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

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

Not a NIMBY


Few of us live on the doorstep of our favourite team. We all have to get in the car, jump on the train or hop on a bus to get to a game these days. When I travel abroad to watch football these days I will always try to find a hotel close to the ground, enjoying that smug feeling of being in the bar 10 minutes after the game whilst other fans struggled to make their way home. Smug that is until the opposition fans steam in and trash it.

I once knew a Brentford fan who found his dream house in Braemer Road, literally a stone’s throw from his favourite seat in the main stand.  After a season he was so fed up of fans throwing litter in his garden, scratching his car and generally behaving like football fans do he put in up for sale.  It was bought by another Brentford fan.  We are all mugs aren’t we when it comes to football? Stick a bloody club badge on a pile of crap and we will lap it up.

During my years working over here in Copenhagen I have been lucky enough to see a few games.  I have travelled far and wide in Scandinavia when the opportunity has arisen but still there is no place like “home” and the opportunity to walk up the road to catch a game.  Parken, the national stadium, is a 20 minute stroll from TBIR Towers here in the Capital of Cool. In the past year it has been a bumper time for the stadium, hosting sell out games in the Champions League against Chelsea and Barcelona.  England came here in February as I was able to enjoy the company of some of Fleet Street’s finest.  But the dream fixture (apart from Lewes FC) would be seeing West Ham play in Copenhagen.

Back in early June I was sitting in a meeting when my phone vibrated.  Nothing unusual there as it seems to go off every few minutes with another offer to buy Viagra or the news that I had been chosen by some wealthy widow to receive all of her cash.  But it went off about a dozen times in thirty seconds.  Such situations are like when the phone goes at home late at night.  You immediately think “Who is dead”?  I excused myself and saw 10 text messages from a variety of people.

“Can I stay at yours?”, “I will bring the beers”, “Bet you are happy about that” were three examples.  I had no idea on what people were talking about until I consulted Auntie Twitter (Uncle Google is the font of all historical knowledge, Twitter the news now).  The Hammers were coming to town.  Unbelievable Jeff.  My West Ham were playing in Copenhagen.  And I could walk there.

R-E-S-U-L-T.  I did a little jig of joy and I gloated to every one I could.  Everyone in the office surely felt that this was the biggest game ever?  Nope.  Not even a flicker of interest.  Even the FCK season ticket holders suggested it would be a dead duck.  The game fell a week into their season and would simply be an opportunity to get some more practice under their belt.

“It will be like playing everyone else in the Superliga last season” Said one fan, referring to the ease with which FCK won the league last season, winning 25 of their 33 games. I couldn’t disagree at the time with the Hammers in disarray after being relegated with a whimper.

But time has moved on.  West Ham have appointed Sam Allardyce and the job of trying to retain our Premier League status has started.  The club immediately put its valuable assets up for sale.  In fact, in another dreadful PR move they actually put them up for sale publically prior to the season end.  But bids had been slow to come in.  Cole was on the bring of signing for Stoke City, but the deal broke down last weekend and the striker immediately went on the charm offensive by saying he “was ready to fight to get the Hammers back in the Premier League”.  Scott Parker had been touted all over the place by the press.  The latest beaus had been Chelsea, interested in taking him back as cover for Michael Essien on a season-long loan.  The situation on Robert Green less public.  A rumoured interest from Bursaspor had come to nothing, with the Turks signing Scott Carson instead.

Last week we crossed the Alps and watched a young team, mixed with a few older squad players lose to Young Boys Berne. Two days later they lost again to FC Basel.  So now was an opportunity to test themselves against a much stronger team in theory; a team who reached the last 16 in the Champions League last season, a fact borne out by the starting XI which featured Green, Parker and Noble – all players who if you believe the English press would not be starting the Championship season, well not at West Ham anyway.

