Fulham’s Europa adventure comes to a very late end

It was interesting to note last week that, after both Manchester clubs went out of the champions league, the considered opinion of at least one national newspaper was that they now faced the humiliation of Thursday night football in the Europa League.

So are clubs that annoyed at being asked to play in a competition that in the eyes of many, is like sour milk to the godly ambrosia that is the champions league?

I’m sure both city and united will find a way to cope with this “humiliation”, and I would expect them both to try and win the competition as well. Of course, what does that headline say about Stoke or Fulham? Neither of these clubs would probably find it embarrassing to play in the Europa league; sure, united have been very successful in recent years, so it could probably be considered a step backwards. But city haven’t played in the main European tournament since 1968. With no recent history in either the European cup or Champions league, is it really a humiliation? The amount spent on the team might suggest so, but it does take time for a team to settle, and no matter the opposition, European competition is very different to the premier league. 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

Double Danish with a portion of Swede – part 1

You'll never walk alone apparently

”Never go back they say” – well quite frankly that is bollocks, and having been made so welcome by OB in the Autumn (read about our last trip here) I entered the Fionia Park on Saturday accompanied by messers Last and Deaks (officially representing European Football Weekends for the start of a trilogy of dreams.  The EFW team were here on a fact finding mission to the Nordics, checking out the facilities prior to the main event in the summer.  Three games, two days and two countries.  After a British Rail style delay due to “weekend engineering works” we arrived in Odense in time for kick off in the first game of the weekend, with hosts OB hoping to go top with a win against lowly Sonderjyske.

Big screen entertainment

We like OB fans here at TBIR.  They represent some of the best bits of Danish football.  Proud of the heritage of their club, pleased with the progress they are making on and off the pitch and passionate to an extent that doesn’t border on stupidity.  We were also keen to catch up with Roy Carroll, the ex-Man Utd, West Ham and Derby County keeper who was involved in potentially the most embarrassing “goal line” incident in Premier League history when we “saved” that goal against Spurs some years ago despite it being some yards behind the line.  We wanted to catch up with Roy to ask him on what he felt about goal line technology.

But first we had the little matter of a game.  There was a moving tribute to a supporter of the club who had recently passed away (who looked a little like David Brent I have to say on the big screen) which was accompanied by a rendition of “You’ll never walk alone”.

OB 1 Sonderjyske 1 – Fionia Park – Saturday 13th March 2010

The screen says it all...well almost 1-0 to OB

It wasn’t just Roy Carroll we were pleased to see but also our old friends Eric Djemba-Djemba (so good they named him twice) and Peter Utaka, brother of Portsmouth’s Johnnie who was still scoring goals for fun out here.  And we didn’ have to wait very long for a goal as OB had obviously been watching a bit of Stoke City in the winter break as a Delap style throw in caused chaos in the box on 13 minutes, Utaka helped it on and Henrik Hansen (no relation to Helly apparently) hooked the ball in for the home team.

The away team level it up

But wait! A goal at the other end within a few minutes.  Everyone in the OB defence seems to stop and Kenneth Fabricius (no relation to Cesc) wanders through and equalised for the home team – and Roy Carroll’s first touch of the ball for the afternoon is picking the ball out of the net.

Half time came and went and Danny showed his boy scouting side by somehow procuring some free beers from the executive lounge, which was the high point of the first hour.  OB did have the ball in the net in the 69th minute when Peter Utaka headed home but his full nelson on Sonderjske’s Ottesen had been spotted by the lino.

By the 80th minute we were, quite frankly freezing.  Results had not gone our way with West Ham reserves being tanked at Stamford Bridge and Lewes losing 3-0 at home to Havant & Waterlooville, so we needed cheering and warming up.  Henrik (no relation to Helly remember) went close in the 89th minute to a winner for the home team when his shot from 25 yards skimmed the bar.  But that was the last chance for the home team to go top of the table, in a game that could only be described as frustrating. So all that was left was the press conference, and hopefully a word with Roy Carroll, now crowned “King of Goalkeepers in the whole of Denmark”.  The home manager, Lars Olsen, came in sat down and grumpily explained that “no, he wasn’t concerned that they had only drawn and didn’t go top”.  He ignored my question about Hans Christian Andersen potentially being available on loan and instead got up and walked away.  The away manager then came out, hopped over the table and got straight into the mix, explaining at length the need for white Michael Jackson gloves and tight jeans on the touchline.  Roy Carroll came bounding in and was obviously in a rush, holding his Easyjet boarding card for his trip back to the UK (but no Speedy boarding I hasten to add – still watching the pennies!).  He gave us a potted version of how he came to be playing in the land of crap bacon.

