For most people, the Danish football season is over, aside from the lower divisions that are sleepily moving towards their conclusion. The Superliga has ended, the trophies won, the national team can put their feet up as it will not be going to Brazil, so local fans are eyeing next season. Any weekend in Copenhagen you can find a few games, thanks to the plethora of clubs in the Danish capital, so it was back to Division Two East on May Bank Holiday weekend.
Boldklubben Frem play a few S-Tog stops out of Copenhagen central station. They are based at Valby, otherwise known as the home of “probably the best lager in the world”. Huge floodlights indicate where the ground is, another of those multi-purpose sports centres that proliferate Denmark. It’s a hot, dozy sort of afternoon and there’s definitely no stream of people heading for the 12,000 capacity Valby Idraetspark.
But the Frem fans are somewhere, tucked away behind what looks like a clubhouse and the football stadium. Their striking, but unflattering red and blue hooped shirts came into view, invariably attached to a bottle of Tuborg or Carlsberg. “Frem er Kult” claimed one t-shirt, giving credence to the popular opinion in this part of Hans Christian Andersen’s wonderful town that Frem are a cult club.
Having witnessed Division Two fare before, I can confirm that there is more about Frem (apparently pronounced what sounds like “fwum”) than the other clubs I have visited. That shouldn’t be too surprising, however, as this is a club that has fallen from a loftier height on a number of occasions. Half an hour before kick-off, there’s a bit of a buzz about the place: the banners are in place, flags have been hoisted, the sausages are sizzling and the Ol og Vand (beer and water) shop is doing brisk business. Crates of lager have been conveniently placed in front of the huge main stand for thirsty fans. Home comforts all round.
It’s a welcoming place. When the gateman heard we were English he was keen to know where exactly we had come from. “You’ve come from London just to see us?,” he asked. I nodded, instantly making a friend in Valby. “Well, you can sit anywhere,” he pointed to the vast stand, which has probably never been filled for a Frem game, at least not in recent times.
I have an affinity with Frem but it’s very tenuous. I was born in November 1958, the day before Chelsea, the club I would go on to support, played who I’ve always believed were Frem Copenhagen in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup. Well, that’s what the programme said. But try and find that result today and the team that ran out at Stamford Bridge was called Staevnet, a Copenhagen select XI that included seven or eight Frem players. Such were the early days of inter-club European football! History has been rewritten.
The mere thought that Frem played in Europe is hard to believe now, but they were trans-continental as recently as 1993, they reached the last 32 of the old UEFA Cup, losing to Spain’s Real Zaragoza over two legs.
Frem’s recent history has been one of a club that has lived beyond its means and has struggled to live in the same city as FC Kobenhavn and Brondby. Frem, Hvidovre, KB, B1903 and B93 represent a time when Danish football was strictly amateur. KB and B1903 came together to form FC Kobenhavn, now the country’s biggest and most successful club. Hvidovre are Frem’s neighbours and just hanging on to a first division place and B93, FCK’s next-door neighbours, find co-existence very tough.
Although Frem have had what many believe to be a rich history, there can’t be many of their fans who remember a time when they were highly regarded. True, they have won the Danish League six times, the first of those was in 1923 and the last 1944. They’ve also won the Danish Cup twice, but the most recent triumph was in 1978.
Their recent history has been almost bizarre. Relegated from the Superliga in 1993, they bounced straight into non-league football, the Danish punishment for getting into financial trouble. Frem showed great resilience in clawing their way back from Danmarks Serien to the Superliga in 2003. They didn’t last long and before they knew it, they were almost bankrupt again, sent down not to the Danmark Serien but even further to the Copenhagen Series. In 2010-11 and 2011-12, Frem were promoted, joining Division Two (East) in 2012.
The price of loyalty
It costs just DKK 60 to get into Valby stadium, that’s around £5.50. That’s cheap enough to ensure Frem’s fans don’t get too discouraged by their yo-yo existence. Far from it, because although the crowd for their game with Birkerod only numbered 602, healthy for this level of the Danish football pyramid, the “Frem Support” is impressive.
Frem’s kit makes them look like a misplaced rugby team, but along with Birkerod’s bumble bee yellow and black, it’s a colourful affair. As the teams run out, a lone Frem fan stands by the touchline, brandishing a smoke bomb of red and blue. Flags go frantic, one a picture of a boy with big ears and ginger hair. I had no idea who he might be, but he could have been the younger brother of the smiling face on the cover of “Mad” magazine.
Frem Support adopts a two-pronged approach to backing the team – behind the goal and in the stand, where a huge banner has been draped over the seats, in front of the band, which is really a drummer plus a few others.
The game itself was incredibly one-sided, but owed much to poor finishing from Frem’s forwards, Andreas Olsen – from the Faroe Islands – and Macedonian Beran Camili. Olsen missed a sitter in the 20th minute and then knocked the ball down to Daniel Pedersen who saw his point-blank shot well saved by Birkerod goalkeeper Jess Hansen.
Birkerod’s only respite from wave after wave of ineffective Frem attack was their striker Mo Touray, who had speed, a little control but poor shooting skills.
Pedersen was as guilty as Olsen just before the half-time break when he struck the post and then Kaspar Rice had a header well saved by Hansen. Frem were enterprising and entertaining, but they just couldn’t shoot straight.
Birkerod were a little better in the second half and Frem looked to have taken their foot off the pedal. But in the 64th minute, they went ahead when Camili slipped the ball through to Rice and he scored with a cool finish.
The hapless Olsen thought he’d extended that lead, but his superb near post header was ruled out by a late decision from the referee. In fact, all decisions by the officials were slowly executed in this game and I couldn’t help feeling that such lack lustre refereeing would have caused him a lot of problems in England.
The pace seemed to slacken, hardly surprising given the temperature was well over 20 degrees and rising on an uncharacteristic May weekend in Copenhagen. With 13 minutes to go, though, an outstanding finish secured the points for Frem. Jimmy Mayasi won the ball and cleverly rolled it in the path of the head-banded Pedersen and he chipped his effort beyond Hansen, a delightful goal.
The game ended 2-0 but made no difference to the league table. Frem and Birkerod are going nowhere in a hurry. They’ve both got a handful of games left to improve their position, but they will be meeting again in 2014-15. As we filed out of the Valby Idraetspark, the Frem ultras were soaking up the atmosphere as they celebrated with the players…while soaking up copious amounts of Tuborg with the left-over sausages. A bearded Dane in a Real Madrid shirt – doubtless heading home to watch the Champions League final, mounted his bicycle. “Det er en lang vey til Lissabon,” shouted one ruddy Frem wag. For Frem and Birkerod, right now it’s a long way to Brondby….two big divisions, to be exact.