Withdrawal symptoms

Malmo FF v Hammarby IF – Malmo Stadion – Monday 14th July

Just 8 days after the end of Euro2008 I found myself in serious need of a football fix, and not through one of those ridiculous Masters tournaments which Sky try and hype so much – “Liverpool v Tranmere Rovers in the big one tonight” said Sky last week as a host of players who hardly wore the shirts of either puffed their way through 10 minutes.  Neither do I have much time for friendlies, which do not actually prove anything.  Last season I went along to watch Dagenham & Redbridge versus West Ham which was notable for two things.  Firstly, it was Dean Ashton’s first game back and he proceeded to shoot at every occasion, including corners and an attempt from a throw in, a pattern that would be repeated throughout the season.  Secondly, West Ham had not taken deliery of their new Umbro kit and so were forced to play in a training kit without numbers, names or sponsors name.  Quite a refreshing change, although a year on the biggest rip off club in World football have just announced that they have dumped both kits from last season and replaced them already.  So much for the Fans Charter which states that a club has to state the “life expectancy” of the kit.

So, back to the story.  I had already sussed a game “over the bridge” in Malmo for my regular trip to Copenhagen.  With summer football a part of life in Scandinavia, summer football means that you can normally catch a game within an hour 11 months of the year in Copenhagen.  I had fond memories of my last trip to Malmo to see them play Kalmar last season (see https://theballisround.co.uk/2007/06/14/football-only-politer/) so I headed over to Sweden, changed by Danish Kroner for Swedish Kroner and headed south through the pretty city centre for their game versus Hammarby IF.

I had neglected my map so had to use the normally trusty Fuller navigation system.  I headed south out of the station, neglecting the “Stadion Special” buses, through the pedestrian areas of the city centre, across a canal or two and eventually came to a major crossroads.  Malmo are currently building a new stadium slap bang behind the old one, in order to host games in the 2009 UEFA U21’s championship, and so the presence of a few large cranes to my left was a good sign as I headed in that direction and also found out that they are building a brand new hypermarket, which is 2 miles in the wrong direction from the football ground. 

Undetered I upped the walking rate (in preparation for my mammoth 5km run this week) and reached the familiar 50’s style white stadium with 10 minutes to kick off.  The new stadium was indeed being built at a pace behind the south stand and is rumoured to be ready early in 2009 and will be the newest stadium built in Sweden’s top league for well over a decade (unless the new Gamla Ullivi is ready in Goteborg before – another venue for 2009).  The queues outside were lengthy to say the least – Monday night football is very popular in Sweden and it was a family affair.  There were also quite a few away fans having made the trip down from Stockholm mingly about without any particular issues.  Malmo had kindly almost doubled the prices for this game realising that a) the team were doing ok, b) it was a nice sunnyish night and c) Hammarby were one of the teams the neutrals like to watch play.  Still the equivilant of £25 for a seat on the upper tier is a bargain when compared to the same seat at my beloved West Ham would cost nearly treble that.

I got talking to a group of Malmo fans during the first half who were interested in my view of football in Sweden and England.  They had travelled as a group over the past few years to games in England on a regular basis, but now even the Swedes who are used to paying £8 a pint found themselves priced out of the market and were planning their weekends away in Germany and Spain.  Does anyone actually consider this loss of import income into the game?  I bet not. 

There can be nothing better in life than watching decent football in the sunshine, with a beer in ones hand that this was one of those evenings.  Malmo are a decent team.  They try and play the ball along the ground although they have a shocking centre back who looks the spitting image of Rufus Brevett.  It was his mistake that led to Hammarby’s opener, when a hopeful cross from the left was left by Brevettalike and the American college superstar Charlie Brooks tapped in unmarked.

The goal managed to shake the Malmo team into action but the Hammarby defence was playing a tight offside line, and yet again Malmo showed why they would never worry many defences in European football as they were caught offside time and time again.  Finally, on the half hour mark one of the two Finnish strikers in the Malmo team beat the line and calmly slotted the ball over the Hammarby keeper a la Torres in the Euro2008 final.

