Malmö FF: More than football

In this guest post, Tony Hughes of the Golden Samba blog describes his trip to Sweden to watch 1979 European Cup finalists Malmö FF take on IFK Göteborg.

 

Malmö FF vs. IFK Göteborg is Scandinavia’s very own Classico. It’s Sweden’s two most successful clubs feuding over history. Malmö have the edge in terms of domestic titles, and famously reached the European Cup final in 1979. Göteborg are not far behind though, and are the only Nordic club to have won a European competition having won the UEFA Cup twice in the 80s. Despite being nearly 300km apart, this is as fierce as any derby in Europe and made for a mouth-watering introduction to Swedish football.

 

The magnitude of the occasion was reflected by the tension outside the ground. The fans travel en masse, cutting through the neighbouring Pildammsparken as a police helicopter circles overhead. On the main road, a minibus carrying Göteborg fans raced by with navy-blue smoke pouring from every window. Queues for the terraced section had built up over an hour before kick off. No one was chancing it for this one.

 

Inside the concourse, punk rock blasts from the speakers as blokes swig half-litres of Carlsberg. Most, however, are already standing on the terrace, packing the section behind the goal. I ended up just a few yards behind a megaphone-wielding ultra, right in the heart of the action. Blue and white flags were laid out along the rails in preparation for the pre-match tifo. Meanwhile, someone to my side tested me be offering to trade his white flag for my blue one, only to point out that the yellow tape between us determines your colour – swapping would only upset the choreography.

 

The lad who picked me up on this was a die-hard Malmö supporter of Montenegrin descent, who ended up becoming my ‘guide’ for the night. He was there with his brother and another friend in a sky-blue bucket hat, and seemed to know everyone there due to his involvement with an ultras group before ‘retiring’ a few years ago.

 

The tifo read ‘M.F.F’ in giant letters beneath sky-blue and white flags waved as the teams walked out to their anthem. I knew to expect pyro at some point, and it came after 15 minutes when Markus Rosenberg put the ball in the net. 1-0 Malmö. Flares began to crackle in front and to my side, then that familiar smell filled the air. It’s a mystery how people managed to get the flares into the ground after being rigorously searched outside but “we have our ways”, I’m informed.

 

Play is suspended for a few minutes as the smoke clears. Supporters in the quieter side-stand shout and gesticulate their anger towards the pyro, to which the ultras respond with equal fury at their lack of enthusiasm. Pyrotechnics are contentious in Swedish football, with many calling for a system of legalisation, just as has been implemented in Norway. Banners reading ‘Legalise Pyrotekniki’ are often unfolded at the Swedbank stadium. [Continues…]

 

Malmo ultras

Malmö’s pyrotechnics at work [Credit: Tony Hughes]

Malmö dominate the first half, with Göteborg playing desperate hit-and-chase football. At half time, I’m introduced to a man called ‘Showan’, who I’d already seen standing on the advertising boards with his back to the game encouraging the crowd. It turns out Showan is a member of ultras group Supras Malmö. Just a couple of years ago, he was brutally beaten and stabbed by a group of neo-Nazis, leaving him fighting for his life.

 

This sickening attack was devastating for Malmö, a club so proud of its diversity. Central to the club’s philosophy is its acceptance of everyone, no matter their background or beliefs. This outlook stems, in part, from Sweden’s rescue of the Danish Jews during the Nazi’s occupation of Denmark during the Second World War, and Malmö’s involvement in the rescue operation. The club’s legendary chairman, Eric Persson, worked with the Swedish government to help facilitate the evacuation from Copenhagen to Malmö in a mission which enabled 99% of Danish Jews to escape the Holocaust.

 

Engagement in social issues is common at Malmö FF, whose motto is “Football is more than just football.” The supporters are organised and often rally against the fascist groups poisoning some of the teams of Stockholm. With a minimum requirement of 51% member-ownership, the supporters have a strong influence on all issues surrounding the club. This was particularly vital in ensuring a standing section would be built into the Swedbank stadium prior to the move in 2009.

 

Malmö is unique in that it’s the only major club in Sweden’s third-largest city since the smaller club, IFK, now sit in the lower divisions. Civic pride comes before national identity here, which is why you’ll never see the Swedish flag in the stadium, but instead the Flag of Scania, which combines the red of the Danish flag with the yellow cross of Sweden. The club unites the people, particularly on the special Champions League nights. If the team wins, spirits are lifted.

 

In the second half, Göteborg came out fighting and eventually got an equaliser in the 67th minute. The home crowd responded with even more noise. At 1-1, tackles were flying in from both sides with ferocity to match any derby. The referee was berated as “Mark Clattenburg in disguise” in reference to the decisions that spoiled Malmö’s chances against Atlético Madrid in the Champions League in 2014.

 

The final third of the game was intense. The stakes are high. The last time the sides met, the match was abandoned after Malmö’s Tobius Sana launched a corner flag at the Göteborg fans. Sana was on the bench this time, but his warm up in front of the home terrace sparked chants of “kasta spjut, kasta spjut” – throw your spear.

 

Malmö need a goal. The man beside me puts another pellet of Swedish tobacco under his lip and frets over the manager’s decision to bring on a left back at right wing. Malmö responded perfectly though, with Jeremejeff making it 2-1 in the 77th minute. Moments later, Rosenberg scored again to make it 3-1.

 

There were 10 minutes to go, and despite a few nervy moments and a late red card, Malmö had crushed their rivals. The terrace was now a fiery cauldron as more flares were ignited.  Göteborg are nicknamed ‘The Angels’ but tonight Malmö would show them what hell looks like.

 

The result put Malmö to the top of the Allsvenskan, meaning it was time to celebrate. If you’re looking for a few scoops before or after the game, avoid the city centre (where you’d be looking at 70 Krona – £6.29/€7.30 for a pint) and instead head for Möllevången, a gritty neighbourhood just a short walk from the ground. Look out for a bar called Källan, which is where some of the ultras like to hang out, but you’ll feel more than welcome.

 

There was a small group of casuals here, from Bohemians, Dublin. One of whom had relocated to Sweden a few years ago, since becoming a regular follower of Malmö home and away. This might seem peculiar move, but it’s so easy to see how the club can have this effect.

 

Malmö is a special club that transcends football. Their spirit is refreshing. With affordable flights from the UK to Copenhagen, €20 match tickets, and a 24-hour train service, take a trip across the bridge to experience this hidden gem of European football.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Great article that got all but one of the facts right – the match in Gothenburg was abandoned due to Sana (and an assistant referee) having a banger (not the sausage type) thrown at him. Sana (who used to play in IFK Göteborg before an unsuccessful stint in Ajax) was enraged and threw the corner flag in response. The assistant referee was injured.

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