Football only politer

21 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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