The Djurgarden of Eden

21 Jul

Just over a year ago I was lucky enough to attend one of the final football matches played in the Olympia Stadion in Stockholm.  In normal circumstances, clubs move elsewhere because they have outgrown their grounds and they can gain greater financial rewards by moving to the out-of-town, identikit stadiums.  In the case of the Olympia Stadion, and its then tenants, Djurgården IF, it was a case of them being told they could no longer play games there.  The iconic stadium is a legacy of a past era of watching football, with wooden benches, poor sight lines and a creaking infrastructure and the Swedish FA, after giving them a few stays of execution, finally told them that 2013 would be their final season in the ground.

8900669783_0e4f02f888_zFast forward twelve months and the Järnkaminerna are now firmly at home, with their slippered feet well under the table at the Tele2 Arena in the Johanneshov area of the city.  Average attendances have gone from just below 9,000 in the last decade to over 15,000 in the first year, with over 25,000 for the explosive derby matches against AIK.  As you would expect from a brand spanking new arena, with thousands of shiny metal plates attached to the outside and a sliding roof that moves with the action of a CD player at Tandy’s (Partridge gag).  Transport links are excellent, with a number of train stations around the ground – who would have thought of that when building a stadium eh!

After numerous troubles on and off the pitch in recent years the club is at last able to look up.  Coming into this game, nearly at the half way point in the season, they seventh, one point and one place behind the visitors, BK Häcken.  A little run of form now and they could be putting pressure on city rivals AIK who sat in second place, jut six points away.

10837676685_f17af0b580_zWork done for another day I took my place in the new arena which looked relatively similar inside to the stadiums in Cardiff and Düsseldorf.  Three things were lacking for me. One was a beer (Swedes and their crazy alcohol rules for you), two was any flares from the home fans – especially as I had seen their displays in the past at the good-old Råsunda and last year in the game at the Stockholms Stadion and finally was any away fans.  In fact there were 8 of them, with a flag between them, perched in the upper tier.  Whilst it is a fair way from Göteborg, it wasn’t a school night.  Still, at least there was probably room on the team bus for them to get a lift back home.

Djurgården IF BK Häcken – Tele2 Arena – Monday 21st July 2014
After collecting my media pass I followed signs to the press seats which takes you up a tunnel and onto the edge of the 3G pitch which was enjoying a liberal watering.  With ten minutes to kick off the DIF fans were in full voice and it was tempting just to stand there and get a close up of their pre-match display.  Alas, a friendly steward pointed out to me that I was likely to have things thrown at me if I did so I took refuse up in the stands.

14730122413_5f5d42bebb_zTen minutes on the clock and with their first attack the visitors forced a corner.  The ball bobbled around the 3G pitch before Carlos Strandberg häckened (too good an opportunity to miss) it home from close range. The DIF fans behind the goal didn’t miss a beat, simply turning up the volume a notch, launching into the Swedish version of “Build a bonfire” (well, the same tune at least), bouncing choruses between the Ultras behind the goal and a section standing under a banner that said Östermalms Gentlemannaklubb, which Google translate told me was not family friendly nor was it open for breakfast.

Twenty minutes later and another mix up led to Martin Ericsson being allowed to sneak behind the defence (as they were all positioned to look the other way – fact from my scouting course) and he side-footed into the corner of the net.  Two-nil and for a full thirty seconds the stadium was silent.  The truth was that the visitors had only had two forays into the DIF area and scored on both occasions, whilst at the other end the Häcken keeper, Källqvist had to be on his toes to keep out chances from Jawo, Radetinac and Tibbing. The noise slowly built again and the whole stadium rose in unison, with a symphony of “ooohs” as Stefan Karlsson’s rocket was tipped the bar.  It looked like being one of those nights for the home side.

As you would expect, DIF came out fired up for the second half and created a number of chances in the opening fifteen minutes.  But try as they might, and willed on by a wall of noise they simply couldn’t break down the stubborn Häcken defence.  It’s also fair to say that the half-time substitute Prijovic had an absolute stinker, somehow managing to connect with every part of his body bar his head or foot when in a dangerous position.

14709960342_461a2c57ee_zFinally in the 74th minute they got their slice of luck.  Martin Broberg beat the offside trap and with only the keeper to beat managed to slice his lob sideways into the path of Fejzullahu who walked the ball into an empty net.  What effect would that goal have on the team? In short very little.  They took the tactic of trying to stretch the visitors, looking to get in behind them and to the by-line but the pace of the artificial surface often took the overlapping runners by surprise.

So in the end it was a missed opportunity to gain some ground on those above, whilst the visitors closed the gap themselves with AIK to just 2 points.  However, there is more to football than just a result and it had been an entertaining game, in a very impressive new stadium.  With a loyal fanbase that oozes passion and now a brand new home it can’t be too long before DIF will be challenging for the major honours again.



