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Friday 7th June 2019 ko 20.45

European Qualifying Round- Group D – Matchday 10

DENMARK 1 (Højberg 75)


Att 34,610

The Swedish Hop’s cost of £285 included all entry fees, programmes, coach travel, 2 bridge tolls on the Øresund Bridge and 2 nights’ bed and breakfast at the Clarion Magasinet Hotel in Trelleborg.

Entry 350 DKK (approx’ £42.06)

Programme FREE

Even taking into account the vibrant history of the Swedish Hop the start of the 13th edition was a bizarre one. Four of us were at our hotel of the previous 3 days in the suburbs of Copenhagen awaiting the indefatigable Kim Hedwall couriering the Trelleborgs FF team coach en route from Kastrup airport to collect us. But how on earth was a proud Swede on a Swedish football team’s bus on a Swedish football tour in Denmark?

The answer lies in the hop’s base for the last 3 years in Trelleborg. We’re there very much as the guests of the local tourist board, but since more flights go to Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen rather than the more geographically convenient Malmö we’ve started and ended recent hops in Denmark. It may sound a bit odd, the Swedish Hop being in Denmark but the arrangement has worked well and we’ve rather made a virtue of going across the Øresund Bridge even if doing so has cost the hop roughly £200 every time we’ve done it.

When the hop moved down to south of Sweden Kim and I rather discounted Danish fixtures, as their season seemed likely to be over, and the cost of the bridge meant we could only ever really do games in Copenhagen as either the first or last games of the hop. And for those of us who were there back then, Mayor Torbjörn Karlsson in the nicest possible way made it completely impossible for us to go anywhere else?

But last year it was clear that there would be Danish games while we were there and the idea was pitched to Kim. I did wonder what his take on it would be, after all this event has always existed as a means of him showing off his beautiful country. But Kim has never been the kind of bloke to avoid trying something new so he readily agreed and I headed for home last year imagining we’d end up watching something like Brønshøj.

So you can imagine my surprise when Kim emailed me in February with this game as the proposed first game! On one hand it really wasn’t what we’ve wanted the hop to be about- the undiscovered gems of the Swedish non-leagues but if we wanted to take the Swedish hop to another country, then we might as well start off with a bang!

So 4 of us ended up being collected by a Swedish coach on a Swedish hop bound for a Danish football match. The only real issue was that it was only 12.30 and due to European-wide television requirements the game wasn’t kicking off until 20.45!

The idea of going for a meal before doing anything much else isn’t a new one, and with most of the hop party having had to have got up early to catch flights the chance to relax was likely to be popular. The choice of the Cafe Espersen, on Dragør harbourfront did though have a little of my influence behind it!  On the first Swedish Hop based in Trelleborg for me part of the attraction was the chance to travel over the Øresund Bridge and I was surprised that just like for Hans Christian Andersen the previous day there is no official visitor centre for a major tourist attraction.

The next best thing would be a trip to somewhere with a good view of the famous bridge, so I suggested Dragør, back then the Trelleborg tourist office rather trumped my idea with a trip and lunch to Trelleborgen, the town’s Viking castle! But the idea had clearly stuck in Kim’s mind, and this was the perfect time to resurrect it! Save for the view, and the excellent food and company there was also the chance to watch the Danish coastguard’s helicopter escort a Dutch vessel into port for inspection!

After lunch the plan had been to go on a guided tour of the Carlsberg Brewery, although I must say plenty of the party were more than well acquainted with the brewing process! Unfortunately Carlsberg decided to close their visitors’ centre for a rebrand and Tuborg (also owned by Carlsberg) couldn’t accommodate us either. In the long term that gave Kim the funds to make our Saturday evening buffet free, but in the short term it did mean we had time to kill.

