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.

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 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

I just don’t get it?

If I had to be cast away on a desert island and could only take a few items I am quite clear what number one on my list would be…OK, number two then behind Eliza Dushku.  MARMITE.  As the saying goes, you either love it or hate it.  I have been in the former’s camp since the age of one.  I have it on toast, I cook my roast potatoes in it and I have been known to smear it on the naked torsos of some lucky ladies (all in the past of course if CMF gets round to reading this). BUT this week we had some potentially devastating news.  Denmark had banned Marmite. How could I survive my weeks out here without my little jar of happiness?

Unsurprisingly us Brits were up in arms and the Times, Guardian and BBC all took this very seriously.  Twitter went into meltdown, pleased that the fiasco of Super Injunctions was being buried under controversy somewhere else in the world. Even the US-based Huffington Post picked up on the story. Reprisal actions were announced – “Boycott Ikea” came the call from “Dave, Chelmsford”.  Bless him.  He obviously assumes that Scandinavia is in fact a country on its own right.  “Let’s ban Carlsberg” – another great suggestion from a chap in Devon.  Except Carlsberg isn’t brewed in Denmark anymore, rather in Northampton.

Ben and I planned our own black market operation, secretly importing the Extra Mature version for ex-pats.  We had quite  a few addicts lined up when the Danish Food Agency came out with a “clarification” statement.  No it wasn’t banned, but the sale of it would be regulated due to the ingredients, and only sold via outlets with a licence.  So like methadone then.

So, the most “liberal” country in the world to do business in, the least corrupt country in the world in 2010, the world’s happiest county, the first country that legalised pornography (back in 1969), a country where the age of consent is 15 and one where having sex with animals is technically legal, a country which had the first ever hippy “state” in Christiana can also tell it’s people what it can and cannot eat.  These Danes are crazy.

And to prove the fact even further we saw contrasting events during an evening of football to show the good and bad in the people.

Brondby came into the game with FC Norsjælland needing a favour from FCK.  With the runners up in the Superliga this season going into the Champions League (albeit at the start of the Qualifying Rounds) it was down to a three horse race.  OB were in prime position, sitting five points ahead of Brondby and FCM with just two games to go, but the first of those was at home to Champions FCK who had only lost one league game all season.  So the hope was for an FCK and a Brondby win thus taking the race down to the last day.  But of course supporting FCK was a bridge too far for many Brondby fans I knew so they had already resigned themselves to the Europa League.

The visitors to West Copenhagen, FCN had won the Danish Cup again on Saturday, in a game delayed by a monumental lightning storm.  They had beaten FC Midtjylland 3-2 to win the cup for the second year in a row and thus had already packed their beach towels for the season.  So a formality for Brondby surely?

I met up with Alan who has been enjoying a few months in Copenhagen going to as much football as he can jam in, with the only criteria he has to get his wife’s tea ready on the table when she comes home from work.  A Glaswegian, who lives in Brighton and thus supports Rangers and The Albion.  We got to the stadium a good hour before kick off and contemplated where to go in the ground.  A chap came up to Alan and thrust two bits of paper in his hand and walked off.  They appeared to be two tickets, the ones you can these days print at home (well for European football anyway).  They had the right date on, the right ground, the right teams.  Surely people in a country that is wicked enough to ban Marmite wouldn’t do such random acts of kindness?  Perhaps they felt they should apologise for the misery they were going to cause us.

Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth we took them and proceeded to put the same amount we would have paid for tickets over the bar of the 1964 Cafe (Apparently named after the year the club were formed and not after the New Order song of the same name), which being in Denmark was approximately 2 pints.

Brondby IF 1 FC Nordsjælland 1 – Brondby Stadion – Wednesday 25th May 2011
We approached the turnstiles with trepidation.  What if they were the missing link in a series of murders?  And only the killers would have the tickets?  Would scanning the bar code alert Interpol to come and grab us?  The light went green and we climbed the 87 steps to the top of the South East stand, sitting in one of the empty seats in the row behind “Just in case”.

The game had an already resigned end of season feel to it.  The crowd was just over 11,000 and that seemed generous.  FCN had brought 37 from our joint efforts at counting them.  Considering they are 40 minutes away on a train it wasn’t that impressive.  News filtered through that OB had taken the lead.  Minutes later Brondby opened the scoring themselves when Clarence Goodson slotted the ball home.

The highlight of the first seventy five minutes was undoubtably the half time competition for Pige 2011.  Pige in Danish means girl which is quite amusing to say the least, and here was a competition to vote for the best pige of 2011.  Leaflets had been handed out prior to the game for us to be able to text vote and now we had the parade of the six finalists.  With a cheeky wave and a wink, Pige number 5 you got two votes from the British contingent.

