Withdrawal symptoms

15 Jul

Just 8 days after the end of Euro2008 I found myself in serious need of a football fix, and not through one of those ridiculous Masters tournaments which Sky try and hype so much – “Liverpool v Tranmere Rovers in the big one tonight” said Sky last week as a host of players who hardly wore the shirts of either puffed their way through 10 minutes.  Neither do I have much time for friendlies, which do not actually prove anything.  Last season I went along to watch Dagenham & Redbridge versus West Ham which was notable for two things.  Firstly, it was Dean Ashton’s first game back and he proceeded to shoot at every occasion, including corners and an attempt from a throw in, a pattern that would be repeated throughout the season.  Secondly, West Ham had not taken deliery of their new Umbro kit and so were forced to play in a training kit without numbers, names or sponsors name.  Quite a refreshing change, although a year on the biggest rip off club in World football have just announced that they have dumped both kits from last season and replaced them already.  So much for the Fans Charter which states that a club has to state the “life expectancy” of the kit.

So, back to the story.  I had already sussed a game “over the bridge” in Malmo for my regular trip to Copenhagen.  With summer football a part of life in Scandinavia, summer football means that you can normally catch a game within an hour 11 months of the year in Copenhagen.  I had fond memories of my last trip to Malmo to see them play Kalmar last season (seehttp://theballisround.co.uk/2007/06/14/football-only-politer/) so I headed over to Sweden, changed by Danish Kroner for Swedish Kroner and headed south through the pretty city centre for their game versus Hammarby IF.

I had neglected my map so had to use the normally trusty Fuller navigation system.  I headed south out of the station, neglecting the “Stadion Special” buses, through the pedestrian areas of the city centre, across a canal or two and eventually came to a major crossroads.  Malmo are currently building a new stadium slap bang behind the old one, in order to host games in the 2009 UEFA U21’s championship, and so the presence of a few large cranes to my left was a good sign as I headed in that direction and also found out that they are building a brand new hypermarket, which is 2 miles in the wrong direction from the football ground.

Undetered I upped the walking rate (in preparation for my mammoth 5km run this week) and reached the familiar 50’s style white stadium with 10 minutes to kick off.  The new stadium was indeed being built at a pace behind the south stand and is rumoured to be ready early in 2009 and will be the newest stadium built in Sweden’s top league for well over a decade (unless the new Gamla Ullivi is ready in Goteborg before – another venue for 2009).  The queues outside were lengthy to say the least – Monday night football is very popular in Sweden and it was a family affair.  There were also quite a few away fans having made the trip down from Stockholm mingly about without any particular issues.  Malmo had kindly almost doubled the prices for this game realising that a) the team were doing ok, b) it was a nice sunnyish night and c) Hammarby were one of the teams the neutrals like to watch play.  Still the equivilant of £25 for a seat on the upper tier is a bargain when compared to the same seat at my beloved West Ham would cost nearly treble that.

I got talking to a group of Malmo fans during the first half who were interested in my view of football in Sweden and England.  They had travelled as a group over the past few years to games in England on a regular basis, but now even the Swedes who are used to paying £8 a pint found themselves priced out of the market and were planning their weekends away in Germany and Spain.  Does anyone actually consider this loss of import income into the game?  I bet not.

There can be nothing better in life than watching decent football in the sunshine, with a beer in ones hand that this was one of those evenings.  Malmo are a decent team.  They try and play the ball along the ground although they have a shocking centre back who looks the spitting image of Rufus Brevett.  It was his mistake that led to Hammarby’s opener, when a hopeful cross from the left was left by Brevettalike and the American college superstar Charlie Brooks tapped in unmarked.

The goal managed to shake the Malmo team into action but the Hammarby defence was playing a tight offside line, and yet again Malmo showed why they would never worry many defences in European football as they were caught offside time and time again.  Finally, on the half hour mark one of the two Finnish strikers in the Malmo team beat the line and calmly slotted the ball over the Hammarby keeper a la Torres in the Euro2008 final.

The goal did spur on the home team, and with the hardcore home fans congregated along the side of the pitch urging them on they forced corner after corner without ever getting close to another goal.  As luck would have it, or in this case wouldn’t have it, Hammarby went up the other end of the pitch and forced a corner of their own.

In one of those training ground moves that come off once in a million on the pitch a long corner was played to the edge of the penalty area where the deeply unpopular Hammarby midfielder Gaets volleyed it.  On paper it sounds impressive – although the shot actually travelled so slowly into the net it fooled everyone.  Just two minutes later that man Davies was at it again, chasing a ball of lost cause into the corner, beating a defender before drilling the ball into the corner of the net.  3-1 in a blink of an eye was a tad unfair on Malmo, but Hammarby did deserve the lead at half time for their attacking play away from home.

One interesting diversion during the first half was the constant replays being shown on the big screen at the far end of the stadium.  So what is the issue with that?  Nothing as long as it was the highlights and replays from this game.  Oh no – not in Sweden.  They kept relaying action from another game being played elsewhere .  Again if it was a vital game, with a championship or a cup depending on it but this was the equivilant of Wigan v Fulham on a Monday night in October.  Pointless, absolutely pointless.

Malmo’s stadium is unique in terms of design in world football.  It has two identical stands that run full length of the pitch that are crescent in design, sloping down in each corner.  The top tier of the stands start in each corner with a single row of seats, rising to a decent height in the middle. What possessed the stadium designers I do not know but based on the quality of the beer on offer and the ease in which they were slipping down I would suggest that they had had a few!  Behind each goal were terraces, set back behind the curve of the athletics track meaning the views were terrible for those who had braved it.

The second half failed to live up to the excitment of the first one for the first 30 minutes, and Malmo had a few chances to pull a goal back, again corners providing their best option.  However, as is always the case it was the away team who scored the decisive goal, again another defensive lapse allowing the impressive Hammarby midfield the freedom of the pitch to slot in the fourth and queue a huge exodus of home fans.

Malmo, to give them credit never gave up.  They continued to push and pressure and were rewarded with a goal back direct from a free kick with 5 minutes to go.  At this point a melee broke out on the far side of the stadium as it appeared that a Hammarby fan who had been in amongst the Malmo fans on the hardcore stole a flag and ran towards the exit.  In a move similar to a scene from Benny Hill, the Malmo fans set off chasing the Hammarby fan up and down the terraces for a good 3 minutes before the police intervened.

The victory for Hammarby took them into the European play off spots and within a win of top spot currently held by Kalmar.  I headed back on the bus to the station and jumped on a train back to Copenhagen.  Despite having many good features, public transport in Scandinavia tends to be as bad as in the UK at times, and as we sat in Malmo station watching the minutes tick by without any announcements it was interesting  seeing the growing anger of the passengers.

Eventually our train rolled in 45 minutes late to Copenhagen central station, and I returned to my minimalist chic and completely disfunctional hotel, ready for my next challenge. Hopefully my next trip back to Malmo will see me visit the new stadium, which by all accounts will be unique and ground breaking.  Apparently, according to the website it will be a completely enclosed structure of 25,000 seats, with two tiers on all four sides.  For Malmo read Leicester City, Southampton, Geneva, Salzburg and so on and so on.  Still at least it will be without the scurge of decent football – the athletics track!

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