The opening weekend of the Premier League season brings about a sense of nervous excitement, the eager anticipation of another season and the promise of ‘what if’. It also brings about a familiar conundrum; does it clash with your summer holiday.
If I could have £1 for every time I’ve had to miss Fulham’s opening fixture through being on holiday, I’d have at least £3 or £4 in my back pocket by now. The issue is, however, something I’m sure most of us are familiar with.
This year was different for me, having taken a fortnight off over Easter, my summer remained unfathomably clear barring a few weekend excursions and activities designed to fill the barren wasteland months that are the off-season. This meant that when the other half and I decided to go away relatively last minute, I was able to wait until the fixtures were released before choosing when to go.
The where was to be Copenhagen. The Danish capital proving an irresistible mix of place we wanted to visit with flights that were reasonably priced. Seeing as Sunderland is not high up on the list of romantic weekend getaways, Copenhagen seemed a good compromise.
Yet the reason I am writing up my travels on here, and not writing a letter to the editor of the Sunday Times travel supplement, is that I was able to ensure my weekend still included a nice chunk of the beautiful game.
Through bargaining skills good enough so that I could take up a career in hostage negotiation, I persuaded my fiancée that a good use for our Sunday evening would be a trip to Parken, Denmark’s national stadium, to watch FC Copenhagen play AGF Aarhus. So herein lies the tale of our experience.
It all starts the day before the match, we were at the stadium not for football but rather for a spot of lunch. In a game of one-upmanship that makes the café at Haynes Place look somewhat insignificant, Parken is home to Geranium, a 2-Michelin Starred restaurant that was recently named the 45th best in the World. It is located on the 8th floor of one of the four modern office blocks that form each corner of the stadium. On the way to lunch we bumped into Olof Mellberg, literally, as the vastly experienced former Aston Villa, Juventus and Sweden defender came out of the lift the restaurant shares with the players’ training facilities.
For the match itself we arrived at Parken by taxi as public transport links from the city centre are in somewhat short supply. Once outside the stadium we found our entrance and went in after a short security search. The moment you enter the arena of a new stadium for the first time is always something special and this was no different. Parken is a relatively large ground holding around 40,000 when full and it certainly has an aura of the impressive about it. It also feels somewhat intimate. It is an old fashioned 4 separate sided ground. There are no corners, as we established earlier, and fans are kept relatively close to the pitch.
FC Copenhagen are sponsored by Carlsberg, the famous brewery based in the city, and their advertising is hard to miss. It was emblazoned on their shirts, and over 50% of the fans seemed to be wearing replica, and it adorns the walls of the stadium both inside and out. So the first obvious difference to English football is that once you’ve ordered one of their famous green bottled beverages, you are welcome to drink it freely in the stands.
One aspect that I did not care for was the ability to smoke in the stand. 90 minutes of smoke inhalation against your will is enough to annoy anyone. The fan in front of me taking solace on an electric cigarette with increasing regularity as his side’s performance slid into the depressive as the game wore on.
However the stands at FC Copenhagen were, overall, a social place. We were sat in the lower tier of the main ‘side’ stand, in a loosely similar location to our season tickets in the Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage. The entire stand did not sit down once. There were no stewards questioning the policy and no-one complaining. Children stood on chairs, everyone else stood happily, chatting, singing and booing as the situation dictated. There was a dedicated “singing” section behind the goal where flags and banners were waved, chants were sung in a manner English fans could just not replicate for fear of being un-British. There was a family stand though, and the away section was well populated. Indeed the whole place felt a lot fuller than the 13,000 attendance figure indicated.
It was evident that the people here loved their football. For a country renowned for it’s expensive nature, £15 for the most costly match ticket indicates that attendances are not what they should be. The fans love the game, but they know the league is a stepping-stone to the rest of Europe. Indeed Fulham’s own captain, Brede Hangeland moved to west London from the Danish capital club. In three days in Copenhagen we saw more Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester Utd shirts than we did of Copenhagen, Brondby or Nordsjaelland.
When watching a football match in person that is not the Fulham first team, my mind instinctively tries to establish ways the experience could help the club. It is as if, in my head, I am expecting a call from Martin Jol the next morning asking for my report. We all do it, don’t we? Overseas football scout, that’s the dream job isn’t it? I blame a youth growing up playing Football Manager and FIFA for making me this way. It is also how I knew that Copenhagen’s starting centre mid was a Brazilian called Claudemir who I once took to Lazio, but more on him later.
From my pseudo-scouting of the game itself, I can confirm there are no FC Copenhagen players that will be following Brede’s path to Fulham anytime soon. While the experience off the field was top class, the football on it was anything but. I would hazard that most League One sides would give either of the teams we saw a decent game.
Copenhagen won the Danish Superliga last season. However, that was on the back of the goals of Andreas Cornelius. The blond haired Scandinavian super striker was sold to Cardiff City in July for a fee of over 70 million Danish Kroner [about £7.5m]. His absence has hit the team he left behind hard and a change of manager has already taken place since we were there.
The team was an eclectic mix of Danish youngsters thrown into the Lions den too early, Scandinavians who had either not made the jump to a bigger league as a teenager, or had returned from such a venture and obscure foreigners brought in with the hope of finding a diamond in the rough.
In goal there was nervous home grown 19 year old Jacob Busk, who’s every touch was cheered. Only Swedish left back Pierre Bengtsson and 25 year old Icelandinc left winger Rurik Gislason, who had a brief spell in Charlton’s youth ranks as a teenager, showed any real ability that may yet translate to a move out of Scandinavia. Bryan Ruiz’s countryman Christian Bolanos was a particular disappointment on the right wing. I shall also never again buy the aforementioned Claudemir in a make believe world, having realised the ratings man at EA Sports was clearly on something the day he dished out a 75/100 rating to the Brazilian of FIFA.
So once it became clearly evident the match was not a scouting mission, my next idea was could Fulham benefit from loaning any players to either side to gain experience. Well, yes and no. FC Copenhagen would clearly benefit from Chris David or Pajtim Kasami in their midfield, Matthew Briggs at left back and Marcello Trotta up front, but would those players benefit from playing there. Probably not. The players who could benefit are the ones a step below them, the Under 21s who are probably a loan spell or two away from the first team.
Lasse Vigen Christensen is the obvious name that comes to mind, the Denmark Under 21 midfielder would walk into either side we saw and would benefit from playing first team football in front of a decent crowd in competitive environs. Perhaps Swedes Muamer Tankovic or Dino Islamovic would enjoy a spell in Scandinavian first team football. Manchester City are doing the same with Abdi Ibrahim in Norway, as indeed are Fulham with Josh Pritchard at Tromso [Pritchard scored his first senior goal as Tromso beat Besiktas on Thursday]. Indeed as Danish champions, Copenhagen have Champions League football assured, so an immediate loan would guarantee at least 6 games against top class opposition for any loanee.
The game itself ended 1-1. After a lively first half both on and off the pitch, the second half was a mundane almost friendly like affair. Aarhus took the lead early on, only for David Elm lookalike Nicolai Jorgensen, a promising if somewhat flat footed 22 year old, to score a tap in following a goalkeeping howler fit for a football funnies dvd.
So there we have it. Like a build up to the real thing at Craven Cottage tomorrow, my adventure in Denmark was both enjoyable, whilst serving to help me appreciate how good we have it as Fulham fans. Fulham is my football home and how lucky I am to say that.