HELSINGBORGS

About The Olympia Stadion
The Olympia Stadion is one of the most atmospheric stadiums in the Swedish top division. It can hardly be called traditional as it is a mixture of the old and new, perched on a hill high above the historic port city of Helsingborg. The stadium was originally opened in 1898 as a multi-sport venue and was further developed during the 1990’s when the main stand and east stand were rebuilt, and the athletics track removed.

The stadium is one of the most famous in Swedish football, and unusually the hardcore fans can be seen to congregate in one particular corner on both the terrace and the seated area. The views from the main stand and the east stand are very good, although the setting sun during the summer months does cause an issue for those seated in the latter. Away supporters are located in the corner of the north stand terrace. Expect lots of co-ordinated singing and a few ticker-tape showers.

Who plays at Olympia
Helsingborgs IF were founded in June 1907 although their formative years brought little joy in terms of success. The club played in the regional leagues until the end of the First World War when they began to dominate Swedish football, but never quite winning the honours. All that changed in 1929 when the team at last lived up to their potential by winning the Championship. They followed this up by retaining their title in 1930, and went on to win the trophy in 1933, 1934 and 1941 when they completed the domestic double.

After the Second World War ended in 1946, and football returned to normal in Sweden, the club struggled to compete with the big teams, and found themselves on a number of occasions in the 2nd division. They returned in 1993 to herald a new era of success for the club. In the late 1990’s the team at last delivered the goods again by firstly winning the Swedish Cup in 1998 and the following season the title for the final time.

The club have played in Europe a number of times – in fact they played in European competition every season from 1996/97 through to 2002. During that period the most notable success was playing in the Champions League in 2000/01 when they beat Inter Milan over two legs to qualify for the group stages along with Paris Saint Germain, Rosenborg and Bayern Munich. They will once again return to the UEFA Cup in 2007 after winning the Swedish Cup in 2006 by beating Gefle IF 2-0.

The club is managed by Scot Stuart Baxter who has been playing and managing in Sweden since the mid 1980’s. Their most famous player, without doubt is ex-Celtic and Barcelona legend Henrik Larsson who promised the club he first made his name with at least one season at the end of his career. He was good to his word, despite turning down an offer to stay at Manchester United where he was on loan during 2006/07. Larsson was actually voted Helsingborgs Player of the Century in 2007. One notable feature of the team this season is that they have more sponsors on their kit that a Formula One car – with 6 different sponsors on the short and 2 on their shorts.

How to get to the Olympia Stadion
Most visitors will arrive at the central station which is close to the ferry terminal and adjacent to the bus station. If the weather is nice then the best way to reach the stadium is to walk through the pedestrian area opposite the station, stopping at a few hostelries along the way before taking one of the paths that wind their way up the steep hill. Once you are in the park area, keep heading eastwards and the stadium will come into view behind the houses. The walk from the station takes around 15 minutes. There are a number of special buses laid on for the football that run from the bus station.

How to get a ticket for the Olympia
Swedish football is enjoying a renaissance, and with the signing of Henrik Larsson, Helsingborg have become a very attractive team to watch now, and so tickets can be in short supply for some matches. However, the good news is that it is easy to book a ticket in advance using http://www.ticnet.sewhere tickets go on sale around 6 weeks prior to the match. Tickets can also be purchased from the stadium. Ticket prices depend on the opposition, but in general you will pay 105SKR for a place on the terrace for most matches, rising to 145SKR for the game versus Mälmo, whilst a good seat would be 175SKR and 245SKR respectively.

Our Last Visit – March 2010

I rarely get hangovers these days but after a night of pub hopping in Copenhagen and more than a few Carlsberg/Tuborg/Jacobsens I woke up on Sunday morning with a banging noise in my head.  Turns out I had gone to sleep with my iPod on and it had looped around to a bit of Metallica.  So I took them out and the noise simply got louder.  A quick shower and a nurofen breakfast later and the EFW/TBIR team were on our way north for the first leg of a classic “two games in two countries in one day”.  Not something new for the team as we had more recently seen games at Essen and Arnhem on the same day to add to an England/Wales, Bratislava/Vienna and a Germany/Austrian one.

The train north was eventful for the bizarre hobbits sitting opposite us.  Two women, one of whom had a better beard that any of us who complained about the temperature on the train, kept her ticket on a string around her neck, felt she was being “victimised and persecuted” when asked by the conductor for her ticket and then took her shoes off and put her feet on the seats before tucking into a homemade lentil salad that she ate with her fingers.  Her “mate” who kept her back to us at all times appeared to have a plastic face with a scarf keeping a birds nest on her head in place decided they needed a “treat” after such a hassled start to the day and went and got them an instanst Hot Chocolate to share…and to make things worse – they were both English!  Now who is more anti-social?  The group of English fans having a beer on the train or a woman with body odour rabbiting on about patterns on the window (oh how we laughed when we saw them on the train on the way home too!)

