I heard a rumour


“Have you seen John Terry?”

As random questions go, this was up there with some of those uttered from my parents.  I was queueing to get some more beer underneath the Sud tribune in Brøndby Stadion when the question was asked by a complete stranger who somehow figured I was English (perhaps it was the socks with sandals combination?).

26895142486_85c86a2c5c_z“Do you mean, have I ever seen John Terry?”  I had once seen the much maligned Chelsea captain in Huck’s restaurant at Elveden CenterParcs back in 2001 apart from playing for Chelsea and England so I wasn’t lying when I answered in the affirmative.

“No, here.  He is sitting over there” the women said, waving her arm in a direction that was either towards the Gents toilet or the Main Stand depending on how literal you wanted to be.  I hoped for Terry’s sake it was the latter otherwise he’d be all over the front pages (again) for the wrong reasons (again).

Depending on which rumour you care to believe, Terry was at tonight’s Superliga derby between Brøndby IF and FC Nordsjælland because a) he’s good friends with club owner Jan Bech Andersen and accepted an invite to pop over as he would not play again this season (or ever) for Chelsea due to suspension, b) he was about to take over as head coach from Aurelijus Skarbalius who had joined a long list of managers who had heralded a new dawn but simply made the club darker or c) he was actually planning on buying out Andersen and running the club himself. There was a fourth reason of course, which was why I was here with Ben. And that is you can’t beat a beer (or three), a sausage (or two) and a good jump around on the terraces on a Monday night.

This used to be a regular occurrence for me. For over two years Copenhagen had been my midweek home and instead of spending every night in my apartment watching Kroning Gade (Danish Coronation Street), I went off in search of football. In two years I managed to watch games at 37 different Danish and Swedish grounds but there was nowhere really like Brøndby (OK – apart from Malmö). My very good friend and Ultras expert Kenny Legg ranked the Copenhagen Derby played at the Brøndby Stadion as, as he eloquently put it, “F’ing insane” – and he’s a man whose experienced Weymouth versus Dorchester Town (twice!). Quite simply it should be one game that every football fan takes in once in their lives.

26323371404_525d2c9a37_zA rare need for a work trip to Copenhagen fortuitously fell on the very day Brøndby were hosting their cross-city rivals, FC Nordsjælland from leafy Farum. Whilst it’s currently the fashion to talk about clubs overcoming insurmountable odds to win the league (Leicester City were 5000/1 to win the Premier League in case you missed that little fact), we should pause and reflect on the story of FC Nordsjælland who broke the FCK dominance of winning seven of the previous nine titles.  Whilst the club had always been respected for its youth development, they hadn’t really made a mark on domestic football in Denmark until 2010 when they won their first major honour, the Danish Cup.  A year later they retained the trophy, once again beating FC Midtjylland in the final.  However in 2011/12 they led from the front almost on day one and never looking back.  Not only did they cap that season with the title but five of their players were called up to the National team.

It was always felt that the dominance of FCK on the domestic game, fuelled by perennial Champions League money would never be broken but FCN proved it could be done.  Whilst FCK won the title twelve months later (with FCN hosting Chelsea and Juventus in the Champions League ironically at FCK’s Parken), the last two titles have been won by two more “upstarts”.  Alas, neither were Brøndby.

Last season the story over here, and also back in England, was of FC Midtjylland who again if you believed the media, won the league through the footballing equivalent of card counting.  The club, based a few miles up the road from Legoland had been on the fringes of the honours for a while but it took the investment of Brentford owner Matthew Benham and his statistical approach to both recruitment and retention of players to reach that Tipping Point that saw them crowned as champions.

26895138446_4e8aec971e_zBut back to today.  Ben had procured the tickets for a ridiculous 60DKK (£6) each but failed to remember that we were in Denmark and so a 7pm kick off meant 7pm Danish time, not 6pm that was displayed on Soccerways….Ben has only lived in Denmark for 8 years now.  He was quickly forgiven when we took our place at the front of the beer and sausage queue though.  He brought me up to speed on the state of play in Denmark’s Superliga.  FCK were as good as champions again, holding a seven point league over this season’s surprise package, SønderjyskE.  Then came AaB (champions in 2014) and FC Midtjylland (champions in 2015)…and then Brøndby, some seventeen points behind FCK with six games to play.  “So the title still isn’t out of the question Stu”.  He is a Spurs fan and up until the draw with Chelsea was absolutely convinced Spurs would win the title on goal difference.

