Monday, April 09, 2007

Brøndby IF – Randers FC (08-04-2007)

When you are alone in a new foreign city, and you have a four day holiday, there is little else that you can do than make the best of it. Inspired by my successful groundhop to Trelleborg two days earlier, I decided to go to the other side of the water for the only Easter Sunday game to be played in either Denmark or Sweden: Brøndby IF-Randers FC. Now, traveling on a holiday is always tricky, but this day proved particularly trying. Arriving at Malmö Central Station around 14.45, well in time to take my 15.02 train to Copenhagen, which would bring me to Brøndby Stadium around 16.00, an hour before kick-off, all seemed well. However, my naivety was soon crushed by the announcement that there were works on the railway tracks and a bus would connect Malmö South Station to Copenhagen Airport, leading to significant delays. But as my heart was set on this trip, I decided to press ahead anyway. After train, bus and train again, I arrived half an hour late at Örestad St Station to find out that my connecting bus only goes once an hour on Sundays. The only way to get to the game in time was an expensive taxi ride. I got out off the taxi at approximately 1 km from the stadium, as we were no longer really moving because of the traffic to the game, and I walked the last part in the rain, joined by a growing group of yellow-blue fans.

Brøndby Stadium is a highly modern stadium in the town of Brøndby, a suburb to the west of Copenhagen; hence the nickname of the team, Drengene fra Vestegnen (The boys from the western outskirts). Acquired in 1998 and finished in 2000, it can hold a maximum of 29.000 people for domestic games and 26.000 for European games. It is a perfect stadium for a big team in a small league, reminding me of the Sparta Praha stadium. After checking out the professional fan shop, which unfortunately didn’t sell pennants, I went to the Nordea Tribunen (North Stand) entrance to pay and get in. I paid 110 DKK (ca. 15 euro) to the guy at the turnstile, who let me in but didn’t give out tickets. This was the second disappointment in a row, ticket-wise, but fortunately I found a ticket in the stadium later. I decided to sit at the second tier, Nordea Øvre, just above the hardcore fans of Brøndby Idrætsforening, as the club is fully known.

To be honest, I hadn’t been too keen to go to see Brøndby, as they are one of the few big teams in Denmark, and have a professional stadium, while like all true groundhoppers I prefer the more exotic. However, the atmosphere at the Nordea Tribunen compensated for the professional surroundings. In fact, the constant singing and clapping of the fans gave the feeling of a game in a big league, despite the fact that ‘only’ 10.516 people had shown up for this SAS Ligaen (Danish Premier League) game. Moreover, the opponent was a small team, Randers FC, who had brought at best 100 fans (Randers is some 325 km away from Brøndby). Still, the away team did sport the most famous player on the pitch: the number 99, Stig Tøfting, the former Danish international, who had spells at Hamburger SV, MSV Duisburg, and Bolton Wanderers abroad.

Despite the difference in standing between the two teams, Randers were definitely equal to the ‘big’ Brøndby for most of the first half. Tøfting played the role of experienced (former) star, playing in a free role and distributing smart short passes. However, the main reason for the equality was the rather lackluster performance of the home team, which seemed to have wanted to take Easter Sunday off and look for Easter eggs with their families. They kept the pace low and excelled in poor passing. In the end, the 1-0 in the 42nd minute, courtesy of a smart soft but aimed shot in the far corner by striker Katongo, came as a surprise and wasn’t even completely deserved. This notwithstanding, the fans went crazy and even ignited some fireworks.

At half time I wondered around the North Stand in search for a ticket, deciding against a second sausage (even though I had enjoyed the first one, and particularly the grilled bread on the side), and settling for a Pepsi Max instead. I was surprised to see quite a high number of (young) women at the stands, mostly accompanying their boyfriends, but sometimes also in separate small groups. Also, the part of the North Stand that houses the hardcore fans had a quite mixed band of fans, including older people and some families.

In the second half the home team managed to score early, after having been awarded a (seemingly soft) penalty. Their main midfielder Martin Ericsson did his job and by and large finished the game: 2-0.

Indeed, after the 2-0 the game became less exciting, as the lack of high-class play was no longer compensated by the excitement of the tight score. I was surprised by the bad positioning of the players of both sides as well as the defensive nature of both teams. Even at 2-0 behind Randers FC held most of its players back, while Brøndby did little to push for the 3-0. The fact that it was scored, in the 93rd minute, was more luck than determination: a pass was diverted, went up so high that the Randers goalie misread it and it fell behind him in the goal: 3-0.

I experienced the 3-0 among the hardcore fans at the lower tier of the Nordea Tribunen, impressed by their continuing enthusiasm for both the game and the team. Even the highly loyal and uncritical fans of PSV would have been somewhat disgruntled by such a performance of their team. Not so the yellow-blue army of the North Stand, which continued to sing and chant.

Almost frozen, as it had turned cold and miserable, I left Brøndby Stadium to find a bus to bring me to Copenhagen Central Station. Again naivety struck, when I entered a bus to a metro station thinking I would be back ‘home’ within two hours. It turned out that not only had they chosen Easter Sunday to work on the railway tracks between Copenhagen and Malmö, they were also working on the metro tracks between two of the stations I needed to take. So, my trip back involved a short metro trip, a bus ride, another short metro trip, a short train ride, a longer bus ride, and a short train ride again. This all notwithstanding, Brøndby IF was a pleasant surprise!

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