The goal did spur on the home team, and with the hardcore home fans congregated along the side of the pitch urging them on they forced corner after corner without ever getting close to another goal.  As luck would have it, or in this case wouldn’t have it, Hammarby went up the other end of the pitch and forced a corner of their own.

In one of those training ground moves that come off once in a million on the pitch a long corner was played to the edge of the penalty area where the deeply unpopular Hammarby midfielder Gaets volleyed it.  On paper it sounds impressive – although the shot actually travelled so slowly into the net it fooled everyone.  Just two minutes later that man Davies was at it again, chasing a ball of lost cause into the corner, beating a defender before drilling the ball into the corner of the net.  3-1 in a blink of an eye was a tad unfair on Malmo, but Hammarby did deserve the lead at half time for their attacking play away from home.

One interesting diversion during the first half was the constant replays being shown on the big screen at the far end of the stadium.  So what is the issue with that?  Nothing as long as it was the highlights and replays from this game.  Oh no – not in Sweden.  They kept relaying action from another game being played elsewhere .  Again if it was a vital game, with a championship or a cup depending on it but this was the equivilant of Wigan v Fulham on a Monday night in October.  Pointless, absolutely pointless.

Malmo’s stadium is unique in terms of design in world football.  It has two identical stands that run full length of the pitch that are crescent in design, sloping down in each corner.  The top tier of the stands start in each corner with a single row of seats, rising to a decent height in the middle. What possessed the stadium designers I do not know but based on the quality of the beer on offer and the ease in which they were slipping down I would suggest that they had had a few!  Behind each goal were terraces, set back behind the curve of the athletics track meaning the views were terrible for those who had braved it.

The second half failed to live up to the excitment of the first one for the first 30 minutes, and Malmo had a few chances to pull a goal back, again corners providing their best option.  However, as is always the case it was the away team who scored the decisive goal, again another defensive lapse allowing the impressive Hammarby midfield the freedom of the pitch to slot in the fourth and queue a huge exodus of home fans.

Malmo, to give them credit never gave up.  They continued to push and pressure and were rewarded with a goal back direct from a free kick with 5 minutes to go.  At this point a melee broke out on the far side of the stadium as it appeared that a Hammarby fan who had been in amongst the Malmo fans on the hardcore stole a flag and ran towards the exit.  In a move similar to a scene from Benny Hill, the Malmo fans set off chasing the Hammarby fan up and down the terraces for a good 3 minutes before the police intervened. 

The victory for Hammarby took them into the European play off spots and within a win of top spot currently held by Kalmar.  I headed back on the bus to the station and jumped on a train back to Copenhagen.  Despite having many good features, public transport in Scandinavia tends to be as bad as in the UK at times, and as we sat in Malmo station watching the minutes tick by without any announcements it was interesting  seeing the growing anger of the passengers. 

Eventually our train rolled in 45 minutes late to Copenhagen central station, and I returned to my minimalist chic and completely disfunctional hotel, ready for my next challenge. Hopefully my next trip back to Malmo will see me visit the new stadium, which by all accounts will be unique and ground breaking.  Apparently, according to the website it will be a completely enclosed structure of 25,000 seats, with two tiers on all four sides.  For Malmo read Leicester City, Southampton, Geneva, Salzburg and so on and so on.  Still at least it will be without the scurge of decent football – the athletics track!

Football only politer

In my quest to see a game in every country in Europe I had cruelly missed Sweden off my agenda for far too long. In the early part of this century the Oresund bridge/tunnel opened to a great fanfare, linking Copenhagen to Malmo in one swish structure, and in the process joining two arch enemies together. Denmark and Sweden are so similar in many ways, but they will never admit it. They are all blonde and blue eyed, they have the same (type) of currency, they love a beer and they are both prohibitively expensive. Relations between them have soured over the past few weeks after the Euro 2008 qualifying game in Copenhagen in June 2007 when a Danish fan attacked the referee and he abandoned the game – why oh why didn’t someone do that to Graham Poll years ago!

