Lower leagues across the globe #2: Denmark
In the second of The Seventy Two’s series examining lower leagues on other shores, Stuart Fuller from The Ball Is Round lends his expert knowledge on football outside the Danish top flight. As some of you may know, Stuart has something of a reputation for waffling on a bit. All I can say is: hallelujah!
Danish football is going through a bit of a renaissance at the moment. This can be attributed to the national team’s qualification for the 2010 World Cup from a tough group featuring Sweden and Portugal and the Champions League performance of domestic rulers FC Copenhagen. This improvement has led to the league being given an additional Champions League spot next season thanks to its UEFA club co-efficient, essentially at the expense of the Scottish Premier League.
The SAS Superligaen is the top league in Denmark and is made up of a dozen teams. FC Kobenhavn, or FCK, have dominated the game in recent seasons, and this year can essentially start their open top bus tour with a 19 point lead after just 19 games as many will concede at such an early stage that the championship is indeed over. However, there is a more to Danish football than just the elite twelve.
Essentially, Danish football is divided into two parts. The Danmarksturneringen, or the Danish Tournament, is the collective name for the top three levels of football. At the top is the 12 team Superligaen. Below that is a 16 team first division. The third tier consists of two regional leagues of 16 teams each. Below this, we are really delving into the amateur level.
Tier 4 is known as the Denmark Series and this is the equivalent of County football in England. However, this is due to change over the next few years as the First Division will be reduced to 12 through the promotion of just one team instead of three over the next two seasons.
The season is split into two halves. While the Superligaen tends to run from early August to early December, and then again from mid March to mid May, the lower leagues have to have a longer Winter break. Teams like FCK, Brondby, AaB and Esbjerg have under soil heating and teams of groundsmen to help keep the pitch in tip-top condition when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
In the second and third tiers, clubs cannot afford these luxuries and so the Winter break is longer, meaning the season starts earlier and ends later. This season has been a good example, with the harsh winter weather descending on Denmark in late November, fortunately after the First and Second Divisions had already taken leave for 2010.
Temperatures of minus 10 did not stop the games going ahead in the top league. Remarkably, only one game was postponed due to the weather and that was the final game of the first half at Lyngby, who are traditionally a second tier club.
The First/National Division (second tier)
At the end of each season, two teams are promoted from the First division. One will be promoted as champions, and one via a play-off between 2nd and 3rd placed teams. The division is essentially split between those teams who have the financial resources to push for promotion and those who simply try to hang onto their position in the league each season. TV 2 Sports show one live game a week on Cable TV.
The big name team in the division this season is AGF Aarhus, who play at the 20,000 NRGi Park in the 2nd biggest city in Denmark. Quite how they found themselves in the 2nd tier of Danish football for the second time in just five years is a mystery to most as they seemed to have got things right halfway through last season. They include ex-Manchester United youth players Mark Howard and Adam Eckersley in their ranks. AGF are currently top of the table, some seven points clear of second place.
Also in the “top half” of the league is nine-time Danish Champions AB, or Academisk Boldklub, who play in the Copenhagen suburb of Gladsaxe. Nothing too special about that, you may think, but the club have a stated ambition they will be back in the top flight by the end of this season.
The 13,500 Gladsaxe Stadium, or IP (IP stands for Idraetspark which essentially translates to sports park), is one of the finest in Denmark and would not look out of place in the highest levels of the Football League.
Why? Because the local council wanted Superligaen football and the football club said they wanted a spanking new ground of course! So far, that top level football has eluded them since 2004, although this season they are in fifth place at the halfway mark.
Also in the suburbs of Copenhagen you will find Hvidovre, once a team frequented by Peter Schmeichel. They play in a huge athletics ground about ten minutes by train from the centre although support rarely gets over the 750 mark.
The situation relating to HB Køge is a strange one. The club known as Køge BK finished last in the First Division in 2008/09 and filed for bankruptcy, but then merged with Herfølge BK, essentially a team from the next village some 30 minutes south west of Copenhagen, renamed to HB Køge and took their place in last season’s Superligaen.
Under the control of the increasingly bizarre Lithuanian Aurelijus “Auri” Skarbalius, they started the season in bottom place and never rose above 12th, the experiment failing miserably. Now HB Køge are back in the First Division, although they are currently in third place. Auri makes Ian Holloway look like a normal chap with some of his post match comments, such as:
“I pay a lot of attention to stamina and technique… it’s a shame the players don’t listen to it!” after a home draw last season or “we had mental problems today” after the 5-1 defeat to Brondby.
The other “biggest” team in the division is Vejle BK who seem happy to bounce between the top two leagues as they simply do not have the funds in place to sustain a Superligaen season. Vejle finished the half season in second place to underline this. Roskilde, who hail from the town of the same name some 15 miles west of Copenhagen, often show the promise of a promotion campaign but fade away. However, it is one of the nicer grounds in the league to visit.
The rest of the teams are essentially trying to stay afloat with a constant battle against relegation.
The smallest team in the league this season is Brønshøj Boldklub. The Bees are located around a mile from AB in Gladsaxe, and a bus ride away from the centre of Copenhagen. Their 4,000 capacity Tingbjerg IP ground is probably on a par with a Ryman League Division One club, although they lack floodlights which means that they often have to kick off at 11am in the late Autumn and early months of Spring.
The Bees also have a world record holder in their ranks. In April last year, substitute Patrick Tronborg entered the fray in a game against Stenløse. And eight seconds later, he was leaving again after being red carded for elbowing an opponent before a ball had been kicked.
FC Vestjaelland hail from the superbly named Slagelse in the west of Jaelland, the island where Copenhagen can be found, and boast a strange refreshment bar shaped as a Viking helmet, which is always worth a giggle on a visit there.
The league has an average attendance of 1,406 which would put it on a par with our Conference National league. However, if you take out AGF – who average 5,000 – then the picture changes dramatically. Having watched a lot of non-league football in England over recent seasons, I would say that most Conference clubs would be challenging for promotion in this league.
Second Division East and West (third tier)
The level below National First Division, the Danish League 2 is split into Eastern and Western divisions. This season will see the introduction of a play-off system whereby the two division winners will play each other for one promotion spot. You used to find a number of Superligaen reserve teams at this level including Brondby IF, AGF Aarhus and OB.
The rules here state that if the first squad of a team is relegated from the Superligaen to the First Division, its second squad will be relegated to the third tier. If a second squad finishes in a promotion spot, and are not eligible for the promotion, the next eligible team will go up. This has led to the creation of a Superligaen reserve league this season.
Few teams in these divisions will ever make it to the Superligaen. They are mainly amateur teams with basic facilities, equivalent of step 4 or 5 in our non league system. One club, B1903, are actually seven-time Danish champions, the last of which was in 1976.
In 1992, the club were merged with Kobenhavn Boldklub (KB) to form the club we know today as FC Copenhagen. The following season B1903 were re-admitted back into the league and took up residence in Osterbro stadium, the old national stadium in the shadow of Parken.
Some clubs, such as BK Skjold and B1908, play at grounds worthy of higher leagues, but most offer more modest surroundings. Last season, Brønshøj, FC Hjørring and Hobro IK headed up to the First Division and at the winter break the leagues were headed by Norvest FC and Blokhus FC respectively.
Players at this level are amateur in the real sense of the word. Attendances are measured in the dozens rather than the hundreds in most cases. The best supported teams in this league are Nordvest FC and Elite 3000 Helsingør who both average over 500. The average across both divisions so far this season is 274.
Read the other posts in this series: