Twenty four miles south of Copenhagen here in the land of the Danes is a small seaport of just under 35,000 people called Køge. It is a pretty little town with some of the oldest surviving buildings in Denmark. For the past few years it has been notable for not really being notable. Until May this year.
Fifty five years ago the town’s football club, Køge Boldklub became the first Danish team outside the capital to win the national league. The club went on to play thirty four years in the top division and won the title for a second time in 1975. The good times came to an end in the proceeding years and in February 2007 the club were made bankrupt, owing money to the tax man and players alike. Sound familiar in this country? Then the club came up with a great idea – merge with local rivals Herfølge, a tiny little village to the south of Køge. They were actually Danish champions as recently as 2000 and played Rangers in the Champions League qualifying round the following season (losing 6-0 on aggregate).
The Danish football association initially said no. Herfølge were in the 1st Division at the time and went on to finish the 2006/07 in 9th place. Last season they stormed the league and won the championship and thus prepared for a season in the Supa Liga. The club then decided to engineer a “reverse take over” and essentially bought the assets of Køge, who were technically bankrupt still and formed a new club – Herfølge Boldklub Køge to start the new season. Can you imagine a similar situation in England with say Rochdale taking over Accrington Stanley?
So all’s well that ends well? Not really. The season started as a disaster for the club and as the weeks went by it was obvious that their stay in the top division was going to be brief. But fear not. Highly rated coach Auri Skarbalius, who had steered the club to the top divison of sorts wasn’t going to let a small matter of depressing defeats interfere with his philosophical press conferences, starting with his opening salvo of “We will try to finish as far up the table as possible.” . Inspirational stuff indeed. He kept the whole of Danish football interested in the progress of the team with his quotes after each game.
Week 1 – HB Køge 1 Silkeborg IF 1 – “My philosophy is that if you have possession of the ball then your opponents cannot hurt you.”
Week 2 – FC Copenhagen 7 HB Køge 1 – “We have sefless players and they have shown what they can do”
Week 3 – HB Køge 0 AaB Aalborg 5 – “We have stars of the future in our team – such as Mads Laudrup, son of Michael”
Week 4 – AGF Aarhus 2 HB Køge 1 – “We never said that we would survive in the SAS league – Nor is it our objective”
Week 5 -HB Køge 1 FC Nordjaelland 1 – “I pay alot of attention to stamina and technique…it’s a shame the players don’t listen to it!”
Week 6 – IF Brondby 6 HB Køge 1 – “Vi har mentale problemer i dag” – which literally means “We had mental problems today”
Week 7 – HB Køge 1 Sondersjke 0 – “We won..we deserved to win….we can win every game from here.”
Normal service returned the following week with another defeat, away to league leaders Esbjerg although they only narrowly lost 3-2. Defeats followed against Odense BK and FC Midtylland sandwiching a draw against the bottom side Randers meaning that they had picked up just six points from nearly a third of the season.
And so we get to week twelve and the eagerly awaited home tie with perennial champions FC Copenhagen, or FCK as they are more commonly known in these parts. And those wonderful people at the club had been forthcoming in getting me a pass once they knew I wanted to see Auri for my own eyes.
I had planned another one of my mammoth Danish football jollies. after the high jinx of Weston-Super-Mare I had packed the female Fullers up north for their pennance and headed over to the flat a day earlier than normal. As luck (or good planning?) would have it the fixtures were kind to me and I saw a four game day pan out in front of my very eyes. First up there was KB v Skjold at Frederiksberg IP in the Danish 2nd division (see Cuptastic in DK for my visit there last month). Then we had a trip out of town to the final resting place of traditional Danish monarchy, Roskilde which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Not that we would see any of that as we were heading west of the city to the Idraetspark to watch the first division game between Roskilde BK and Naevstad before heading south for the main event at HB Køge and then finishing off the day with a little bit of Brondby IF action against FC Midtjylland. A classic day of Danish beer, sausages and football.
