Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bunkeflo IF – Landskrona BoIS (21-05-2007)

Almost exactly 24 hours after leaving Malmö IP I was back for more. This time at the program, the Skånederby of the Superettan (Second Division). Skåne is the most southern province of Sweden, running roughly from Helsingborg to Malmö. In fact, the ‘real’ Skånederby is between Helsingborg IF and Malmö FF in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s highest division. But this Monday evening the game was between Bunkeflo IF, a team from Bunkeflostrand, a southwestern suburb of Malmö, and Landskrona Boll och Idrottsällskap, from the town of Landskrona, 45 km north of Malmö. For some reason the game was not played at Brovallen, the home ground of “BIF”, but at Malmö IP. Moreover, the entrance was free (thus, no chance in hell on scoring a ticket this time).

While the day before a mere 250 people had been at Malmö IP, to see IFK Malmö-Qviding FIF, today it was a completely different ballgame. When approaching the stadium, a couple of minutes before kick-off, I could hear singing and hundreds of bicycles were obstructing the way to the entrance of the ground. In fact, according to the official count an impressive 5,462 people were present, at least 2,000 of them were black-and-white striped supporters of Landskrona BoIS.

This time I headed directly to the sausage stand. Unfortunately, when I was finally served my sausage was still cold inside. A particular shame as the aivar and tartar sauce, which were freely available, tasted great. It was strange to be back in the same stadium, as it felt so different. It was now almost full and the atmosphere was electric. There was a real game going on! In fact, it was not easy to find a good spot. The main stand in particular was packed.

While I was circling the ground to take some pictures, I saw a group of some ten away supporters standing with their hands against the wall. They were arrested by the police, which were present in relatively large numbers, although I don’t know why. Throughout the game I was surprised to see small groups of supporters of both teams touting each other so openly; something I hadn’t experienced at Swedish games before. Something else I hadn’t seen before, neither in Sweden nor somewhere else at this level, was a handicapped player. In the team of Landskrona BoIS was a player with an amputated arm; as this seriously impedes the sense of balance, it is remarkable that this player could perform at such a high level.

After circling the ground, I took my place at the main stand, among both Bunkeflo IF and Landskrona BoIS fans, and saw a decent start of the game. The level was clearly better than the day before. Also, these players did not shy away from serious tackles. While I thought that the visitors had a little bit more of the game, it was in fact the home team that scored the first and only game of the first half, captured by yours truly.

The second half started with a huge chance for the visitors, but he missed it at 5 meters before the goal. While the game deteriorated rapidly, with both teams excelling only in bad passes and wrong choices, the second half proved full of goals. In the 58th minute Bunkeflo IF scored the 2-0 through a scrimmage goal. Only five minutes later it was already 3-0 after a nice sliding-shot from 11 meters.

This was too much for most away supporters. The fans behind the goal finally stopped their singing, which had increasingly been anti-Malmö rather than pro-Landskrona, while their fellow-supporters throughout the stadium started to leave by the hundreds. In fact, when the visitors had their best chance of the game, in the 83rd minute, which brought a great safe by the BIF goalie, almost one-third of the spectators (mostly away fans) had left the stadium. They missed a stunning finale.

In the 89th minute a BIF striker went alone on goal but failed and in the direct counter-attack a BoIS player placed a hard shot only just wide of the goal. In the 91st minute the away team got their deserved “honorary goal”, although the nice combination of the visitors was finished with an own goal of a BIF defender. This would not be the final score though. In the dying seconds of the 94th minute Bunkeflo IF scored its fourth goal. 4-1 would also be the end result of this Skånederby.

All in all, it was an Erlebnis to have two such totally different experiences in the same stadium in two days. It shows that Malmö IP is a very nice home ground for whatever crowd, team, and weather. It also shows that Malmö has much more to offer than just Malmö FF. In fact, given its close proximity to Copenhagen, Malmö is a perfect destination for any groundhopper!

IFK Malmö-Qviding FIF (20-05-2007)

Sunday 20 May was truly a sunday in Malmö, so, after some sight-seeing at the Western Harbor, J.B. and I made our way to the Malmö Idrottsplats stadium, a pleasant 10-15 minute walk from Malmö Central Station, to visit a game in the Division 1 Södra (technically, the Third Division in Sweden, which is divided geographically into two leagues, the south and the north). Malmö IP is a cosy little stadium just outside of the centre of town, consisting of four small wooden stands (in fact, five, as one long side has two separate stands). It is home to both IFK Malmö and the newly founded LdB FC, a women’s football club, and has a capacity of 7,600.