Closing Time

1 Jun

“Closing time…every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”

So here I am at last.  It has taken me five years of visiting this wonderful city to finally take my seat in the Olympiastadion, and not a moment too soon.  In just a few weeks, Djurgårdens IF will be packing their bags and departing from this historic venue to take up home in Johanneshov, where the new Tele2 Arena will open its doors in July.  The new stadium, close to the Globe Arena (the largest hemispherical building in the world as if you didn’t already know) will be shared with Stockholm’s third team, Hammarby IF meaning that in the space of twelve months two brand spanking new stadiums will have opened in the city(The 50,000 capacity Friends Arena in Solna being the other one).  It’s been like London buses around these parts.

If there is a stadium that oozes history more that the Stockholms Stadion then I’m yet to hear about it. Of course it is totally unsuitable for a club with lofty ambitions such as Djurgårdens IF, and finally the Swedish Football Association have given them notice to conform with new ground regulations and that is why they are finally moving out next month. But on a warm summer’s night with the stadium bathed in sunshine it was a perfect venue for the home side to prove that they had turned a corner. Defeat on penalties in the Svenska Cupen final to Göteborg last weekend had been hard to take, but even harder was the fact that they propped up the whole league with just two wins so far.

8900602326_9ca0118289_bEverywhere you look in the stadium it is old brick and wood. Grand entrances, century-old turnstiles and two iconic towers at one end of the stadium. The canopy that once protected the Royal Family and dignitaries at the Olympic Games is still in place, although it could do little to protect us from the slowly setting sun shining in our eyes. It was enough to get in here an hour before kick off and just soak up the history.

The other reason to watch a game here was to see the Djurgården ultras in action (in a positive sense) and they didn’t disappoint with an excellent move that saw them all swap flag designs mid-act. How in earth they get these sorts of thing right on the night is beyond me, especially as the extent of our “tifosi” displays involve holding up bits of coloured cards at a unspecified time which invariably looks a bit shit compared to what we see on the continent.


But back to tonight.   Stockholms Olympiastadion,  or just Stadion to its friends, has its place in history already assured even after DIF depart in a few weeks.  Built for the Games of the V Olympiad in 1912, very little in the design of the stadium has changed in the past century. The wooden benches, the gothic-style brick entrances that would look more in place at a castle, the elaborate entrance to the arena at one end.  Alas it is doubtful that anyone who witnessed the drama of the 1912 Tug of War competition is alive today.  The event, which is still the shortest ever held in the Olympics history, was completed from start to finish in less than 5 minutes when Sweden beat Great Britain 2-0, being the only two competing nations, to take the Gold medal. The stadium is also famous for holding events in two Olympic games.  In 1956 it hosted the equestrian events for the Melbourne Olympics due to quarantine regulations.  Two facts in one paragraph to amuse and amaze your friends.  You don’t get that from behind a pay-wall do you?

The last golden period for DIF came a decade ago when the team won three Allsvenskan Championships in four years, including the domestic double in 2002 and 2005.  Unfortunately they weren’t able to make any progress in the resulting Champions League campaigns, a fact that was probably their undoing in the end, as the best players moved on and the gravy train didn’t deliver enough cash to re-invent a new, better, team.

Since then the club have floated around the lower mid-table in the Allsvenskan.  There have been many false dawns and even more disappointments.  Seeing arch-rival AIK win the double a few years ago was a bitter pill to swallow, but perhaps the move to the Tele2 Arena may well see the rise of the blue half of the city once more.  Despite a crap start to the season, the majority of sides were separated by just a few points and so a win or two could take them up into the European spots in just a week or two.

Djurgårdens IF 1 Kalmar IF 0 – Stockholms Stadion – Thursday 30th May 2013
Of course, Swedish football is the best in the world. Why? Because when all other options are exhausted at the end of the season in May, the Swedes are just getting going in their season. DIF’s campaign so far has been a bit of a nightmare.  Coming into this game against Kalmar, The Iron Stoves (Järnkaminerna) prop up the rest of the league.  The visitors came into the game just one point outside the European spots although having only scored 12 goals in their opening ten games didn’t really suggest they were the most attacking team.

8900669783_0e4f02f888_bWith the hope in their hearts the home side began the game with some purpose, having discovered their mojo with the first real appearance of summer. Cool, calm defending that belied the fact they had shipped an average of over 2 goals per game so far this season, and some good movement from the pacey front two Fenzullahu and Jawo. Fifteen minutes in and they had their reward as a ball over the top of the Kalmar defence saw Jawo outpace his markers and beat the keeper with ease from 10 yards. For the rest of the half they “Kalmar’d” the storm, with Kenny Höie called into action on frequent occasions to clear his lines.

The second half saw the teams welcomed back onto the pitch with a display of flares from the ultras, which meant that until they all had been extinguished they game couldn’t start – and that just encouraged them to light a few more through the half, which always resulted in a stern PA announcement that probably said something like “don’t go back to fireworks once they have gone out” or “don’t gargle petrol when holding a flare”.

