The start of the gravy train for another season

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

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

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

Playing away from home

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

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

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

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

And now for some proper atmosphere

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

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

Skane and Abel

I’ve been to a few tasty games in my life.  Those where you wake up the next morning with cordite still wafting around your nose, a persistent ringing in your ears from the screams and chants, and if you are really lucky wearing nothing but a strange football scarf (hats off to Mr Danny Last for the last one).  Whilst we may claim to have the “Best League in the World” (©Sky Sports) we are woefully bad at generating a real atmosphere at a game.  Occasionally we get a game that may have some passionate followings, but we are so scared of the thought of two sets of fans in the same postcode at the same time that we are now experts at the “Bubble Games” – where away fans are bused in and out of a city/town/village/out-of-town shopping centre irrespective how they want to get to the game.  All in the name of safety the authorities will have us believe. Continue reading

A right royal affair

Almost three years into my love affair with all things Scandinavian I am still yet to chose my favourite teams in each country.  In Denmark I think I am a Brondby fan, although the hospitality of certain FCK fans is swaying me (take a bow Ivar!).  Norway is a bit more cut and dry as I am firmly a Stabæk fan after being treated as one of their own last season.  But Sweden is a whole different kettle of fish.  I have tried Helsingborgs, AIK, Halmstads, IFK and IF Bromma.  But the one I come back to time and time again is Malmö FF.

Now back on the market

There are a number of reasons why we should be good bed partners.  Close to Copenhagen, yet in a different country (tick), nice pale blue Puma kit (tick), decent vocal crowds (tick) and a ground where the application for a media pass is welcomed, and not treated with disdain (by the way, did you know to apply for a media pass at Wembley, you have to FAX the FA.  Who uses fax anymore?).  However, all was not too rosy in Sweden.  At the weekend THE wedding of the year was called off.  No, not plastic tits and no brains but brawn if you believe the News of the World but that of Princess Madeleine and Jonas Bergstrom after it was revealed he had a one night stand with a student from Bournemouth.  Yep – good old Jonas spunked away his future quite literally on a lazy good for nothing Pot Noodle eater.  Granted she was Norwegian, and was previously a professional handball player but must still be stupid for selling her story to a Sunday paper for just £1,300! These Norwegian’s are crazy. Continue reading

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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Game, Set and Match in Sweden

As regular visitors will know, I love my Swedish football and thought I would briefly summarise the dramatic last day of the season in the Allsvenskan today.

Going into the last game, both Kalmar FF and IF Elfsborg could win the league.  The former simply needed a draw, assuming that Elfsborg won at Gelfe, whilst Malmo were playing their last game at their historic stadium before moving across the car park to the new stadium in March 2009.  Their visitors GIF Sundsvall knew that only a win would keep them up, otherwise they would be joining Ljunskile in the second division.

In the penultimate set of games the goals had been flowing as Kalmar’s striker David Elm helped himself to five in their 6-0 win versus Norrkoping, and Malmo stunned Hammarby by winning 6-3 in the Soderstadion in Stockholm.  This set things up nicely for the final set of games as not only was the Championship to be decided, but also the newly formed Europa Cup spots with both Helsingborgs and Goteborg in the running, and meeting each other in Helsingborgs as if the season needed any more drama.

So with 20 minutes gone in the final round of games, Kalmar were a goal up and looking like they were heading for the title.  The only other real story was that IF Hammarby appeared to have put their poor form behind them and were already 2-0 up away to Norkopping thanks to Charlie Davies’s brace.

At Half Time the scores that mattered were:-

Gefle IF 0 IF Elfsborg 1
Halmstads BK 0 Kalmar FF 1
Helsingborgs IF 1 IFK Goteborg 1
Malmo FF 3 GIF Sundsvall 0
Orebro SK 2 Ljungskile 0

Which basically meant that Kalmar were going to be champions, and Sundsvall would be joining Ljunskile in the second division.

Within twenty minutes it had all changed at the top as Elfsborg had taken a 2-1 lead and Halmstad’s had taken a 2-1 lead at home to Kalmar thus promoting the team from Boras to the top of the league.  Malmo were signing off in style having netted a 5th and Henrik Larsson had scored his last ever goal for Helsingborgs to put them in the lead against Goteborg.

With just three minutes of the season left, Kalmar’s Patrick Ingelsten struck in the game at Halmstad to equalise and thus render Elfsborg’s win meaningless and give them their first ever Swedish National Title.  Two more goals from Malmo meant they signed off in style, scoring six for the second time in a week and thus condeming Sundsvall to the 2nd division.  So that was it for another season.  The Allsvanskan had produced more goals this season than any other one in its history, and one of the closest finishes in memory.  Roll on March 2009.

Final Table
64pts Kalmar FF             2009 Champions League Qualifier
63ptsIF Elfsborg            2009 Champions League 1st Round
54pts IFK Gothenburg    Europa Cup Qualifier 2009
54pts Helsingborgs IF    Europa Cup Qualifier 2009
45pts AIK                        
44pts Malmo FF             
42pts Orebro SK             
41pts Halmstads BK        
41pts Hammarby            
40pts Trelleborgs FF    
38pts GAIS                    
36pts Djurgardens       
28pts Gefle                   
24pts Ljungskile           Relegation play off with IF Brommapokkarna
22pts GIF Sundsvall      Relegated – to be replaced by Orgrytes
20pts IFK Norrkoping   Relegated – to be replaced by BK Hacken