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.

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

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

Not a NIMBY


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.

twitter / theballisround

A home away from home


Over a year ago rumours started that England would be playing Argentina in a friendly in February 2011.  Nothing too unusual about that, apart from the venue.  It seemed that for some strange reason the game would be played at Parken in Denmark.  Some said it was the return fixture to England’s 3-2 win in Geneva back in 2007, others said that Adidas who provided kit to both Denmark and Argentina had a deal to host a game with the Danish football association.

Being based for work in Copenhagen gave me the perfect opportunity to find out if there was any truth in the rumours.  None whatsoever.  The DBU (Danish FA) were adamant that only games featuring Denmark would be played on Danish soil.  However, this did not stop someone putting the game as “confirmed” on FIFA.com.  And then our own FA announced that the game would be taking place – not directly but it was obviously common knowledge as The Daily Mail published a story online (see here) about the game and Capello talked about his excitement of playing Argentina.  BUT still no one it appeared had actually asked the Danish Football Association if the game could go ahead. Continue reading

Invasion of the (friendly) Vikings


As you dear readers will know, a few weeks ago we popped down to the Keith Tuckey Stadium to take in a game at one of the most newsworthy sides in the Non Leagues, namely, Croydon Athletic.  Unless you have been living in Ignorance, Texas then you will have seen the recent take over of the club by a Danish organisation called Fodboldselskabet A/S. My superb Danish skills can tell you that the literal translation is Soccer Company. And that is essentially what they are.  A limited company formed to invest and run a football club.  Many questioned their potential involvement in English football, so we went round the corner from TBIR’s Copenhagen office to speak to Morten Madsen, Communications Manager for the club and ask him Vad är poängen? Continue reading