Soccer: The night I watched Man U beat Milan in a Swedish green room

I pick up the phone and do something I’ve never done before. Call a television studio and ask to speak to one of the most popular TV sports presenters in the country. I’m in Stockholm. The TV presenter is a former professional footballer who represented Sweden in the ’90s. And he’s my brother-in-law (if that’s what you call your wife’s half-sister’s husband), Ola Andersson.

It’s 3 1/2 hours to kick-off in tonight’s Champion’s League games. Ola and his fellow panelists are covering both games, including the Milan v Manchester United match, featuring the much-awaited spectacle of David Beckham’s showing against the club that made him an icon. Ola tells me he’s nervous about the broadcast. Then it means something, I say.

He tells me how to get to the studio by train. I lived here 10 years ago. I know a better way by bus. You never really know a city until you’ve trekked it by bus. I’m a bus man. I get off at the designated stop. It’s starting to snow. The stop is next to a hospital. My better half’s parting words about the gamble I was about to take with my non-grip shoes, on the black ice, at night, after a couple of drinks, start to ring. No problem, I thought. If I come a cropper, I’ll take my chances with the Swedish Health system. And maybe a nurse.

I find the studio. It’s next to a pub. I love Sweden. I go into an empty bar for a quick drink for no reason at all.

Ola Andersson is something of a celebrity in these parts. A veteran of Stockholm club AIK. He was a pivotal midfielder during AIK’s halcyon days in the late nineties, when they squared off against Barcelona, Arsenal and Fiorentina in the Champions League – the only Swedish team to qualify in the competition’s history. Barca and the Gunners. Tough group. AIK lost every game. Since then, Ola has mixed a media career with running the club he loved (something of a Swedish Eddie MacGuire – though last year Ola sacked the coach and was subsequently forced to quit the club due to supporter backlash, which is perhaps where the Eddie comparison ends ).

I’m met at the studio by one of the producers who takes me up to the control room. He’s a bit twitchy. It’s just over an hour to go before the game and the final rehearsal is about to begin.

TV screens everywhere with live crosses to the San Siro and Lyon. No Abba in sight. This is serious. As one of Ola’s old coaches famously said in a post-match interview after a dubious call by a linesman handed Barcelona a crucial goal, “This is the fucking Champions League!”

Rehearsals. The primping and pruning. Purposeful purposelessness. Constant tugging of suits and reassembling of wires. A cacophony of mild consternation.  Everything seems overdone. Yet nothing is really happening.

Except in the control room. Word comes in that Beckham is in the starting line-up. The place comes alive. They’re scanning the feed from Milan for the pre-match money shot – Beckham alighting the team bus. Pay-dirt for the producers.  They get the feed. A bus comes into shot. The control room goes silent. The camera zooms in on the door of the bus. I feel like I’m on the grassy knoll. A no-name Milan player (as far as the control room is concerned anyway) steps off the bus. I start to feel nervous. I don’t know why.  Suddenly, there’s more movement at the bus door. An unmistakable smirk swanks off the bus and makes its way to the dressing room. The control room is abuzz. They’ve got the shot. It’s like we’ve just seen the landing on the moon. Beckham the footballer is in the autumn of his life. Beckham the presence, albeit pixilated, is as profound as ever.

After rehearsal I meet Ola in the green room. He’s still primping. He’s on edge. He could take a leaf out of Beckham’s book, I think to myself. Ola is relatively new to this business, but he knows how the place works. He knows what the control room just went through to get the shot of Beckham cut and cued for the show. He respects the behind-the-scenes team. He’s a footballer. Football’s a team game. Credit where credit’s due. He invites me to stay with his co-hosts to watch the game on the studio floor.

There are probably egos here. But it’s hard to tell. I feel so comfortable. I can’t imagine feeling the same with Eddie, Bruce or Quarters. Soon after kick-off, feckless banter fills the studio, along with cups of coffee and health snacks (No beer!).  Ola, with his expert comments face plastered on, lambasts Real Madrid’s ageing Brazilian keeper for slow reflexes. Ola’s not much older – having to retire prematurely with bad knees. I reckon he might just be a little jealous. Players retire. But few of them stop playing the game mentally. Ever. Ola was a tenacious midfielder. An architect of a team’s hopes. A patsy for their shortcomings. Tonight he’s busy again. This time in front of the two screens taking the feeds from the two games. Taking notes. Cursing the refs. In the middle of all the action. Where he wants to be. I’m concentrating just as hard on trying not to trip on any cables or make inappropriate eye contact with the make-up girls. Late in the first half, Ola’s intensity levels rise. It’s his job to tell the story of the night to the footy heads in Sweden. I wish my Swedish was better. It would be worth listening to.

