The Swedish season starts on 1st April and my local team, Helsingborg, are embarking on an attempt to gain promotion back into the top tier of the Swedish league.
My Swedish Team
My local team is Helsingborgs Idrottsförening (just referred to as Helsingborgs IF or HIF) and I live just over 1 km from their ground. The club was formed in 1907 and their colours are red and blue, which is very handy for when I want to wear my Palace colours out and about, I blend in nicely.
Helsingborg are one of Sweden’s biggest clubs, arguably in the top 4 along with AIK Stockholm, IFK Göteborg and Malmö FF though Djurgården IF and Hammarby (both in Stockholm) might have something to say about that.
As with all football clubs they have major rivals and minor rivals. Naturally other big clubs are rivals and form a big match atmosphere but the biggest and most hated rivalry of all is with Malmö FF!
Mälmö are to Helsingborg what Brighton are to Palace and the city is situated about 70 km south along the E6 motorway. Malmö play in sky blue shirts and white shorts so wearing my Palace scarf there wouldn’t be a smart thing to do…
Last season seemed to be a mirror of Crystal Palace’s in many ways in so much that Helsingborg had a manager who is considered to be a club legend, the team were playing very badly and the manager was kind of unsackable.
The ‘Club Legend’ Manager
The manager in question? Henrik Larsson.
Henrik Larsson was born and raised in Helsingborg and played 56 times for the club, scoring 50 goals during the 2 seasons he played for them in 1992-1993.
After the 1993 season had ended Larsson signed for Dutch side Feyenoord. He then went on to play for Celtic and Barcelona before returning to Helsingborgs IF in 2006.
In 2007, Larsson went on loan to Manchester United to get some fitness ahead of the 2007 season. He promised the club that he’d be back in time for the start of the season.
His loan at United went well and they wanted to extend his loan until the end of the season but Larsson declined saying he made a promise to the club and his family and that he’d keep it.
United Manager, Alex Ferguson praised Larsson and said he’d have done anything to have kept him at the club but his decision had to be respected.
Had Larsson stayed he’d have won a Premier League medal (he did not play enough games during his loan), played in the FA Cup Final and in the Champions League semi-final.
It makes his decision to keep his promise all the more admirable, especially when you consider he would only need to have stayed at United just 8 weeks longer!
On 2nd June 2011 a life size statue of Larsson was erected by the beach at Pålsjö, an area of Helsingborg.
After Larsson finished his career as a player he made the step into management where he managed two lower league clubs before landing the top job at Helsingborg.
Remarkably, during their poor run and ultimate relegation his statue wasn’t vandalised once! The good lord only knows what a statue of Alan Pardew would have been subjected to had one existed.
Fast forward to last season and Larsson was starting his second season as manger of HIF. HIF’s lead striker was someone called Jordan Larsson. Yeah, he is Henrik’s son!
In his first season, HIF finished 8th out of 16 teams. They were 24 points from a 3rd place finish to qualify for the Europa League.
If it were any other manager the season might have been classed as a failure, especially when you consider HIF won the league and Swedish Cup in 2011. However the season was seen as one of transformation.
If 2015 wasn’t particularly good then 2016 would go down as a season to forget and it almost mirrored what was going on at Palace.
The season kicked off with a 1-1 away draw at Gefle on 3rd April and then two heavy defeats at home to Örebro (1-3) and away to Hammarby (1-5). This should have been a sign of what was to come but just like with Palace, HIF pulled four wins in five matches out of the bag before going on a run of six games without a win, featuring five defeats.
Palace fans can empathise with this run though as you’ll remember, we didn’t win a game in almost 4 months!
All this culminated with HIF finishing 3rd from bottom, going into the play-off with the team who finished 3rd in the Superettan, Halmstads BK.
In the first leg at Halmstad, the game ended 1-1 with HIF taking a vital away goal back to Olympia for the second leg. However that isn’t the whole story.
HIF took the lead in the 74th minute through Adam Eriksson only for Frederik Helstrup to score an own goal in the 85th minute to leave the door open for Halmstad in the second leg.
Back at Olympia 3 days later for the second leg, HIF did something Palace would be proud of. With the game still at 0-0, meaning HIF would win on the away goals rule, they scored a goal! Jordan Larsson scored in the 82nd minute to make the tie 2-1 on aggregate meaning Halmstad would need to score again to take the game into extra time.
HIF seemed to be cruising now after all they were at home with just 8 minutes remaining. You can guess what came next!
In the 87th minute HIF conceded a penalty and Marcus Mathisen converted it. Then, just two minutes later, Mathisen again scored with a nice long range effort after a good piece of skill. Not bad for a centre back!
Here’s the match and some of the aftermath. Commentary is in Swedish. The ground looks empty in some places because those areas were closed for renovation.
It was a collapse that I’ve seen a few times in my life, be it Palace or England but it was this that actually pulled me in!
I’ve supported Palace for over 40 years so I was never going to support a Swedish team because they were successful, I needed something… Some tragedy, shooting themselves in the foot to really help me connect.
All in all, had HIF had anyone else as a manager then they’d have been sacked long before the end of the season. Larsson got HIF relegated because the board were too scared to fire a legend.
This mirrors what happened at Palace, we should have fired Pardew long before we did. If we escape relegation this season it will be by luck more than judgement.
Both Palace and HIF should have fired our managers in the summer and this probably shows why it isn’t good for a manager to have too high a status. Look at Wenger at Arsenal though they are hardly going to be relegated but he’ll never be fired!
The 2017 Season
So this season I’ve decided I will go to a few games and connect with the team. I’ve been to see HIF play a few times, first in 1997, and I thought it would be good to support them in their attempts to get promoted back into the top division.
I realise the Swedish league isn’t the Premier League but even so the ticket prices are very reasonable!
The cheapest ticket for ‘safe standing’ behind the goals costs 120kr (about £10) for an adult and 80kr (about £6.50) for pensioners, children, students and teenagers. A season ticket for the same area is 1300kr (about £105) and 800kr (about £65) respectively.
As if I needed any other reason to support my local team, probably the best thing about HIF is that they have the same colours as the Palace. So this means I can wear my Palace colours and support my local team at the same time with pride.
For the start of the new season Olympia will be open fully for the first time in over a year. The ground has been undergoing a total renovation project for about 18 months, which I think helped to relegate them. Having 2 side of your ground closed at any one time does nothing to help with the atmosphere!
The new ground is very nice and holds a little under 19,000 people but importantly it incorporates the new safe standing terraces. Premier League take note!
HIF’s first league match is at home to Trelleborg on 1st April. Unfortunately I can’t go to it because we are playing Chelsea at the same time and Palace will always come first.
Unfortunately HIF have already been knocked out of the Swedish Cup, which starts as a eight 4 team groups.
KOM IGEN HELSINGBORG!