At the ticket box we paid 80 SEK (ca. 9 euro) and, for the first time in a long time, got a ticket in return. Ok, it was not much of a “biljett”, but it was an actual ticket. Although it was perfect weather, only some 250 people had turned up for the game; admittedly, almost twice as many as at the HIK game the day earlier. Among them, there were possibly some 10 fans of Qviding FIF, a young club from Göteborg (founded only in 1987), among them these female “ultras”.

IFK Malmö, founded in 1899 (!), used to be the team of the middle class of the city, while Malmö FF, founded in 1910, used to be the team of the working class. Anno 2007 IFK draws relatively many immigrants, maybe in part because quite some local (immigrant) youth play in the first team. One of the most notable players of the home team was a fairly corpulent central defender, whose bold head (rather than imposing physique or defending skills) reminded J.B. and me of the Brazilian defender Alex (on his way from PSV to Chelsea, unfortunately). The visitors had a couple noteworthy players too: the number 17, whose shots and face reminded me of the Norwegian player Jan Arne Riise, and the number 16, a cunning and nasty little striker. Most remarkable was that both teams fielded mainly very young players; in fact, it almost looked like a game between two youth teams.

Despite the youth of the players, the game was not played at the edge or even at a high pace. Both teams passed poorly and most players were afraid to get into duels, often pulling back their leg. Still, the game did start out ferociously: after some 5 minutes the IFK goalie made two great safes within 20 seconds, both at attempts from close range, denying the visitors an early goal. Unfortunately, a bit later he was involved in a collision after a corner kick and had to be attended for several minutes.

Not long after that he made another great safe, but this would be his last moment of the game. He was changed, probably suffering a concussion, and replaced by a far less solid goalie. Although not his fault, it would be Qviding FIF who scored the only goal in the first half: 0-1 in the 44th minute, a blow to the home team. Although the football hadn’t been great, most people, including JB and me, had enjoyed themselves in the burning sun. As I had eaten a (bulky) Dallas Burger at the Statoil gas station before coming to the game, I did not go for a sausage at half time; although the lines were short and the sausages did smell pretty good.

The second half started with a big safe from the Qviding goalie. Shortly after, in the 54th minute, a Qviding player got a red card, and only one minute later IFK equalized: 1-1. The goal came after several attempts, of which one might have already crossed the line but wasn’t counted. After that, the home team tried to look for the winner, but the level of the game deteriorated quickly. Maybe it was the warm weather, maybe it was just a lack of talent, but few passes over more than 10 meters made it without interception and both teams excelled in making the wrong choices. Somewhat surprisingly, and not even that deserved (given that they had played more than 30 minutes with a man more, yet created little in terms of plays or chances), IFK did finally score the winner in the 88th minute. It was scored from a very difficult position, almost one meter from the goal line, way out on the left side. 2-1 would also be the final score.

A pleasant surprise awaited us after the game when both teams met again at the center of the pitch, this time to thank each other for the game and to congratulate the winner; a very nice gesture which should be considered in other leagues and countries.

After that, the home team players were celebrated like heroes by the (mainly old) supporters at the main stand. At a more personal level, some players shared their victory with their friends in the audience. Despite the poor level of the game, IFK Malmö is definitely worth a visit. It has an atmosphere reminiscent of my old (amateur) football club, where you knew the players on the pitch personally.

HIK-Kolding FC (19-05-2007)

What better way to spend my last weekend in Malmö than to groundhop with my buddy J.B., who is visiting me from Flanders. On Saturday we left our apartment at noon, arriving in Copenhagen an hour later. After a quick ‘lunch’, we continued our way by S-line B(+), direction Holte, getting off at station Jægersborg. From there, you could conveniently follow the signs saying “Stadion”.

Although the day had started grey and rainy, we enjoyed a sunny 10 minute walk to our final destination: Gentofte Stadion. This really old and miserable ground is home to several teams, but we were here to visit HIK or in full: Hellerup Idræts Klub. Even though the game was to start in just over 30 minutes, there was little going on in the stadium.

After touring the facilities, including the cantina (with a very tasty workforce), we returned to the professional entrance of the stadium, where we paid 60 DKK (ca. 8 euro) each to get access to the whole ground. Again, there were not tickets, but this time I was able to nag myself into the possession of a complimentary ticket for a “M. Loudrup” (as I realized after some initial excitement, this was not Michael Laudrup).

