Double Danish with a portion of Swede – Part 2

I rarely get hangovers these days but after a night of pub hopping in Copenhagen and more than a few Carlsberg/Tuborg/Jacobsens I woke up on Sunday morning with a banging noise in my head.  Turns out I had gone to sleep with my iPod on and it had looped around to a bit of Metallica.  So I took them out and the noise simply got louder.  A quick shower and a nurofen breakfast later and the EFW/TBIR team were on our way north for the first leg of a classic “two games in two countries in one day”.  Not something new for the team as we had more recently seen games at Essen and Arnhem on the same day to add to an England/Wales, Bratislava/Vienna and a Germany/Austrian one.

Classic floodlights

The train north was eventful for the bizarre hobbits sitting opposite us.  Two women, one of whom had a better beard that any of us who complained about the temperature on the train, kept her ticket on a string around her neck, felt she was being “victimised and persecuted” when asked by the conductor for her ticket and then took her shoes off and put her feet on the seats before tucking into a homemade lentil salad that she ate with her fingers.  Her “mate” who kept her back to us at all times appeared to have a plastic face with a scarf keeping a birds nest on her head in place decided they needed a “treat” after such a hassled start to the day and went and got them an instanst Hot Chocolate to share…and to make things worse – they were both English!  Now who is more anti-social?  The group of English fans having a beer on the train or a woman with body odour rabbiting on about patterns on the window (oh how we laughed when we saw them on the train on the way home too!)

Olympia - home of the gods

Our destination was Helsingør, home of Hamlet but there was no time for a cigar here as we headed onto the Auroa of the Sound, one of the ferries that makes the 20 minute regular crossing between Denmark and Sweden.  For it was opening day in the Swedish Allsvenskan, and we were heading across to see Helsingborgs IF, and life for them after Henrik Larsson.  This was my third visit to the stadium, which is becoming one of my favourite Swedish grounds.  I had last been back in the Autumn for a stormy Swedish Cup game versus IFK (See here).  The stadium can actually be seen from Denmark.  Not that it is big, but because it sits on top of a hill, that looks like a mountain from 2 miles away, let alone when you are on the 15 minute trek up.  Capello – simply bring the England team here for altitude training!

The one away fan...locked in after the game

The club had been in the transfer market, with the biggest new signing being Erik Edman, once of Spurs, Torino and Rennes no less.  The visitors IP Brommapojkarna, had retained their spot in the top league last season, probably due to the awful form of the two clubs from the capital Hammarby (who were relegated) and Djurgården (who were saved via the play offs).  Now there are small clubs, and there are small clubs.  But I have never seen a club only have 1 away fan like we saw here – “Come on a unicycle, did you come on a unicycle!”.

That will be my entrance then....

With our press passes picked up (Thank you Mr Ericsson) we went in search of a beer. No such luck in the ground, although the lovely lady in the press area saw that we were three hungover Englishmen and made us some toasted cheese and ham sandwiches.   The ground is in the middle of sleepy-ville Sweden, and on a Sunday lunchtime there was simply nothing open.  Deaks has to be given oxygen to get through this difficult time until kick off.

Helsingborgs IF 1 IP Bromma 0 – Olympia – Sunday 14th March 2010

Three yellows make a red

So all the hopes and dreams of fans across the nation were still floating in the air as the game kicked off at 2pm.  There is so much magic at this stage of the season and it is often the only point in the season when all teams are equal.  And often the magic is dispelled in one swift move.  Twenty nine  minutes into this game, with the scores all level, IP Bromma’s keeper races out of the area to clear a ball but inexplicably decides to handle the ball.  The linesman spots the infringement and alerts the referee.  Realising he has been busted the keeper kicks the ball out of the ground.  The referee wanders over, looking very old school in all black, very rare these days, and issues a yellow for the handball, a yellow for the kick away, a red for two yellows and then another yellow for dissent as he wanders off.  Well done Kristoffer Nordfeldt – a great start to the season.

Eric Edman, the new signing

As is the case in all of these situations that a player has to be sacrificed to bring on a new goalkeeper, and it took a good few minutes and some heated discussions on the touchline before young Dalil Benyahia was brought off who headed down the tunnel to say thank you to his goalkeeping chum I am sure. Up until this point it had been an open game with just one chance falling to the home team when a shot from Christoffer Andersen was partially saved but the ball instead of bouncing goalward somehow developed back spin and the ball bounced to safety.

Nobody knows where the ball is going to end up

Just a minute after coming on as a sub, Benny Lekström kept out Helsingborgs again with a fine double save from Marcus Nilsson.  It wasn’t all one way traffic though, as Bromma also had a chance of two, the best one falling to Andreas Eriksson who saw his chip being cleared off the line by a retreating Joel Ekstrand who then painfully collided with the post.  Half time and no goals but plenty of action.  We retreated into the press room but not before posing for a couple of snaps with Helsingborgs Man of the Century, Henrik Larsson.