The second half didn’t set us alight to be honest.  News filtered through of a second for OB versus FCK and the game was up.  Our attention was grabbed by an incident in the front of the terrace below us.  A bit of pushing and shoving between a fan and a steward.  The steward appeared to fall backward and hit his head.  He didn’t get back up.  The fan simply pulled his hoodie tighter and sauntered through the exit.  Not one steward made any effort to go after him nor really see what was wrong with their colleague.  Seven minutes later just as FCN equalised and the plastic cups of beer stared to be thrown down towards the injured party a paramedic with a stretcher turned up.  Whilst we criticise the stewarding at our grounds I would rather have it our way rather than like this.

This soured the end of the game for many of the fans and people drifted towards the exit long before a chorus of boos signalled the end of the game.  Hard to know how to sum up a day in Copenhagen like this really…Good, Bad and Ugly?

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Faced with a free weekend of football, our man behind the very successful Daggers Diary, Brian Parish and Dan Campbell headed off to Barcelona for a weekend of football.

When Dagenham Dan and I were on our way back from Qatar in January, the idea of another trip to Barcelona to watch a weekend of football came up. We went through the fixture list, and decided that we would have to wait until our season had ended before we headed out  to Spain. Unfortunately, after the Daggers relegation last weekend, this trip was going to be a welcome distraction from our end of season disappointment.

We’ve been here a few times before. Aside from a couple of visits to watch England play against Andorra in the Olympic Stadium, we generally manage to get a couple of games in whenever we visit. Aside from the obligatory game at the Camp Nou, the local area has quite a few third and fourth division teams in and around the city. There are four in the third division alone, with three on the city wide metro, the fourth (Sabadell) being a thirty minute train journey from the centre. In the fourth, it’s pretty much the same kind of story.

One of the quirks of Spanish football is that kick off times are not generally announced until about a week or so before the game is due to be played. In England, we like to know way in advance about our games, but not on the Iberian Peninsula. The only game before our trip to Peterborough that had been confirmed was the Barca B game against Las Palmas, which was handy as neither of us had managed to get to a game at the Mini-Estadi. After the post-mortem at work on Monday morning, by lunchtime, Barcelona’s game against Deportivo had been announced as a 9pm start, which meant two games on Sunday. This became three, when CE Europa’s fourth division game against Pobla de Mafumet was confirmed as a mid-day start. So, all this meant a day of sight-seeing on the Saturday, and then a whole day of football on the Sunday, which seemed like a pretty good way to get over the dreaded drop.  We could have had a fourth (this one being on Saturday evening) in the Catalan Premier League, but with a 5pm start and a 40 minute train ride (and 30 minute walk) each way, it wasn’t one that we were too concerned about attending. A good job really, as it started to pour down, just at the time we would have been leaving. Still, we can always save that for next time.

Game 1: CE Europa v Pobla de Mafumet, Estadi Nou Sardenya
Our first game of a very busy Sunday was in the north west of the city. Europa went into this game with no chance of making the play offs, while Pobla had a slim chance of winning the league. This would all depend on results elsewhere, but at just €10 to get into the stadium, it felt rude to pass up the chance to attend. Plus, it’s another new ground for us both. The forecast for Sunday had been for the occasional shower, so we took rain jackets with us, in that scout-like “be prepared” kind of way. Of course, when you take stuff with you “just in case”, it invariably means that you won’t use whatever you took, and this turned out to be the case. Bright sunshine and a cloud free sky greeted us when we left the hotel for the twenty minute metro journey to Alfons X station. Europa is a fourth division team, who celebrated their centenary in 2007; I know this because the signs are still up all over the place. To be going for a century is an impressive feat, particularly when you consider that the official attendance for the game is given at 600. Continue reading

That’s neat, tiger feet

The Wild Tigers of FC Nordsjaelland is an obvious place to spend a Monday night.  Unlike the predictability of the Scottish Premier League, Denmark does at least offer some competition despite the dominance of FC Copenhagen.  After round thirteen of Superliga games FCK were just 14 points clear of second place, but had been dumped out of the Danish Cup.  With second place now gaining access to the Champions League (ironically potentially at the expense of Scotland) FCK’s triumphant march to a seventh title in ten years is not seen as a show stopper anymore.

Instead the focus turns to those teams who could grab that second place.  Brondby, despite all of their “rebirths”, internal restructures and false dawns had yet to convince anyone that they would be dusting off their passports next season.  Instead well run smaller clubs such as OB, FC Midtyjlland and FC Nordsjaelland now have a shot, allowing the fruits of their young set ups to get a foot in the first team and shine. Continue reading