8900661751_42308d86ea_bDespite forcing some early corners, Djurgårdens didn’t have that cutting edge that a player like Teddy Sheringham could bring. Oh Teddy, Teddy. Young Edward as Cloughie used to call him, had a very productive season in these parts back in 1985 and enjoyed his time in the Swedish capital – and who wouldn’t?  Stockholm is a fantastic city to relax in and I am sure Teddy made full use of his Saarf London persona in the bars and clubs of Gamla Stan. More of his adventures can be found in a new book, published this summer by Ockley Books called The Football Tourist, written by erm…me.

With ten minutes to go Martin Broberg should have doubled the lead when he headed over from six yards and then young Martin broke the offside trap to seal the victory but blazed high and wide. It hadn’t been the best night for him, but for the team as a whole it had been a performance that would give them confidence of the battles ahead. Relatively assured at the back, positive going forward. No Bayern Munich but certainly no Stoke City.

8901220232_a22eac7eb6_bWhen the clock hit ninety minutes the fans unfurled a banner – “Djurgården – we’re gonna live forever” accompanied by a rousing verse of the club’s hymn. The three points won’t give them immortality but it did take them up five places in the table which on a beautiful Stockholm night is about as good as life could get for the blue side of the city.

“Closing time. So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits.  I hope you have found a Friend”

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

16 Nov

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

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

I’ve enjoyed a good relationship with football in Stockholm over the past few years, documenting my trips on the website Football in Sweden. I’ve been a frequent guest at the Råsunda, the home for at least another week of AIK, primarily to watch Kenny Pavey, the finest Englishman never to play for the national team (see interviews here and here with him). The face of football in the city was about to change dramatically. Not only were AIK about to get one of the most modern new stadiums in Europe, city rivals Djurgården and IF Hammarby were about to move into the new Tele2Arena in the south of the city. I have also spent enough nights in the city to know where to go to drink proper beer, rather than the watered down, Government friendly, bars that most of the England fans would camp out in during the run up to the game, spending a fortune on beer that has less alcoholic content that a can of Shandy Bass.

After the debacle of Poland many people will question why I was here at all. That trip turned out being very expensive with the replacement of my iPhone after its water damage. Whilst the FA promised a refund of our ticket money, a month down the line and I am still waiting. As with most organisations, they are very quick at taking money off you, but very slow at refunding it. I had my answer all prepared for this line of questioning, relying on three statements:-

1. It was a historic night for Swedish football. The opening of the biggest stadium in the Nordics, one of the most modern in the world and one where the roof actually worked and would definitely be closed.

2. I need to visit our sales office in Stockholm every few months and hadn’t been since May and they missed me.

3. I had a room booked at the Jumbo Inn.

Point three was probably as exciting as the visit to the new stadium. I love airplanes – you have to doing the job I do. On average I fly over 100 times per annum so being able to actually stay in a jumbo jet for the night was high on my list of to-do’s especially as the house maids were dressed as air stewardesses (I was hoping Virgin/Singapore rather than BA or Ryanair).

As usual prior to friendly games there had been a significant number of withdrawals from the squad the weekend before. Five players pulled out on Sunday, and three potential replacements had produced a note from their Mum meaning the 21 player squad includes new faces such as Crystal Palace’s Wilfred Zaha, Fraser Forster and Carl Jenkinson, who had previously represented Finland at under 19 level. Continue reading

AIK still drawing blanks in the Stockholm derby

24 Sep

Andy Hudson brings us the tale of woe from another Stockholm derby:-

AIK’s winless run in the Tvillingderbyt stretched to four games as Stockholm rivals Djurgården recorded a 1-0 victory in which the real winners were Helsingborg who now find themselves eight points clear of AIK at the top of the Allsvenskan and with a game in hand. The win for Djurgården came despite their boss, Magnus Pehrsson, picking faults with what he perceived to be the rough nature of some of the home side’s tackling.

The last time AIK won this game was during their 2009 Gold season, almost two years to the day when a Flavio double secured the three points. The Gnaget fans amongst the attendance of 24,639, a crowd beaten only by the first derby back in the opening round of games of this Allsvenskan year, were buoyed by going into this game on the back of five straight victories – a remarkable run considering the sale of their potent strike force of Mohammed and Tetteh Bangura – and harbouring hopes of overhauling Helsingborg. By the end of the match the Allsvenskan became a one horse race.

Read more at Andy’s site Blagul Fotboll here.

Still England’s finest export

4 Aug

We think Kenny Pavey is the best English player currently playing outside of these shores.  Whenever we are in Sweden we try and make time for him, simply because he is a really nice bloke.  After my trip over to the Stockholm derby I asked Andy Hudson, our expert on Swedish football, and author of the excellent website Blågul Football to meet up with Kenny when he was next over in Stockholm.  Over to you Andy.