Our destination was Helsingør, home of Hamlet but there was no time for a cigar here as we headed onto the Auroa of the Sound, one of the ferries that makes the 20 minute regular crossing between Denmark and Sweden.  For it was opening day in the Swedish Allsvenskan, and we were heading across to see Helsingborgs IF, and life for them after Henrik Larsson.  This was my third visit to the stadium, which is becoming one of my favourite Swedish grounds.  I had last been back in the Autumn for a stormy Swedish Cup game versus IFK (See here).  The stadium can actually be seen from Denmark.  Not that it is big, but because it sits on top of a hill, that looks like a mountain from 2 miles away, let alone when you are on the 15 minute trek up.  Capello – simply bring the England team here for altitude training!

The club had been in the transfer market, with the biggest new signing being Erik Edman, once of Spurs, Torino and Rennes no less.  The visitors IP Brommapojkarna, had retained their spot in the top league last season, probably due to the awful form of the two clubs from the capital Hammarby (who were relegated) and Djurgården (who were saved via the play offs).  Now there are small clubs, and there are small clubs.  But I have never seen a club only have 1 away fan like we saw here – “Come on a unicycle, did you come on a unicycle!”.

With our press passes picked up (Thank you Mr Ericsson) we went in search of a beer. No such luck in the ground, although the lovely lady in the press area saw that we were three hungover Englishmen and made us some toasted cheese and ham sandwiches.   The ground is in the middle of sleepy-ville Sweden, and on a Sunday lunchtime there was simply nothing open.  Deaks has to be given oxygen to get through this difficult time until kick off.

Helsingborgs IF 1 IP Bromma 0 – Olympia – Sunday 14th March 2010

So all the hopes and dreams of fans across the nation were still floating in the air as the game kicked off at 2pm.  There is so much magic at this stage of the season and it is often the only point in the season when all teams are equal.  And often the magic is dispelled in one swift move.  Twenty nine  minutes into this game, with the scores all level, IP Bromma’s keeper races out of the area to clear a ball but inexplicably decides to handle the ball.  The linesman spots the infringement and alerts the referee.  Realising he has been busted the keeper kicks the ball out of the ground.  The referee wanders over, looking very old school in all black, very rare these days, and issues a yellow for the handball, a yellow for the kick away, a red for two yellows and then another yellow for dissent as he wanders off.  Well done Kristoffer Nordfeldt – a great start to the season.

As is the case in all of these situations that a player has to be sacrificed to bring on a new goalkeeper, and it took a good few minutes and some heated discussions on the touchline before young Dalil Benyahia was brought off who headed down the tunnel to say thank you to his goalkeeping chum I am sure. Up until this point it had been an open game with just one chance falling to the home team when a shot from Christoffer Andersen was partially saved but the ball instead of bouncing goalward somehow developed back spin and the ball bounced to safety.

Just a minute after coming on as a sub, Benny Lekström kept out Helsingborgs again with a fine double save from Marcus Nilsson.  It wasn’t all one way traffic though, as Bromma also had a chance of two, the best one falling to Andreas Eriksson who saw his chip being cleared off the line by a retreating Joel Ekstrand who then painfully collided with the post.  Half time and no goals but plenty of action.  We retreated into the press room but not before posing for a couple of snaps with Helsingborgs Man of the Century, Henrik Larsson.

Now just in case you had been living in cloud cuckoo land for the last few years you may not realise exactly how famous Mr Larsson is in these parts.  He was voted Helsingborgs man of the century a few years back and has a wood carving of himself sitting in the city museum down the road.  He was watching the game with a chap who we all knew, yet no one could actually say who it was.  Wim Jansen? the Irish dad from Shameless and countless others were rejected by Uncle Google.  So if you were there on Sunday and know who he was, please get in touch.  Henrik posed happily for pictures, and we passed small talk about the weather (as us English do) before he left us in peace and went back to the press room (us not him – its not for ex-players you know just us working journalists!).

The sun was still shining and that may have been the reason for a sudden 400% rise in the away support as our sole traveller had been joined by three more, all equalling spread across the terrace.  Less than 7,000 had taken the trouble to come to the game, and that was disappointing as there seemed to be very little else to do in the sleepy town and less than £15 to watch a game in a town where a beer and a bit of pizza (Did you know 7/11 were doing a promotion on pizza?) would set you back the same.

Helsingborgs continued to push forward but apart from another one of those spinning backwards balls in the 65th minute, there was little action to be had.  And every so often a bing-bong sound would divert all attention to the big screen that showed goals from elsewhere in the league.  Quite bizarre although based on some of the dire fayre I have seen this season at The Circus (aka Upton Park) I think this may just take off in England.  Good old BK Häcken putting two past Djurgården though.

With just fifteen minutes to go we had to leave.  With time tight to get back into Denmark for the main event we headed off.  Of course we knew we would miss a 90th winner, and that is exactly what happened when Mattias Lindström scored.  By this stage we were back on the ferry, having found beer at last and readying ourself for the fun and antics at Parken.  a lovely way to spend a few hours on a cold yet sunny day.  If you haven’t been to Helsingborgs before, go now – literally now.  But remember your oxygen mask for the steep walk up the hill.

Another view of the day can be found at my compardre Danny Last’s blog here.

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