Basically I wanted to play.  I wasn’t guaranteed to get a game at Derby County, Odense came in with an offer and here I am.  I live out here now, but my Danish is still not good as everyone speaks such good English (snap!)”

He went on to explain how the goalkeeper of the season thing worked, and with that he waved us a cheery goodbye and was gone into the night.  So we followed, not literally of course, and within ten minutes we were back on the train, heading 100 miles or so east to Copenhagen with a few cans for comfort.  And the rest of the night?  Well, lets sum it up as a sing song in a Scottish pub, some aborted darts in an Aussie bar, a hot dog and Ron Bergundy.  Lovely stuff.

For another view of the day, head to Danny Last’s European Football Weekends blog, which ironically is one of the only things in Denmark this weekend not sponsored by Carlsberg, but we are always open to offers.

Just too confusing…

So tonight I am sitting in Fionia Park, home of OB, waiting for kick off of their game versus AaB.  Danish football is awash with initials.  What you have to remember is that “B” tends to refer to Boldklub which translates to Football Club.  So in the course of my travels in Denmark I have seen AGF (Aarhus), B1903 (not to be confused with B1909 who also play in Odense), AB (The Academic Football Club), HIF, FB and now adding to the set is OB – Odense Boldklub.  Not a name, or a team that strikes fear into the heart of many I bet back in Blighty, but a very progressive club who took on Aston Villa in the now defunct Intertoto Cup last season (drawing 2-2 in Denmark before a 1-0 defeat at Villa Park) and finished the season in 2nd place behind FCK (see more initials).

I very nearly didn’t get here.  Luton’s finest (Easyjet to new readers) pulled a great one out of the hat at Gatwick this morning.  Our plane had no crew.  For some inexplicable reason Luton’s finest had “forgot” to allocate a crew to our plane, so they had to drive one down from HQ – yep in the Monday morning M1/M25/M23 rush hour hell….So three and a half hours later we eventually boarded a plane and so my time in the office was a tad brief today.  Still I am sure the compensation for such a royal fuck up will be winging its way as we speak.  I cleared my email, did some MBWA (Management By Walking Around) and then as the whistle blew I was away, chuffed to bits at the £60 return for the 70 minute train ride which made me feel right at home.  It did however take me over the Great Belt Bridge, the link that is just 12 years old and has the third largest span of any bridge in the world.  Prior to this engineering masterpiece opening it was necessary to take a ferry between the islands of Zealand and Funen.  Add this to the Oresund Bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo and it is now possible to drive from Brest to Kalmar without having to go via the Baltic States, Russia and Finland (as if anyone did anyway).

Not that Odense is only famous because it has a large erection now…Oh no….This is a hotbed of Danish culture and the birthplace of Brigette, the current Duchess of Gloucester, King Canute (no relation to King Kanoute once of West Ham) and of course Hans Christian Andersen one of the most translated authors in the world – sort of like an olden days J K Rowling, again for the younger generation of TBIR readers.

So after being whisked across the bridge, chauffeured to the identikit Fionia Park and ushered into the bowels of the stadium I had one of those double take moments.  As I was walking down the tunnel coming the other way was the OB goalkeeper who looked suspiciously like Roy Carroll, the ex-Man Utd, West Ham, Derby County and Rangers goalkeeper.  I tried my luck with an “Evenin'” and he confirmed my hunch with a perfectly delivered “Alright” in his Northern Irish accent.  A strange place to resurrect a career after a number of public off the field problems in England but by the fact that OB were nicely placed in 2nd place and only conceded a goal a game I would say a change of scenery was doing him good.