Obviously, when in Copenhagen and watching FCK it is necessary to meet up with Ivar and Hans, and tonight was no different.  After making sure Mick “Know it All” was pointed in the right direction of the £10 pints at Nyhavn we headed from some traditional Danish fayre – Stegt Flæsk og Persille Sovs and lashings of Carlsberg Special (note to fans in England this is NOT the same as Special Brew!).

West Ham fans are some of the loyalist in the game and so it was no surprise to come out of the restaurant and find them marching up the road to the ground.  Tickets for the game were being sold at 120DKR (£15) which is cheap for Danish standards, and despite the long summer break, the home fans hadn’t warmed to this game.  In fact it looked like some had been left behind after the aborted Take That concert on Saturday, cancelled at the last-minute after Robbie Williams developed “food poisoning”.  The away end of Parken still showed signs of where the stage was, meaning the Hammers fans were located above the action in the area normally reserved for the Brondby bonfires.

FC Copenhagen 0 West Ham United 1 – Parken – Wednesday 20th July 2011
If I was to say that the biggest cheer of the first half was for an announcement that Ajax had beaten Brondby on the other side of the city you would get an idea that it wasn’t the best of halves.  One of the issues that West Ham faced last season was the propensity Avram Grant had to “tinker” with a team.  Not when we lost (well, OK he did when we lost) but also when we eventually won a game.  One massive stand out problem was the defence.

So it was with a groan that we saw Winston Reid starting at centre-back.  Fair does to the New Zealander, he looked a Championship player from the first whistle, pumping the ball long to the corners as if he was trying to impress John Beck himself.

The Hammers started with Parker, Noble AND Nolan in the middle of the park.  That was obviously never going to work with two players often fighting for the same ball in the opening exchanges.  And talking of fighting, there was good old Boa Morte, tussling at one point with a paper bag that had blown onto the pitch.

West Ham did create the opening chance which Boa Morte fired straight at the keeper, which was a darn sight closer than Nolan’s effort – West Ham’s only other effort in the first half that sailed into the empty top-tier behind the goal.

That being said Robert Green didn’t have a proper save to make.  He bravely threw himself at a ball to just beat Dame N’Doye (no relation to Dame Maggie Smith) and injured himself in the process.  Cue the sight of 8 foot Ruud Boffin warming up with Freddie Sears on the touch-line and come the half time break it was clear that Green would take no further part.

The second half saw FCK start the stronger and they had the ball in the net on 52 minutes but a linesman flag denied them a goal. Five minutes later Allardyce made some changes to try to inject some pace into the lacklustre Hammers display.  On came Sears, Brown and O’Brien for Collison, Parker and Nolan.

Fifteen minutes later and the referee again was shattering the dreams of the FCK fans.  Boffin made a great save bravely diving at the feet of the oncoming FCK forward who made contact, the ball spilt loose and was put in the net. It was all Copenhagen at this stage.  Another chance went begging a few minutes later when a great move saw the ball find Nordstrand in one of those Carlos Alberto moments from the 1970 World Cup Final.  The Brazilian gave us all a lesson by keeping his head down and powering through the ball.  Alas the Dane did nothing of the sort and the ball sales over.

And then it happened. I could feel it in my water.  In fact I even Tweeted that I thought there would be a goal.  And two minutes later I was right.  After Joey O’Brien’s header had been brilliantly saved by Johan Wiland, Freddie Sears picked up a loose ball, waltzed past two defenders and slotted the ball into the net.  The improbable had just become the possible.

With just a minute or so left there was little time for FCK create anything and when the final whistle blew there were only a few hardy home fans left in the stadium.  At the far end the West Ham fans were quite rightly rocking.  It had been a hard fought win, but it was a win and a win against a team who would be competing in the Champions League.  In fact I think we deserve a cup for such a victory – the Carlsberg Little Mermaid Lego Trophy I think will do, taking pride of place alongside the Intertoto Cup.

