last season here and there ) but since then they had built a spanking new stadium, and sold the naming rights accordingly.

The city is a favourite of mine and with the sun shining it was a perfect after work destination.  Paul Kilduff in his very funny book “Ruinair” (available from all good bookshops and Amazon) sums it up by saying “The Swedish Government must pay citizens to walk around their cities looking cool and attractive.  Everyone here strolls.  No one is in a hurry.  No one needs to wear a suit.  No one has a meeting to het to.  No one seems to work.  Many Swedes retire at the age of twenty five to work full time on their image and grooming.”

There is very little I can write about Malmo and the Swedes that hasn’t been mentioned before.  The Scandinavians as a whole are a great bunch but put them all together and they get a bit bitchy.  I asked my Facebook chums to give me some ideas for this post and why they like Sweden.  So I present to you the top 15 reasons for loving Sweden based on my circle of friends perceptions:-

1. They think that Ikea is their “home in the countryside” – but not on a weekend or bank holiday (also avoid the 99p breakfast as it is rank);

2. They wait for every red pedestrian crossing light to change to green even if there hasn’t been any cars passing for days, or the road has actually been closed;

3. They are racked with guilt for days if they put a bit of rubbish in the wrong recycling bin;

4. The Eurovision Song Contest is the nearest they get to armed combat and defeat to local neighbours (such as this year’s when Norway ran away with it) can topple governments;

5. They consider it normal to make a trip to a special government store that is only open in daylight hours (so essentially closed for 3 months of the year!) to buy a bottle of wine, and frown on those who go to supermarkets such as “Eastenders”;

6. They would never ever board any type of public transport without a valid ticket, even though the Government has made all ticket inspectors redundant because nobody ever flauts this rule;

7. There are less blondes who are really Swedes in Sweden than there is in Essex;

8. You consider it perfectly normal to get wasted and dance around a giant penis symbol in the ground every summer;

9. They have not got a clue what a Swedish Massage is.  If you ever end up in a situation where you are asked “what can I do for you?” never ask for one as it will almost certainly end in serious pain;

10. Apparently a direct translation of the word “vegetables” means “green things”;

11. The two political parties in the 18th century were called “hats” and the “beanies”…bet they didn’t fiddle their expenses!

12. Swedes used to drive on the left hand side of the road like us Brits until 5am on the 3rd September 1967…

13. The tallest residential building in the European Union can be found in Malmo (apparently) and is called the Turning Torso.  The apartments are the most sort after properties in Sweden simply because very few are ever put up for sale.

14. Is an apt number as there have been 14 different songs by Swedish artists that have reached number one in the UK single charts….Abba provided 9 so who provided the rest?  For the answer click here.

15. And finally, they do not understand the concept of “going for a quick beer”.  They either drink to get seriously drunk, or they are driving;

The Swedbank Stadion was constructed in the “back yard” of the old ground (quite literally) and opened to a great fanfar in April 2009 when the visitors were Orgryte.  The crowd that day was 23,347 proving that the club could still attract a decent support.  Since then, crowds have fallen back to the level they saw at the old stadium, which is a disappointment, and the team have yet to find their feet, coming into this game in 6th place some 5 points behind leaders Elfsborg.

Everyone seemed to be on their bike for this one.  Arriving at the Central Station with thirty minutes to go before kick off I expected hordes of Swedes on the beer waiting around for buses to the stadium.  Instead I found dozens of beautiful people stripped down and ready for a bit of sunbathing.  There was no football fans around, yet shuttle buses had been laid on.  It became apparent when the Green buses, both in terms of the actual colour and the environmental aspect (you can check your emissions for the journey on the Malmo transportations website and what you can do to offset it!) arrived at the old stadium and you were nearly run over by the thousands of bicycles descending on the ground.

And what a (building) site it was.  Nothing on the outside of the stadium has been finished.  With just three weeks until the start of the UEFA Under 21’s tournament when Sweden take on Belarus here there needs to be some serious work put in as well as major overtime to get the area around the stadium ready.  Holes, exposed cabling, bricks and sand all added to the impression of a South African World Cup stadium.

Inside it was a different story.  Everything was ready although the idea of having 1 person with a bar code scanner on a gate does leave them open for the “English 5 minutes before kick off rush”.  Inside I headed straight for the bar for a not so cheap but well deserved beer.  As you will remember from my previous visits you will know that the beer was unacoholic which was ok, but they had changed the rules to stop people drinking in sight of the pitch for some really strange reason.

The stadium has certainly been designed differently.  They could have gone to “Stadiums ‘r’ us” and bought the plans for St Mary’s, Walkers Stadium, The New Den etc but instead have gone for something a bit different.  The Arena was two tier on three sides, with the lower tier being much bigger than the upper version.  Behind the north goal was the terrace, and home of the Malmo hardcore fans.  Instead of two tiers there was one steep set of terrace steps, topped off by some offices that overlooked the pitch.  The fans congregated here, enjoying the warm evening sunshine.

