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

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

A home away from home


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. Continue reading

Simon Cowell – where are you now?


Just 10 days after the Copenhagen derby I was back.  Back in Parken, back drinking with Ivar the magician and back watching FCK.  The seats in the stadium had been repaired, and this time I had a media pass thanks to Charles Maskelyne, the first Danish person I had ever met who hailed from Ipswich.

Ready for Simon Cowell

For that game against Brondby the whole city had held its breath waiting for something to happen.  Tonight with less than a third of the ground full the talk was actually about the forthcoming X-Factor Live Final due to take place on the following weekend rather than FCK’s potential 8th consecutive clean sheet that would break a league record.   But still it gave us the opportunity to meet up again with Ivar and experience the Parken Tower – think a tube filled with 4 litres of your finest Carlsberg served at your table – what a pre-match warm up!

FCK FC Nordjaelland – Parken – Wednesday 24th March 2010

Thanks for remindiung us Carlsberg

The first thing to mention is the roof was closed.  Obviously X-Factor was taking precedent here with the lighting rig already up but we were here to see history.  FC Nordjaelland’s 100 or so fans gave a good account of themselves throughout the game, proudly waving their flags (did you know it is severely frowned upon to fly a Danish flag after 6pm?  And whatever you do never mention a German flag!) but they were outplayed by a FCK team in the first twenty minutes who were walking to the SAS Ligean title after some pre-Christmas challenges from OB and AGF, or so we thought.

The amazing thing is that the away team managed to keep the scoreline at 0-0 for so long.  In fact if it wasn’t for a fine reaction save from Johan Wiland in the FCK goal on 34 minutes it was have been 1-0 to FC Nordjaelland.

I am not often distracted by adverts around the pitch but when flashes up as Men2rent.dk you have to think about what market they are trying to attract? (it is a recruitment agency according to my learned friend sitting next to me!).  So half time came and went with no score on the board and apart from that one FCN header very little to write home about which was quite handy considering the tower of Carlsberg still sitting heavily in my beer stomach (my girls have a desert tummy which means they can be “full” of their dinner but still find room for ice cream/cake/pancakes so I apply the same principles to beer).

1-0 FCN

Fifty four minutes in and the script was well and truly torn up as FCN’s Patrice Bernier was allowed to run to the edge of the box unchallenged before planting the ball into the corner of the FCK net with a shot that any Wolves player (too painful to remember from last night) would have been proud of and send FCK’s record clean sheet attempt up in smoke.

FCK went straight up the other end and should have scored from a chance created for Hutchinson but amazingly instead found themselves 2-0 just five minutes later when Nicki Bille Nielsen somehow lobbed the ball over Wiland in the FCK goal with a mis-hit shot from 20 yards.  A few minutes later FC Nordjaelland took off Sibuisio Zuma and in one of those rare “we don’t care about who you play for now” moments, all of the sparse crowd gave the former FCK player a generous round of applause – just as player like Rooney would get at Everton, or Lampard at Upton Park.

Sixty eight minutes in and Dame N’Doye (no relation to Dame Judy Dench or Maggie Smith I should add) had FCK’s best chance when he turned the FCN defender and smacked the ball against the bar, giving the crowd the feeling this was going to be a bad day at the office.   Hutchinson followed this up with another bad miss as the clock ran down into single digits, but it has to be said that FC Nordjaelland deserved their win even more so than Wolves did at Upton Park last night.   FCK had disappointed, creating few chances and spurning the opportunity to go six points clear at the top.

Gronkjaer choses Cheryl

So to the post match activities.  As regular readers of the blog will know my Danish extends to “yes”, “no” and “you’re fired” so I wasn’t expecting much from the press conference.  I did pick up that FC Nordjaelland were “over the moon” with the result and that FCK’s management were “as sick as a parrot” but that is about it.  My one question to Jesper Gronkjaer – “Danni or Cheryl – which one?” went unanswered but not for the want of trying!

Double Danish with a portion of Swede – part 3


Popcorn...at football?

