It will Always Be Copenhagen


200px-Akademisk_Boldklub_logo.svgAB…one of the looooong list of footballing acronyms in these parts.  Anyone who wants to be taken seriously in these parts needs to complete a University course (free of course over here) in learning your AB from your AaB.  In the top league alone we have AaB, AGF, FCK, FCM, FCN and OB.  Let’s not even get started on KB, B93, B1901 and B1909 all of whom can lay claim to being league champions in these parts at some point.  Tonight is all about Akademisk Boldklub, or the “The Academic Football club”. One would expect the likes of Wenger to one day arrive here, or that there isn’t a boot room rather a library containing works by Jean Paul Sartre, Søren Kierkegaard and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (of course Dostoyevsky).  In fact there are few teams in the world that can claim a Nobel Prize winners as former players but AB can, with nuclear scientist Niels Bohr having played between the sticks on numerous occasions when his atom-busting research allowed.

The club were formed with the intent of giving Danish students a sporting outlet back in 1889.  But they proved they weren’t all brains by winning the Danish title on no less than 9 (nine!) occasions, only bettered by the current foes Brondby IF and FC Copenhagen.  Oh, and KB who of course were part of the merger back in 1991 to create FC Copenhagen.  So they have a fair pedigree although their last title was back in the days when Mrs Robinson was the original MILF, Sergeant Pepper decided Match.com wasn’t for him and formed a band and Che Guevara made a fatal mistake by holidaying in Bolivia (that’s 1967 for those who can’t be bothered to look up those events!).  They did of course win the 1999 Danish Super Cup on penalties, beating AaB in the most confusing titled game ever, as if you needed reminding. Continue reading

Something rotten in the state of Denmark


Last season the world of European football was mildly surprised to see a new name joining the Champions League jet-set. Many words have already been written, including our own views, on the miraculous rise from regional cup final to the world’s richest club competition of FC Nordsjælland. Whilst the champagne corks were popping in the Farum, the sleepy northern Copenhagen suburb back in May, there was the usual end of season soul-searching on the other side of the Capital of Cool. Brøndby IF, for so long the title also-rans, had experienced a season from hell, finishing just two places and six points above the relegation zone. Fast forward twelve months and the situation is even more dire.

5759930100_5fd4737466_bAt 5pm today Brøndby kick off against AC Horsens in a “winner takes all” game. A defeat in East Jutland for the blues will see them relegated from the top division of Danish football. For the Brøndby fans, this was another serious kick in the teeth. In the past few years, the big two, or “New Firm” of the Blues and arch rivals FC Copenhagen have seen their power base eroded by the likes of OB from Odense, AaB from Aalborg and FC Midtjylland from Herning. Add to this list the new Superligaen champions, FC Nordsjælland and you can start to feel the pressure that Brøndby are under each season in a league of just twelve sides. But even so, they should be better than a relegation-haunted side. So where has it all gone wrong?

Danish football is not flush with money. FCK’s Champions League millions of Kroner aside, teams are successful in the domestic game today because they invest in their youth and scouting structure. This approach has benefited the national side as well as they are going for qualification to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, which will be their third major tournament in a row. Continue reading

Unsporting Life


I’ve grown bored of hearing the footballing press belittling FC Nordsjælland this season before each Champions League Group Stage game. Lazy journalism, tired clichés and over use of Wikipedia have been the order of the day to explain who the Danish champions are. Whilst their appearance in the Group Stages owes as much to the poor showing of countries such as Scotland in previous European seasons as it does to the record of FC Copenhagen in the competition, they are there because they won their domestic league. They are the champions of their national league and quite rightly deserve a place in the Champions Cup – more so that 80% of other teams who didn’t earn the same honour.

Few gave them any hope of progressing. Even the Europa League was seen as a step to far. In truth the club themselves also shared this view but would still approach the campaign as a yardstick as to how far they had come in a short space of time. Nine years ago they made their European debut against FC Shirak in the old UEFA Cup. Four years ago they were back gain, even beating Queen of the South in the competition. Now they were ready to make their final bow at home in this years Champions League against Shakthar Donetsk, having already entertained Juventus and Chelsea.