Anyway, with another work trip to Copenhagen in the diary, a swift look on UEFA.com found an opportunity to “hop across the pond” – FC Malmo v Halmstad. Malmo is almost visible from Copenhagen – a silhouette in the distance, past the nuclear power station. Sleepy little Malmo….Coming over the Oresund Bridge you are immediately hit with how neat and tidy things are in Sweden. That is not to say that Copenhagen is messy – but the huge amount of redevelopment in the city has meant that the presence of cranes and building sites does tend to obscure the image of “Wonderful Copenhagen”. Well manicured lawns, the absence of any grafetti and pedestrians and cyclists alike waiting for red lights to change was certainly an eye opener.

However, we were here to check out the football scene in Sweden, and a drive past the iconic Malmo stadium 90 minutes before kick off didn’t fill us with confidence that it was a hotbed of football. In fact the presence of a team coach was the only visible sign a game was going to start soon. Even the bars close by were empty..Having been told by everyone in Denmark that the beer is Sweden was “expensive” – and that is coming from people who do not bat an eye at paying £5 for a pint, we had to go into a complex fag-packet calculation for a workable exchange rate (trying to change Swedish Kroner into Danish Kroner into Sterling is not the easiest thing to do) to find out a beer was 45p, or was it £4.50?? However, a couple of pints soon put us in the football mood, and being typically English we waited until two minutes before kick off for the 5 minute walk, only realising it was more like a 20 minute hike.

However, with very little atmosphere in the stadium we made an assumption that they must be waiting for us to double the attendance. A bargain 110 Swedish Kroner (£8 or £80) got us through the turnstiles to be met with a crowd of over 18,000 – where had everyone come from?? And where was the noise? Down one side of the stadium the Malmo fans stood shoulder to shoulder underneath their flags with slogans like “Malmo Massive” and “No One Likes Us” (being in Sweden where everyone is so polite you almost expected a sign underneath saying something like “and that is really upsetting”), politely clapping when something exciting happened.

The stadium is certainly unique in design. Built for the 1958 World Cup Finals, it has lots of curves and corners – the main stand looks like a huge white wave from a distance. Behind each goal there was a bank of terracing, set back from the pitch by an athletics track. Whilst the stadium was busy, the ends were empty and we delighted in the fact that beer was being served from an open bar. Now this being a football match with “hardcore” fans you would have expected queues around the block. But not here.  Everyone seemed happy to sit and watch the game so we took the opportunity to have a beer and a burger.  Great plan except the burgers were organic reindeer ones and the beer was non-alcoholic.  Alex was inconsolable.  Not only was it his first match but we had promised real beer.  He saw through our ruse in a flash and started remonstrating with anyone and everyone.

The football was pedestrian to say the least.  The visitors Kalmar came to Malmo sitting on top of the table and they looked more like league leaders than Malmo who seemed content in playing the ball around the midfield without any idea as to how to break down the Kalmar defence. With 15 minutes on the clock the visitors took the lead with a well worked free kick from the edge of the penalty area.

Five minutes after the break it was 2-0 as Kalmar beat a non-existent offside trap and made light work of a 3 v 2 situation.  On that note Alex headed back to the bar,only to return looking shocked a few minutes later…”They have run out of beer” he stammered.  Whilst it wasn’t real beer, he could at least pretend but now that avenue of pleasure had been closed to.  There was only one thing left to do, as by now the noise he was making, like a smackhead being told that the methadone had now run out, was waking up the locals.  We headed for the exit and back to the central station where we managed to get a final beer in Finnigans Sports Bar before it closed (at 9pm!) and then onto civilisation across the Oresund in Denmark.  Too much of a bad thing is good for you but when it is all so polite it is hard to stomach.  “Next time” Alex vowed “we do things my way”…judging by his nickname of Dr Colonic I will make sure our traveling plans are separate for a few months at least!

How to get there
The stadium is located south of the main city centre, in a very green residential area. It is a 20 minute walk from the central station, or around 10 minutes from the bus station. Bus number 2 runs close to the stadium, although these get very busy before the game. A taxi from the central station will cost around 75Skr.