Pavey thanks to Robert Henriksson

I’ve been involved in many great situations since I started writing about football, but one stands out. It’s June 26 2011 and I’m sitting in O’Leary’s, a bar in Örebro. I’ve just ordered another beer, my fifth of the day, and AIK have won 2-1 away to Trelleborg. The only people celebrating as Teteh Bangura struck the winner in the 77th minute were me and a friend, in stark contrast to our protests when AIK wrongly had a goal disallowed in the first half; the other lads with us are still fuming about the ÖSK loss earlier. I fire off a text message and then there’s a look of disbelief from around the table as I read out the reply. My AIK supporting friend, the person to blame for the amount of time I spend talking about AIK; the person to blame for me checking the internet for the latest news; the person to blame for me listening to Swedish radio coverage of games whenever I can, can’t believe it. Kenny Pavey, ‘scorer’ of the disallowed goal, has replied. The same Kenny Pavey who can also happily be blamed for my AIK lust.

An infectious smile comes across the face of every AIK fan when I mention one name: Kenny Pavey – crowd favourite, idol of the North Stand, legend. If you wanted a definition of a whole-hearted, passionate player then I would give you Kenny Pavey. But he isn’t an English clogger, this guy has skill to go with the tough tackling.

AIK fans couldn’t believe it when he was left out of the starting eleven at the start of the season. Once he was back in the team he scored a last minute winner against ÖSK in the first full 90 minutes that he played, an example of his never-say-die attitude. With Pavey back in the team, AIK have started climbing the table. The Banguras may get the goals, but when the chips are down you would always want Pavey on your side.

Of course, Kenny has appeared on TBIR before. And it’s a great pleasure to have him here again:

Hi Kenny, thanks for taking the time to speak to The Ball Is Round again. How’s Stockholm life treating you?
Always nice to speak to The Ball Is Round; life is good in Stockholm. The football and my family are keeping me busy haha.

Has it been frustrating for you starting from the bench at times this season?
Yes of course. Any player that is happy to be on the bench has no ambition or belief in my eyes; I was injured just before the start of the season which meant not starting the first 3 games. I had a good run in the side then what can only be described as politics got involved and I was on the bench for another 3 games. But since then I have played from the start in every match and we have actually won every game: 6 wins in a row.

What else do you think went wrong last season when the club spent so much of the year around the relegation zone?
The key thing was that we lost so many players throughout the team. Key players, regular starters, it doesn’t matter which team you are, it takes time for players to gel together. I never thought that it was going to be as bad as it was but it really was something that I’ve never experienced in my playing career before. For me this was one of the most important seasons in my life as I was going to play Champions League football. The team was totally different from the year before and we never got a chance to show people outside of Sweden how good we really were, and that was very disappointing for me.

AIK fans love you, with many holding you up as an example of a player who displays the AIK spirit. How does that make you feel, knowing that you’ve become such a big part of a special club?
What can I say to that? When I signed for AIK, some friends from my team in Ljungskile told me that the fans would love me. Of course I had my doubts of how well it would go, but I never in my wildest dreams thought that it would be so special. They have been amazing to me and I will never forget the support they have given me during my time here.

Are you missing the games against Hammarby since their relegation?
Yes, absolutely!! I think it’s a shame for Swedish football that teams like Hammarby are not in the top league; the atmosphere is fantastic. As much as the AIK fans loved to see them go down, I think they really miss the derby matches. 

Apart from AIK, who do you reckon will win the Allsvenskan this year?
I think Elfsborg and Helsingborg are our biggest threats 

Do you have a plan to move back to England at some point or do you see your life as being in Sweden for the long term?
We are very happy in Sweden right now, especially in Stockholm, and being that I have a good profile in Sweden and I would like to work in football in the future, I don’t really think about it [moving back to England] too much. Plus it’s a great place to bring up kids which is a huge priority to me, so I guess at this moment no.

Could you imagine ever signing for Djurgården with the huge rivalry in Stockholm?
No, I could never do that to the AIK fans.

Do you ever get together for a beer with Calum Angus and James Keene – the other top-flight English lads?
No, I don’t actually. Borås is quite a long way away from Stockholm but I always have a good chat with James when I’m down there and I recently had a chat with Calum for the first time. Both are top men.

What kind of reaction do you get from Djurgården and Hammarby fans when you’re out in town?
To be honest, I have a lot of fans from the other clubs come up to me and tell me how much they hate AIK and me, but they tell me they love my style and would like me if I played in their team. I have never had any bad incidents with any of the fans.

How do you celebrate Midsommar?
Yes we have the traditional Swedish midsummer with dancing around the penis* and having a beer with some lovely food haha.

Kenny, it has been an absolute pleasure, cheers!

The full version of Andy’s interview can be found on his excellent website Blågul Fotbul.

