Over a year ago rumours started that England would be playing Argentina in a friendly in February 2011. Nothing too unusual about that, apart from the venue. It seemed that for some strange reason the game would be played at Parken in Denmark. Some said it was the return fixture to England’s 3-2 win in Geneva back in 2007, others said that Adidas who provided kit to both Denmark and Argentina had a deal to host a game with the Danish football association.
Being based for work in Copenhagen gave me the perfect opportunity to find out if there was any truth in the rumours. None whatsoever. The DBU (Danish FA) were adamant that only games featuring Denmark would be played on Danish soil. However, this did not stop someone putting the game as “confirmed” on FIFA.com. And then our own FA announced that the game would be taking place – not directly but it was obviously common knowledge as The Daily Mail published a story online (see here) about the game and Capello talked about his excitement of playing Argentina. BUT still no one it appeared had actually asked the Danish Football Association if the game could go ahead.
In November 2010 England lost to France at Wembley in a friendly and after the match Capello once again spoke about the friendly against Argentina in Denmark. So the Danish FA came out and publically said this game would not be held in Copenhagen. Cue some harsh words from the Danish FA, and with some negotiating tactics that a Turkish rug sales person in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul would be proud of, the FA then announced that England would indeed be travelling to Copenhagen in February, but would be playing the Danes and not the Argentinians.
It’s been quite awhile since I have been to see England away. In fact it was nearly two years to the day since I last travelled to see them play when they took on Spain in Seville, in a trip best remembered for my chronic toothache. But I could hardly miss this one, considering it was being played 2 miles up the road from me. And of course once the game had been announced I became the most popular person in England with “friends” all enquiring if I had a spare bed in my flat. I had already allocated my beds to Dagenham Dan, Brian and young Joe.
Despite the hype, the Danes hadn’t really got excited about this game. Just a week before the match they announced that they had sold 22,000 and a consequence only 3 sides of the ground would be open. And this wasn’t a cost thing either. All tickets were 250DKR, or around £28. Two weeks after this game FCK were hosting Chelsea in the Champions League. That game, with tickets starting at nearly double the price of this one sold out within a day of going on sale.
Expectations on England’s travelling support had also waned over the past few years. When this fixture was played in August 2005 (with the Danes spanking us 4-1) England brought nearly 3,000 fans. Now that number had dropped by 50%. It was hardly the hardest place to get to and as a sign of the times when I had to book a flight for a work colleague on the day before the game flights from London were still available, and priced normally.
The game was to be played with the roof closed in Parken, with potential sub-zero temperatures outside it was important to protect those chilly English legs. As a stadium it is one of the finest mid-sized grounds in Europe. Three two tier stands that rise steeply up and give the impression that everyone is close to the pitch, with the new stand a single tier of seats and executive boxes and offices above.
The ground is located in the north of the city in a quite well to do area with only the trendiest of bars close to the ground, unless you know where to look. And with friends in the city such as Ivar we certainly knew where we would be drinking pre-game, and guess what? It wasn’t the Irish (and Scottish) bars that most of the other travelling fans were going to head to. It still makes me shake my head why people do this, and then complain that they are paying £8-£10 for a pint. Copenhagen has hundreds of bars where beer is comparable in price to London. But of course Economics lesson 101 is charge higher prices where tourists gather. And what better than offering a full English breakfast, Only Fools and Horses on DVD and pictures of Dogs playing snooker to justify charging a huge premium for beer.
As predicted the day after the round of Premier League games prior to the game the usual suspects brought in sick notes from their Mum’s. Ferdinand, Gerrard and Foster all left the England medical room sniggering behind their hands as they were excused duty, leaving a quandary for Capello as to who would captain the side. In the end he gave it to Lampard as the person who had his hand up the longest. But it is really an honour? Third choice (fourth if you actually think his preferred choice is Terry, and then there is Rooney) in a game no one really wants to play in, against a team they didn’t want to play. Hmm.
The team contained some surprises. A start for Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere along with Ashley Cole, who was becoming England’s most capped full back, a role previously held by moustached heroes Kenny Samson and Gary Neville. Up front Rooney and Bent, a pairing hardly tried at international level but enough to strike fear into the heart of the Danish defence that featured no less than four English based players, with eight of their starting eleven actually based outside of Denmark.
Denmark 1 England 2 – Parken – Wednesday 9th February 2011
England’s bench featured five players which double letters in their name which by my reckoning is some sort of record. Green, Lescott, Cahill, Scott Parker and Barry all added to the trivia question I was asked earlier, and that would prove to be my musing during the game when the tempo, how should we put it, dropped. And if Parker did come on, then he will earn his fourth cap, all gained under different managers. It is trivia like that that sets TBIR apart from the others.
