Saturday 20 October 2017 saw Malmo FF host Hammarby at the Swedbank Stadion in Malmo, located in the south west of Sweden. A match up of 2 of the top 4 teams in the Allsvenskan, with Hammarby sitting just above Malmo in the table at kick off.
We had travelled across to Malmo from Copenhagen, Denmark. The Danish capital is highly accessible via budget flights (we paid circa £50 return each, with one leg costing £13). Copenhagen Airport, and indeed the city centre itself, is linked to Malmo across the Øresund Bridge, a massive combined road and rail bridge linking the two cities and countries.
Train tickets purchased in Copenhagen, for roughly £10 each way – although upon speaking to a friendly train guard we discovered that discounts can be had through buying certain “family” or “group” tickets – we embarked on our cross country journey. The journey from Copenhagen Central Station to Malmo Central Station takes around 40 minutes, with regular trains running numerous times an hour through the day. The train stops at the Airport also, with the journey to the centre of Malmo taking around 20-25 minutes from there.
The train flies across the bridge, past shipping lanes and offshore wind farms and it isn’t long before the city of Malmo comes into view on the left side of the train. There were 3 stations on the Swedish side, including Triangeln (more on this shortly) and Malmo Central where we disembarked.
The Swedbank Stadion is around 40 minutes walking distance from the railway station, located just south of the city centre. There are numerous bus routes that head in this direction, with plentiful buses visible upon exiting the station and indeed throughout our walking route southwards. As above, the train also stops at Triangeln which is only around 10 minutes walk across a park from the Stadium.
The city centre is picturesque, with a couple of old town squares complete with beautiful, ornate buildings and numerous seating areas spilling out of the many coffee shops and restaurants. There is also a Scottish pub of all things in the centre, albeit we were too early (arriving around 10am ahead of our 1pm kick off) to sample any of the delights that this tartan outpost offers.
Walking southwards through the city, the northern European culture is evident with clean, wide avenues, plentiful public transport and many, many coffee shops lining the streets. After around 20-25 minutes of meandering our way through the city we reached the aforementioned Triangeln Station. This is a modern station set under a freshly developed public realm area complete with shopping centre, restaurants and coffee shops. As above Copenhagen can be accessed from here, while the number of restaurants, coffee houses and bars offer an excellent staging post for pre or post match refreshments.
After a nice coffee, we continued our journey south westwards from Triangeln and crossed through Pildammsparken towards the Stadium. The Swedbank Stadion is the modern home of Malmo FF, opened around 2009. It is a very sleek looking stadium from the outside, set within a larger sporting compound with the older Malmo Stadium just next door – this was built for the 1958 World Cup (see picture to the right) .
The entrances to the new stadium are easily found, with clear signposting for gates when approaching from every direction. Outside the stadium, stalls selling scarves and merchandise are dotted around. Merchandise can also be purchased at the larger club shop, located at the northern end of the ground. The shop is next door to an Irish pub, which strangely advertises itself as offering a sporting experience better than the actual live event – we didn’t want to test this assertion however and instead made our way inside the stadium.
As with a lot of Europe, print at home tickets (or PDF saved on your phone) are used to enter, with stewards quickly scanning the barcode on the ticket and quickly checking bags before allowing you inside. Our tickets had been purchased online a week or so earlier, costing around £30 for a seat in the upper tier towards the corner of the main stand.
Before taking our seats in the very clean and comfy stadium, we stopped to pick up a beer at the kiosk inside and had a bit of a laugh and joke with the friendly and multilingual staff inside.
Our seats were next to the away fans, who created quite and atmosphere and set about a game of “chant ping pong” with the Malmo Ultras in the stand opposite, with chants and songs bouncing back between both sets of fans. This all helped to create a vibrant and passionate atmosphere, fitting for a game of such importance at the business end of the season.
The teams lined up, with Malmo setting up in a 5-3-2 formation and Hammarby in a 4-3-3. Malmo had much of the early pressure and territory in the match, pressing hard to create openings , with an unashamed direct approach forcing some errors and mistakes from the Hammarby rearguard. Markus Rosenberg, local lad and a player who has featured across Europe for Ajax, Werder Bremen and West Brom in his past led the line as captain for Malmo and was very evidently and clearly the talisman for the side. Rosenberg was central to most things going forward for Malmo, holding balls up and feeding teammates in as well as directing and cajoling colleagues when required.