We were dropped off at the fanzone with around 3 hours to kill before kick-off. Some of us found the BRUS brewpub a 20 minute walk away, which was excellent, while some headed straight for the fanzone. I regretted slightly the loss of common purpose, expecially when Robyn and I headed back to the fanzone and found Christian and Ditte from the Trelleborg Tourist bureau there clearly enjoying themselves. If ever I wondered what they saw in a group of British fans I saw it here, we’d taken them out of their comfort zone, and let’s face it who wouldn’t enjoy a party, and on the company’s time?! I’ll expand on our relationship with Trelleborg further during these articles on the Swedish Hop.

But what a party it was with both sets of fans enjoying the bars, food and the band playing both Danish and Irish tunes. I suppose “The Wild Rover” and “Whiskey In The Jar” get played everywhere the Irish go. But say it quietly I do think the Irish were slightly out-partied here which must be a first! But the Danes’ consumption of beer was staggering but without the atmosphere even getting remotely nasty. I did wonder whether we’d made a mistake going to that pub.

But the point of the exercise was to see a game at the Parken. The original Idrætsparken ground here dated from from 1911 but was demolished in 1990 with the Parken replacing it two years’ later as home for for both FC Copenhagen and the national side. The ground is the largest in Denmark, and holds 38,065. I looked at the place and immediately found myself remembering the long-lost Råsunda Stadion in Stockholm. I think it was the glass windowed concourse in our stand that did it- the West Tribune.

You can certainly see how the place was built on a budget, there was no room for niceties such as escalators and there were no end of stairs to climb to the top tier! Once up there you could see why this place is so popular as a concert venue, there’s a retracting roof and the small seating rack and multiple banks of hospitality boxes make the North Stand an ideal place to put a stage.

Other than simply being an interested neutral my interest in the game was Ireland winger Callum O’Dowda. He’s from my part of the world, Kidlington is close to Oxford and started his career at my club Oxford United before moving to Bristol City two years’ ago. He rather blotted his copybook at Oxford by claiming to be too ill to travel on a pre-season tour before popping up at Ashton Gate a day or two later. Now he’s refused to sign a new contract at the Robins, so City have exercised an option to extend it for this season. Then O’Dowda was injured enough not to be able to play for Bristol City, but fit enough for his country…. Bristol City’s fans aren’t happy, and Oxford United’s are sagely shaking their heads. He’s a lovely bloke, but seems hell-bent on burning his bridges everywhere he leaves.

Sadly, he didn’t get a game, Ireland manager Mick McCarthy preferring the solidity and experience of James McLean. These have been lean times for the Irish- the last time they qualified for the World Cup was 2002 but the round of 16 in the last European Championships represented their best performance in that event to date. McCarthy has cleared worked out that what his charges lack in out-and-out game winners, he can cover through organisation and hard work. McClean playing rather than O’Dowda was simply him following that policy through.

You saw it too in a turgid first half. Denmark’s flair player Christian Eriksen was frustrated entirely in those first 45 minutes, but once he found both space and his range Denmark gradual gained supremacy. From then on only wasteful Danish finishing kept Ireland in the game before Jens Stryger Larsen’s hanging cross invited substitute Pierre-Emile Højbjerg to power home a header. The fact that Højbjerg had been on the pitch for a mere 3 minutes certainly looked an inspired move by Denmark manager Åge Hareide!

But organised teams are hard to beat and Ireland clearly do play for McCarthy. They left it late to equalise and perhaps inevitably it came from a set-play. Here Alan Judge’s free kick allowed Shane Duffy to bully his defender and arrow his header home. It was barely deserved on the balance of play, or on the number of chances Denmark had squandered. Was it the luck of the Irish? You’d say so, but you’d also think that this was roughly what McCarthy had planned all along.

The coach didn’t seem to take long to work its way through Copenhagen, now notably free of the posters that had been everywhere on Election day two days previously. We passed by Tivoli and the main station and out towards Tårnby then Kastrup before heading out on to the Øresund Bridge. Mentally I said goodbye and thanks to Copenhagen, the city had been good to us, but as the lights of Malmö got closer I smiled, it was good to be back in Sweden. And the next two days were to demonstrate neatly that my feelings were well-founded.