For the love of the Danes

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.

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4 thoughts on “For the love of the Danes

  1. You got a couple of things wrong in your story. FCK were not merged because of a football-mad politicians brain. It was merged because KB and B1903 could not compete in the danish league anymore, and at the same time Parken was rebuild. So they needed a team and the two teams were willing to merge.

    I think your the only one who doesn’t see the experiment as a succes. FCK has played in either CL or EL the last five seasons and are a top 50 club in Europe now.
    The average attendence is a bit down the last couple of years, but it’s the same in all clubs. But the average attendence is up by over 300% from before the merge.

    Mv
    Christian

    • Hi Christian….You refer to “they” when talking about the merger and Parken…My understanding was that part of the business case for Parken was to have “Denmark’s best team” playing in there, and that was one of the reasons behind the merger of the teams. But KB and B1903 are still in existence and only playing 2 leagues below FCK…

      If the experiment was to create a club and have them dominate the domestic game then yes it has been successful. But surely the purpose should have been to raise the profile of the Danish game and I do not think it has done that. Sure FCK are enjoying more success than they ever have and I wish them all the luck in the world, but I am too frequent a visitor to Parken for games against the likes of Horsen, OB and Randers to see that the paying public do not think so.

      Look at the best/richest teams in most leagues. They will sell out their games irrespective of the opposition – for instance Chelsea v Sunderland last Sunday, Man Utd v Wolves the previous week yet will struggle to sell out their Champions League games again such as Chelsea next week v Zilinia. FCK is the opposite and that suggests that the fans have not bought into this dominance. People want to see competition not a procession.

  2. Hi Stuart

    First of all the use of the word “merge” is wrong. In Danish it’s called “en overbygning”. That means the two clubs does still exist, but can not play in the Danish divisional system.
    Three years ago FCK gained control over the youth system with the creation of “FCK school of excellence”.
    But at the moment KB have over 100 different teams playing and B1903 have over 40 different teams playing.
    By the way Brøndby was merged in 1964.

    Your mention raising the profile the of the game. I’m not sure if you mean the quality of play of the level of the game.
    Denmark is currently number 12 in Uefa ranking, and that is the highest ever. Next year we will have two teams in the CL-qualification, and that’s quite good for a nation of 5,5 mio people. So you can say, that the level international is better than ever.

    If you look at the attendance. KB had an average at around 3000 when they were on top. B 1903 usually had from 1000-2000. FCK average is around 15000 home and away. The average at home is around 20000 but of course helped by the one or two Brøndby games.
    That is as I wrote before clearly an increase.

    Actually I think you are quite alone with your opinion or maybe we don’t use the same definition of the word success.

    Mv
    Christian

    • I agree that Danish football has never been better in terms of its international image and reputation. The awarding of a second Champions League place is justified on merit although I do feel clubs like OB, FC Midtyjlland and Brondby have along way to go before they are ready to compete at this level – I would point to how many failed attempts FCK have made to reach the Group Stages of the Champions League as an example. The danger of a second CL place is that two teams completely overshadow the league as we have seen in Scotland with Rangers and Celtic.

      I think we differ on the word Success. I am not knocking or criticising Danish football or FCK – I am merely pointing out how clubs can be given a helping hand to success.

      Question for you – If FCK weren’t given Parken as their ground, what would have happened?

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