So a quick summary of the day so far…you left us after episode 2 with us jumping back onto the train at Helsingør after our trip across the Oresund to Helsingborg.  Beers and comfy seats secured, we kept an eye on Facebook updates from contacts in and around Parken just to make sure we would not be walking into a war zone.  The Brondby fans had marched from the city centre, proclaiming their V for Vendetta flags after some unsavoury incidents at previous games between the two, but we hoped tonight we would simply see some decent football and a cracking atmosphere.  The walk up Østerbrogade was relatively quiet considering such a big game was less than an hour away.  No police presence, and people going about their normal Sunday business (It was only later when we saw some of the pictures and heard about some of the trouble).

Go on BrondbySecurity around the stadium was light as well, and we passed through the ushers without so much of a frisk, which was handy as I was loaded with fisk – the liquid version of Fishermen Friends in a test tube – for our halftime entertainment.  Notice I said “usher” because that is what it felt like.  We entered the “concourse” area which was carpeted and surrounded by curtains, with people queuing at the concession stand for their “menu” choices.  We plumped for Menu 1 which was simply Four Carlsbergs, and certainly no FCK crisps and popcorn, and headed up to our seats in the second row for a great view of the pre-orchestrated fans displays, starting with the FCK fans “raise the flag” and the Brondby flag waving.  The fans did themselves proud during the game, but I was disappointed that there was so many empty seats.  I had been led to believe this was the “big one” and would be full to busting, but there was plenty of seats available at either end.

FCK 2 Brondby 0 – Parken – Sunday 14th March 2010

Into the night

In the end it came down to two bits of luck for FCK.  Sure they were probably the better team overall, but neither team really created a chance in the first half.  We sat freezing at pitch level surrounded by shirt-clad supporters from both teams (and even a Manchester United one thrown in for good measure), again dispelling the “hate” between the teams.  If someone turned up in the Bobby Moore Lower with a Rochdale shirt on, let alone a Millwall one an ambulance would be called for them within seconds to take them home.  It was also relatively well behaved on the pitch too with Denmark’s top referee Claus Bo Larson failing to have to get the card out in the first 45 minutes.  It took us all of 45 seconds to get the Fisk’s out at half time down in the cinema, warming the cockles on a freezing cold night.

And lets go wild

The second half started with a fantastic display of flares from the Brondby fans that was reminiscent of the last Milan derby I went to.  Smoke hung in the air as the game kicked off again, but the players seemed unaware of the work bragging rights riding on the final score.  Seventy minutes in, and still no chances of note before Brondby gave away a free kick right in front of us.  Up stepped Martin Vingaard (a literal translation of Martin Vineyard by the way) from 25 yards to curl the ball over the wall.  The Brondby keeper, realising the ball was heading for the back of the net back peddled and only succeeded in tipping the ball onto the bar/post and back onto his head and into the net.  The home crowd exploded in delight and the players ran to hug us – well almost and we got the perfect shot or two for the photo album.

And another - 2-0 FCK

Brondby tried to step up a gear, but in keeping with the rest of their season so far when it mattered they simply could not raise their game.  Coming into the derby they sat 12 points off top spot in 6th place and really needed the win, or at least a point.  It was not to be as in the final minute of four in injury time William Kvist’s shot from just inside the box took a wicked deflection and the ball sailed into the net.  The Brondby fans took this as their cue to leave, and decided that it was a bit chilly so they make a fire or two in the away end.  And did the police/stewards/firemen come running?  Er no, they simply stood around as if it was a normal occurence (which of course it may well be).  We waited for the players to come round to thank us for coming over from England for the game (what?  they don’t all read this blog?) before heading out to meet Ivar, a second generation FCK fan who took us under his wing for the night.

What the weekend was all about - Easter beer!

We headed across the road from Parken and into a Tardis-like bar where his chums were waiting for our safe arrival.  Chums who supported either team I hasten to add.  In the course of the next four hours we indulged in numerous Carlsberg Paskebrygs (Easter beer), more shots and general revelry where we found out lots of home secrets about our new found friend (read more here) as well as a few new ones including Brian “The Beast” Jensen’s brother no less, who introduced himself to us by mooning from the pool table.  They make ‘em tough out here.  And then it was time for Danny, Deaks and Stu to wander on back to the bachelor pad before an early morning flight to good old blighty.

A successful trip all round I would say.  As you know, dear readers, I love a bit of Scandinavian action, and three games in just 24 hours has been easily doable, and enjoyable.  In fact, as is always the case, it was the football that let itself down and not the fans, the beer or the general good times had by all.

Want some more?  Well have a butchers at the EFW version of the day here.