Whilst the competition has given the players, fans and officials some great memories (and still with a visit to Stamford Bridge to come in two weeks time), their primary aim this season is to try to retain their SuperLiga title. With the long harsh winter already slowly descending on parts of Denmark, the club lays in second place, trailing the FCK machine by six points. Continue reading

The most passionate football nation in Europe


Two weeks ago I met a chap from Iceland at Copenhagen airport.  His first words to me were “I’m the most passionate football fan in the world”.  He had seen my Lewes FC Owners badge and knew exactly who the Rooks were, what league they were in and where they were in the league.  In fact when I randomly fired obscure non league teams at it he could answer every single question on location, league and position.  Curzon Ashton, Lincoln Moorlands Railways, Quorn.  You name it, he knew the answer.  He told me he watched about twenty games a week on the TV and Online, and devoted his whole life to following the beautiful game.  He showed me his list of “favourite” teams from across Europe.  Now I thought Andy Hudson had more favourites than a teenagers most visited adult websites, but this was taking it to the extreme.  His main team was KR Reykjavik back at home but also he avidly followed (deep breath here):-

Celtic,Rosenborg, Basel, Benfica, Helsingborgs, Rapid Wien, Olympiakos, Liverpool, AC Milan, Barcelona, Brondby, HJK Helsinki, Skendija Tetovo, Buducnost Podgorica, Hadjuk Split and BATE Borisov.

But this meeting got me thinking.  Which nation are the most passionate about their own domestic league?  My new “friend” in the thumbs up Inbetweeners way had claimed the Icelanders were – with just 12 clubs and a population of 328,000 he thought that more people watched top flight football in Iceland as a percentage than any other nation.

So in a spare moment (OK, hour) last week I fed all the relevant information into the TBIR super computer to see what the results were.  Now, it is hard to be very exact and so I had to make a couple of assumptions.

  • Population figures were taken from the CIA database
  • To calculate the attendance of the league I took the league average attendance per game from 2010/11 (or 2011 in case of summer leagues) and multiplied by the teams in the league – this would roughly show the number of people who went to top flight football in a two week period (i.e a home game for each club). The bible for any statistical world is of course European Football Statistics.
  • Obviously there is a small amount of overlap with away fans attending games so I took off 10% from the total to avoid double counting.
  • I was unable to find league attendances for Andorra, San Marino or Malta. In addition there isn’t a league in Liechtenstein as their teams play in the Swiss league.  However, the remaining 49 UEFA-affiliated Leagues were included.

The results were indeed very surprising.  The top ten “most passionate” countries about their own domestic league have an average FIFA ranking of 53 (and a UEFA one of 23).  There is only three countries in the top ten that are in the FIFA top ten, and the top three are all ranked by FIFA at over 118, and over 44 in Europe.  So in true TBIR Top of the Pops style let’s countdown from 10 to 1.

10th place – Switzerland (1.32% of the population watch a top flight match in 2010/11 season – Average attendance was 11,365 – Top supported club FC Basel who averaged 29,044)
Despite its peaceful aspect of mountains, cow bells and lakes, football in Switzerland is a passionate affair that often boils over into violence. The best supported team, FC Basel are now a regular in the Champions League Group Stages which has seen their average attendance rise to nearly 30,000.  Their average attendance for the Axpo Super League would be better if the two teams from Zürich realised their potential.  One cloud on the horizon in Switzerland is the financial stability of clubs – we have this season seen Neuchâtel Xamax go to the wall and several others are in a precarious position.  However, football is still seen as the number one sport, and with top flight clubs distributed across the country it is clear to see the appeal of the domestic game, especially as on the national side they have had a good few years. Continue reading

The miracle of Farum


At the end of the A S-Tog line on the Copenhagen Metro you will find a sleepy town called Farum. The 18,000 locals here are proud of their identity as Farumese and not Copenhagenites, with a huge spread of different nations immigrants making up more than half of the population. Here it is still frowned upon to wash your car on a Sunday, play football in the street or walk on the cracks in the pavement. The small town centre is dotted with trees and wouldn’t look out of place in a Danish Trueman Show. Yet if you carry on walking down Ryttergårdsvej from the train station you will eventually arrive at Farum Park, home to the new Danish champions, The Wild Tigers of FC Nordsjælland.

Whilst Montpellier’s title in France may have been a shock to many, FCN’s SuperLiga title must rank up there as one of the greatest achievements in European club football. Next season the club, who average less than 5,000 fans at Farum Park could very well find themselves having to make arrangements to host the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

Thanks to the progress made by the domestic dominators FC Copenhagen in the Champions League, Denmark had gained direct access to the Group Stages of the competition next season as the 13th best ranked country in club football. FCK fans must have been rubbing their hands in delight as the UEFA cash would allow them to dominate the game even further. But then came the next step in the development of a project started back in 2003 by local businessman Allan Pedersen.