With only 2nd and 3rd place qualifying for the Europa League and having painfully lost a two-legged Danish Cup semi-final to FCK it looked bleak for a return to European football.  That was unless they could get three points tonight.

Brøndby IF 2 FC Nordsjælland 1 – Brøndby Stadion – Monday 9th May 2016
The warm, yellow liquid currently raining down on us reminded us why it’s a bad move to stand at the bottom of the Sud Tribune. Fortunately the liquid appeared to be beer, thrown in the air to celebrate Kamil Wilczek’s goal. Brøndby had conceded in an all too familiar manner just three minutes before much to the groans of a number of fans around us.  A rather animated chap, in full kit with the name “Aggar” on his back tried to show his mate how to clear an attacking ball that had led to Marcondes’s equaliser, using a small teddy bear.  She wasn’t impressed and stormed off just as Wilczek’s goal went in.

Whilst the game was fairly entertaining, with Brøndby understanding that they key to winning the game was to stop the opposition getting the ball (possession is 9/10th of a win as well as the law), the real spectacle was the fans.  It may have been five years since I was last standing on the terraces here but you never forget the feeling of the ground beneath your feet literally bouncing as the fans jumped up and down, sank their lungs out and waved the flags.  You cannot fail to be impressed.  This was what watching football should be like.  Passion.  Of course it helped that you were trusted enough to have a beer, although it did seem to be the standard pratice to throw it up in the air when the home side scored.

John Terry couldn’t help be impressed by the atmosphere – certainly a little less manufactured some of the grounds in England.  He at least won’t have to learn a new language and of course their liberal attitude to the vices means he may stay off the front pages.  Then again, it is just as likely that Celtic boss Ronnie Deila will pitch up here in a few weeks once the Celtic gig has finished.

Economic Theory explained by Football – Sabermetrics


MoneyballFor those who have seen the film Money Ball or read Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, you will be familiar with the name Bill James. For those who don’t know about the remarkable story of the Oakland Athletic baseball team then I thoroughly recommend seeing the film or picking up the book.  Without spoiling too much of the plot, James is a much-maligned chap who came up with a statistical system that was able to be used to rank each attribute of a player and thus whether they could do a job for a particular team.  He coined the phrase Sabermetrics and defined it as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.”
Sabermetrics attempts to answer objective questions about baseball, such as “which player on the New York Yankees contributed the most to the team’s offense?” or “How many home runs will a particular players hit next year?” It cannot deal with the subjective judgments which are also important to the game, such as “Who is your favourite player?” or “That was a great match”

The General Manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane, adopted the concept and took his team on an amazing run which then resulted in an approach from Boston Red Sox owner John Henry. Yep, the same John Henry who today owns Liverpool FC.

Why is this relevant to the beautiful game? In recent weeks a remarkable story has broken about Brentford’s manager Mark Warburton announcing he will step down at the end of the season. Brentford are currently playing at the highest level in their history, they have a real shot at promotion to the Premier League and a long overdue move to a new stadium is finally on the cards. So why is Mark Warburton stepping down?

The reason is the direction self-made millionaire and club owner Matthew Benham wants to take the club.  Benham made his cash pile in betting, managing a hedge fund to be more precise before turning his hand to the world of sports spread betting. He employed a team of people to analyse every statistic about clubs and players, and used the results to predict results. Based on his wealth who is to question the success of this approach? The next logical step is to apply the model to his own clubs. Clubs plural as he purchased FC Midtyjlland in Denmark last year. The club, who had have never won a major honour are currently top the Danish SuperLiga using his model.

