Easter. What a wonderful time of year. Especially in the UK as it invariably means rain, or even as we have seen this week (and last year) snow. But elsewhere in Europe the holiday means more than just time spent at B & Q/Ikea/DFS and more about shaking off the chains of winter and enjoying the great outdoors. As you will know from following this very blog, Scandinavia has had a harsh winter. Jutland, the big sticky out bit on the end of Germany that belongs to Denmark has seen record lows and snow that would put the Canadian Rockies to shame. As recently as two weeks ago when we were here on our EFW/TBIR Springbreak we saw significant parts of the country still covered in snow as we took our private chopper to all parts east and west. But spring has indeed arrived in these parts and sunshine was the order of the long weekend whilst Britain was still hiding under an umbrella, ella, ella.
In quite a few European countries, Maundy Thursday is a Bank Holiday. The day that Jesus, supposedly but let’s keep this above the religious line, had his last KFC with his mates before the events of Good Friday. Yet, despite being a Christian country only our civil servants are given leave (of their senses) in Britain. In Denmark it is a big day. And we are talking football. I first experienced Maundy Madness two years ago when I planned a day of FIVE games in one day in Copenhagen, thanks to Carlsberg and some fortuitous fixture scheduling. However, my day was ironically ruined by snow (you can read all about it here). This year the weather was kind and I had booked a day off to take in two new grounds in Jutland – Esbjerg and FC Midtjyjlland.
First up was the train across the country. And when I mean across the country that is exactly what I did. Copenhagen to Esbjerg is the longest East/West route you can take in Denmark and involves crossing the Great Belt Bridge which links the islands of Zeeland Funen together. Before Copenhagen became a mecca for budget airlines, and this magnificent feat of engineering was open, Esbjerg was the number one tourist destination for Brits coming to Denmark as it is where the ferry from Harwich docks. The town itself is dominated by the North Sea, and even the best known tourist attraction, the “Men at Sea”, four 9 metre high statues made from white concrete that sit on the “dock of the bay” facing out into the sea. The sculptures, among other things inspired by the Easter Island monoliths , portrays the pure and uncorrupted human encounter with nature. Man as it was when it came out of the mother’s womb. Man before it gets up and begins to act on its own. Only then will man “dirt” on his fingers…not my words but those of designer Svend Wiig Hansen.
The only other thing to bring anyone so far west is the football team. Esbjerg FB are five times winners of the national league, the last time in 1979, a time known in Danish football as BBC – Before Brondby and Copenhagen. They are currently in their ninth consecutive season in the top flight although apart from a third place in 2004 they haven’t exactly set the league alight although this may be about to change as with just over a quarter of the season remaining they sat in fourth place, just one point behind Silkeborg. Visitors AGF, from Aarhus were not having a season to remember on the other hand, sitting just two places above the relegation zone although actually closer to Esbjerg in 4th than to Randers in 11th.
So after dumping my bag at the CabInn (see what they have done there? I had reserved a “Captain’s Special” room, complete with my own parrot and a mini-bar stocked with Rum), I headed west, then a bit north until I reached the Blue Water Arena. The ground had recently gone through some major renovations to increase the capacity to 18,000 and thus making it the fourth biggest stadium in Denmark (behind FCK, Brondby and Aarhus). It is also a ground that recently broke its European cherry, hosting Denmark’s November 2009 friendly with South Korea in front of nearly 16,000. And what a spankingly good and smart ground it was too. I met Lars, Esbjerg’s Media Man and he gave me a quick tour of the facilities and a blanket to keep me warm. Yes, a blanket. It’s a Danish thing, but they actually trust their citizens in bars and other outdoor places when it is cold and give them a nice green fleecy Carlsberg blanket to keep your legs warm. And because the Danes are such an honest lot at the end of the day they put them neatly in a pile by the door. Imagine that in England? They would be appearing on eBay every hour. I mean who would honestly take one….
So I took my seat in the very corporate main stand and watched the dancing girls on the pitch. Now watching them gyrate away to Beyonce was fun enough, but someone at the club decided to have some more fun by switching on the sprinklers, soaking them in a spontaneous wet T-shirt competition. Despite the temperature being in the single digits they didn’t complain and carried on regardless much to the crowd’s amusement and entertainment.
Esbjerg Fb 0 AGF Arhus 4 – Blue Water Arena – Wednesday 31st March 2010 – 6.15pm
AGF took to the field in a nice olive green kit, almost Werder Bremen-esque but that is as far as any comparison can go. The opening fifteen minutes was full of huff and puff but the visitors did have the best chance when David Devdariani narrowly fired wide from the edge of the box. Peter Ankersen then saw his header from close range brilliantly beaten away by Rasmussen in the AGF goal, and just a minute later Søren Rieks excellent first touch took him away from the AGF defence but his cross shot went narrowly wide.
It certainly wasn’t the warmest of places, with a very chilly wind blowing off the North Sea and straight across the ground and I had to invest in another blanket to keep my extremities warm. But half time arrived and out came those dancing girls again, thrusting away to Roxette, showing more energy than most of the players had in the first 45 minutes.
