First impressions can be deceptive, and anyone who views the life of our US correspondent Luge Pravda cannot fail to be impressed by his corner office on Wall Street, apartment in trendy Greenwich Village and stunning wife. Before you utter the words “lucky bugger” let me remind you of the complete lack of opportunities to watch “soccer” he has. Sure there are the New York Red Bulls, who have never actually played in the city or state of New York, instead building a new stadium across the Hudson in New Jersey, but the product there is so scrubbed for the US audience that you still expect them to play in quarters rather than two halves, and stop regularly for time outs.
His only fix with the reality of what is going on in the Premier League normally starts with a 7am visit on a Saturday to Navada Smiths where hundreds of similar starved football-starved ex-pats congregate to watch games back to back from England. This is one of the few benefits of the increased influence TV has on the game – a trip to the pub to watch football can now stretch over 7 hours. Last weekend, with Ben in town they headed down to watch Everton v Man Utd, West Ham v Chelsea before tucking into Burnley v Preston North End, all served up with lashings of Guinness. When they staggered out of the bar into bright sunlight (bars in New York have to have blacked out windows just in case the actions of drinking and watching football offend the moderates) at 2pm they still had a whole afternoon to, er, drink some more.
Every couple of months we have to meet up, along with our colleagues from Munich, Zurich, Stockholm, Oslo, Cambridge and London to discuss the key issues of the day. This time around it was my turn to host everyone in Copenhagen. And of course as luck would have it, what games could we see was a high point on the agenda. Luge flew over early to spend some time in “Wonderful Copenhagen” as he told the Current Mrs Pravda. However, we all saw through his motive when the Danish fixtures headlined FCK v Brondby as the game of the day. So Luge and Ben headed off to Parken to see the biggest game in Danish football. Or is it?
The week also threw up the third round of the Danish Cup, the round where all the Superliga clubs entered. In the previous rounds we had focused on NB Bornholm and BK Kastrup, both winners in the first round against AS Tårnby and Greve respectively. The latter game was one of the biggest shocks of the tournament in recent years as they beat a team who are just one league below the likes of FCK and Brondby on penalties on their roped off pitch next to the airport. In the next round they pulled off the same result, beating Stenløse again on penalties. Their reward? Another home tie, this time with Superliga side from north Copenhagen, Lyngby. It was obvious that they couldn’t play this on the same pitch, so the game was moved to the Tårnby stadium no more than half a mile away. So guess where we were heading straight after work!
With the nights closing in and darkness falling across the land (go on then…..The midnight hour is close at hand) some of the smaller clubs drawn at home had to arrange early kick offs as they didn’t have floodlights, so one game soon became two as we planned to head up to Brønshøj straight after work before going down to Tårnby.
Luge is what you may call a glory hunter. Born as a Man Utd fan, he stopped supporting them in his teens, when basically they were crap and adopting Torquay United as his team. Nowadays he will say he is a die-hard red (artwork on his wall in his apartment and office backs this up to be fair) and in his stance against the current owners boycotts their malls in the US (not that there are any near New York but that is not the issue). This season has been a mixed bag for him.
Torquay have started off like a train, and only recently conceded a goal for the first time since we had a Labour government, whilst United’s start has been rocked by conceding late goals, revelations of Rooney paying £200 for a pack of cigarettes and dour games against Rangers and Newcastle United. Five games into the season and their Premier and Champions League aspirations have been written off by the press, and in their latest PR stunt Paddy Power have probably already paid out on them not winning the league. So a week of expensive beer, poor football and more than a few Tuborgs would be the perfect tonic.
So first up was last years 2nd Division East Champions Brønshøj versus 1st Division Hvidovre. Now Brønshøj aren’t really known for much in Danish football. They were formed in 1919 and have played fourteen seasons in the top division but not for a good number of years. The Wasps have mainly played in the second and third tiers, which is where they are today. However they do have one claim to fame. In April last year substitute Patrick Tronborg entered the fray in a game against Stenløse. And eight seconds later he was leaving again after being red carded for elbowing an opponent before a ball had been kicked.
Work (bloody work) delayed our departure so we didn’t reach the Tingbjerg IP until half time. Our taxi pulled up into the Players car park, as Ben had us to believe and we paid our 70DKK to enter the “rural” ground. Rural in terms of the trees, the grass, the smell of manure. The score was 1-0 to the big boys (well, the more established first division team) and it was surprising to see so many fans in the ground – after all it was during the working day – surely these Danes don’t slope off at 4pm on a Tuesday? First stop beer, second stop the tuck shop. Yep, a real life, transported from your old school wooden tuck shop that doubled up as a club shop. None of your yellow and black tack in here I will have you. It was stocked full of your essential football accessories. Black and yellow 80’s style sweatbands and bandana’s were acquired for such an auspicious occasion.
The crowd was a fantastic cross-section of Danish society. There were punks – both spiky and shaved head varieties, there were casuals, there were drunk people, sober people and of course beautiful people. The second half started and we took our place on the touchline to give Brønshøj’s number 86 ( yes – that is number 86 – they have big squads out here) Jensen some stick. What became apparent as we noted his “Speedstar.dk” logo on his shirt was that it was different to the rest of the team. In fact on closer inspection it appeared that all 22 players sported a different logo on their shirts – a very novel approach (we would see this later at Kastrup BK as well).