Getting a ticket
Whilst attendances are on the up at the Mälmo Stadion, there are still plenty of spaces for those turning up to pay on the gate. The average attendance over the past few seasons has been around the 14,000 mark, making them the second best supported team in the Allsvenskan behind AIK. Tickets can be bought in advanced from the website http://www.ticnet.se. Tickets range in price from 200SKR in the upper tier of the main stand to 125SKR behind the goal on the terraces. At the gate these prices are reduced to 180SKR and 110SKR respectively. The main Mälmo fans congregate on the terraces of the lower side stand. If you are watching an early evening game then it may be best to avoid the main stand due to the issues caused by the setting sun.

Getting around
The city centre is relatively small and it is easier to walk than wait for the local buses. Trains run to the outskirts of the city, and on to places such as Trelleborg and Helsingborg. A new railway tunnel is being constructed under the city centre at the moment that will alleviate some of the congestion in the city centre.

Local Hotels & Bars
The opening of the Øresund Bridge has given a new lease of life to the city of Mälmo. Whilst it has always been known as a pretty little city, the influx of visitors from across the water has lead to increased investment, and the general tidy up of the major areas. In the summer the city is a great place to visit, and like many Scandinavian cities, there are loads of outdoor activities that attract families to spend time here. The tourist office in the central station is a good starting point for new arrivals to find their bearings, as well as finding a hotel room if you haven’t found one before arriving. The following are good options if you have a chance to book one before you travel. They can be contacted on +46 40 34 1200. Elite Hotel Savoy – Norra Vallgatan 62Tel: +46 40 66 44 850 http://www.elite.seRica Hotel – Stortorget 15Tel: +46 40 660 95 50 http://www.rica-hotels.comRadisson SAS Hotel – Ostergatan 10Tel: +46 40 698 40 00 http://www.sas.radisson.comSweden is not known for its contribution to world cuisine, but it does have a few good places to eat. Unsurprisingly fish and seafood feature heavily on most menus. The following are all highly recommended if you have a chance to visit.

Rådhuskällaren – Stortorget 1 (Tel: +46 40 79020)
Hipp – Kalendegatan 12 (Tel: +46 40 974 030)
Smak – St Johnannesgatan 7 (Tel: +46 40 505035)

In terms of bars, then head for the area around Lilla Torg where most of the action takes place. Here you will find a mix of trendy cafes, laid back bars, traditional pubs and nightclubs. The following are three good options for various points in the evening.

Kulturbolaget – Bergsgaten 18
Brogatan – Brogatan 12
Caramello – Stortorget 25

If you are in need of a place to watch some Premiership football then head for the following bars in town that show games all weekend long from around Europe.

The Bishops Arms – Norra Vallgatan 62
The Pickwick – Malmborgsgatan 5
Paddy’s – Kalendegatan 7

Nearest Airport – Kastrup Copenhagen (CPH)

Telephone: +45 3231 3231

Website: http://www.cph.dk

Despite being in a different country, Copenhagen’s main airport is the nearest airport, located around 15 miles to the west of Mälmo across the Øresund Bridge. It has three terminals – two dedicated to international and intercontinental flights, and the remote Terminal 1 is dedicated to internal flights. Easyjet are the main budget carrier to fly to Copenhagen. They fly here daily from London Stansted. BA and SAS also fly here from London Heathrow. Snowflake, SAS’s budget brand fly twice daily from London City. Sterling are Denmark’s biggest Budget airline – they fly three times a day from London Gatwick.To get to Mälmo from Kastrup airport, simply catch one of the three trains per hour from the station under terminal 3. The journey time is 23 minutes and you need a train from track 1. A single ticket costs around £8. A bus also runs from the airport costing 100DKr.

Other Airport – Mälmo Sturup Airport (MMX)

Telephone: +46 40 613 10 00

Website: http://www.lvf.se

Ryanair fly into Malmö’s small and compact Sturup airport. Despite the fact that the airport is located across the water in Sweden, the completion of the Øresund Bridge, means the two countries are now permanently linked. It is approximately 17 miles from the city centre. Buses link the airport to the city centre, taking around 40 minutes.