I resort to my own lens. Beckham is in the game early. It could be a magic night. He sends a trademark long ball into Manchester United’s area and a speculative scissor kick across the goal face lands at the feet of Ronaldinho who, of course, volleys it. It takes a fierce deflection off a defender into the net. Ronaldinho is out of favour (with the Brazilian coach) and out of form of late, so I’m told. You wouldn’t know it. His smile is as frisky as ever, and a goal against Sir Alex’s mob with three minutes on the clock in front of the marauding Milanese fans sure ain’t going to kill it off.

Manchester United are having a torrid time of it. Ronaldinho is suddenly in a playful mood. The San Siro is a dance floor. He and Milan are doing the foxtrot. The Man U defenders are doing the sort of unsteady shuffle my Dad used to do on the back of a few whiskies. Ordinary. Soon enough, though, Man U find their feet and knuckle down. Their outrageous success has been built on a working-class ethic. Even today. Paul Scholes. The blood-nut talisman. An ugly man. Scores an even uglier goal. Full of purpose. Poorly executed. Into the net. The only place it has to go. A lucky goal each. No-one knows quite what will happen next. Except maybe Ola. But I can’t understand what he’s saying.

Wayne Rooney is the best striker in the world. I know that because Sir Alex says so. I lived in Europe when Rooney started his career. He arrived hard and fast. A firebrand. Genius. Rabble-rouser. The ugly George Best. A soap opera in the making. Tonight’s match has a bit of the old Wayne Rooney and the new. Rooney always catches the eye. The old Rooney caught the eye of the referee as much as anyone else. Tonight, the ref cops an eyeful in the first-half and blows his whistle accordingly. Any more of this and the old Rooney would have found himself warming the pine. But this is the new Rooney, and his second-half catches the eye in a completely different way. He is the new idol of the Man U fans. Here was an opportunity to cast himself in a light even brighter than Beckham’s. On Beckham’s stage. Two effortless goals with undeniable cunning and Rooney is the hero. Beckham is substituted. I see the irony.

Milan lose their way. They somehow become enfeebled in the face of a dour opponent.  It comes as a shock to me. They were so dominant early. I question my ability to read the game. Perhaps I was just dazzled by all the bright lights – in the studio and on the pitch. Ola doesn’t look surprised. He may have even predicted it. He’s got a good reputation for his analysis (so my mother-in-law’s old friend tells me) He gives his after match thoughts while I try to find some food in the green room. We meet up afterwards and he drives me home. I mean to ask him what he thought of the match. Of Rooney. Of Beckham. But we talk about life and family instead. David Beckham is the furthest thing from our minds. And it’s still snowing.

About rob scott

Rob Scott (aka Haiku Bob) is a Melbourne-born resident of Sweden who spent his adolsecence in Queensland. He has also had stints in Japan and The Netherlands but calls Victoria Park home. He writes haiku in between teaching whisky and drinking English, or something like that.

Comments

  1. pauldaffey says:

    I love this story, Rob. Snow in Stockholm, sneaky drinks, Swedes who aren’t always ice-cool … it’s got so much.

    I even love the way you call Milan just that, not AC Milan. AC stands for Athletic Club. The practice of calling them AC Milan is like calling Eddie’s mob and your mob (in that order) Collingwood FC. European sophistication has rubbed off on you.

    (Speaking of which, I hate the Sydney FC appellation in the A-League.)

    I once went to Sweden for five days to see my brother who was living in Helsingborg. We saw an early-round UEFA Cup match (it was early September) between Helsingborg and a club from Luxembourg. We stood on the terraces. There were only a few thousand there. Nothing happened in the match.

    But I’m glad I went to the soccer in Sweden.

  2. Richard Naco says:

    Fabulous & evocative story, Rob, but the lure for me was very much Sweden in the winter & the Tale of Ola.

    I find both Man Ure & Milan (AC – and I suspect Inter as well) utterly odious (probably because of the sheer unmitigated grubbiness of their respective owners) & would rather watch AIK any day (even if they are in significant decline).

  3. John Butler says:

    Great story Rob

    Following Paul’s point, what does the AIK stand for?

  4. Richard Jones says:

    OH, no, Richard N.

    Man Yoo not just one of the world’s greatest football clubs, but an institution in itself. And a beautiful thing to see Roons and Co. put the sword right through Milan. That’s said as a dedicated Inter Milan fan.
    Now have three Man Yoo caps in my collection of headwear but just the one representing Internazionale.

    It was November 2008 when my London-born son-in-law and his Bolton Wanderers mate sat in among 70,000 odd fans at Old Trafford and watched (for my part, in absolute bliss) as the Red Devile obliterated Stocke City 5-0.
    Cristiano slotted home a free kick after just 3 mins and got a second, at the other end, late in the 2nd half.

  5. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Nice work HB, some great insights into Swedish football culture. Although you claim to be a bus man I saw some of your Haiku on the train…coming home from the one point loss to St.Kilda. At that moment I wished I was in Sweden too !