These are certainly exciting times for OB.  With Brondby still believing the way to win the league is to change their coach every season, and one hit wonders AaB and FC Mitjylland failing to make an impact, someone needed to provide some opposition to the perennial champions FCK.  This season it had actually been Esbjerg fB (not sure what that random “f” is doing there) with their fine form at the Blue Water Arena (plenty of free parking and restaurants inside I expect) to set the early pace, but OB weren’t far behind with only a single defeat to Silkeborg to their name.  They have been a regular fixture in the top division in Denmark for a decade and have consistently finished in the top half, including last season’s 2nd place.  Their last of their three titles came in 1989, although they have won the Danish Cup a couple of times since including the 2007 victory over FCK.

Odense Boldklub 2 AaB 1 – Fionia Park – Monday 5th October 2009

Looks like winter's here already

Looks like winter's here already

So after my warm welcome from the club and being escorted to the press area with a steaming cup of coffee to keep me warm I watched as OB awarded their Player of the Month to Eric Djemba-Djemba.  Yep another ex-Moan Utd cast off and possibly one of the strangest transfers that Ferguson has made (Kleberson, Prunier, Taibi and Veron I would suggest would complete the worst 5) is having the season of his life out here.  Sitting alongside him in midfield was Peter Utaka, brother of Portsmouth’s Johnny and a prolific scorer in the Belgian leagues (51 goals in 102 games) before coming to Denmark where he had scored 24 times in 44 games for OB.  And no surprises that he opened the scoring in this game in the 35th minute when he powered past the AaB defenders into the penalty area and shot low into the net.  Yep, 35th minute and that is the first thing I had to write.  Apart from a block by Espen Ruud’s bum in the OB penalty area early on it wasn’t a first half of high quality.  The OB fans high up in the Stiften Tribunen made a noise throughout and welcomed the goal as an opportunity to start a little bonfire, sorry flare, in the stand to keep warm.

I had a wander at half time, cradling my book (Passport to Football in case you didn’t know, available here or from all good book shops).  It is a strange ground.  Three single tier covered stands were two thirds full but the odd one was the main stand which above its single tier of seating had three tiers of executive areas (not boxes but restaurants and bars) with views of the action.  Quite a waste of space.

The second half started with OB looking to put the game to bed.  Whilst their approach play was good, the final ball into the box was lacking.  It took them twenty minutes to double their lead with that man Utaka volleying home after the AaB defenders failed to deal with a low cross into the box.

OB appeared to be cruising.  The hundred or so AaB fans, thinking about their long journey back to Jutland decided to encourage their team by removing their shirts and waving them around, as only those who live in such northern places would do.  And it worked.  Five minutes to go and it was 2-1 as a scramble in the goalmouth was poked home (classy reporting there as I was actually busy on the internet at the time and missed the goal).  But it was too little too late and OB took the spoils.  I packed away my laptop and put my head down for the long walk back, looking forward to the 5am start to get to Oslo for business.

No surprises that Peter Utaka got the Man of the Match vote, and the three points took OB above FCK in the SAS opening up a six point gap over AaB and seven over AGF…..now can you see how confusing this gets…

About Fionia Park
Opened in 1941 and completely renovated in 1997, Fionia Park is named not after a company but after the Latin name for the island where Odense sits – Funen.  It has a capacity of just over 15,000 and is more than adequate for the demands of the club.  It has four separate covered single tier stands, and is all seater apart from a small corner section and the away fans area in the Fionia Bank stand.  Views are excellent from all areas.  The Main (Carlsberg) Stand holds just over 2,700 and is a single tier stand but with three rows of executive areas above, giving it a strange imbalanced look.  The hardcore fans in the Stiften Tribune are certainly noisy and get behind the team from their terrace section at the back of the stand.  The stadium has hosted a number of Danish Under21 games as well as having the honour of a Roger Waters “Dark Side of the Moon” concert.

How to get to Fionia Park
The ground is located in the west of the city, outside the main ring road and whilst the 30 minute walk from the central station is not taxing the number 31 bus does the trip in just 10 minutes.  A taxi, again from outside the station will cost aroun 70DKR.

How to get a ticket for Fionia Park
Attendances average just below the 10,000 mark for league games meaning that tickets can be bought on the day of the game from the portakabins in the corners of the stands.  You can also book online at Danbillet.dk and tickets cost 120DKR for regular games and 150DKR for matches versus FCK and Brondby.  More details can be found here.