Roughly 30 minutes before the game there were some 25 people spread around the stadium, which officially holds 15,000, including 2,100 seats. We saw some people taking pictures everywhere, but rather than fellow-groundhoppers they turned out to be German tourists. The atmosphere in the stadium was so laid back that I could also have a stroll on the pitch.

After so much excitement it was time to sample the goods. No fan merchandise was anywhere in sight, even though some people wore shawls and caps, and food-wise there were only (heavy) sausages with the typical grilled Danish bread on sale. By now the “ultras” of the visitors had arrived, the KFC Fanatics, so I walked over to them for a quick picture.

At 15.00 the game started and the stadium had filled up… uhm, well, the audience had increased more than fivefold at least. When I counted all people individually around 15.15, there were 118 spectators, excluding the personnel. By half time I estimate that the numbers had swollen to 150, of whom some 15 away fans (a Danish newspaper would report a flattering 318 spectators).

HIK-Kolding FC was a game in the Viasat Sport Divisionion, or Denmark’s second highest division (also called 1. Division), just like Frem-HIK I saw two weeks earlier. HIK is at the bottom of the table, while Kolding is having a good season hovering around in the sub-top. Despite the fact that it had rained earlier that day, the pitch seemed slow (possibly the result of too high grass) and the pace of the game was even slower. Though both teams did play to win, their passing was accurate but slow, which often meant that defenders had enough time to cover their opponent. And when there were chances, either the number 11 of HIK or the number 30 of Kolding found a way to screw them up; incidentally, the number 30 was the only dark-skinned player on the pitch and seemed to play with a slightly different shirt than the rest of his team (an indication of Denmark’s increasing xenophobia? ;-). This all not withstanding, in the 28th minute it was the home team that managed to score. 1-0 was also the half time score.

The second half continued in a similar fashion: slow pace, precise but slow passing, numbers 11 and 30 missing one-on-one chances. But in the 60th minute HIF scored again and it seemed curtains for Kolding. Still, this seemed to have been the moment the visitors had waited for, as from than on they dominated the game and started to create some serious chances. In the 66th minute the number 30 finally was able to shoot at goal, rather than dribble into a wall of defenders, and claimed that he had scored, but the referee judged the ball not to have crossed the line. Two minutes later the visitors did score, also according to the ref: 2-1. And in the 74th minute they scored again, 2-2, to the dismay of the (few) people around us.

With chances on both sides, the game became increasingly exciting in the last 15 minutes. And, while many HIK ‘fans’ were already leaving the stadium, Kolding had two more huge chances to score the winner. In the 89th minute a striker tried to play the ball with his back heel, but missed from 1 meter. And in the 91st minute Kolding shot the ball on the cross bar. So, in the end, 2-2 was a lucky point for HIK, which remains a prime candidate for relegation.

J.B. and I agreed that HIK (incidentally, “hik” is the Dutch word for hiccup) was a true groundhop experience. Happily we walked back to the S-line station, where two HIK-fans approached us. These young boys boasted about their hooligan connections and one showed us a short video (on his cell phone) of the ‘fight’ between HIK-‘hooligans’ and the (infamous?) “Næstved Boys”, an eleven against eleven fight (HIK had brought more ‘hools’, but in German fashion they had selected only eleven to be fair to the eleven Næstved Boys that had turned up), which had taken place the week before. I was so happy I had decided not to go to that match instead, otherwise that might have been the last match De Grondhopper would ever have visited. (lol)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Malmö FF – Hammarby IF (08-05-2007)

Although I had been already in Malmö for five weeks, I had yet to see a game of the local pride: Malmö FF. As the end of my stay in Sweden is drawing nearer, and the number of potential visits is decreasing rapidly, I was happy to find that this Tuesday evening featured a game in the Allsvenskan (Swedish Premier League): Malmö FF-Hammarby IF. After having left my (visiting) mother and girlfriend at my apartment, I walked from the city centre to the stadium, a decent 20 minute walk.

Malmö Stadion is a somewhat smaller version of the (Nya) Ullevi stadium in Göteborg (see 30-04-2007), also built for the 1958 World Cup, with a capacity of 26,500 people. As in Göteborg, the city of Malmö is currently building a new, modern stadium that will house 21,000 people.

When walking to the stadium, I was reminded of an earlier attempt to visit Malmö FF in 1995, when my brother and I drove to Malmö (which at that time still included a short boat trip to Helsingborg) only to find out, one hour before kick-off, that they were rebuilding the stadium and were playing their home games 50 km outside of the city. Fortunately, this time the old, concrete Malmö Stadion was the venue of the game, and just in time for the kick-off (at 19.00) I arrived, paid 150 SEK (ca. 16 euro), again didn’t receive a ticket (what’s wrong with these people?), and entered the stand with the hardcore home fans.