I took my seat alongside Fleet Street’s finest, and with the roof closed and the heaters on, started stripping off. Not since Madrid November 2004 has the temperature in a stadium been so tropical. The freshly laid pitch apparently had to be encouraged to grow but surely not at the expense of us seeing 50 year old Engerland fans from Newcastle in skins – please, there are cool Danes present!
For any England fans who had a bit too much Carlsberg and may have snoozed or those who were still in The Dubliner, what a start to the game you missed. Rooney nearly put England in the lead when he skipped round Sørensen only to see his shot cleared off the line (well off the six yard box), the Denmark pressed forward and the English defence somehow cleared their lines.
Eight minutes in and young Erickson whipped in a tantalising cross and Agger stoops to head unmarked into the back of the net. Yes, that is unmarked. In an international game, from a cleared set piece a centre-back, you know, those guys who spend most of their time heading the ball, Daniel Agger was left unmarked to head home. Agger-do-do-do came the 80′s cry on Twitter. But the lead lasted barely two minutes. Walcott managed to beat his man, played a fantastic ball across the six yard box for an unmarked Bent to score one of those goals that makes all of you look at the linesman to check he didn’t have a flag raised. The enigma that is Darren Bent. The man can do no wrong at the moment. Liverpool 1 Aston Villa 1
For some strange reason the goal was greeted in a rather muted fashion. England’s support was spread out in the 3,500 SuperBest Tribune behind the goal, giving an impression the support was on the wane. However, the flags were out in force. Caistor, Hornchurch, Wycombe, Benfleet and Cote D’Azur. Yes, England have gone upmarket these days and the ex-pat support had managed to sort out their turf war with the Cannes group and were here in Copenhagen.
It was also a strange situation for me sitting up in the press gods. I was the bread in a sandwich featuring the FiveLive commentary team of Mike Ingham and Graham Taylor with Alan Green the other slice. It was quite disconcerting to sit next to Mike Ingham for the whole game and not lean over and shout “Hello Mum” whilst he was commentating, but it did show how professional these guys are and how dedicated to the cause. His notes alone were a work of art, with diagrams, trivia facts on each player as well as what appeared to be his Tesco shopping list for his wife. Taylor was also a top man, taking time before the game to answer our My First Game question, asking for a few minutes to think before bounding back over and regaling us with such enthusiasm for the game.
With Jack Wilshere making his debut a fair few eyes were focused on him. It is fair to say that young players who are hyped up as future “Maradona’s” or the next best thing rarely make the grade. I remember Joe Cole breaking through into the West Ham team and being told that he was the new Gazza. Well young Joe has never realised this promise, apart from perhaps his injuries and his silly haircuts, but one young chap who appears to be living up to his promise is Christian Erikson, currently playing at Ajax. In the first half he terrorised Ashley Cole, coming very close to putting the Danes back into the lead after 32 minutes when his shot struck a post with Hart beaten. Keep an eye on this youngster, I have a feeling we will be seeing him in the Premier League sooner rather than later.
The start of the second half saw Capello’s promised mass changes but for once we saw a glimmer of positivity. And at last Scottie Parker had his chance, well actually his fourth chance although his first since he has been at Upton Park (interestingly his other three all came under different managers). It was disappointing to see he had decided not to have his hair cut but I am sure that Mrs Parker would be as proud as that day when he finished shooting the McDonalds commercial, thus making him the first child star to play international football.
Sixty four minutes on the clock and that boy Erikson is at it again as his fantastic backheel set up Rommedahl (Charlton fans remember him? Well he’s still playing international football) who shot straight at Joe Hart. Five minutes later and England were in front as Ashley Young was played into space as he ran into the area and he slotted home past Sørensen for his first international goal to make it two goals for the Aston Villa as well. In fact Villa 2 Liverpool 1.
Ten minutes to go and Cole came off and that precious captain’s armband was handed over for the third time this evening to Gareth Barry, with Terry looking on enviously, like a husband watching his ex-wife getting off with another man. The last five minutes saw a typical mad Danish scramble but England had enough about them to hold on for the win.
Overall it actually was a pretty good game, quite a refreshing change for an England friendly. I stayed on for the press conference, talking to Darren Bent and Scott Parker and watch Wayne Rooney completely blank every member of the media like a child in a sulk. In fact it was quite a good evening – that was until I got the text I had been dreading. West Ham United would be moving to the Olympic Stadium. Well there goes 15,000 supporters then. But that is for another day.
To read the minute by minute report based on 80s song titles click here.
To listen to Scott Parker’s post match interview click here.
More pictures from the evening can be found on our Flickr feed here.