After the game I went down and spoke with Jack Collison.  Almost a year ago we interviewed him as he started his rehabilitation from his knee injury.  Now he was back playing again and looking forward to the start of the season, especially as first up was Cardiff City, the team followed by the majority of his family.  I then managed to grab a word or two with Big Sam.  Click Sam interview to hear what he had to say.

So a good evenings work all round.  As the team departed back to their hotel, ready for their flight back to the UK I was able to walk home, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city In My “Back Yard”.

More photos from the game can be found on our Flickr feed here.

twitter / theballisround

Søndag prædiken


With the 2010/11 season coming towards an end in England, attentions turn once again to the Nordics for my regular fix of football.  Denmark still has a few rounds of matches left although in the Superliga there is only pride to play for after FCK wrapped up the league two weeks ago.  That and second spot, which this season sees the Danes steal a Champions League qualifying place from the Scots.  With five games to go three teams were still in with a shout including Brøndby, who if anyone could do with a slice of luck it was them.

And what better way to move a step closer to a place amongst Europe’s elite than a win against bitter rivals and champions FCK in El Vidunderlig  Classico or the New Firm.  After the “fuss” of the last encounter between the two teams where the Brøndby fans had boycotted the match at Parken when they were told they would be fingerprinted to try and avoid causing trouble in the stadium, this game promised a bit of a calmer atmosphere.  Still, it was one not to miss so I headed out to Copenhagen a day earlier than normal to see if it could match the intensity of the Stockholm derby from last month.

But before any main event you need a warm up act.  Whilst Brøndby had arranged for “Outlandish” to play live on the pitch before the game, one look at the dodgy outfits had me reaching for the good old crystal football to see if there were any other options.  And of course once the mist cleared there was the perfect option.  Of course, why didn’t I think of it earlier, BK Avarta v Frederikssund IK from the Danish 2nd Division East, kicking off at 1pm, a 30 minute walk away from the Brøndby stadium. Continue reading

On the eighth day of Christmas…the best atmosphere


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

The best atmosphere we have seen in 2010 is quite a difficult one to judge as in many games there are times when the atmosphere is cranked up to 11 due to a goal, a controversial incident or simply hatred against an opposition player, team or set of fans.  It is also related to the number of fans in the ground.  So a ground of 50 vocal fans in a crowd of a few hundred will generate a fair amount of noise.  But for us, the three teams below generate an impressive noise, show and support wherever they go, home or away.

Malmö FF- For the past few years things haven’t been too rosy for Malmö FF.  They had seen their dominance from the late 1980’s under Roy Hodgson disappear, unable to compete with the new challengers like Kalmar and Elfsborg.  Crowds at the old Malmö stadion started declining and the outlook was bleak.  But then things changed.  A new ground was built behind the old stadium and Roland Nilsson took over team affairs and since they haven’t looked back.  This season saw The Blues snatch the title from bitter rivals Helsingborgs in front of packed crowds at the Swedbank Stadion.  And do they love a show?  Oh yes.  Noise, colour and inventive fan behaviours.  Every game is a different show and you will be a fool to miss it.  Get there or be square!

FC United of Manchester – “Bring on United”…repeat to fade.  I guarantee that days after visiting Gigg Lane, Bury to watch FCUM you will still be singing that little line such is the noise, passion and commitment the home fans sing the song from five minutes before the kick off.  What FCUM have built is special.  A community borne out of frustration, to quote James, who have a common vision and goal.  And the fans respond with noise the like that Gigg Lane has not seen since Gracie Fields launched her new album there.  Flags decorate every spare section of the ground to show the passion and the songs carry on for the whole 90 minutes.  Just imagine when (and not if) the crowds are five times the size.  Deafening!

Brondby IF – On the field Brondby have seen any chance of getting the better over bitter rivals FCK disappear into the ether.  Their dominance of the domestic game is growing season upon season, and their run to the second stages of the Champions League will only see them get richer at the expense of the league.  However, one area where they do have the edge is the passion created off the field.  Go to any game at Brondby stadium and take a place on the Faxe Tribune and you will literally feel the stand shaking underneath your feet.  Follow them across down to Parken for the Copenhagen derby and you will see real atmosphere.

