A walk in the Parken

In Danish football circles, there’s a tendency to refer to FC Kobenhavn as ‘the unmentionables’. Founded in 1992 from a merger between the long-established Copenhagen clubs KB and B1903, they immediately managed to all their rivals by acquiring the national stadium and, overnight, shattering the balance of power in the Danish league. Long-standing big-hitters like Brondby felt it most, but it’s fair to say not many traditional fans were thrilled with the idea.

parken
Parken, home of FC Kobenhavn.

The club’s motto this season, ‘Success is temporary, loyalty is forever’ sticks in the throat for many. Huge banners on the side of the Parken stadium lionise the average fan – appropriate in a relatively disappointing season – but underline the problem. With the exception of two schoolkids, these are all people who came to the club in adulthood. It’s not a team backed up by the blind, lifelong passion of generations of fans born to follow FCK. At least, not yet. Hoovering up titles and regularly playing in Europe has made the team attractive for new fans, and a city-wide identity helps to transcend the localised loyalties to places like Hvidovre, Lyngby and others.

Therefore, it’s not quite the footballing pariah some like to insist. Earlier in the week I’d been at Fremad Amager, where I found a home fan, shirted and scarved, sporting an FCK tattoo on his calf. And the crowds at Kobenhavn games, even at the end of a frustrating campaign, are good by Danish standards. More than 17,000 turned up for the end-of-season affair against Midtjylland, despite word of fan protests and widespread disappointment that Stale Solbakken’s team was well off the title pace and risked missing out on a place in Europe. Overall, FCK is still the best supported team in the country, although this season has seen Brondby’s push for a first title in a decade lift crowds for the Blues: the two clubs are neck-and-neck at the top of the attendance table.

inflatables
FC Kobenhavn fans release inflatables during their last game of the season against Midtjylland.

Those fan protests, meanwhile, were very Danish. This is a country of the quiet gesture rather than the grand statement. The protest, or not, revolved around the annual tradition of bringing inflatables to the final home game of the season and establishing a beach party atmosphere ahead of the summer holidays. This year, Sektion 12, the most vocal fan group, argued that the team did not deserve a holiday after its poor showing and encouraged fans to leave the beachballs at home. The club was sufficiently interested to post on its website – in Danish and English – that this was a matter for the fans, not the club, and there was no issue either way. The statement also promised that the organisation would indeed be working hard all summer to regain its eminence in Danish football.

And so, early in the first half, a half-hearted flurry of rubber rings, Nemos, crocodiles and beach balls bobbed around the family stand and the Nedre C. Behind the goal, Sektion 12 remained aloof; its message would be unveiled at half time. There probably weren’t enough beach balls to get Darren Bent on the scoresheet, but there were enough to inspire Midtjylland. A lucky deflection, some ropey goalkeeping, and Frank Onyeka opened the scoring.

action
Action as FC Kobenhavn (white) take on Midtjylland in the Danish Super Liga.

Kobenhavn responded well, producing several decent chances and clipping the bar in the first half. Solbakken later argued it was a good game with a bad result, although the way his team faded in the second half suggests that he was desperately seeking a silver lining. Midtjylland’s Gustav Wikheim added a second on the breakaway to wrap up the win and move two points clear at the top of the table. Kobenhavn must beat Nordsjaelland on Monday to reach a playoff for a Europa League spot, something of a comedown for a club that expects to win the league.

The second goal started a steady exodus that left Parken filling underpowered. A temporary lack of success seemed to inspire a lapse in eternal loyalty. The dwindling crowd was a disappointment. Rebuilt in the early 90s as an English-style arena with stands close to the pitch (and one rather unappealing plate glass corporate section behind one goal), it could be an atmospheric venue for a big game. Here, though, it generated less sense of occasion than a smaller crowd at Malmo’s compact home a couple of weeks earlier on the other side of the Oresund.

hamburg banner
Banners pledging on-going friendship between fans of FC Kobenhavn and Hamburger SV.

And what of that message, delivered on banners above Sektion 12? After a season of mild disappointment, rather than serious strife, it merely pledged undying friendship with SV Hamburger, a team with greater grounds for protest. But that’s Denmark, a land where anger rarely rears its head.

Game details

Parken, Copenhagen, Denmark

May 18, 2018, Danish Superliga

FC Kobenhavn 0 Midtjylland 2 (Onyeko, Wikheim)

Att: 17, 167

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