Malmo FF 0 Orebro 0 – The Swedbank Stadion – Wednesday 20th May 2009 7pm

The Swedbank Stadion

The Swedbank Stadion

So what can I say?  The scoreline sums up the game and most of the 12,166 people in the stadium would have had a nice snooze in the sunshine by the time the referee blew for full time.  Chances were few and far between once the game kicked off and it had the feeling of a pre-season friendly.  So what could I tell you about the game?  Well for starters the game had the smallest linesman ever.  He was so small that the corner flags towered over him when he stood there.

The other interesting one was the sponsorship options displayed from Orebro.  On the bums of their shorts they had NA clearly displayed.  When I showed the picture to CMF later she immediately said “nice ass” although I am not sure she was referring to what the letters stood for or the actual players “assets”.

So there we go – a lovely sunny day, surrounded by lovely people spoilt by a dull game of football.  New ground, same story!

About the Swedbank Stadion
Built at a cost of 580SEK (around £48m) the new 24,000 seater Malmo stadium will proudly open and close the UEFA Under21’s championships this summer.  It looks very similar to the new Gamla Ullevi in Goteborg which in turn took its inspiration from the Brondby stadium across the water.   However, the unique feature is the single tier of terracing behind the north end where the Malmo fans congregate.  The concourses are wide and refreshments are available freely.

How to get to the Swedbank Stadion
The new stadium is located behind the old one in the south of the city.  Shuttle buses run from the station from two hours before the game, and wait outside after.  Alternatively it is a 30 minute walk through the park to the stadium, or Bus Line 3 which takes around 20 minutes.  Or of course you could do what the locals do and cycle!

Getting a ticket for the Swedbank Stadion
Tickets can be bought and printed at home fromTicnet which is the Swedish arm of Ticketmaster.  Ticket prices range from 80SEK (around £7) for a standing place on the Falcon terrace, 180SEK (£15) for a seat in the lower tiers of the PEAB and South stands to 250SEK (£21) for the best seat in the house in the upper tiers.  They can also be purchased on the day of the game from branches of Swedbank in and around Malmo and the ticket office at the stadium.  So far since opening the club have averaged 16,000 with a sell out in their first ever game here.  Therefore tickets for the majority of games are available on the door.

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A one horse town in Sweden

I cannot think of one town or city in Europe that does not have a railway station. I remember a few years ago when Mansfield became the last town that also had a football team to get a station, and that wild night of celebration is still talked about today. Sure, there are some islands around Europe that still haven’t moved into the 19th century and got a railway line, but most places that people want to visit for more than sitting on a beach have got one. That was until I started planning a final trip to Sweden for the season to watch a game. I have now been to all grounds in the top flight on the west coast of Sweden, but in the south west corner of the country lies the port town of Trelleborgs. The small team there, who average less than 3,500 for their top flight matches had been defiantly holding onto their top level status against the odds for many a season.

The town is no more than 20 miles from Malmo, and thus defacto less than 30 from Copenhagen, meaning a post work visit for a midweek game was easily do able. So when I found a suitable date when they were playing Sundsvall I started planning the logistics. The bible for anyone who needs to use trains in Europe is, a site that I have yet to fool into thinking the remote destination I am entering is actually ficticious. Throw a backwater unmanned halt into its system such as Stone Crossing and it will find it and show you routes that you never knew existed. Wanted to know that there was a train every day, albeit at 5.34am from Gatwick Airport to Devizes then this site will find it for you in seconds.

So I couldn’t understand what the issue was when I entered into the destination of Trelleborgs from Copenhagen. Stupid me, the spelling must be different in Germany (just in case you hadn’t realised, Bahn is owned and developed by the Germans) so I entered variations such as Trellesborg, Trellesburg and Trellebog. Alas nothing came back. A glance on the normally impressive Google Maps showed me a railway line, but any attempt to zoom in was met with a blank page. I eventually found a town website and sure enough under transport links it clearly says the town has no railway station. Bugger! What makes this fact even more remarkable is that:-

The city is the biggest in South West Sweden
The city is the second biggest port in Sweden thus meaning lots of cargo is loaded and unloaded through its docks
The city is one of the major ferry ports in Sweden, and the main line to German cities such as Rostock and Lubeck
The city is well known for its heavy industry including the manufacture of components for…..railways and rolling stock around the world!
The city is a mecca for people to come and see the nude women statue that overlooks the harbour. The model for this statue was none other than Nena vn Schlebrugge, Grandmother to Uma Thurman! (I am not sure if people really do flock here to see it but the fact it was Uma’s Grandmother is true!)

All was not lost though as there was a regular bus service from Malmo station, taking 50 minutes to complete the 20 kilometres. So I headed over the bridge after work and found the stop and took my seat on the bus full of joy and boheme, of people returning from civilisation in Denmark. The journey took me through some of the most uninspiring countryside in Europe and gives a very false impression of rural Sweden.