Will this model work for Brentford? FC Midtyjlland’s chairman, appointed by Benham, 31 year old entrepreneur Rasmus Ankersen thinks there is a 42.3% chance of Brentford gaining promotion to the Premier League based on the data they have collected rather than looking at current form and making a reasoned guess of yes or no. And that, ladies and gentlemen is the theory of Sabermetrics – using past performance and data trend analysis to make decisions about the future.

It will Always Be Copenhagen


200px-Akademisk_Boldklub_logo.svgAB…one of the looooong list of footballing acronyms in these parts.  Anyone who wants to be taken seriously in these parts needs to complete a University course (free of course over here) in learning your AB from your AaB.  In the top league alone we have AaB, AGF, FCK, FCM, FCN and OB.  Let’s not even get started on KB, B93, B1901 and B1909 all of whom can lay claim to being league champions in these parts at some point.  Tonight is all about Akademisk Boldklub, or the “The Academic Football club”. One would expect the likes of Wenger to one day arrive here, or that there isn’t a boot room rather a library containing works by Jean Paul Sartre, Søren Kierkegaard and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (of course Dostoyevsky).  In fact there are few teams in the world that can claim a Nobel Prize winners as former players but AB can, with nuclear scientist Niels Bohr having played between the sticks on numerous occasions when his atom-busting research allowed.

The club were formed with the intent of giving Danish students a sporting outlet back in 1889.  But they proved they weren’t all brains by winning the Danish title on no less than 9 (nine!) occasions, only bettered by the current foes Brondby IF and FC Copenhagen.  Oh, and KB who of course were part of the merger back in 1991 to create FC Copenhagen.  So they have a fair pedigree although their last title was back in the days when Mrs Robinson was the original MILF, Sergeant Pepper decided Match.com wasn’t for him and formed a band and Che Guevara made a fatal mistake by holidaying in Bolivia (that’s 1967 for those who can’t be bothered to look up those events!).  They did of course win the 1999 Danish Super Cup on penalties, beating AaB in the most confusing titled game ever, as if you needed reminding. Continue reading

Something rotten in the state of Denmark


Last season the world of European football was mildly surprised to see a new name joining the Champions League jet-set. Many words have already been written, including our own views, on the miraculous rise from regional cup final to the world’s richest club competition of FC Nordsjælland. Whilst the champagne corks were popping in the Farum, the sleepy northern Copenhagen suburb back in May, there was the usual end of season soul-searching on the other side of the Capital of Cool. Brøndby IF, for so long the title also-rans, had experienced a season from hell, finishing just two places and six points above the relegation zone. Fast forward twelve months and the situation is even more dire.

5759930100_5fd4737466_bAt 5pm today Brøndby kick off against AC Horsens in a “winner takes all” game. A defeat in East Jutland for the blues will see them relegated from the top division of Danish football. For the Brøndby fans, this was another serious kick in the teeth. In the past few years, the big two, or “New Firm” of the Blues and arch rivals FC Copenhagen have seen their power base eroded by the likes of OB from Odense, AaB from Aalborg and FC Midtjylland from Herning. Add to this list the new Superligaen champions, FC Nordsjælland and you can start to feel the pressure that Brøndby are under each season in a league of just twelve sides. But even so, they should be better than a relegation-haunted side. So where has it all gone wrong?

Danish football is not flush with money. FCK’s Champions League millions of Kroner aside, teams are successful in the domestic game today because they invest in their youth and scouting structure. This approach has benefited the national side as well as they are going for qualification to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, which will be their third major tournament in a row. Continue reading

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

The most passionate football nation in Europe


Two weeks ago I met a chap from Iceland at Copenhagen airport.  His first words to me were “I’m the most passionate football fan in the world”.  He had seen my Lewes FC Owners badge and knew exactly who the Rooks were, what league they were in and where they were in the league.  In fact when I randomly fired obscure non league teams at it he could answer every single question on location, league and position.  Curzon Ashton, Lincoln Moorlands Railways, Quorn.  You name it, he knew the answer.  He told me he watched about twenty games a week on the TV and Online, and devoted his whole life to following the beautiful game.  He showed me his list of “favourite” teams from across Europe.  Now I thought Andy Hudson had more favourites than a teenagers most visited adult websites, but this was taking it to the extreme.  His main team was KR Reykjavik back at home but also he avidly followed (deep breath here):-

Celtic,Rosenborg, Basel, Benfica, Helsingborgs, Rapid Wien, Olympiakos, Liverpool, AC Milan, Barcelona, Brondby, HJK Helsinki, Skendija Tetovo, Buducnost Podgorica, Hadjuk Split and BATE Borisov.

