European Football Weekends: The ‘New Firm’ derby between FC København and Brøndby

“Bad news mate” is not a text message you want to receive from a colleague two days before you head out to cover any game, never mind one a couple of hours away by plane. When said colleague then doesn’t answer your frantic reply for an hour, the panic really does settle in. Because my colleague is Danish, I knew something big must have happened regarding the game I was heading to: FC København against Brøndby in the ‘New Firm’ derby.

The two options going through my head were a) The game had been moved at the last minute, or b) Brøndby fans had decided to boycott. When it was later confirmed to me that the away supporters had indeed decided against attending, I was perhaps only slightly less disappointed than I would have been had the game been moved. Derby matches need two sets of supporters, and the fact there would only be home fans at this encounter was a huge loss.

Brøndby’s ultra groups soon released a statement explaining why they would miss such an important game against their biggest rivals. “Two times they (FCK) have lowered the capacity of the away sector, from 3,400 and 1,900 to a meagre 1,400. The prices also have almost doubled since the previous league derby.” The statement also criticised “the prohibitations on all Brøndby fans’ visual and vocal support for our players”, and the “delaying of ticket sales making it more difficult to sell-out the away section”.

FCK themselves were unhappy that a cup game at Telia Parken just a week before had been marred by Brøndby supporters throwing burnt flares and flagpoles at København players following a 1-1 draw, with FCK’s late equaliser denying the yellows a first away win in the derby for 11 years. They released a statement informing the away support that no flagpoles or pyrotechnics would be allowed inside the stadium at the next meeting, that their allocation would be smaller, and they would only be allowed one Capo platform, not the three they requested.

Arriving in the city on the morning of the game, there were no signs that a capital derby would be taking place later that day. It was a lazy Sunday: students strolled with their coffees, pensioners walked their dogs, and families queued to get inside Tivoli Gardens which, as well as being a Jamaican football club, is a Danish amusement park smack in the centre of Copenhagen.

The only hint that football even existed was graffiti. ‘Fuck FCK’ scrawls were numerous, whilst ‘Yellow-Blue’ was also everywhere. The craze of ultra stickers had hit the Danish capital like almost every major city. One depicted an FCK player kicking a Brøndby player in the face, whilst another showed a København lion doing something unspeakable to a buck-toothed Brøndby supporter. But there wasn’t that simmering tension felt at other derbies, such as the Belgrade derby I’d attended earlier in the season. There, it was all over the airport, the city, the papers. Here, it was strangely quiet.

With a small amount of time to kill before heading to the stadium, a Scottish pub close to København Central Station seemed a good idea, especially as Rangers and Celtic had just kicked-off in the Old Firm Scottish Cup semi-final. “Sorry lads, the Sky Box is fucked” explained the enthusiastic and very English barman. The conversations around us were in Danish, though the early-20s men who dominated the bar were speaking about English football; rapid-fire Danish broken up by the occasional ‘Jamie Vardy’ or ‘Mark Clattenburg’. Owing to the fucked Sky box, it was an earlier-than-anticipated trip to the stadium.

Telia Parken has a peculiar exterior and, but for the giant posters of FCK players, you would struggle to guess there was actually a football stadium inside. Yet clearly it was here where the derby ‘feel’ had been hiding. Even three hours before kick-off, hundreds of ultras were queuing to get into the home end where the clubs ‘Sektion 12’ group gathered. The criteria to become a member was seemingly to be between 16 and 22 and wear a black North Face coat, the now-staple attire for ultras across Europe. Clearly they’d planned to be waiting a while, as dozens of footballs were flying through the air, some aimed at the parallel queue, others aimed at smashing the glass towering above them.

Having been to numerous games throughout Europe, one noticeable absence was the stalls selling merchandise. There’s a special place reserved in hell for half-and-half scarf wearers, yet it did feel strange not to see anyone trying to flog them. A quick glance around and it was obvious København had a monopoly on everything associated with the club. They own the stadium, and I assume the land around it. With no stalls to buy unofficial merchandise, you had to go into the shiny club shop instead. Everyone away from the ultras section seemed to have an official FCK item of clothing, be it a hat, scarf or coat. Clever? Possibly. But it helped explain why København are dominating Danish football, with the biggest crowds spending huge amounts of money to help pay for the best players.

Inside the stadium, the Carlsberg was being pulled by the hundreds. There were two beer options: Mellem Fadøl and Stor Fadøl. We assumed the former was a medium beer so ordered the latter. What arrived was practically a bucket. Google translate heartily informed me that we’d ordered ‘great pint’ (lies, as it was clearly two pints in one huge cup) whilst a Mellem Fadøl was ‘between beer’. Not being able to carry a Stor Fadøl with one hand severely affected the ability to eat a Medisterpølse sausage, meaning a hurried dining experience was followed by a dash to make kick-off.

Finally, a few moments before kick-off, I got the ‘wow’ moment we all want when travelling abroad to see a game. Sektion 12 had produced an enormous banner that covered the entirety of the home end. With their badge in the middle, the words ‘The Twelfth Man’ were splashed across the centre. It was a huge effort, and because of a strong wind, it mammoth strength from all on the front rows to hold it down. When it was eventually packed away, a further banner was dragged along the front of the stand and dozens of flares and smoke bombs were let off. Now it felt like a European derby, and with the FCK fans in full voice, it had a booming effect around the stadium. With that wonderful smell of flares filling my lungs, I was finally satisfied.

The game itself was a non-event. København won 2-0 thanks to a Nicolai Jørgensen double, with Brøndby, led at the back by former Liverpool defender Daniel Agger, never coming close to a goal. Such was their desperation, they even brought on ex-Bolton and Norwich legend Johan Elmander. The biggest shock of the night was to discover Elmander is still only 34, and not the 47 years I’d estimated. As the game wore on and the more predictable the outcome became, the fans soon became bored. The chants died down, the whistles for every Brøndby touch had long gone (perhaps because there were so few of them) and the discussions around us felt like anything but football talk. One man in front of us spent the entire second-half with his back turned to the game chatting to a friend next to us.

The FCK fans must have wished the Brøndby fans were there. They got behind their team, but without the big rivals to goad and chant at, the atmosphere lacked the edge that you want at a big derby game. Agger stated post-match that his teammates missed the fans’ support, and the spectacle was poorer without them.

One Brøndby fan told me the two clubs had grown tired of playing each other: this was the second of three meetings in two weeks and last Wednesday’s cup game was the fifth derby of the season. Stale Solbakken’s side are nine points clear at the top too, with Brøndby 13 points adrift in 5th, so perhaps that was another reason for a lack of tension. Though it was an enjoyable trip – there are no friendlier folk on earth than the Scandinavians – it felt like I’d missed the true Copenhagen derby. But I suppose that just gives me a good reason to go back.

Flights: Using Skyscanner, flights were very cheap, and even the night before the game you could get return flights to Luton for £60. I booked three weeks before and got return flights at good times for £24.

Accommodation: Hotel Nebo is 100 yards from København Central and cost £50 for a twin room with shared bathroom. Located a few miles from the stadium, it was handy to be near the train station.

Tickets: Register on FCK’s official website to buy tickets. Seats in the lower side stand cost around £25, but these are derby prices and other SuperLiga games are much cheaper. Tickets are available even on the day of the game.

Food/Drink: Don’t fear the horror stories, but expect to pay more than you would at home. A beer averaged at roughly between £5 and £7 a pint, whilst food stalls around the stadium were similar if you want a Danish hotdog. Move away from the city centre and the prices do drop.

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European Football Weekends: The ‘New Firm’ derby between FC København and Brøndby
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