Nilsson's Tales from Riverbank; Oxford's Swede Missed the Boat as a Soccer Star

Daily Mail (London), April 2, 1999 | Go to article overview

Nilsson's Tales from Riverbank; Oxford's Swede Missed the Boat as a Soccer Star


Byline: IVAN SPECK

WHEN he passes Craven Cottage in tomorrow's University Boat Race, Oxford's Henrik Nilsson will be entitled to a momentary, wistful glance across the riverbank.

Players from the varsity football match at Fulham's old stadium may even be standing there, showered and dressed, following a contest in which Nilsson might once have figured.

The 6ft 3in Swede grew up in the same youth side in Lund as internationals Martin Dahlin and Roger Ljung. A central defender and occasional midfielder, Nilsson was still awaiting the phone call which had taken his pals - both one year his senior - to the semi-professional ranks of Malmo when rowing made an irresistible offer to him.

'Football was my main sport and I did very well at it,' he said. 'But things changed when I was chosen to row for Sweden as a junior at the age of 17.

'To compete internationally for Sweden was very tempting and it was then that I began to take rowing seriously.

Until then, I just used to join friends at regattas during the summer and seemed to be fairly talented.

'Malmo weren't interested in me, although Martin and Roger went on to successful careers with the Swedish national side.

'I also played alongside Stefan Schwarz in a regional side in southern Sweden but I don't know if I could have made it as a footballer.

Probably not.

'If I had come over when I was 19, then definitely I feel I could have played in the varsity football match.

'Now, although my football brain is as quick as it was and I still have the touch to take free kicks or pass the ball well, I'm so slow. My whole body has turned into some-thing without speed.

'That's because rowing and football are so different physically in terms of what you need. For football you have to be really quick and endurance isn't as important as speed.' Nilsson's confidence shines through as he answers every question patiently. What could be interpreted as arrogance is, in fact, self-belief. …

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