Despite Malmo’s early pressure, they struggled to create any real clear cut chances. Openings were found, but a lack of composure, wayward shooting or inability to find a killer final ball meant that this pressure could not be translated into any goals.
There was a really touching moment after 23 minutes where the match was stopped and whole stadium rose for a minutes applause as a mark of respect for a former player, Labinot Harbuzi. This was impeccably acted out.
Hammarby grew more and more into the game as the first half went on. The Viking-like Paulsen at right back and Durdic as the small but tricky main striker did well to link up on a number of occasions to create a few half openings, but just as Malmo at the other end they failed to turn any of these into real chances. However, after around half an hour of the match Hammarby found their way down the right hand side again and when a low cross was played into the centre and seemingly missed by everyone, the referee blew for a penalty. Amid protests from the Malmo players, the referee – who for much of the match appeared to be auditioning for a role in the Christmas Panto with some very theatrical gesticulating – had judged Durdic to have been fouled by Nielsen in the act of trying to reach the low cross.
The Malmo ‘keeper Dahlin did his best to distract and put off the Hammarby captain Hamad before the penalty was taken, but Hamad kept his cool to fire to the ‘keeper’s left and open the scoring in front of the Hammarby fans, which in turn sparked crazy scenes with flares going off and some slightly more passionate fans going to town on the perspex barriers running up the aisles. Malmo 0-1 Hammarby.
The score stayed at 0-1 until half time.
Whatever the Malmo manager Uwe Rosler said to his half time must have had an effect however, as the boys in sky blue came out into the second half as a team possessed.
Pressing much higher and using the ball much quicker, Malmo looked increasingly more threatening at the start of the second period. It wasn’t long before an equaliser came, with a move down the right hand side and low cut back being bundled home by the striker Antonsson. 1-1 and we now seemed to have a game on our hands.
Malmo then became camped in the Hammarby half, passing the ball around the midfield and probing for openings. A few corners were forced and half chances created before a great move down the left in the 57th minute led to Antonsson finding space on the inside left channel before cutting back for the main man Rosenberg to sweep home for 2-1 to the home team. At this point I had become so caught up in the atmosphere that I did find myself leaping out of my seat and punching the air in delight at this goal.
After going ahead Malmo seemed more content to sit on their lead and let Hammarby ask the questions. Malmo still looked threatening on the break but were quite content that they could hold Hammarby at arms length for the remainder. Towards the end of the game Hammarby did manage to force some corners and caused a bit of panic with some crosses and long balls into the box. The closest they came however was from a breakaway move where Durdic was played in on the inside left and looked odds on to score, only for Nielsen to come flying in with a great tackle to deny an equaliser. Aside from that however, Malmo comfortably held on and saw out their victory.
This was a great game of football. Entertaining, passionate, technical ability with a high dosage of physicality thrown in to create an engrossing spectacle. A really great match for my first in the Allsvenskan. Malmo’s victory moved them onto 48 points, 2 behind Hammarby in 3rd place and 11 behind the leaders AIK with 6 games to play.
Post match, we walked back towards the Triangeln Station area for our train back across to Copenhagen. After having some celebratory coffee, pastries, beers and more food in amongst the Malmo fans, we reflected on what was a really great experience of Swedish football.
For a British fan, the match had the physicality and passion that you would expect from a match in the UK, but also with a distinctly European and Scandinavian feel to it with some of the football and quality on show. The stadium was great, modern and efficient – again as you would expect from the area and region. Pricing wise, the entry fee and pre, post and in-match refreshments are potentially slightly above what you might expect at home in the UK with £30 entry, coffees at £3, beers at £5 and a meal for 2 somewhere around £30 also, but this is reflective of the Scandi region as a whole and so does actually represent decent value in the context of the area.
All in, a great experience watching a very good team. Friendly fans, great atmosphere and I am certainly looking forward to my next Allsvenskan match!!!