Kalle Svensson – Helsingborg’s National Hero

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Many football grounds up around Europe have statues outside. Some of them are of heroes relevant to the supporters of the club.

A statue of Michael Jackson unveiled by Fulham’s Chairman Mohamed Al Fayed

Some clubs have brass sculptures of football icons such as Bobby Robson at St. James Park or Bobby Moore at Wembley. Then you have the statues of people who are completely unconnected to the world of football such as the one of Michael Jackson outside Fulham’s Craven Cottage.

At the time the then Fulham owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, was a close friend of Jackson and he said the statue was erected because he attended a game once. The shit that we fans have to put up with sometimes…

Luckily, for every irrelevant statue there are 3 relevant ones. Even if they are not the best likeness for the person they are supposed to represent (Christiano Ronaldo anyone?) at least there are good intentions behind the commissioning of the statues.

Maybe they are designed to give the supporters something cling on to or to remind them of past sporting glories?

Bust of Cristiano Ronaldo at Madeira International Airport

In the case of Michael Jackson maybe it is to show the fans that even though the chairman is bleeding the club dry by refusing to spend money on buying decent players while at the same time selling the clubs best players, they at least had a former superstar of pop who was 20 years out of date because he refused to update his look, his dancing or his music and was accused of being a paedophile on numerous occasions.

Who wouldn’t want a statue of someone who paid a kid $10m to keep quiet while at the same time denying that he did anything wrong outside their ground for fans of every visiting team to mock them?

Hell, I know I would so I’ll pay for the Gary Glitter statue myself… I wonder if I should put it outside the away end or inside?

Helsingborg – A Tale of Two Statues

Actually, Helsingborg has a lot of statues but two of them are of footballers. For many years I’d known about both of these statues but only one of them I passed by on a regular basis.

Henrik Larsson’s Statue

Henrik Larsson & statue

The statue of Henrik Larsson is a nice and well detailed statue made of brass and is situated on the beach promenade at Pålsjö.

Three things have always amazed me about the statue and this says more about me as a Londoner than it does about the Swedes who live here.

The first is, why hasn’t anyone stolen the statue and sold it? In England it has been common for many years for people to steal copper wires or bronze statues to sell them for their scrap value. Even a Henry Moore statue was cut and stolen from a public park in south-east London, probably by Millwall fans, and has never been recovered.

That being said, I wouldn’t have a clue where there is a scrap metal dealer in the Helsingborg area otherwise I might have done it myself which might explain why nobody has done it? I prefer to think the Swedes are a little more civilised!

The other thing that amazed me, particularly last year, was that the statue wasn’t vandalised! Last season when Helsingborg were relegated from Allsvenskan to Superettan I was half expecting someone to spray paint the statue, write something insulting on it or something else but I didn’t see or read about any such event happening.

I often thought that if there were a statue of Alan Pardew, even if it were at the top of Mount Everest, someone would have got to it and painted ‘fuck off Pardew’ on it.

The third thing is it’s location. Who in their right mind decided to place the statue Larsson in such an obscure place? It is roughly 2km from the centre of Helsingborg or 4km from Olympia. I understand it shouldn’t be put on the main shopping street but why so far away from the football ground?

It’s nice to know that the town planners in Sweden are just as inept as the ones we have in London!

Kalle Svensson’s Statue

Statue of Kalle Svensson before Olympia’s renovation

The other statue was situated just outside the entrance to Olympia’s north terrace.

I have to say, it didn’t look very nice and appeared to be made out of fibreglass or plastic. I guessed it must have been of a famous footballer but the statue or figurine didn’t inspire me to go and find out more.

I didn’t pass this statue as often as Larsson’s but each time I did pass it I thought it could do with being painted as it had seen better days!

A little over 2 years ago the work began to renovate HIF’s ground and not long after that it was in the news that the statue was going to be removed while work was going on. There was a lot of talk about the statue, where it should be put, if it should return and if they should commission a new one to be made.

On 1st April 2017 Olympia was officially reopened as a finished ground. During the last 2 years the ground had remained open but different parts of it were closed while work was ongoing. I think that helped contribute to last season’s poor form but I have gone through that in another post.

Statue of Kalle Svensson after Olympia’s renovation

In March I noted in the local press that the statue was going to return, this time outside the south terrace, which is where the noise is generated at home games. I thought it was more fitting that it should be there as the north terrace houses the away fans and if the statue was of a Helsingborg hero he should be with their hard core fans!

I’ll admit at this point that I am not sure if the statue that now sits outside Olympia is a new statue or if the old one was really made out of metal with a terrible paint job. Either way the statue now looks fantastic and befitting of not only a club legend but also a legend of the national team.

After seeing the statue in it’s new location and how it now looked now it made me think that the person must have been important so I wanted to learn more about who he was and what made him so loved by the Helsingborg fans.

Background

Kalle Svensson in 1952

Karl-Oskar Svensson (nicknamed Rio Kalle) was a famous Swedish football goalkeeper from Helsingborg. He played for HIF during his whole career.

Helsingborg

Kalle made his debut for Helsingborg in Allsvenskan at only 18 years of age on 4th June 1944. In his first game he conceded two goals.

He appeared in 349 Allsvenskan matches from his debut to the spring of 1959 after which he retired from playing as a professional footballer.

Kalle continued to play for his local team Gunnarstorps IF, but was persuaded to make a comeback for HIF in June 1961, playing until 21st October 1962, his last ever match.

When Kalle was not playing football he worked as a fire fighter at his local fire station in Helsingborg.

Kalle has the 3rd most appearances for a goalkeeper in Allsvenskan, he also has got the less impressive record of being the goalkeeper who has conceded the highest number of goals in Allsvenskan, a total of 575.

Kalle was the first goalkeeper to receive the Swedish Football Association award for best Swedish footballer, Guldbollen, in 1952.

International

Kalle out jumps Pele in the 1958 World Cup Final in Stockholm

Kalle’s record with the national team is more impressive. He gained 73 caps between his debut on 13th May 1949 at home against England (3–1) to his final match on 29th June 1958 against Brazil in the World Cup Final in Stockholm, which ended in a 2-5 loss.

Kalle played in four of the big tournaments, the 1950 and 1958 World Cups, as well as the 1948 and 1952 Olympic Games, winning a medal in all four.

Rio Kalle

Kalle gained his nickname ‘Rio Kalle’, derived from the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro and the common Swedish nickname for Karl, Kalle, was given to him during the 1950 World Cup in Brazil after two heroic matches against Italy and Spain, which both actually were played at the Estádio do Pacaembu in São Paulo.

But why let a little detail get in the way of a good nickname?

It has been interesting and fun to learn about a local sporting hero and indeed a national hero. It is unfortunate that the word hero gets thrown around too much these days and it devalues the people who deserve that title and their achievements.

Thank you Kalle!

Kalle Svensson in goal for Helsingborg at the original Olympia
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