In the last few moments, Celtic have been drawn against Helsingborgs I.F. in the play off stage of the Champions League. The victors will take a place in the group stages of Europe’s Premier Club tournament, whilst the losers will be rewarded for their efforts with a place in the Europa League group stages. The ties will take place on August 22/23 and August 28/29, with the first leg being played away in Sweden, at the 17,000 capacity Olympia Stadium, which hosted two World Cup ties in 1958.
Formed in 1907, and having been Swedish Champions five times, the vast majority of you will have heard of Helsingborgs due to the well known connections with Henrik Larsson. Henrik played 56 times in his first stint with his hometown team (scoring 50 goals), before he added another 84 appearances (and another 38 goals) to this record over a decade later upon his return to the club. The Swedes, to their immense credit, even have a statue of the great man in his home city. It is perhaps the only place on Earth where Henrik receives more adulation than he does in Glasgow.
As the current Champions of the Swedish Allsvenskan though, Helsingborgs are not to be underestimated by any margin. The current side is made up of mostly Swedes, with a Brazilian and other players from other parts of Scandinavia making up most of the rest of the playing squad. The club is currently managed, on a caretaker basis, by Age Hareide.
Whilst none of us can predict the outcome of these clashes with any certainty, I can tell you that regardless of what happens, you will never see a Helsingborgs player take to the field with the number 17 on his back. This number was retired some time ago in recognition of the achievements of a man who we’ll all be talking about more and more as this tie approaches, Henrik.
The “Reds” (Di Roe) are also known, interestingly, as the “Milk Cow” (Mjolkkossan). This is slightly easier to remember than the clubs full title, which is “Helsingborgs Idrottsforening”.
So, the question on everyone lips is of course, can Celtic do enough to progress, and will we all get to welcome Henrik home again with an appearance at the home leg?