For the past couple of years I have had the pleasure of working during the week in Scandinavia. Whilst this means spending a few nights away from my girls, it does mean I get to experience a different culture. I live in Copenhagen, consistently voted as one of the best cities in the world to live in. You can see why – lots of green space, a focus on the family and all those things that go with a socialist society. Virtually every Dane I have ever met shares the same three pleasures – beer, sausages and football.
It is no surprise that they love a beer or two since J C Jacobsen had the bright idea of brewing beer 150 years ago and naming it after his son Carl. Today his brewery, Carlsberg, is one of the biggest in the world, although despite the adverts stating that “The Danes hate to see it leave” it hasn’t actually been brewed in Denmark for three years. Sausages, well that is taken to an artform here. They have dozens of different types but unless they are cooked on open grills then they simply don’t count.
Football, well that is another matter. The Danes know more about English football than we do. They have weekly roundup shows, hosted by non other than Peter Schmeichel that analyse our games, and of course have more live games than we do on TV. This summer saw two high profile players sign for new clubs in the Premier League, with Christian Poulsen joining Liverpool and Lars Jacobsen signing for West Ham. The media went into a frenzy and dedicated whole programmes to the signings, with a reporter at each club this season following their progress.
But what about their own domestic game? Well Danish football is similar to the Scottish domestic game with two teams dominating the news, whilst a bunch of others fight for the scraps. However, at least in Scotland there is some parity between the old firm and they have some history and heritage. In Denmark it is all manufactured. Current title holders and Champions League Group qualifiers FC Copenhagen, or FCK for short are one of the five biggest brands in the whole country. However, 25 years ago they were just an idea in a football-mad politicians brain. With no success on a European stage, the authorities in Copenhagen simply merged a few local teams together, called them FC Copenhagen and plonked them in the national stadium. Two decades later they are the biggest team in Denmark but the experiment has hardly worked.
Sure they dominate the domestic game, but often play in front of thousands of empty seats in a 40,000 seater stadium. The fans only come out for twice yearly games against local rivals Brondby IF which have in the past few years gained a growing reputation for violence in and out of the stadium. So bad has the trouble beckon that there are genuine plans to play future games behind closed doors which is a shame as this is the only game that generates some atmosphere. Having attended a number of these games I find it surreal to see people sitting around eating FCK popcorn, whilst the fans try and set fire to the seats.
Average attendances in the Superliga are just 8,300 with half of the teams in the league getting less than 6,000 week in week out. That is less than our League One (in fact three teams in League Two and a couple in the Blue Square Premier). Drop down to the 1st Division and the average is just 1,300 with four sides averaging less than Lewes this season. And one level below this – the third tier of Danish football and you will rarely see crowds above 300.
But like football at the non league level in England, football outside the top league in Denmark is very enjoyable. Ticket prices are rarely above £10, grounds are quirky, picturesque and welcoming and above all irrespective of where you end up there will be two things available. Beer and sausages. An hour before the game the grill will be fired up and fans will start to queue, beer in hand for a variety of sausages, served with bread and a big dollop of ketchup. And to make sure you look like a local you need to dip your sausage, follow it with a bite of bread and then wash it down with some cold beer. Sure, the football is crap, the weather is often inclement and the atmosphere is non-existent but having watched years of football at Upton Park I am used to it!
Every dog has its day they say and in Denmark that is the Danish Cup, aka The Ekstra Bladet trophy that starts in August when the Scandinavian sunshine stretches late into the night and ends in May with the final at Parken, the national stadium in Copenhagen. With less professional teams in Denmark, the chances of a non league team meeting a big club are much higher and two wins in the earlier rounds will see them in the draw with the big guns. And the rules here, as they are in Germany, mean that the lower team will always be at home and all games are decided on the day. This has led to a few giant killings this season with amateur side Kastrup BK reaching the third round after two penalty shoot out wins against league teams on their roped off pitch (where, of course they constructed a temporary bar and sausage grill!). Last season another regional team, Helsingor 3000 drew FCK in round three and as they have no floodlights had to kick off at 3pm on a weekday in order to complete the game in daylight.
With the Danish season starting in July and finishing in late May there is nothing better than an European Football Weekend away in Copenhagen. Just 90 minutes away on a flight from Gatwick will take you to the capital of cool. As one of the biggest footwear brands in the world would say – “Just do it”.
More details on grabbing a game in Denmark can be found at http://footballindenmark.co.uk. Next time – grabbing a game in Sweden.