Apart from Jensen there were three stand out players for the Wasps. First up was the towering centre back – who in keeping with the 80’s theme of the day was sporting a Steve Foster style towelling headband, which disappointingly was not in club colours (have a word Sepp Blatter). I never understood why “Fozzie” wore the headband. Some said it was to protect the scar tissue on his forehead, but having seen him in recent years his head I would disagree. Why not be honest and say it was to enhance his bubble perm?
And then we had the number 6 – the central midfielder. What was going on with his shorts. He appeared to have nicked a pair of Stuart Pearce’s famous “tight ones”, and then rolled them up an extra inch to get that Speedo look. On one occasion when he made a sliding tackle before he could continue to join in with the play he checked that all was tucked in, and that there hadn’t been any Simon incidents (See The Inbetweeners from 7 minutes in). And finally we had our hero – Patrick Tongberg. Big and strong, Patrick put himself around the pitch and it was difficult not to secretly wish that the would just lump someone so we could see that world record temper flare up.
Brønshoj 0 Hvidovre 1 – Wednesday 22nd September – Tingsbjerg IP
We had a wander around the ground and took our place behind the goal with the “ultras” – the home fans who looked like the extras from This is England, but drinking Carlsberg. Shaved heads, drainpipe jeans and 18 hole DM’s complete with a large sausage (to eat I hasten to add). The home fans in the main stand were trying to rouse their side, but they simply did not crate a chance to test the keeper. Our interest was distracted by two ball boys who decided to have a fight over who should hold the spare ball. Shocking to see the referee ignore such a blatant disregard for the game.
Luge was also shocked to see that the home team manager, Bo Henriksen wearing what he called “shoddy attire”. “Managers are the corporate face of the club during a game, so its a suit, shirt and tie or its a touchline ban” Says Sir Alex’s protige.
Time ticked down and the referee continued to allow play to go on, almost urging the home team to give it one last go. But with the sun setting, and the 7th minute of injury time played, he at last blew his whistle and Hvidovre would be progressing to the next round.
For us it was part one of the evening completed. As the speakers cranked out “You’ll never walk alone” we contemplated our next move. We had to literally transverse Copenhagen to get to Tårnby. Ben took us on a nice nature ramble convinced a taxi would be around the corner. And around each corner was more nature…and, hold the front page, a Hill! Copenhagen isn’t really known for its hills. In fact Denmark itself is pretty flat. That is why everyone cycles everywhere. But in front of us was a big hill. We made heavy weather of it, obviously out of practice with such a strange sight. We were then passed, embarrassingly by some land skiers – those strange people who use a cross between rollerblades and skies and dress in very tight lycra. When they reached the top they turned around and trundled back downhill. Pointless.
We eventually procured a taxi who took us south, complete with ear splitting Turkish music coming from the Sat Nav, which when he frequently stopped transformed into a TV screen. The sight of fat women wobbling across a stage singing a Turkish version of Wonderwall is not something you will remember for the right reasons but it seemed to excite our driver.
Kastrup BK 1 Lyngby BK 2 – Tårnby Stadion – Wednesday 22nd September
We joined this game, due to our Turkish X-Factor delay just before half time. We saw that someone was winning 2-0 but had no idea which team was which. Our last visit here in August had seen us watch a game with one man and his dog. Today there was a few thousand fans in the ground, enjoying the beer and the huge sausages being grilled by the side of the pitch. Darkness had fallen (stop it right now!) and the temperature had dropped but we were warmed by the hope that it was Kastrup who were living their dream and winning.
Of course it wasn’t the reality. As soon as we had walked through the gate and paid our 50Kroner the people moved the turnstiles out of the way and went home, telling us that it should have been 8 or 9 to Lyngby at half time. But still there is always home as we had seen from other results in the cup, most notably the humiliation of Brondby at the hands of a little known club called Varde. Lyngby started the second half with real intent and the skill and pace of their midfield was simply too much for Kastrup. So so far we had been at games featuring 3 goals, and we had seen none of them….Would we see a late rally from the underdogs?
Well, sort of. The Kastrup fans, who had number but a dozen in the first round were here in their hundreds and decided to make their mark by setting off a flare. Very impressive as it burnt, until the smoke drifted over the pitch, and with no wind blowing, simply hung over the pitch completely obscuring everyone’s view. It got so bad that the referee had to halt the game as he could not see both goals.
So we still hadn’t seen an actual goal yet and when Kastrup’s centre forward took the ball down on his chest, swiveled and smashed the ball into the net Ben and I applauded the strike for all that it was worth. And Luge? Well he was admiring the fantastic floodlights, which we had admired ourselves just a few weeks ago. This was literally the last kick of the game, and the players must have realised it as there was none of that “sprinting to get the ball out of the net and tussling with the goalkeeper thus ensuring yellow cards all round” moment, and indeed the referee brought an end to Kastrup’s fairytale.
But this wasn’t the end for us. A quick train ride back into the city centre and for the second night running we took up a place in the Southern Cross, which for those who think Copenhagen is full of expensive bars, serves a refreshing pint of Carlsberg Special for 30DKR, or £3.50 AND has a live feed from Sky Sports meaning we could take in another half of football. This time Scunthorpe United v Manchester United. Of course we had missed 3 goals, and Luge then managed to miss 2 of the 3 that followed in the second half through a visit to the loo and then at the bar – tip for you – if you want to see an exciting game full of goals, leave him in New York!
Quite an evening I am sure you will agree. Sausages, beer and some strange Danish customs – all in a days work.
For more pictures from the double header, head to our Flickr feed here.