* Many readers will have read about the penis and will maybe think “those Swedes are always at it!”. And then maybe they’ll be confused for a moment. To help you: at Midsommar (a Swedish holiday) the Swedes will get together for a party which includes a load of booze and food. In the afternoon they will dance around a pole, a bit like the English maypole, where it’s a symbol of fertility with the pole having phallic symbolism.

The start of the gravy train for another season

13 Jul

“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.  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.

Well tonight Matthew I would be attending my first Champions League tie for over a year ‘cross the bridge in my second, sorry third home (oops forgot TBIR Towers in London there..CMF wont be pleased with that slip) Malmö as they took on 21 times Faroese champions Havnar Bóltfelag Tórshavn in the Second Qualifying Round first leg of the 57th year of Europe’s premier football competition, and the 20th since the start of the Champions League format as we know it today.  The 24th ranked nation according to UEFA versus the 48th.

Malmö, Swedish Champions last season have high hopes of reaching the group stages this year.  Only six games stand between them and a place in the Group Stages.  Easy peasy really.  If they did overcome the Faroe Islanders they could look forward to FC Copenhagen, Genk or even Rangers in the next round if they are unlucky (For a great view on the seedings, coefficients and all that stuff that is too complex for my brain, head over and see Bert)

As the Malmo anthem struck up four lone figures in the south stand stood up and held up a Faroe Island flag with great pride.  It is a long road to Munich in May but they were prepared for the long haul.  I just hoped that they weren’t the infamous HB Hooligan firm who, according to Wikipedia mind, “crushed the Dinamo Zagreb hooligans in 10 seconds”.

This was the Faroe Islanders eleventh Champions League tie.  They had won twice before, the last being against FC WIT Georgia back in 2004 and most online bookies I checked with prior to the game weren’t giving them much hope of a repeat tonight (25/1 on as Alan confirmed to me mid-match with the score still 0-0).  I would have bit his arm off on backing the Faroe Islanders who almost sixteen years to the day had beaten Skansin Tórshavn 22-0.  But that would have made me clinically insane.

Still as Greavsie used to say, “It’s a funny old game Saint”.  I officially declare my Champions League season open.  God bless it and all who get in my way.  Time for a delicious cake, a cup of strong coffee and an attempt to get my tongue quite literally around some very strange names.

Malmö FF 2 HB Tórshavn 0 – Malmö Stadion – Wednesday 13th July 2011
With the formalities over the singing started up from the Blues choir behind the goal.   The best thing about coming to watch football here is not the fantastic cakes in the press room, or pastel coloured shirts, or even the strange seats that you have to swivel your whole body to get it. It is without a doubt the constant soundtrack the game is played to by the Tifosi.  And tonight was no exception.

Twenty minutes gone and some nervous glances were being exchanged around the press box.  Apart from a great fingertip save by Teitur Gestsson, Malmö could not break down the 11 men HB put behind the ball at all times.  Well, actually it was 12 as HB’s “centre forward” Andrew Av Fløtum was the size of a bus.

Twenty eight minutes gone and here was the opening goal.  Strong run down the wing, great cross, keeper beaten and the ever reliable Rexhepi was on the far post to nod in.  Except he didn’t.  He head over.  Queue more groans, shaking of heads and kicking of cats (not literally RSPCA it is a metaphor in this case).

As the game drifted towards half time and the HB players took every opportunity to waste some more time I noticed a couple of things about the ground.  Firstly there were no Champions League partner ads.  No PlayStation, Amstel, Ford or even a Rainham Steel lurking behind the goal.  And secondly, the two screens that normally relayed the action, and more importantly the replays, were switched off.  Good job there wasn’t much to show!

It was a disappointing half, let’s be honest Malmö fans.  But for the visitors the best they could have hoped for was a draw and so the game plan needed to take this into account.

The second half saw the home side batter HB from the first minute.  In fact it wasn’t until the 55th minute that they actually got the ball out of their half.  By that stage Malmö’s corner count had reached double figures and at last the small HB keeper had been forced into making a save.

Two minutes later the goal finally came.  Another deep cross from the left and again Rexhepi was left unmarked.  This time he headed firmly downwards and not up and the ball hit the back of the net.  Cue 12,548 fans exhaling all at once to drive those wind turbines in the middle of the Øresund and light up Copenhagen.

The home fans expected the flood gates to open, especially as Tórshavn actually deployed a forward who even ran into the Malmö half once in a while.  But it took a further twenty minutes before they scored again.  Another cross, more confusion in the box and Thorleifson put through his own net.

Apart from  a couple more near misses there was no more action.  Malmö would have taken the score if not the performance at 7pm and the second leg in the wind and rain in the Faroes should not cause too many problems.  But then again, it is a funny old game.

More pictures can be found at our Flickr stream here.

twitter / theballisround

Playing away from home

3 Jul

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.

I saw them for the first time at the iconic Malmö Stadion, one of the architectural masterpieces built for the 1958 World Cup. Yes it was crap to watch a game in, but it looked pretty. Many things in Sweden are great to experience at but don’t have much substance – the beer for instance which is watered down just in case the locals get too excited. Björn Borg pants are another, but let’s not go there on a Sunday afternoon.

