Hendrik Larsson promised to finish his distinguished career in his hometown of Helsingborg, Sweden, where he started playing professional soccer. After Feyenoord,Glasgow Celtic, Barcelona and the Swedish National team I caught up with him playing for IF Helsingborgs vs Orgrye at Gammla (old) Ullevi Stadion in Goteborg in an ALLSVENKAN league match. It finished 1-1 and he wasn't exactly electric-just going through the motions.Sad really.
Earlier in the day I had watched 4 finals of the GOTHIA CUP at Nya (new) Ullevi Stadion next door.Actually it is almost 50 years old,built for the 1958 World Cup and the stadium where 17 year old Pele played his first World Cup match vs USSR in the group featuring England, Austria and Soviet Union.
Gothia Cup has grown since I first went to it in 1968 from 250 teams to 1400 teams,and a lavish Olympic style Opening Ceremony.
One of the tournament officials I had known since then told me of the story of the first USA female referee to officiate in 1978. I remember the occasion very well. After a dinner she put her hotel key in his pocket and he didn't know what that meant!! I won't mention the name of the official or the referee.
Goteborg is one of those cities that is not on the usual tourist map of Europe,but has everything-wide boulevards, an exciting night life,the biggest amusement park in Scandinavia, canals, little islands in the archipelago accessible by city ferries, and great connections by rail, bus air and train to all of Scandinavia.
It also has my favorite restaurant in all of Europe. called SMAKA (taste). It has many distinguished choices on the menu,but my favorite is always Swedish meatballs and sauce,lingonberries,mashed potatoes and thinly sliced Swedish cucumber. DE-LICIOUS !!. I washed it down with my favorite beverage in Scandinavia, Halmstads Pear Cider. Beer is very expensive here, 8US for a small one.
Up in Oslo, Norway I am at the NORWAY CUP, billed as the world's biggest, with 1530 teams. It's played on the top of Mount Ekerberg, with 38 soccer fields and a huge camp ground for tents, campers etc and lots of stages and tents with pop music,interactive games, banks, shops,and stalls selling all sorts of clothes and food. The whole scene looks like the English camp on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt. Unfortunately there are only about 70 teams from outside of Scandinavia, but it's a huge attraction from large and small clubs from the Arctic Circle and further south. Some of them have travelled two days from the far north and Sami reindeer people country where its 24 hour sunlight at the moment. As it is, it doesn't get dark in Oslo until 11.00pm.
There are a few teams from Nairobi, Kenya brought here by a splendid organization MYSA that gets kids off the streets and into soccer, responsibility and jobs, teaching leadership and self responsibility.
Its sponsored with help from Norwegian clubs and communities and the same with help in Holland from Haarlem Cup and the community.They don't give money to the Kenyan Football Association, which is totally corrupt.
The teams arrive 10 days before the Cup and stay with a club and its a great experience for them and the host families. I bumped into an old friend, Helge Sovdsnes,former Executive Secretary of the Norwegian F.A. who has lived in Nairobi for the last six years since retirement.
He was partially responsible for the program,and also for the recent success of the Norwegian national teams,men,women and youth.
When offered the job with Norwegian FA in a mess,he said "If you want to change your thinking, and not lose to Sweden every match, then let me begin a new program". His ideas were accepted and since then Norway appeared at 2 World Cup Finals in 1994 and 1998, were Women's World Champions and the youth team went to FIFA Youth World Cups. His help with the Kenyan project is a pay back to the beautiful game.
Scandinavian pro soccer suffers from many things, including English Premier League soccer on TV all the time, a lack of money,and lack of star players. At the recent Helsinborgs match each player carried 16 advertisements of the front and back of his shirt and shorts. Most Scandinavians support both a local and an English team.
A couple of nights ago we were at the Arasan Stadion in nearby Lillestrom(www.lsk.no) www.worldstadiums.com. playing at home in front of a full house against league leaders Brann Bergen.They won 2-0 thanks to 2 late goals from a littleMaltese player, but Scandinavian soccer is like watching MLS soccer without the Latin players. Both the National Stadium,Ulleval and Arason Stadion have shops,car dealerships and apartments built in, so there is 24 hour activity on other than match days,and extra income.
Thirteen years ago I was at ULLEVAL, the National Stadium to watch Norway beat Poland 1-0 to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Finals for the first time since 1938. I told the coach, Egil Olsen, that I could have been watching from outside the stadium, since most of the game was played in the air, and his players had little finess, as if they were playing in fishermen's boots. In fact at the Lillestrom match a player tried an overhead scissors kick which was a complete failure,and it looked as if he was trying it with skis on his feet.
Next time, on one of the great railway journeys in the world.