Henrik Larsson meets a legend

Now just in case you had been living in cloud cuckoo land for the last few years you may not realise exactly how famous Mr Larsson is in these parts.  He was voted Helsingborgs man of the century a few years back and has a wood carving of himself sitting in the city museum down the road.  He was watching the game with a chap who we all knew, yet no one could actually say who it was.  Wim Jansen? the Irish dad from Shameless and countless others were rejected by Uncle Google.  So if you were there on Sunday and know who he was, please get in touch.  Henrik posed happily for pictures, and we passed small talk about the weather (as us English do) before he left us in peace and went back to the press room (us not him – its not for ex-players you know just us working journalists!).

The sun was still shining and that may have been the reason for a sudden 400% rise in the away support as our sole traveller had been joined by three more, all equalling spread across the terrace.  Less than 7,000 had taken the trouble to come to the game, and that was disappointing as there seemed to be very little else to do in the sleepy town and less than £15 to watch a game in a town where a beer and a bit of pizza (Did you know 7/11 were doing a promotion on pizza?) would set you back the same.

When the football is boring just turn around and watch another game

Helsingborgs continued to push forward but apart from another one of those spinning backwards balls in the 65th minute, there was little action to be had.  And every so often a bing-bong sound would divert all attention to the big screen that showed goals from elsewhere in the league.  Quite bizarre although based on some of the dire fayre I have seen this season at The Circus (aka Upton Park) I think this may just take off in England.  Good old BK Häcken putting two past Djurgården though.

With just fifteen minutes to go we had to leave.  With time tight to get back into Denmark for the main event we headed off.  Of course we knew we would miss a 90th winner, and that is exactly what happened when Mattias Lindström scored.  By this stage we were back on the ferry, having found beer at last and readying ourself for the fun and antics at Parken.  a lovely way to spend a few hours on a cold yet sunny day.  If you haven’t been to Helsingborgs before, go now – literally now.  But remember your oxygen mask for the steep walk up the hill.

Another view of the day can be found at my compardre Danny Last’s blog here.

“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…..

Wish you were here – Too bloody right McClown! – Part 2 Salzburg

Salzburg – Tuesday 10th June – Greece v Sweden
When Greece were made one of the two first seeds for this tournament (after Austria and Switzerland), everyone wanted to be drawn in their group. However, when the dust settled on Group D there can be few who could call it with ease as all four teams have a chance to progress. The every improving Russia are so reliant on their midfield maestro Andrej Arshavin, who will be missing from the first two games and so they may struggle in the early exchanges. Perernial under achievers Spain have at last found the attacking balance that should see them reach at least the last 8. Greece were written off as fluky winners 4 years ago but bounced back from missing out on Germany 2006 to dominate their qualifying group, and finally Sweden have been bouyed by the return from his 2nd international retirement of Henrik Larsson to partner one of the most impressive players in Serie A last season Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

So – not the easiest trip in the world to arrange. I ideally wanted to take just one day off work so I booked a ridiculously early flight back from Munich (90 miles west of Salzburg) at 6.30am so that I could be back at Essex’s finest by 7.30am (although in reality due to the unbelievable queues you having entering your own country that would more like 8.30am by the time I got back to th car). So at 4am I was up and on my way to Stansted for my monthly slice of customer service Ryanair style. Having become quite an expert in Customer Experience now it amazes me how that airline can keep on going judging by the number of complaints it receives (the one I love the most is that it refers to passengers as SLC “Self Loading Cargo”..brilliant). On this occasion apart from the continuous trace music they play when you board the flight advertising their “bullseye baggies”- come on it is 6.30am who, apart from the Scots, will want a double rum and coke at this time!, and when the stewardess woke me up to ask if my magazine I was holding was rubbish (yeah thanks for that – and guess where I have stuffed it now!), it was relatively uneventful. Not suprisingly the flight was full with Swedes and Greeks on their way out to the game.

With nearly 12 hours to kill, and only 4 hours sleep behind me I was at a loss initially what to do. I had investigated the cinema which could prove a good venue for a few hours sleep, but instead decided to see the bits of Salzburg I had not seen. That mean breakfast at Hangar 7 – the home to the Red Bull racing team, and quite a fine place it is to. Very trendy and artistic perfect for a sweaty Brit.

After my fill of German bread and meat I headed to the stadium. Public transport in Salzburg is easy, and so within 15 mins I was at Salzburg Europark, the huge out of town shopping centre, with an Ikea and the train station that would be my departure point later for Munich. What immediately struck me was how there was no signs for the stadium. Having been here only 9 months ago I know where the stadium is, and the station is no more than a 10 minute walk away, but the locals, in keeping with the rest of the tournament, had decided that such signs were an irrelevance. Twenty minutes later I reached the stadium, but from there it was so badly signposted that it took a further 20 minutes to find the media centre.