Apart from a couple of needless yellow cards and a drop in temperature by a few degrees very little happened in the first 20 minutes of the second half. But in the 65th minute Esbjerg were undone by a move they tried time and time again in the first half as a superb pass from the half way line sent in Stephan Petersen behind the full back and he blasted the ball into the roof of the net for the visitors.
One became two a few minutes later as Devdariani hooked the ball in from close range after Esbjerg failed to clear a corner. By this stage most of the 6,200 (the exceptions being the two sets of hardcore fans in opposite corners who never gave up singing) were too cold to function and it was no surprise that the home fans started heading for the exits when in the 75th minute Dennis Høegh turned his man in the box and shot into the corner of the net to complete a remarkable ten minute spell for AGF.
Five minutes to go and Esbjerg at last got some reward with a fortuitous penalty awarded to them, although the referee should have waited a few seconds for the home team actually had the ball in the net. Keen to get on Jesper Jørgensen took the penalty despite the fact that AGF keeper Rasmussen was not ready. Unfortunately, the referee did not have the balls to allow the penalty and so it was retaken.
This time he hit it well but Rasmussen stuck out a hand and diverted the ball onto the roof of the net. The AGF players jumped on him in the net and their joy was complete just two minutes later when the impressive Petersen hit a sweet shot from the edge of the box into the Esbjerg net to complete a 4-0 rout which flattered them somewhat, but that is football.
For me it was time to walk back to see what Pirate adventures I could get up to for the night before I headed up to Herning in the morning.
More photos from the game can be found here.
For more details on the stadium, how to get there and how to get your ticket, check out our sister site – Football in Denmark
Thursday morning dawned and as it was a) A Bank Holiday, and b) April of course it had to be cold and wet. Herning was destination number two in my tour of Jutland. The town of 45,000 is known to all you “trade-farers” out there as the Messecenter is the largest conference centre in Scandinavia. Next door to the complex you will find the club’s smart 12,000 capacity MCH Arena. So a train north and then a train east saw me arrive at a tiny unmanned station that we would call a “halt” in Britain where in the distance I saw the floodlights of the stadium.
Midtjylland jointly the record for the football team with the most consecutive consonants in, an award that they have held for many a season. It is not just this Countdown-beating fact that has made them famous though. FCM as they are also known (do not get them confused with FCK or FCN who we saw play last week though) have only recently celebrated their tenth birthday having been formed in 1999 after a merger of two local clubs, Ikast FS and Herning Fremad and in that small amount of time they have finished runner up in the SAS Ligean and twice in the Danish Cup. Their finest hour same surely in August 2008 when they beat Manchester City 1-0 at Eastlands in the UEFA Cup. They were seconds from going through to the 3rd round in the second leg before an own goal sent the tie into extra time and City won on penalties.
The clubs fans are known as the “Black Wolves” and the stadium, “the Wolf pit”. Hardly putting the fear into opponents but they do love to hype it up. As the home team came out, the PA system burst into life, boxing style with a “Let’s get ready to rumble”…unfortunately no Ant and Dec though (or was it PJ and Duncan?).
FC Midtjylland 1 FC Nordsjaelland 0 – MCH Arena – Thursday 1st April 2010 – 2pm
With the rain falling the game kicked off and me wishing for the second day in a row I had packed gloves. FCM (Midtjylland) had obviously been watching the game from last night as they tried to get in Christian Sivebæk down the left flank at every opportunity. But it was FCN (Nordsjaelland) who had most of the early play, spurred on by their 18 fans who had made the long trip from the northern Copenhagen suburbs.
Fifteen minutes in as the sun made its debut for the day Mikkel Thygesen almost put the home team in the lead when his shot flashed across a crowded penalty area but also passed the far post. Thirteen chilly minutes later we at last had something to write about. A FCM free kick was well met in the penalty area and the FCN keep made a great save but the rebound was tapped in by Sivebæk.
As the second half started and I came out of the warmth of the press room I noticed the tricky little left winger for FCN – one Andreas Laudrup. A quick check on Wikipedia confirmed my suspicions – this was the offspring of the Danish legend, Michael Laudrup. Not that having a famous father has anything to do with how youngsters get a chance in football these days, but 19 year old Andreas can count both Real Madrid and Ajax as part of his “schooling”. I scanned the crowd to see if his famous Dad, or even uncle Brian were here (perhaps in the 18 strong away following?) but could not see them. So much for supporting his son at all levels eh?
Apart from a few late tackles and a couple of handbags being thrown the game drew to a chilly end. Now came the tricky bit of the whole trip. The final sixty kilometres to Billund where I was flying back Ryanair-style. Now whilst Billund is essentially in the middle of nowhere it is the home of Lego and the original Legoland. Yet the town has no train station and little in the way of public transport links. You would feel that Herning, with the biggest conference/exhibition centre in Scandinavia and the nearest airport may be linked by some sort of transport but no. So I had to get two buses and endure a 5km walk to get to the airport. But everything worked, which is more than I can say for the roads in this country when I landed with the M25 blocked, the Blackwall Tunnel closed and Rotherhithe shut due to a “police incident”. Not the best way to end the trip, but with a warm welcome assured in SE9 it was worth it!
More photos from the game can be found here
For more details on FC Midtjylland, the stadium, how to get there and how to get your ticket, check out our sister site – Football in Denmark