The most famous Swede of the lot

21 Jul

Ask 100 non Swedes who they think the most famous Swede is and you will get a variety of answers including Bjorn Borg, Abba, Britt Ekland and Alfred Nobel….ask the same question to Swedes and you will almost certainly get one name cropping up that you would not expect – Henrik Larsson. The striker who for so long was a fixture in the Celtic first eleven is idolised in the country, even more so announcing he would spend two seasons with his boyhood club Helsingborgs before he retired.

He duly kept his word and started the 2007 season leading the front line for Helsingborgs IF as they tried to win a title that they had last won in 1999. With no team able to win back to back titles for many a season the opportunity to hit the top was within their reach as they started the season in March 2007. The great thing about the Swedish season is its timing – meaning that football fans based in and around Copenhagen can watch football all year round. And with work giving me the time to spend in this wonderful part of the world a trip across the water to the historic town of Helsingborg became a must once Henrik had finished his stint with Manchester United and returned home.

The club’s centenary season had started well. Favourites Elfsborg, Djurgaarden and IFK Gotenborg had been distracted by European competition and with Henrik scoring freely things were shaping up nicely. With a midweek game on the horizon with Hammerby from the capital I managed to arrange a meeting with my friends from Google in Malmo and hop across the bridge in the early afternoon. The train from Malmo takes around an hour, and deposits you at the transport interchange – where trains, buses and ferries meet. Helsingborg is a major ferry port, with the regular route across to the confusingly named Helsingor in Denmark. In fact Helsingborg was part of Denmark for centuries, and has been one of those strategic locations that has seen a fair bit of action. Today in true flat pack form it is better known for the fact it is the global HQ of Ikea.

All of the main fun in the town is located within a 5 minute walk of the station, with pavement bars and restaurants lining the narrow pedestrian zone on the way up the hill to the stadium….Ah yes – the stadium…The Olympia Stadium…Open since 1898 and named after……pass. It has certainly never hosted the Olympics, nor does it look like Mount Olympia and so where on earth the name came from I do not know. It was due to be demolished next year, and rebuilt exactly the same size about 500 yards away but the club eventually saw sense and realised the current stadium was more than adequate enough to host the UEFA Under21’s championships.

With Henrik back in the fold tickets are not exactly easy to get, and so I had to rely on the media pass again. The club had produced a special Henrik-inspired media pack, with a Henrik badge, Henrik CD and a special Henrik endorsed housing estate brochure…Do you get the picture of how much Henrik means to these people?

One of the nice things about football at Helsingborg was that they had invested in the small things. The singing of the nation anthem before the game was unusual considering it was a normal league game – made all the better by the very blonde, very cute singer. The teams emerged to a ticker tape welcome, and with the sun setting over the stadium the scene was set hopefully for a classic, and the teams didn’t disappoint, serving up a six goal treat with Henrik scoring a brace on the way to a 4-2 win….and that is about it – nothing remarkable on the 90 minute journey from Copenhagen, nothing remarkable about the pcituresque town, a great game and finally a text book trip back. If only every trip was as easy as this!

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