The bus deposited me in the centre of Trelleborg, a collection of nondescript buildings with a church in the middle (you can see I am a fan already) and I walked the fifteen minutes or so up to the ground, known as the Vangavallen, which is set in some nice parkland to the north of the centre. The rain had set in by the time I reached the stadium, creating a dull picture for me to view proceedings from the press area at the top of the tall main stand. The rest of the stadium is a mish-mash of styles. One open terrace area where the hardore fans would normally gather, but with the rain falling heavily most had opted to either stay at home or move to the main stand, which sat 6 foot above the pitch, meaning even the 1st row offered a good view. Opposite the main stand was a smaller single tier covered stand with eight rows of seats and proudly flying the flags of all the sponsors (and there are a lot – no such thing as real estate here on the kit!). The final stand is a temporary terrace that was closed off and only apparently used for the big games versus Malmo and Helsingborgs.

I was met with a cheery welcome and a handshake from a steward at the gate who said they had been awaiting my arrival with interest. I can only assume that they had Google’d me and thought I was the same Stuart Fuller who is now one of the US’s most prominent pornographic film directors.

Trelleborgs FF 2 GIF Sundsvall 0 – Vangavallen – Monday 22nd September 2008 – 7pm

Sell outs are quite rare in Trelleborgs

Sell outs are quite rare in Trelleborgs

Trelleborgs are one of those Scandinavian teams that seems to punch above their weight. They regularly avoid relegation by a few points, get knocked out of the cup at an early stage and generally have a significance for being insignificant. Their bestt ever league finish was in 1992 when they finished third, and their biggest ever game was victory over a Jack Walker funded Blackburn Rovers team in the UEFA Cup in 1995. If one was to compare the to an English team it would be Wigan Athletic (without the Whelan wealth) or Bolton Wanderers (without the money of Reebok). With two thirds of the season gone they sat in eleventh place in the league, nine points off the relegation places and ten points off a European spot – so basically insignificant.

Their opponents sat on second to last spot and desperately needed a win to leapfrog Gefle and Ljungskile immediately above them. The rain suited the home team better in a first half where the ball spent most of the time in the air. When the home team did play the ball along the ground they created chances, which was so surprising that time and time again it was launched forward like a missile. The breakthrough came in the thirteenth minute when the speedy little forward Jensen outpaced the Sundsvall defence down the left hand channel and he finished with a quality strike into the bottom corner. Ten minutes later it was nearly two when a well struck free kick from the edge of the box took a wicked deflection that the Sundsvall keeper did well to parry away.

One thing that is weird about Swedish football that I still cannot get my head around is this business of showing goals as they go in from other games around the league. It is even more confusing when the teams on the screen are wearing the same colours as the game you are watching. So I look up and see a team playing in white break with speed, cross and the ball is headed in. Have I missed something here? Was I momentarily asleep or typing? No, of course not. It was a replay of a goal scored some hundreds of miles away at Halmstad. Pointless, utterly pointless.

Trelleborgs continued to cause problems for the visiting defence for the remainder of the first half, forcing a string of seven corners in just over two minutes at one point, although they really need to practice them and add some variation as every single one went to the near post (unless that is the taker could only kick it that far?).

At half time I took a chance to study the crowd, and actually found the away supporters. Now I do not exactly know where Sundsvall is, but I can either assume that it is along way away or their fans had no faith in their team as a Zafira’s worth of them were taking shelter in the stand opposite me in the far corner. From the other side of the pitch it appeared to be a Dad and his five sons plus a bloody big flag. You have to admire their loyalty in getting this far in the rain to support a team that would be hard pushed to beat Newcastle United or Tottenham on current form and that is saying something.

Five minutes into the second half and it was 2-0 as left sided midfielder Sundin was in the right place at the right time to slot home a knock down from Jensen, again thanks to a long ball into the area.  With the weather getting worse by the minute, so did the football.  Sundsvall had no clue how to pass the ball, let alone get the ball into the TFF penalty area, although they did have a goal chalked off for a blatant push.

So that was my trip to the extreme of Sweden over.  Perhaps one day I will return.  The club were warm and welcoming, and I never did get to see what Uma’s Grandmother looked like in stone!

About the Vangavallen – Capacity: 10,100
The Vangavallen has been home to Trelleborgs for over seventy five years although the ground was almost completely rebuilt in the 1990’s. It is now mostly seated although there is terracing at both ends of the ground, one of which is a small five step temporary terrace. The main stand is the oldest structure in the ground and dominates the local area, offering good views of the action. It is similar in design to the main stands at Bristol Rovers Memorial Ground or Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank where it only covers the middle part of the pitch. Opposite is a low covered stand with 8 rows of seats where most of the fans congregate, huddled together to protect themselves from the frequent wind and rain.

How to get to the Vangavallen
The stadium is located in the park area just north of the town centre on Ostervangsvagen. As most visitors will arrive in Trelleborgs via the regular 146 Bus line from Malmo Centrale then the easiest way to reach the stadium is to come out of the bus stand (from the direction you travelled), turn right and carry on walking, crossing a roundabout on your way. It should take no more than 15 minutes.

How to get a ticket for the Vangavallan
Sell outs are almost unheard of in Trelleborgs and you will only see the big crowds come out for the local derby with Malmo once a year. For the remainder of the games tickets are sold at the gates, costing 150SEK for a seat and 100SEK to stand behind the goal. A family ticket for 2 Adults and 2 Children costs 300SEK. TIckets can be booked online at or by calling 0410 577 80.