I was surprised to find the stadium quite full. Officially 15,607 people were present, which is a good turnout for a Tuesday evening game in dodgy weather (although it didn’t rain, despite the predictions). Undoubtedly the opponent, Hammarby IF, which brought some 500 fans of its own, played a role. Hammarby is one of the Stockholm teams, which has established itself as a major force in Swedish football in the 21st century.

The game started in a good atmosphere, with the home fans chanting and waving flags and the away fans regularly breaking through with some songs too. Already in the 9th minute Malmö FF scored 1-0 to the great delight of the people around me. All seemed to expect a glorious victory, but wouldn’t get what they wanted.

Despite the 1-0 lead, the teams were equal to each other and kept each other in balance. Indeed, in the 32nd minute Hammarby IF scored the rather deserved equalizer. 1-1 was also the half-time score. Time to ease the bladder.

Having used the impressive facilities, I went to the ticket offices to ask for a ticket. As expected, the people in the booths said they didn’t have any, but fortunately the proved both helpful and resourceful and came up with one ticket. To celebrate, I scored a very decent hamburger; I guess the first one I saw in a Danish or Swedish stadium so far.

The second half was much the same: the home team looking for the attack, and the visitors being more careful and looking for counter opportunities. While this led to some good set plays, neither team was able to create many clear-cut chances and there were no more goals.

Though the game was not that amazing, Malmö FF is definitely worth a visit for football fans. It belongs to the few Swedish clubs with a strong following and home games tend to have a real football atmosphere. While the old stadium doesn’t feature a souvenir shop, you can buy an unbelievable variety of fan goodies online or in the Malmö Support shop in the centre of town.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Frem-HIK (06-05-2007)

Copenhagen is not only home to a legion of Danish designers, it also houses a significant number of Denmark’s professional and semi-professional football clubs. Obviously, the most famous are FC Kopenhagen and Brondby IF (see 08-04-2007), but there are many more. It seems that every area of the city has its own team. Instead of visiting the big game of the SAS Superligaen (Premier League) between FC Kopenhagen and AaB on Saturday evening, which the latter won 1-2 incidentally, M.G. and I decided to visit a game in the 1. Division instead.

So, Sunday at noon we checked out at our design hotel, stored the luggage, and took the A+ metro line to the station Ny Ellebjerg to visit one of the oldest clubs of Denmark, Boldklubben Frem af 1886. The BK Frem has been a mainstay of Danish football until its bankruptcy in 1993, even winning the title six times and the cup twice. Since demotion they have been a solid 1.Division team, getting back into the SAS Superligaen only once (in 2004). They are based in the Valby district of Copenhagen, where they play in the cozy but basic Valby Idrætspark stadium, which holds 12.000 (including 4.400 seats). For some reason, there was an inflatable elephant on the top of the entrance.

We paid 80 DKK (ca. 11 euro) each to get in. As was the case at Brøndby, we didn’t get a ticket (again I had to roam the ground for a thrown away ticket). We had access to the whole stadium, including the one covered stand with seats, but decided to stand on the opposite side, as it was absolutely gorgeous weather (in fact, I got seriously sun burnt during the game). To my great delight, the fan shop was open and I was compelled to buy a shirt. I must admit that I am often (easily) seduced into buying football paraphernalia, but the Frem merchandise was really getting me hooked. Maybe it was the red-blue colors, maybe the fantastic logo, but M. had to hold me back otherwise I would have bought the whole store.

At 13.00 the two teams started their game in the most pleasant conditions: strong sun, a light breeze, leading to some 25 degrees Celsius in the sun. According to the official BK Frem website 1,525 people had found their way to the Valby Idrætspark, as far as I could see none from the opposing team (even though HIK is also from a suburb of Copenhagen). Most people around us were sporting Frem colors and enjoyed the beer and sun at least as much as the game. It was an odd mix of typical football fans and alternative types, with the odd young family with their stroller (mainly to smuggle in beer, it seemed) in between them.

The game was quite entertaining, although I must admit that I was mainly enjoying the sun and fantastically relaxed atmosphere. Around us were groups of people who all seemed to know each other and came to spend a nice sunny Sunday together at their team’s ground. Beer was flowing but people remained pleasant and well-behaved. While the game seemed secondary to most, ooohs and aaahs were expressed whenever a chance for Frem seemed to appear.