After a couple of hours cool recuperation on a day when temperatures hit 20 degrees in Salzburg I headed for the FanZone in the city centre. The centre of Salzburg is not particularly big and it had become overrun with Swedes. Big Swedes, small Swedes, fat Swedes, thin Swedes, drunk Swedes, and very drunk Swedes. Now the Swedes rank up their with the Estonians and the Danes in terms of beauty and what better way to show off their fine figures than dressing in football kits. Always does it for me, but that is for another day and adventure. The Greeks were small in number, hairy, fat and ugly. On the huge stage were an Abba tribute band getting everyone in the mood like a hen night in Magaluf. Beer was flowing, songs were being sung and the sun shone down on the rightuous. As if by some divine intervention, Abba-esque exited stage left and then the rain started and out came the extras from My Big Fat Greek Wedding – how to kill the dreams of 5,000 men…..The music was awful….Zorba’s dance is about as far as the Greek songs go but these guys were intent on murdering any song they could get their hands on. Surely the organisers had seen the crowd of 2-3,000 had now dwindles to 20 or 30, and even the ardent Greeks had gone back to the bars instead of listening to Stavros and his goat.

I took this as my opportunity to leave and headed back to the stadium to watch the remainder of Spain v Russia. The Media centre was packed but still the Carlsberg remained under lock and key – what is the point of having a fridge full of the stuff if we cannot drink it! With enough goodwill sorted out with CMF (present for mother-in-law) and various other interested parties, I got down to a bit of writing before the game.

With Spain cruising to a 3-0 win I popped into the bar to get a Coke and low and behold I bump into two legends. Firstly I meet Franz Beckanbauer who is as nice as pie, asking if I am enjoying the tournament, who do I think will win and do I like Salzburg.   As a parting note he told me to say “hello” to everyone in England.  I started ringing through my address book so please excuse the fact I may not have yet got through to you to pass on Der Kaiser’s greeting yet.  Then I see a bright red face, with balding ginger hair….McClown himself. I ask for word for this very blog but he refuses as he is “watching the Russia match” – yeah right mate – if you would have been doing this last year we may have been prepared for our game in Moscow and not lost – tosser!  What exactly was he doing there?  What possible expert opinion could he offer to anyone.  At least one good thing, as one of my colleagues said, was that he probably wasn’t in the frame for the Blackburn Rovers job, much to his glee.

The press were certainly thin on the ground in Salzburg, and after climbing up the Lego Technics towers that took us to the media area it was obvious that most had headed west for the Spain game earlier in the day.  It does seem a shame though that so many real fans had missed out on the chance of seeing this game because some fat journalist couldnt be arsed to cancel their seat.  The UEFA media team had put in place a system of red and yellow cards for non-attendees – one no-show and you got a yellow card by text and email, another and you got a red card which was an immediate one match ban.

It was good to see the Swede’s had taken over the stadium, and were making all of the noise.  Now I love the Swedes.  They are very passionate about their country, they love a beer and they have some of the best looking fans in the world – which makes for crowd watching a very enjoyable past time, which was just what I spent most of the first half doing as the ultra dull Greeks started playing for the draw as early as the 7th minute.  Try as they might with Larsson, Ljungberg and Ibrahimovic up front, the Greeks stifled the life out of the game, and seemed to be playing for 3 x 0-0 draws in the group.  In fact if it wasnt for the Swedish fans singing their hearts out, and jumping up and down I would have been asleep long before the 30 minute mark.  One incident summed it up.  A string of over 30 consecutive passes is normally a sign of a team in total domination, but when the passes were between the three Greek centre backs in their own half, under no pressure from the Swedes, you will understand how desperate the Greeks were.  “Total Football” Greek Tony texted me – yeah right.

I tossed a coin to decide whether I came out of the press room for the second half or not, and at least the first 15 minutes of the second half justified my decision.  Greece threw on Georgios Samaras the ex-Man City striker to try and at least get the ball into the penalty area but it was the Swedes who struck first, with a goal that immediately started the competiton in earnest for the goal of the tournament.  Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked the ball up near to the left hand touchline, took one touch and blasted the ball into the top corner of George Clooney’s net.  For a player who had been so prolific in Serie A, one of the toughest defensive leagues in the world, it was amazing to hear this was the Swede’s first international goal for over 2 years. 

A few minutes later Swedish fullback Christian Wilhelmsson pulled up after a heavy clash with one of the Greek midfielders and was obviously in some pain.  Alexandersson initially signalled to the bench, then went and spoke to them at length whilst the Swede’s had a corner to get them to make a substitution.  The bench simply ignored the request, so Henrik Larsson came over and initially appeared to be appealling that he should be taken off.  So with one player down and out, and another almost refusing to play it came as a suprise when Sweden doubled their lead after a serious f@ck up from George Clooney that allowed Petter Hansson to bundle the ball home.  With the game all but won the Swedish bench made their changes and took off scorer Ibrahimovic to leave the disabled Wilhelmsson and the uninterested Larsson on the pitch as a final fingers up salute to the players.

So 2-0 was a fair reflection in the end.  Sweden had been average, Greece very poor and now with all 16 teams having played a game it was obvious that neither of these two would be upsetting the apple cart later in the tournament.

It was never going to be an easy trip but some 11 hours later when I eventually walked through the front door of Chez Fuller I realised that it was a tad ambitious to plan to avoid a hotel stay, and “sleep on the hop” on a train from Salzburg to Munich, at Burger King in Munich, on the S-Bahn at 3.30am to Munich Airport and finally at the airport.  Hmm…all for the love of the game.

Click here to listen to the podcast of The Ball is Round in Salzburg Listen to this episode