The quickest penalty of all time?

6 Jul

The 18 May 1946 is not a day that many will remember as being well known for anything.  If you are old enough to remember, then President Truman gave a televised speech announcing the end of the railroad strike in America and that is probably it, unless you were a resident in the small town of Ängelholm in south west Sweden.

On that night, in a small forest on the outskirts of the town a UFO landed.  The Swedes aren’t known for their strange beliefs such as other nations (Trolls for instance in other more northerly areas) so it was hard to put this down to a flight of fancy, especially as it was seen by a chap called Gösta Carlsson, a famous Swedish ice hockey player at the time.  Gösta claimed that the aliens landed and then passed him some secrets that enabled him to set up a successful natural therapy company.  A bit like an extra-terrestrial Herbalife then.  There is a monument in the forest clearing where the incident was alleged to have taken place which makes it the one of the biggest tourist draws in the area.

The town itself is better known for us younger people as one of the best surfing beaches in the Nordics.  People come from hundreds of miles away to enjoy the wide sandy beach and the strong currents.  It is certainly a nice looking place – free from litter and well kept lawns, and lots of very bronzed Swedes cycling around.

But I was not here for the UFO watching or the wind surfing.  Of course I was here for football.  Ängelholms FF are your typical provincial Swedish football team.  Happy to sit in the mid-table of the second division, occasionally upsetting one of the big boys in a cup and even rarer pushing for a promotion spot.  They have ambition though, and the club have stated that 2011 is their target date to reach the Allsvenskan for the first time.  This season has started well for them.  A 3-2 win on the opening day against favourites Hammarby in front of over 3,000 set them up well, but since then it has been a disappointing series of draws mixed in the occasional defeats.  In their last home game the crowd dropped down to just over 300 which must be a real concern for the club.

But then came the cup draw.  After a 1-0 win against Allsvenskan’s Halmstads BK they got the draw that everyone wanted.  AIK at home.  The treble winners from 2009 would be coming to town including our very own Kenny Pavey.

Fortunately, Ängelholm is only just over an hour from the TBIR overseas office, meaning that I could pop over after work, and with a press pass trousered I was looking forward to seeing if AIK could recover some form after a not too impressive opening to their defence of their league title.

Ängelholms FF 1 AIK 2 – Idrottsplatsen – Monday 5th July 2010
Shock of the day number one.  The club were expecting me and everywhere I went I was met with a big smile, a firm handshake and the question “why are you hear?”.  English groundhoppers are obviously thin on the ground in Skane. I was offered a photographers bib and took it with both hands – proof that I had at last arrived in this exclusive club.  “Lens envy is a problem we all have” says James, the Lewes snapper, and I could see why.  I lined up on the side of the pitch alongside a good few 10 inchers with my little 2 inch lens, but as CMF always tells me, “its not about the size, but the anticipation”.

I wandered around the edge of the pitch as the game kicked off.  Less than 10 seconds later a roar went up.  I couldn’t actually tell you what happened at the far end, but it appears that the AIK keeper upended a home forward and the referee pointed straight to the spot.  I am not sure of the official time, but with the fastest penalty in European football standing at 13 seconds in the game between Valladolid and Celta Vigo officially timed at 13 seconds in 2001 I would be sure it was close.  Up stepped Mikael Dahlgren and it was 1-0 to Ängelholm.  Could a shock be on the cards.

I positioned myself behind the goal, far enough away from the AIK fans who may have taken my orange jacket like a red rag to a bull, especially as they had conceded so early in the game.  Ängelholm IP is a classic lower league ground in Sweden – one main stand and a few temporary seating/standing arrangements around an athletics track.  Normally I hate watching games in such arenas as you are so far from the pitch but today it was a different story.  I could almost touch the (Jabulani) ball as it came over.  The first half was one way traffic, with AIK constantly pushing the home team back, but failing to create a chance of note.  Pavey started the game at right back, restricted in his forward runs by the narrowness of the AIK play as well as some fast counter attacks from the home side.

Half time arrived so I wandered around to compare pictures with the rest of the photographers.  And I have to say CMF is right – without a doubt the anticipation of some of my shots more than made up for my lack of inches in the lens department.  I got some jealous looks of my Samsung, especially when one suggested it was a “fake” as they do not make cameras with the Schneider Kreuznach lens…apparently.  Amazon.co.uk mate – does everything from A to Z (have you ever noticed on their logo there is a little line going from A to Z in the name?  That is why – from A to Z).

Is there a better smell than sausages being grilled?  All around the ground the waft of sizzling meat was in the air, and fans were tucking into their beer.  Tempting, but I had a job to do – I was a professional! So instead I saw how many decent looking girls I could photograph instead.  Well, TV cameramen get away with it!

AIK continued to attack in the second half.  Pavey was pushed further forward as the game went on and finally the sheer volume of balls into the box paid off as a cross from the left was fumbled by the home keeper, and Martin Lorentzson slotted the ball into an empty net.  Just under half an hour to find a winner.  To be fair Ångelholm raised their game and went out looking for the win.  Ten minutes later, and with all their subs used, AIK suffered a scare as their keeper Ivan Turina was injured when going in for a ball at the attackers feet.  He took some time to recover and Ängelholm could have made more of this opportunity.  The final moments of the half saw Pavey booked for winning the ball – a challenge that he himself admits would not get him booked in England, but out in Sweden referees single him out.

With my last direct train going at 9.45pm I could have really done without Extra Time, but that is what we had.  Both teams appeared tired, and with the start of their Champions League campaign just six days away AIK could have done without more stress.  Ängelholm’s coach decided not to throw on a fresh pair of legs and instead packed the midfield, perhaps hoping for penalties.  And it nearly worked.  Despite a close call when a well struck shot hit the post, 120 minutes failed to produce a goal.  One final push from AIK saw Pavey beat the full back for speed, reach the byline and cross the ball.  Keeper Andersson could only parry the ball down and into the path of substitute Antonio Flávio who smacked the ball home.  That was it – time up.  The home players fell to their knees, the away ones realised they had got out of jail.

The AIK players went over to the away fans to thank them for their support, and Ängelholm could only reflect on what might have been – especially as they would have got a nice local derby against Helsingborgs in the quarter finals.  And for me?  Well I stayed around to chat to Kenny, thinking I had plenty of time to get back.  Of course I should have realised that the Swedish train system is worse than its English counterpart.  The concept of a train actually going where it should seems to be a new approach in Sweden.  My train to Copenhagen decided to terminate in Malmo.  No real reason – perhaps the driver was on a promise.  So we were all turfed out and made to wait, in the pouring rain for over an hour before another one came along.  And then that decided to have a rest half way across the Øresund – lovely.

So a win for the favourites and the cup holders, but was it a worthwhile exercise?  They can only beat whoever is put in front of them and it is another game under their belt before the Champions League starts, but how much of a distraction against high flying Helsingborgs be on Friday – we shall see.

twitter / theballisround

For more photos from the game click here.

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