On a chilly autumn day I landed a day earlier back in Copenhagen, still feeling the effects of the bracing sea air from Weston-Super-Mare some twelve hours before. A quick change back in the flat and then I was back on the road to KB to see Skjold come away with a two nil game, which was frankly completely forgettable. Go West, said the Pet Shop Boys, and it is not often I follow the advice of those two, but today I did and fifteen minutes later was wandering through the streets of Roskilde, trying to find the stadium. Eventually it popped up after following what I thought were football fans to the Danish equivalant of Makro. Roskilde IP is a very picturesque stadium, surrounded by trees and with the sun shining it was a decent game to watch, as the visitors Naevsted took an early lead, but inspired by the black and white glove wearing forwards, Roskilde came back into the game with a great equaliser and had a number of chances at the end of the game to steal it, and record only their second home win of the season.
But that was just an Entree. The main dish was in Herfolge and apart from the whole FCK away contingent trying to squeeze on a two coach train at Køge it was a smooth thirty minute journey. The club had misplaced my press accreditation which wasn’t too surprising as this was billed as the biggest game in their history and things were a bit chaotic. The press area for once was behind glass, and with the sun beating down I was forced to shed three or four layers of my artic ensemble. cyril the Swan (on loan from Swansea?) kept the crowd amused prior to kick off and a good old fashion ticker tape welcome signalled the start of the game, live on Danish TV.
HB Køge 0 FC Copenhagen 2 – SEAS-NVE Park, Herfolge – Sunday 18th October 4pm
The FCk fans getting bored?
Sometimes you need to just rip up the form book. FCK were evens favourite for this one but the opening exchanges all went in favour of the home team. An early corner caused some chaos in the FCK area and then Roberto Saraiva skipped past a few challenges before shooting over the FCk bar on nine minutes. With the strong sun causing a major issue for the home team it came as a surprise that it took then eleven minutes to get the ball into the HB penalty area for the first time. The first quarter was pretty open, although you could see FCK slowly taking the sting out of the game and sure enough in the twenty first minute they went ahead when Mikael Antonsson rose highest in the area and headed home. One became two ten minutes later when ex-Chelsea winger Jesper Grønkjaer jinked past a defender on the edge of the box and then his shot squirmed under Lars Bjerring in the HB goal. HB came straight back at FCK and nearly got one goal back when a free kick flashed past the wall and missed the far post by inches.
The second half was more of the same. Lots of effort but very little end product. The most exciting moments came when the FCk fans lit flares in unison and then started aiming them at the HB keeper a la Ukranian fan style. In truth HB didn’t look that bad and despite the poor start they could have enough in the tank to escape relegation at the end of the season. The crowd certainly enjoyed the day and created quite a noise until the final whistle. I stayed behind to hear the pearls of wisdom of Auri, happy to miss the first half of the Brondby game, and he did not disappoint:-
“We lacked sharpness last, and I demand that we become sharper. When we meet Monday and evaluate the match, we must talk about what we can do to be sharp. A woodcutter does not go to work with a bluntaxe, for he would not be able to feed his family. He sharpens his tool every day. We need to sharpen our tools so that when we go to work we score goals” – Forgive me if my Danish isn’t 100% yet but it’s getting there…slowly
So it was left to get a train back into civilisation. I figured that the police would not want 1,000 FCK fans to be hanging around the station at Herfolge for nearly an hour, but this is the land of the illogical sometimes. I arrived at the halt – it can’t even be seen as a station, and the fans were cold and bored – not a good mixture. Within ten minutes they had started laying on the track, throwing stones at the police and generally acting in a way that would have seen the riot police arrive in the UK. Forty minutes later a two coach train arrived, we all crammed on and 3 minutes later we were back in civilisation. How hard would it have been to have put a train on to do that some forty five minutes earlier. So in the end Brondby was a bridge too far. I buttoned up the coat and headed back over the bridge for my flat, and a night of Danish X-Factor. Another strange combination, but that is for another day.