In 2009 they moved into a brand new stadium, the Swedebank Stadion literally behind their old one. It was built with the fans in mind with a big terrace behind one goal and two tiers of seats forming the rest of the stadium. No grand ambitions with the capacity, with 21,000 seats being perfect for the club.

Last season, after a six year gap, they won the Allsvenskan, the Swedish championship, playing some scintiliating football in the process. I was lucky enough to see them almost win the title at home to Helsingborgs, their greatest rival both for the title but also in terms of a local derby, before almost handing it back to them with a dreadful nervy performance against Kalmar. On both occasions the stadium literally bounced with atmosphere. The one thing that can never be levelled at the fans is that they lacked passion.

This season I had taken them for granted. Not returning their calls, ignoring important events and dare I say not even reading the emails when they came. But like an addiction to all bad things I was craving my fix. And when I sent an email on the off chance of a last minute press pass I was staggered by my reply from the club.

“Of course you are welcome. We have missed you”.

Four words that just melted my heart. How could I resist. I kissed goodbye to CMF and the Little Fullers at Kastrup airport and under the pretence of going back to work I changed platforms and carried on my journey under/above the Øresund to Malmö. Ten minutes after getting off at the new Trianglen station I was picking up my pass with a big smile from the familiar faces on the media desk. Just how long we would all be smiling was another matter.

The whole of Copenhagen had been shook to its foundations on Saturday night by a huge thunderstorm. We are talking biblical in its vericity and more rain fell in a two hour period than Denmark had seen in the past thirty years. Pity those people who were in a field at the Roskilde festival. No, really, there is nothing funny about being stuck in a tent during the worst rain in over a quarter of a century…..

And it appeared the storms were coming back. After another very hot day the clouds started gathering overhead. CMF’s flight back to London was delayed due to a very localised storm over Copenhagen (Thanks to Easyjet she was eventually delayed 3 hours, with no food or drink or even seats.  But what do you expect?).  I felt guilty about her pain, but I was being distracted. For in front of me the sky blues were turning on the style.

Sunday 3rd July 2011 – Malmö FF 2 Norrköping IF 1 – Malmö Stadion

It took just 90 seconds for the team to give me the perfect welcome back present. The usual stirring anthem had ended with a huge cheer, and with that still ringing in my ears Jimmy Durmaz tip toed through the Norrköping defence before curling the ball into the top corner. Bosh – take that and party.

Goals have been a bit of an issue this season for Malmö. It is fair to say that if they had a player in form up front they would not find themselves in 8th place with over a third of the season gone. They had scored just 14 from 14 games, a far cry from last season’s title winning performance. Time moves on, as too did last season’s manager Roland Neilson who had hopped on a Øresundstag train to Copenhagen to manage FCK. New boss Rikard Norling hadn’t yet endeared himself to the Malmö faithful and with their first Champions League campaign due to start in just a few weeks time it was important that their form started to return.

The visitors should have equalised and even taken the lead as Khalili headed wide, obviously taking too much inspiration from his Christmas present of Carlton Cole’s greatest headers, whilst Ajdarevic smashed a shot against the inside of a post whilst the keeper Melicharek could only look on. It was only at this point I noticed he was actually wearing a Spurs home kit. Absolutely identical to their home kit from last season bar the sponsors logo. Perhaps Spurs could try and take them to court…no stop it Stuart, don’t go down that road.

One became two on the stroke of half time when top scorer Larsson was set free, drew the keeper before curling the ball into the top corner. Foreplay, mere foreplay I hoped for what was to come.

The second half was much of the same. Malmö tried to get the ball wide as much as possible, using the pace of Larsson, whilst the away side obviously fancied their chances from distance against the Gomes-a-like in the Malmö goal.

The saying “the calm before the storm” was so evident here. On seventy five minutes with the sun still shining brightly on half of the ground a deathly hush fell over the stadium as Norrköping attacked. The clouds had filled the sky overhead, the wind picked up and then the rain started. Norrköping saw this as a sign of divine intervention and took advantage of the home side’s nervous looks to the heavens to pull a goal back when Khalili headed home a free kick unmarked.

It is amazing how easy you slip back into the old ways, and as I sat at the press conference afterwards awaiting Rikard Norling’s words I was amazed how many familiar faces I saw. I couldn’t feel more at home than if I had a pair of slippers on and I was sucking on a Skippers Pipe (before anyone jumps to any rude conclusions it is a licorice pipe which is very popular in Denmark). Sure Malmö had huffed and puffed to a win, and I am sure they will need to up their game to make progress in retaining their title as well as reaching the land of milk and honey in the Champions League, but for one night let’s forget all about the world outside and just bask in each other’s company.