World dominance the FCK way…part 2


Continuing our discussions with our 3 FCK fans about their dominance in the Danish game.

Do you think that the departure of Solbakken next year will have a big effect on the side?

IP -Very tough question, and shying away from answering I would say: It certainly depends on who replaces him.  However, I have, as my previous answers should indicate, a strong faith in the management and I think they would only get someone in who would fit into the long term strategies for the club. They would of course have their own style and methods, and in the job they will get a lot of tactical and operational freedom, but strategy is everything. So the answer must be, that I don’t think it will have a big effect.

CA – Inevitably. Solbakken leaves at the end of the season to take charge of the Norway national team in 2012, and it’s going to have a huge impact on FCK. The coach has been far and away the key figure in the team’s recent success, and it’s testament to his tactical acumen that Copenhagen put in such impressive European performances. Solbakken’s usual formation is 4-4-2, but he’s not a manager who imposes a dogmatic philosophy on his sides, and FCK are eminently capable of switching systems between and during games. This was particularly evident in the Champions League, where only in one game – away to Rubin Kazan – did Solbakken clearly get some tactical decisions wrong. In my opinion, he’s establishing himself as one of the finest emerging coaches in Europe.

CW – It’s hard to say. I think it would be different if it happened one day to another. Everybody knows that Solbakken is out after this season – at least as things are right now, rumours are beginning to circulate – but of course it will be difficult. But Solbakken has made it very clear that he intends to hand over a side with a lot of possibilities so that the work he’s done can be continued.

Is there a frustration that the club sold out for the game versus Barcelona yet for normal league games there are thousands of empty seats?

IP – Yeah, some fans are frustrated. Fans attend games for some of the same reasons and also for different reasons. Personally, as long as the 20-30 people I stand with are there – and they normally always are – I am happy. I think the club did what they could ensuring the FCK Supporters areas were filled with FCK supporters and not Barcelona fans – not a 100% success but I don’t think they practically could have done more.  I thought it slightly bemusing how many friends I had suddenly coming out of the closet as FCK fans asking if I could get them tickets. For me, the more people the merrier. For me, the glass is either full against Barcelona or half full against Esbjerg. It’s never half empty. Continue reading

World Dominance the FCK way..part 1


It may have escaped your notice this season but the Premier League is one of the most open we have seen for decades.  The situation is not the same across Europe though.  Head 600 miles east from London and you will land pretty much in the centre of Copenhagen, home to FCK, or FC Kobenhavn to give them their full name.  Half way through the season and they are 19 points clear, with a goal difference of plus 33.  They have made it through to the knock out phases of the Champions League where they will play Chelsea in late February.

So why have they become so dominant?  We sat down with three FCK fans, all long term fans of The Ball is Round to discuss the situation.  We provided the Carlsberg, they provided the insight.

Have FCK just better in past 2 years or have the rest got worse?

Ivar Petersen – Mainly FCK have gone better for reasons listed below which then make the other teams, relatively speaking, seem worse.

Charlie Anderson – Ominously, it’s mostly been improvement from FCK. The last two seasons have seen Copenhagen, OB and Brøndby finish first, second and third respectively, so the challengers – such as they are – have been pretty consistent. The mid- and lower-placed teams have got worse, though, which has had an effect on FCK’s margin of victory. In 2008-09 they won the league by five points, and last season that gap increased to nine. Halfway through this campaign, FCK are nineteen points clear and haven’t lost a game. A marked improvement is also indicated by their results in Europe. In 2006, an FCK team containing Brede Hangeland, Marcus Allbäck and Lars Jacobsen finished fourth with seven points in their Champions League group. This year under the same coach, Ståle Solbakken, the club qualified for the knockout stages, taking a point from FC Barcelona on the way to finishing second with ten points. Continue reading