FC Copenhagen v Malmo FF: Tensions high in 'The Bridge' derby

Malmo fans display banners during their first competitive match against Copenhagen in October
Malmo fans goaded Copenhagen fans with banners, mocking the Danish side's perceived lack of football history, during their first competitive match in October

When TV cop Saga Noren speeds across the Oresund Bridge to Copenhagen it is often a matter of life and death. When Malmo FF make the same journey on Thursday it will be much more important than that.

For decades, fans of the Swedish club have dreamt of a first European away trip to their near neighbours FC Copenhagen and the chance to knock the most successful Scandinavian club of the modern era off their perch.

For the Danish giants meanwhile, the visit means begrudging recognition that the away team are no longer to be taken as lightly as they once were and, with Europa League progression to play for, it is a Nordic derby neither side can afford to lose.

Malmo and Copenhagen are only half an hour apart by train but, as fans of the Scandinavian-noir crime TV series 'The Bridge' will be aware, there is a culture clash between the two cities.

A way of defeating the 'evil'

People from the Danish capital, the Swedish stereotype suggests, are arrogant. People from Sweden, the Danish stereotype would have you think, take themselves and their rules far too seriously.

To what extent either point of view is based in reality is up for debate, but it is true FC Copenhagen and Malmo also represent two very different football identities.

Map showing Copenhagen and Malmo
The journey across the Oresund Bridge, connecting Copenhagen in Denmark to Malmo in Sweden, takes about 30 minutes by train

With both sides obliged to take something from the game in order to guarantee progression to the knockout stage, the result on Thursday becomes a de facto referendum on the best way to run a club.

The juxtaposition of model is clear. Swedish football operates a '51% rule', meaning club members must always have a decisive stake and private actors cannot become majority owners of football teams.

As such, 1979 European Cup finalists Malmo are limited in how much they can take advantage of the vast sums of money flowing into modern football from investors.

FC Copenhagen by contrast are more like a traditional business, owned by the Parken Sport and Entertainment group and founded in 1992 before winning their first league title just a year later.

"Copenhagen are everything Malmo fans think football should not be, in the sense that they have bought their success while Malmo built theirs from scratch," Malmo fan and journalist Alexandra Jonson argues.

"This game is a way of defeating the 'evil', it's more than just playing in Europe, it's playing against modern football."

Copenhagen's 'little brother'?

Malmo supporters may not agree with FC Copenhagen's ownership model but they would certainly like to replicate the Danish side's European success.

Copenhagen have made it to European competition proper in 13 of the last 14 seasons, making them by far the most consistent Scandinavian side in Uefa competitions. Malmo want to disrupt that hierarchy, and have been making inroads over the last decade.

"Malmo's desire is to become the greatest team in Scandinavia - and has been for a while. If they can beat Copenhagen it's more than just qualifying for the next round, it will take Malmo one big step closer to their ultimate goal," Jonson says.

The Oresund Bridge
The Oresund Bridge runs for almost five miles from Sweden's west coast to the artificial Peberholm island, where the crossing to Denmak is completed by the Drogden Tunnel

Although Malmo really should have won the first competitive meeting between the two sides in Sweden last October if they had not wasted their chances, Copenhagen's clear dominance on the European stage means the rivalry between the clubs is asymmetrical.

One of the banners their fans displayed when they played in Malmo disparagingly described the Swedes as their "little brother", and some take pleasure in the vitriol directed towards them.

"Copenhagen fans find it very amusing that Malmo fans hate us so much. They write stuff like 'plastic fan' on Twitter and it's like 'dude, relax'. They feel the hate so intensely and we don't," said Sarah Skarum, FC Copenhagen fan and journalist for Danish broadsheet Politiken.

The Danes may be top of the pile for the moment, but the gap is gradually closing. Malmo have played in Europe five times since 2011, and last season they progressed to the knockout stage of the Europa League while Copenhagen fell in the groups. A cause for concern?

"We perhaps have a bit more respect for them these days but we still see them as a smaller club than ours and less successful," Skarum insists.

"That being said, we are worried about the match. Just the thought of their joy… and we really want to be in Europe after Christmas. The fear isn't losing to Malmo, but not qualifying."

'A match not to miss'

They may feel superior, but the idea of Malmo progressing at their expense will not be an enticing one for FC Copenhagen supporters, with the constant exchange of people between the two cities ensuring the ripple effect from Thursday's result will be inevitable.

"There is something special about the occasion because Parken will be full, with many away fans, so it would be wonderful to win. Their stupid and quite entertaining one-way hate would make it even funnier," Skarum jokes.

Parken is almost sold out, and it is hoped the atmosphere between the two sets of supporters will be cordial. There will certainly be plenty of interaction between them: Malmo sold their 2,400-ticket allocation almost instantly and, as Jonson explains, that number is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

The Bridge TV series
Popular BBC Two crime series The Bridge was co-produced in Sweden and Denmark

"There will be a lot of 'unofficial' Malmo fans - my family and friends are going with 'neutral' tickets - this is a match you don't want to miss," she said.

"Playing at home with the entire stadium behind them, Malmo have done the impossible, so now they have the chance to create that at an away game just the other side of the bridge."

In autumn when the group draw was made, 12 December was the date that stood out, and results elsewhere have conspired to set the night up perfectly for a dramatic finale.

If Malmo win, their progression and first place is guaranteed. If Copenhagen take at least a draw, they top the group and, depending on results elsewhere, could even send Malmo home.

Will it be a victory parade back across the bridge for the Swedes, Denmark conquered and the balance of power shifted? Or a humiliating meander home, out of Europe with Copenhagen's Scandinavian dominance reaffirmed?

This night will live long in the memories of both cities.

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