But this meeting got me thinking.  Which nation are the most passionate about their own domestic league?  My new “friend” in the thumbs up Inbetweeners way had claimed the Icelanders were – with just 12 clubs and a population of 328,000 he thought that more people watched top flight football in Iceland as a percentage than any other nation.

So in a spare moment (OK, hour) last week I fed all the relevant information into the TBIR super computer to see what the results were.  Now, it is hard to be very exact and so I had to make a couple of assumptions.

  • Population figures were taken from the CIA database
  • To calculate the attendance of the league I took the league average attendance per game from 2010/11 (or 2011 in case of summer leagues) and multiplied by the teams in the league – this would roughly show the number of people who went to top flight football in a two week period (i.e a home game for each club). The bible for any statistical world is of course European Football Statistics.
  • Obviously there is a small amount of overlap with away fans attending games so I took off 10% from the total to avoid double counting.
  • I was unable to find league attendances for Andorra, San Marino or Malta. In addition there isn’t a league in Liechtenstein as their teams play in the Swiss league.  However, the remaining 49 UEFA-affiliated Leagues were included.

The results were indeed very surprising.  The top ten “most passionate” countries about their own domestic league have an average FIFA ranking of 53 (and a UEFA one of 23).  There is only three countries in the top ten that are in the FIFA top ten, and the top three are all ranked by FIFA at over 118, and over 44 in Europe.  So in true TBIR Top of the Pops style let’s countdown from 10 to 1.

10th place – Switzerland (1.32% of the population watch a top flight match in 2010/11 season – Average attendance was 11,365 – Top supported club FC Basel who averaged 29,044)
Despite its peaceful aspect of mountains, cow bells and lakes, football in Switzerland is a passionate affair that often boils over into violence. The best supported team, FC Basel are now a regular in the Champions League Group Stages which has seen their average attendance rise to nearly 30,000.  Their average attendance for the Axpo Super League would be better if the two teams from Zürich realised their potential.  One cloud on the horizon in Switzerland is the financial stability of clubs – we have this season seen Neuchâtel Xamax go to the wall and several others are in a precarious position.  However, football is still seen as the number one sport, and with top flight clubs distributed across the country it is clear to see the appeal of the domestic game, especially as on the national side they have had a good few years. Continue reading

The miracle of Farum


At the end of the A S-Tog line on the Copenhagen Metro you will find a sleepy town called Farum. The 18,000 locals here are proud of their identity as Farumese and not Copenhagenites, with a huge spread of different nations immigrants making up more than half of the population. Here it is still frowned upon to wash your car on a Sunday, play football in the street or walk on the cracks in the pavement. The small town centre is dotted with trees and wouldn’t look out of place in a Danish Trueman Show. Yet if you carry on walking down Ryttergårdsvej from the train station you will eventually arrive at Farum Park, home to the new Danish champions, The Wild Tigers of FC Nordsjælland.

Whilst Montpellier’s title in France may have been a shock to many, FCN’s SuperLiga title must rank up there as one of the greatest achievements in European club football. Next season the club, who average less than 5,000 fans at Farum Park could very well find themselves having to make arrangements to host the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

Thanks to the progress made by the domestic dominators FC Copenhagen in the Champions League, Denmark had gained direct access to the Group Stages of the competition next season as the 13th best ranked country in club football. FCK fans must have been rubbing their hands in delight as the UEFA cash would allow them to dominate the game even further. But then came the next step in the development of a project started back in 2003 by local businessman Allan Pedersen.

Continue reading