World Cup 2018

Beyond the Quarter Final: One Saturday in Sweden and England

One has to go back to early in the second half of Germany’s round of 16 victory in 2006, in Munich, to see the last player in the Swedish ‘Allsvenskan’ to play for their home nation at a World Cup. Sweden began that match with two in their starting XI, only to go 2-0 down, then see Teddy Lucic of BK Hacken sent off, then Mattias Jonsson of Djurgarden was brought off for Anderlecht’s Christian Wilhelmsson after 52 minutes.

There have been others; this tournament, Saman Ghoddos of Iran and Ostersund; Iceland’s Arnor Traustason of Malmo, and Costa Rica’s Ian Smith, currently plying his domestic trade for Norrkoping.

The Allsvenskan has a summer break, usually, which would come to an end in early July. This season, with Sweden at the World Cup, it was due to resume on the day of the last quarterfinals. None of the league’s players were likely to be involved, so nobody would be too badly inconvenienced. The Allsvenskan collective are a generally small bunch at each tournament after all.

Malmo to Uppsala

Traustason was playing for Malmo on Saturday. The same day that Sweden played England for a place in the World Cup Semi-Final he also played, scoring the third of a 4-0 win at bottom club Sirius in Uwe Rosler’s first game in charge of Malmo.

It is a seven-hour drive from Malmo to Uppsala, and the game kicked off at 13:00 CET, just four hours before the quarter-final with England. Perhaps, just perhaps, that was the reason the attendance of just 1823 was a way down on Sirius’ usual home attendance, just 48%.

While the World Cup dominated the Swedish press, the arrival of Rosler at Malmo has been big news. Newspapers offered a minute-by-minute on the game, and the German coach’s every word in press conferences and interviews has been pored over. Maybe a lesser club than Malmo would have been less big news, but they are impossible to ignore.

There were three more games in Allsvenskan on Saturday evening. 1017 watched Hacken vs. GIF Sundsvall (31% of their average home gate), Trelleborgs drew 2682 to their game with AIK (80%, though worth noting that AIK are a very well supported side) while just 211 watched Dalkurd beat Brommapojkarna, a disappointing 23% of their regular attendance.

Hollow and empty stadia

Saturday was not a great day for Swedish football; the national side lost their chance to progress, while their domestic league resumed in front of hollow and empty stadia, revenues well down on what might have been hoped for.

Yet it was not just in Sweden that games were occurring. England’s teams have resumed their pre-season, and a number of matches were arranged for the Saturday afternoon, then hastily repositioned when it became apparent that England themselves needed that slot.

Liverpool opened their season at Chester FC’s Deva Stadium, their 3 pm spot being retained. The DJ treated supporters to the likes of Three Lions and World In Motion before kick-off, and there was something of an ‘Olde England’ feel to the Reds, who saw James Milner and Daniel Sturridge both find the target in a comfortable 0-7 victory.

Chester must have been fearing a real hit to the expected 4,500 crowd, but they managed to get 4,396 through the gate, meaning a £30,000 payday despite the defeat.

12:30

Merseyside had another representative involved in a game that started at 15:00, as Tranmere Rovers, newly promoted back to the football league, travelled up to Scotland to face Dunfermline. Reports suggest that around 200 members of the Super White Army made the trip north of the border, where there were a few games going on, as the Scots were unsurprisingly unconcerned by their neighbours big day.

Most English sides were able to bring their games forward, with 12:30 being the preferred kick-off time. Plymouth, Preston North End, Portsmouth, Cambridge United, MK Dons, Northampton, Fulham, Wimbledon and West Brom all won at that time, while Gillingham could only draw at Folkestone. There was one casualty, however, with Hayward’s Heath Town unable to sort out a pitch for a game against Eastbourne Town.

Coventry City visited Sutton Utd and lost 2-0 in a match that kicked off at 13:00, while Scunthorpe managed an 8-1 win starting at 12:00. Swindon really pushed the boat out, beginning at 11:30, and they were 2-1 up at mid-day, going on to win 5-2.

Joe Hart

Milner and Sturridge were not the only England players who were in action away from Russia on Saturday afternoon. For the first time since May 2005, a Shrewsbury Cricket Club scorecard featured the name CJJ Hart, scoring six and taking a catch.

Goalkeeper Joe had turned out for his hometown club a number of times in his youth, playing a few Birmingham Premier League games. Perhaps that most notable of these was against Coventry and North Warwickshire in 2003. Hart made 27 that day, coming in at number nine. Pertinently, his opposite number, out for a duck, was Steve Ogrizovic.

It seems that not only did England win the Quarter Final in Russia, but they also won the battle of domestic matches that were changed for the game. All eyes will be on Wednesday night, and what games are arranged then.

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