Handball Referee!

The lengths we go to to find some sport anywhere in Europe is worthy of an Olympic Gold medal sometimes.  After being denied a game of any sorts at the weekend we headed off back to our normal job on Monday morning in Copenhagen, and after a few flight (and airport) cancellations we eventually made it to our desk at 11am Tuesday morning.  And what did we have to look forward to after work?  Trading Places (the Eddie Murphy variety and not the crap reality TV show) with Danish subtitles and a Frikerdeller or two.

That was until someone started chatting about the performance of the Danish Womens National Handball team in the recent European Championships who lost in the semi-finals against eventual winners Norway in front of a sell out crowd.  and next month sees the start of the Men’s World Cup in Sweden no less where the Danes will compete against those big Handball nations Algeria, Bahrain and Tunisia as well as lesser lights of Germany, Sweden and of course World Champions France. “When can we go?” was the obvious answer!

As luck, or fate would have it, there was a game on that very night.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the female version but it was the equivalent of our Premier League offering, and, get this, it was being played in Copenhagen.  How many boxes does this have to tick before we say YES.

Let’s get one thing straight from the off.  I have no idea on one single rule in Handball. I didn’t even know how long a game was. A quick crash course by ex-child star Christina in the office led me to believe it was a cross between Basketball, Netball and Ice Hockey, with a mixture of Swedish Longball thrown in for good measure.  The game was being played north of the city, and with temperatures in the minus double figures at lunchtime in Copenhagen it wasn’t one I fancied going to by public transport.  Not a problem when you know a man who lives on the doorstep with a car.

As Jørgen dropped me off outside the Ballerup Super Arena in the northern suburbs of Copenhagen he mentioned in his usual deadpan way that the Arena was a marvellous feat of engineering, especially since they rebuild the roof which collapsed a few years ago under heavy snow….thanks for those words of comfort.  I didn’t feel to guilty then when I flashed my AIPS card and was whisked into the press green room free of charge.  OK, it wasn’t a green room, more of a bench with some free coffee on but it was still free.

The arena, best known as one of the premier cycling tracks in Europe was filling up quickly as throw off approached (I just made that up but it sounds right).  A mixed crowd – families, groups of young kids and adults sinking a few Royal beers.  It was very reminiscent of a US arena sport such as Basketball with the number of activities around the edge of the seats, girls walking around selling more beer and strange looking mascots being followed by little kids trying to pull down their trousers.

This was a Jack & Jones Ligaen game, the highest club competition in Denmark.  It is made up of 14 teams, but surprisingly only one from the capital, AG Copenhagen, although tonight’s game was against their nearest rivals, FIF from just outside the city in Frederiksberg.  The team are relatively new and this was a test season at building support in the city after the demise last year of FC Copenhagen’s team when their licence was given to the side from Frederiksberg, and most of the squad up sticks and moved to AG.  So not like an American franchised team at all then!

So, beer in hand I made my way to the press seats, which strangely were located behind one of the goals.  The noise was starting to build in the Arena and the cheerleaders started jumping around doing their stuff.  The referees were welcomed to the tune of “Monster” by Automatic, and then the away team almost sheepishly appeared in the dark.  Five minutes to the start and the lights went out and the US style razzmatazz of the home side, AG Copenhagen’s team started to appear, complete with dry ice and high fives all round.  The game started with a rendition of Zorba’s dance (of course), with the whole crowd slapping away on their sponsored happy slappers.  At Wembley these things are a joke, but in a closed arena the noise was impressive to say the least.

One nil Copenhagen with just 90 seconds on the clock.  Ten seconds later 1-1.  I am glad I wasn’t doing minute by minute for this one! I tried to make sense of the rules.  Apparently the main rule is that you cannot hold onto the ball for more than 3 seconds before passing, dribbling or throwing it at the poor goalkeeper.  And that is basically the only rule.  You can’t wander into that semi-circle in front of the keeper and there is no offside rule but apart from that anything goes, and it did.

Santa appeared, throwing mini Handballs all around.  Great idea to throw them into the press area where people are sitting with drinks next to their laptops (but funny when it hits the bloke next to you).  Goals were flying in, and after a while I realised that each player had his “song” which accompanied any goal he scored.  I’ve never heard such a great mix of old songs in my life.  “Everybody get up” by Five, followed by “Sweet Dreams” and then a bit of Thin Lizzy.  Or the Strokes, followed by MC Hammer and then Phil Spector. It was like Pirate FM from Lewes all over again.

Even the presence of a Mexican wave after 5 minutes didn’t dampen the atmosphere.  The FIF keeper looked like Eric Cantona on a bad day and goal after goal flew past him.  In one five minute period in the second half he conceded six goals without one going in at the other end, completely helpless and looking a tad scruffy in his oversized tracksuit.

So in the end AG Copenhagen ran out 36 to 21 winners in the end.  Hardly a surprise really when I found out that they were top of the league and had only dropped one point all season.  And the visitors FIF?  One win, one draw and fifteen defeats probably sums up their evening quite well.

So I headed off into the cold, cold Copenhagen night in search of a S-Tøg station.  The temperature was heading for the minus 20 mark according to my thermometer on the iPhone but then it ceases to be cold after about minus 5.  A McDonalds appeared on the horizon and I broke my “No junk food in Denmark rule”, tucking into my £6 Chicken, Bacon and Onion, or CBO for short to replenish the fat reserves.  Overall a successful night and my media accreditation request is already on its way to Sweden for the World Cup as we speak!

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