Bet your house on it, but just not in Sweden

16 Jun

The Swedes have one main feature in their grounds that us English are still trying to catch up on.  A hand up at the back there?  No it is not beer as the strict licencing laws here mean that it cannot be sold in the stadiums.  Nor is it the quality of their sausages as even the Swedes will grudgingly admit the Danes are king of the sausage in these parts.  No, it is the presence of a huge TV screen in some part of the ground.  Irrespective of the size of the ground there will be at least one large screen somewhere.

And what is it used for? Well Sweden has a bizarre practice of showing match action from other games being played around the country at the same time.  Not at half time, or even full time but during the game.

So there you are watching a Djurgården attack unfold in the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm when all of a sudden, “Bing, Bong” and all the eyes in the stadium will divert to the screen to see what has happened down in Trellesborgs, or Kalmar….the poor old Djurgården winger who could be on the run of his life has been upstaged by events elsewhere.  He might as well give up.  Most of these games mean nothing to either set of fans, although sometimes a cheer or a groan will tell a different story.

After the action the screen will then revert to showing a set of numbers.  The latest odds on the result of the game being played.  Swedes love free sports betting online, and with over 92.5% of the population having internet access, and more importantly over 40% use smartphones to access the interwebnet means that as soon as those odds flash up there is a flurry of activity as the fans pull out their iPhones.  However, as with most other avenues of pleasure in Sweden even this activity is heavily regulated.  In England there is a virtual fight over space in our football grounds from the betting companies.  In Sweden there is only one – the state owned (and controlled) Svenska Spel, and all other companies are banned from advertising.  Recently some of these bigger players in Europe have challenged this restriction, and it seems their cause is picking up support domestically as well.  A parliamentary majority between the four main political parties is required to rewrite Swedish gambling laws and begin licensing and regulating the online gambling market. There is no guarantee that the independent thinking party members of all four parties will fall in line and support Svenska Spel’s demise.

However, the Swedes also feel that freedom of information is an important social value and so online gambling is growing significantly.  There is no restriction on their use of sports betting websites overseas and with English fluent in almost everyone under the age of thirty, language is no barrier to their ability to place a bet or two.

So if you do ever end up at a game over here, remember to keep your eyes on the game and not on the screen.  You never know what you may miss.

For the love of Skåne

27 May

“Scandinavia.  The final frontier.  These are the voyages of the good ship TBIR.  It’s continuing mission: “To explore strange new football grounds.  To seek out unusual floodlights, new songs and to boldly go where no other English football blog has gone before.”

Captain’s log: Star date 26052011. We have been tasked to travel to the furthest southern point of Scania, locate the statue of a nude grandmother of a Hollywood star before heading off to a football match.

Birgit Holmquist – thanks to

Far fetched?  Nothing is too much for us, or rather for you dear readers.  So this challenge was going to be a breeze.  Train over/under the Øresund, a quick change onto a bus and head south.  Deep south.  Until we come to the little village ofSmygehuk, the most southerly point of Sweden, and thus Scania.  There, facing out to see is a statue of a nuke young woman arms outstretched looking up to the sky.  A perfect 10 you could say.  Few who visit this point will realise that the statue is of Birgit Holmquist who posed for the sculpture back in 1930.  Birgit was the mother of famous 70’s model  Nena von Schlebrügge and grandmother of actress Uma Thurman.  Well that was handy then wasn’t it?

There was literally nothing else to see in Smygehuk so Ben and I jumped back on the bus and ten minutes later hopped off in Trelleborg.  Now here was a strange place.  Sweden’s second largest port and the alighting point for many a German ferry, yet there is no railway line?  Sitting so close to Malmø and thus Denmark surely it would make sense to build a railway line.  I mean in 1917 when Lenin arrived to lead the revolution after being in exile in Sassnitz, what did he do?  Hitchhike?

There was always such a big thing in England made of Mansfield being the only club in the Ninety Two without a train station.  But there can be few towns left in “mainland” Europe that do not have a rail connection?  It is not even as if Trelleborg is a small place as the population is over 25,000. Perhaps a quiz question for someone, somewhere.

But we had the second part of our mission to complete, and that was getting to a football match.  And as luck would have it,Trelleborgs FF were taking on Syrianska, the team of the moment in the Swedish Allsvenskan.  Why were they so talked about?  Well a couple of reasons.  This is the highest level they have ever played at firstly.  In fact three seasons ago they were in the 3rd tier of Swedish football.  Secondly, the are a team essentially made up of Syrian immigrants and see themselves as a sporting voice of the Syriac people.  This doesn’t necessarily sit very well with some of the fans in the division, and after a controversial decision in the recent home game against AIK, all hell broke loose and the game was abandoned, and a 3-0 victory handed to Syrianska (see video here).

Trelleborgs continue to amaze in Swedish football.  After their best ever finish in 2009 of ninth, they changed their style of play in 2010 to a more attractive passing game and finished in fifth place.  Whilst we had been here before, watching a game versus Sunsdvall on a very cold and wet night, this promised to be a much more entertaining with the sun shining and memories of Uma Thurman’s grandmother still fresh in our minds.