The level of the game wasn’t high, but the two teams were relatively equal in quality, which led to a nice game. Both teams had a lot of very young players, particularly the HIK attack, who were fit enough to keep running, despite the un-Danish temperatures. Despite the enthusiasm on the pitch, the half time score was 0-0, but none seemed to really mind.

The second half started much the same, with one difference: Frem scored 1-0 in the 47th minute! This not only led to much happiness around the pitch, as did the still flowing beer, but also to an even more equal game, as Frem fell back a bit and HIK pushed for the equalizer. Not surprisingly, given the relative heat, the level of the game started to deteriorate during the 90 minutes, but it remained entertaining and pleasant to watch. Both goalies made two fantastic saves to keep their team in the lead/game, but in the end it remained 1-0.

All in all, this was a fantastic groundhop experience, which can be best summarized in the words of one of the slogans on a BK Frem t-shirt: Frem er kult (Frem is cult). Groundhoppers, you know where to go next time you are in Copenhagen!

IFK Göteborg – Halmstad BK (30-04-2007)

Göteborg is the second biggest city of Sweden and home to the most famous team of the country, IFK Göteborg. In fact, it is home to (at least) three (semi-)professional football teams: GAIS (currently also in the Allsvenskan, the Swedish Premier League) and Orgryte IS (currently in the Superettan, the First Division). Although like all (real) groundhoppers I tend to prefer the second or third club of a city, I have always had a bit of a weakness for Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna Göteborg, the band of semi-profs who won the Uefa Cup twice in the 1980s (1982 and 1987). So, I decided to visit the city for a two-day trip with my girlfriend and see a game of IFK.

We took the train from Malmö around 11.00, arriving in Göteborg some three hours later. On the way in we had already seen the lights of the massive Nya Ullevi (New Ullevi) stadium. For the past years IFK had been playing in the smaller Gamla Ullevi (Old Ullevi), but this has been recently destroyed to make way for a new modern arena with the logical (well, at least in Göteborg) name: Nya Gamla Ullevi. Unfortunately, this means that they play their games in the 2007 season in the vast (Nya) Ullevi, which houses 43,200, but is at best half full (in the top games against the big Stockholm teams).

Not aware of this, I had ordered tickets online through the Swedish version of Ticketmaster, Ticnet. For 140 SEK (including 15 SEK service charges) each, roughly 15 euro, we bought tickets for Sektion A3, which put us almost at the middle of the pitch, second tier. The stadium is a huge concrete monster, almost identical to the old ground of Malmö FF, and for IFK games they only sell tickets for certain parts of the stadium.

Despite the fantastic weather, and the fact that the opponent was a good team from relatively nearby (Halmstad is a bit over one our away from Göteborg), a mere 8,320 people found their way to the stadium, of whom only some 100 from Halmstad.

The game started disappointing for the home fans. After just 4 minutes Halmstad scored 0-1 with a freak goal. The striker accidentally curled the corner kick into the far corner of the goal, completely surprising both the defender and the goalie. Except for two away fans jumping up, most people around us started cursing and moping.

When IFK remained the weaker team, sarcasm got the best of some around us. To be fair, they were severely tested by the poor performance of the home team. There is nothing left of the grandeur of the old team that won the Uefa Cup, except for the noteworthy jerseys. Most players are mediocre at best, even within the Swedish league, as I had already noticed at the Trelleborg game. Halmstad was not much better though, and didn’t seem to want to push their luck for a second goal. As a consequence, a fairly equal and decent, but not particularly good game developed. Not fully deserved IFK would even score an equalizer, and a pretty one (a half volley from some 12 meters), a couple minutes before half-time: 1-1.

At half-time I roamed the stadium, as far as I was able to go, in search for souvenirs and interesting snacks. I found none: they only sold t-shirts and shawls (not the pennants I collect) and hot dogs and drinks. The second half was much the same as the first, but without goals. Moreover, because of the many changes the game became even less fluent. 1-1 was a deserved final score, as Halmstad didn’t push for more, and IFK couldn’t create more.

Ok, IFK Göteborg is a team of the past, rather than the present, but it still is a nice club to visit. They have a great strip, a beautiful logo, and a good following. Moreover, where can you still visit a stadium in the heart of the city. And in the new stadium the atmosphere will undoubtedly be much better. Unfortunately for groundhoppers, the Nya Gamla Ullevi will be home to all three (main) Göteborg teams.