Continue reading

On the third day of Christmas….The best new ground visited


“On the Third Day of Christmas my true love gave to me….a trio of new grounds to see”

This was a toughie.  We saw games in forty new grounds in 2011 and so to pick three was very difficult because all had endeering factors.  Whyteleafe’s Church Road ground was idyllic in the Indian Summer, coupled with an seven goal thriller, but visit it in the dead of winter with a nil-nil draw and it may seem like the worst place on earth.  So we based it on our pure gut instinct of what it would be like all year round. Last year the honours went to Spartak Trnava in Slovakia. This year the winners are:-

3rd – The Bosuilstadion – Royal Antwerp
Antwerp had to be in the top three after one of those post game night’s out when you cannot remember getting home, but you did so with more money than you went out with, a half eaten Marmite crepe by your side and a pair of big girls pants in your pocket.  “We are the great old” they sung at the Bosuilstadion both during the game and in the bar afterwards where the players freely mix with the fans.  A mixture of old and new, old-fashion benches alongside glassed in executive boxes.  Oh, and they serve strong Belgium beer!

2nd – The American Express Community Stadium – Brighton & Hove Albion
This was a tough one not to put top.  My first visit here was as a photographer on a baking hot day in July and so I had an all-access pass.  The stadium is magnificent and first time visitors approaching along the A27 from Brighton will be hard pressed to not swerve off the road when they first see the gleaming roof.  The stadium is perfect in so many ways.  Excellent site lines, a roof that seems to keep the noise of the fans in the stadium, pride in the heritage of the club around the edge of the ground and facilities that encourage fans to hang around after the game for a beer.

1st – Espelunde – BK Avarta
Who?  Where? I hear you say.  The Who is a Danish 2nd Division East side.  The Where is the western suburbs of Copenhagen.  So why has this topped the other thirty nine grounds?  Let me set the scene.  The sun is shining, the beer is cold and the sausages on the grill and sizzling.  The teams run out of an actual tunnel, made out of one of those huge concrete pipes set into the grassy hill. Fans sit on blankets on the grassy knolls watching the game fly by.  Even the home team bench sit on directors chairs, knowing that their ground is a cut above the rest.  See for yourself here.

On the first day of Christmas….The best atmosphere


Welcome to our annual “awards” – celebrating all that is good about the game from our tours around the world.  By 31st December we will have seen 115 games in 2011, which as CMF reminds me is one almost every three days.  She would only get bored of me if I was at home every day anyway.  These are awards based on our opinion.  No votes, no favouritism (well, almost none), no trophies and no speeches. Last season’s nominations and winners can be found here.

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, an atmosphere so red-hot it will make you wee”

3rd Place – Brondby IF
A fantastic display in the two derbies we attended in 2011 against FC Copenhagen saw the Danes keep their place in the top three this year.  The sheer noise and flag waving needs to be seen to be believed at the Carlsberg Classico.

2nd Place – AIK
People who have no knowledge of Swedish football may dismiss it as pedestrian, laid back and functional – a bit like Ikea.  But attend any of the big games features IFK, Malmö FF or AIK and you will see what Scandinavian passion is all about.  The biggest game of the season is undoubtably the Stockholm derby, played at the Råsunda stadium (until the new Stockholm Stadion opens in November of course) where AIK meet rivals Djurgården.  The notorious AIK hardcore fans, The Black Army, prepare their displays for months and it shows.  Recent legislation has meant that if any flares are let off whilst the players are on the pitch then the game needs to be stopped, meaning this game is a long affair.  The noise and colour will make your ears ring, the hairs on your neck stand up and your nose fill with smoke.  Beautiful.
1st Place – Legia Warsaw
The first time I went I lost my hearing for about an hour afterwards, and that was at a game where they had the lowest attendance of the season.  Two weeks ago when the temperature plunged well below zero, thousands of the fans jumped, sang, hugged and generally got 100% behind their team dressed in white t-shirts.  If there ever was a “twelth man” theory then this was it in practice.  Most Polish fans, irrespective of their allegiance will begrudgingly say Legia have the best fans in Poland.  As someone who watches the game all over the world I can honestly say that they are the best that I have seen.