  6. Thanks for the nice words chaps.

    Phil – AIK stands for Allmänna Idrottsklubben (The Public Sports Club). And before Daff has a go at me for my fickle European sensibility, AIK has only ever been known as AIK, despite being located in Stockholm, or Solna, the ‘suburb’ it is in. Not sure what the reason is for this, as another club in the Swedish league, IFK Göteborg (where IFK stands for Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna – The Comrades Club) has the full appellation.

    Anyway, AIK IS a huge sports club with professional teams in ice hockey, indoor hockey and handball, among others.

    Richard – wouldn’t say AIK is in decline. They topped the table last year. They went through a rough patch for a few years, including relegation in 2004. But have been in the premier league since 2006.

    Just a point of interest, the AIK website is announcing the club will break the record next season for season tickets sold – 8000. Perhaps low in relative terms to our game, but football is not the national obsession here. You only have to watch the Winter Olympics (till 4am) with my wife’s family to know that! And I’ll be setting my alarm for Sweden vs. Finland in the ice hockey on Monday. Now that’s what I call a derby!

    Cheers

    HB.

  7. Peter Flynn says:

    Played HB.

    My only experience of watching sport on Scandinavian (Copenhagen) TV was watching traditional rivals Denmark and Sweden go at it in Women’s Handball.

    I enjoyed the commentary.

  8. Rob,

    I gather you’re right about Swedes and football. My knowledge is hardly vast in this area, but I think the game didn’t rate particularly highly on the scale of priorities until the 1994 World Cup, where Tomas Brolin and Co did very well (semi-final?).

    Then Henrik Larrson (from Helsingborg) cut loose at Celtic, Freddie Luenberger (Halmstad, just up the coast from Helsingborg) did well at Arsenal, and a few others enjoyed success in England and Scotland, and football became the new tennis.

  9. Haiku

    Is wearing non-grip shoes in the considered interest of meeting a Swedish nurse a fetish?

    JTH

  10. JTH

    it almost came to pass last night after a beer and pizza night in söder – the south island of greater stockholm. on my way to the bus i lost my footing on the ice and went down like a tonne of bricks, right next to a crowded bus stop. a few of the waiting commuters came to my aid. alas no nurses. geez it’s a dangerous way to get a cheap thrill.

    HB.

  11. Rob – enjoyed the read. Its such a different sporting culture over there, which is something you highlighted really well. But not sure why you would be trying NOT to make eye contact with the make up girls !

  12. I couldn’t agree more on it being a different culture. I went to an Ice Hockey game in Finland in early January, at the first interval the entire stadium emptied out (all 8,000 of them) leaving me and the Zamboni driver as the only people left. I went exploring and discovered that everyone had gone into the corridors to drink beer or outside into -12 temperatures for a smoke. Now that’s what I call commitment.

    As an aside, I also had the pleasure of sitting next to a Finnish gentleman who had become a fan of our great game after seeing the 2009 Grand Final at the local sports bar in the wee hours of the morning. Sadly the gentleman in question appears to have condemned himself to a lifetime of misery and near misses as he now supports St Kilda.

  13. Richard Naco says:

    Peter: a story of a similar ilk. I was working for the CES in Brisneyland (at Indooroopilly, for any pedants) when a 6’+ blonde came to the counter. At the conclusion of the Government business, I asked her – as I did any tall young women – if she played basketball (I was the Director of Women’s Basketball for a major Brissy club). She said that she had.

    “Which team?”, I asked.

    “The Danish Under 21 team in the European Championships”, she replied.

    “Were they any good?”, I asked.

    “We always beat Sweden”, was her answer, which really does define the focus of Scandinavian sport.

    (For the record: she played for us for a couple of seasons but turned out to be pretty underwhelming.)

  14. Richard

    Which Brissy club were you involved in? I played for a team called Geelong, which was part of the North West club. Used to love the A-Grade on Wdnesday nights at the Auchendome in the late 80s. Great ‘ball.

  15. Ross Green says:

    Fantastic story Rob. Will there be any Haiku prose to come out of this I wonder (something about swedish nurses, football and healthy snacks??).

    I remember being in a pub in Lund (dressed in full Swedish regalia) watching Sweden vs Denmark in the infamous ‘Scandinavian scandal’ of the Euro 2004, where Denmark and Sweden conveniently drew 2-2 to advance to the quarter finals and cause Italy to miss out. Genius result, as the equaliser was scored in about the 92nd minute.

    One bloke in the crowd at the game held up a sign: Scandinavia 1, Italy 0!!

    Let’s hope they rebuild their football team and get back to the world cup ASAP, as they have produced some great players (as mentioned above). Imagine if Henrik Larsson had gone to Barcelona in his prime!! Yikes.

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