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.