Trelleborgs FF 0 Syrianska 1 – Vångavallen – Thursday 26th May 2011
As usual whenever we come to football in Sweden we are treated like royalty, which without being greedy we wish we would, especially if it was like our old friend Princess Madeleine, who is still heartbroken and pining away the hours (we would like to believe). The press officer Jannie took us down the tunnel (stop sniggering), gave us a quick tour of the facilities just as the teams came out.  In fact it appeared that we were delaying the entrance of the teams by standing in the tunnel nodding knowingly as Jannie spoke in Swedish to us.  We both have trouble understanding Danish without throwing Swedish into the mix!

The teams came out to polite applause, very much in keeping with the neat appearance of the ground and the surrounding area.  You would be hard pushed to have believed a game was about to start.  Not because there were few fans around, but because they were going about their business in such hushed tones.  Syrianska had almost filled up the away section, although based on the fact it could only hold about 70 it wasn’t hard (For the visits of the big boys such as Malmøthey open up the terrace behind the goal).

The game started at a great pace with both teams forcing the goalkeepers into saves under pressure.  Twenty minutes flew by before we saw the only goal.  A great ball into the Trelleborgs penalty was brilliantly chested down by Dinko Felic and he turned and smashed the ball into the net.  For a two metre tall chap(sorry it’s all metric over here) his control was exceptional.  At the other end Fredrik Jensen, the loanTrelleborgs striker had a chance to equalise in the thirty fifth minute, sending his header straight at the keeper.

As time ebbed away in the first half Syrianska’s Yussuf Saleh sent a stinging shot just over the bar from thirty yards whilst from anAdelstam corner at the other end the away keeper did well to clear the danger.  Half time.  Time for a sausage and a beer.  Doh, of course, we are in Sweden and such niceties of a half time liquid refreshment are not allowed.  I applaud their moral stance on the dangers of alcohol although I do find it very two faced that a church is then open about investing in some dubious content – thanks to Luge for finding this one, although quite why he would be reading Adult Video News during working hours is a mystery that HR will need to investigate.

Ben came back empty handed on the sausage front.  Apparently they didn’t take Amex or any of his Danish Kroner.  “We build them a bridge, we let them use our mobile phone networks, we even give them some of our wind power.  The least they could do is let me buy a sausage with some of our money.” (Ben is actually British but is Danish when he wants to).

The second half passed much like the first.  Both teams played on the counter attack.  When teams line up with a 4-5-1 we tend to think in conservative terms.  But here that formation was so that they could break quickly and get met forward supporting the big man up front.  Both teams should have and could have scored a few times. The most animated figure in the half was the Syrianska manager who looked from the back like Jimmy White or Ray Von from Phoenix Nights.  Great mullet action.

Full time was greeted as if Syrianska had won the cup final.  For a team that played with such attacking flair it was hard to fathom why they were so near the bottom of the league.  We wandered down to the dressing room area to chat to a couple of the players but our attention was diverted by the noise coming from the away video, recorded below.  Top stuff to see.

Trellesborg FF should be applauded for the work they have done.  Whilst crowds are sparse (2,322 tonight – less than average in Football League Division Two), they continue to produce good players, and they play the game that is pleasing to watch.  They are not in the Allsvenskan by fluke and whilst tonight was a set back, they will continue to be on the fringes of greatness again this season.

Our journey home took us finally to a bar that was serving beer.  Was a £9 pint of Brooklyn worth the wait?  Of course it was.

More photos from the game can be found here.


26 Apr

A warm welcome to EFW debutant, Millwall fan Guy Collings….

IFK Goteborg v Helsingborgs – 18th April 2011

Over the last couple of years I have discovered the joys of watching European football across the continent and have simultaneously discovered the joys of EFW. Why not combine the two I thought and share my own experiences in the same way I enjoy reading of the many and varied EFW escapades.

This season has witnessed some great trips to places as diverse as Zagreb, Lisbon and Eindhoven. Looking for something different I hit upon the idea of Sweden. Why wouldn’t I? The season had just kicked off, it wouldn’t be snowing and it’s always seemed like such a nice place. After all, I drive a Saab so I have a real affinity with the place already. A bit of t’internet research and a quick response to an e-mail sent to IFK Goteborg led me to pick out the clash of the Swedish titans, IFK and Helsingborgs IF, as the place to start. Can I buy tickets on the day I asked. ‘Sure you can, we would love to welcome you to our beautiful stadium’ came the reply. Being ever wary of pitching up hundreds of miles from home and not being able to get in, I took the easy way out and purchased two main stand tickets through the link on their very easy to follow (thanks to Google translate) website for 220 SKR, about £22 each. Rather handily I was able to download the match tickets and print them off at home. Nice.

Read more here.