I have never been to a major women’s football tournament. Ridiculous? I think so. thewomensgame.com sent me off to Sweden to bring you some behind-the-scenes insights in to the European Championships.
On arriving in Gothenburg, things got real very quickly. Check out the view from my apartment.
You can’t imagine how excited I am to be here and as I arrived at my accommodation, I could hear the FIFA anthem playing in the stadium. What a welcome!
Gothenburg (or Göteborg if you speak Swedish) is the second largest city in Sweden but it doesn’t feel that big to me and it’s where Volvo was founded. So you know who to blame now.
Walking around the city, you couldn’t miss that women’s football was in town. There are flags and signs all over the city and a dedicated fan space with a massive TV screen.
It’s the night before the first semi final between Sweden and Germany. I caught up with ex-Matilda turned commentator, Alicia Ferguson and Jen O’Neill from shekicks.net who are covering the event for the BBC to get the low down on how the tournament has been going so far. Not so well for England. Sorry, couldn’t resist. But it’s great to see the BBC supporting the women’s game.
It’s a couple of hours before kick off, the gates aren’t even open yet but the fans are already pouring in.
With the host nation vying for a spot in the final, the crowd is predominantly Swedish but there are more than a few Germans who make up for their lack of numbers by being really really LOUD.
I slip through security into the media area and help myself to some Swedish cake and catch up with Alicia and Jen.
And since it’s not every day you get to see something like this, you make a silly video of yourself. Don’t tell me you all would not have done the same thing. If there was no risk of being kicked out, I’d have had a run on the pitch too.
I made my way to the media seats in the stadium. Right on half way. There’s wifi access and power so I’m poised to take all of the photos and all of the videos. It’s a great set up and something I wish we could do in all the W-League stadiums in Australia. Would really help the media and fans live report on the game.
The crowd starts to trickle in, the atmosphere is building and it’s amazing. It’s a sea of yellow and blue, just about every Swedish fan is decked out in supporters gear, there’s a ton of flags and already they’re in full voice. If there were any neutrals in the crowd, I imagine, like me, they’re all being drawn to supporting the home team.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be for Sweden. In no small part due to Nadine Angerer who was my player of the match for Germany. For Sweden, the stand out for me was Nilla Fischer and no, not just because of her haircut.
For my first game at a live international tournament, I was impressed! It was worth coming to Sweden just for this game alone. I hear the television audience was huge and if tuning in for the first time, I’m sure viewers would have been impressed.
After the game, I accidentally (honest!) found myself in the flash zone where the official broadcaster’s were interviewing the players.
And later in the evening, Alicia and I caught up with Lydia Williams to get her perspective on the tournament, her time in Sweden and THOSE saves against France in her return to the Matildas. Interview kicks in at 11:40.
Semi Final Number Two
The second semi final was being hosted by the city of Norrköping, about a 3 1/2 hour drive west. The trip flew by thanks to the company of Tom Sermanni and his co-pilot, April Heinrichs. I learnt more in that car about football tactics than I have a right to know and I almost feel like a member of the USWNT. The unfittest member.
Norrköping is just over a 10th of the size of Gothenburg and is known as Sweden’s Manchester. Apparently. I wonder if they’re red or blue?
I can see why it’s called that though, plenty of canals and waterways with an old time industrial buildings give the place it a definite Manchunian feel.
The city may be small but the love of the game is huge. Again, plenty of signage and flags to announce the second semi final between Norway and Denmark.
If you though my excitement at getting this behind the scenes look had worn off, you’d be wrong! The (very awesome) volunteers in the media centre laughed at me for taking this photo but I have no shame.
This time the media section was right next to the VIPS. Surely, that’s dangerous? Or maybe I’m the only one silly enough to sneak in and take photos? Probably.
One thing I really like about this experience is how the fans show up early to watch the teams warm up. The players are greeted with cheers from the growing crowd and it really helps the atmosphere build. Do yourself, and the players, a favour and do the same next time you go to a game.
There was plenty of atmosphere with fans from cheering on the teams from Sweden’s neighbouring countries. Didn’t quite have the oomph of the home crowd supporters but I’m starting to think the Swedish fans are a whole other level of special.
Overall impression: mostly boring. Norway sat back after scoring in the 3rd minute and while there were flashes of brilliance from both teams on occasion, it’s like Norway didn’t really start to play again until the Danish goal in the 87th minute. Then things certainly picked up a bit!
It’s fair to say that the crowd were mostly behind Denmark and it would have been a great story if they’d made the final without actually winning a game in regulation time but they just couldn’t keep the momentum going. And again, some outstanding keeping this time from Ingrid Hjelmseth.
And that’s it! Now it’s off to Stockholm for the final between Germany and Norway. My prediction: the Germans to take it out unless Norway produce something extra. History favours the Germans in meetings between these two teams and of these games that I’ve seen, the Germans have been more impressive.
Stay tuned for my update a couple of days after the game.