The status of Copenhagen as an international venue – co-host of Euro 2020, stage for two European club finals, both involving Arsenal – is aided by the proximity of the somewhat functional national stadium, Parken, to the city centre. Add its lively bars, lashings of Carlsberg and excellent transport connections, and the Danish capital can be considered one of the best, if priciest, destinations to travel with your team.
Thanks to the recent progress of flagship club and current champions FC Copenhagen (FCK), it’s a journey that fans of Leicester, Ajax and Porto made in 2016-17, another welcome participation in the Champions League culminating in narrow defeat in its sister competition. In August 2017, a frustrating away goal conceded to Qarabag at the Parken, FCK’s home ground shared with the national team, allowed the visitors to become the first Azerbaijani side to go into the prestigious draw in Monaco. The Copenhagen, side, meanwhile, look less and less likely to get another shot at the Champions League group stage in 2018-19.
Formed the same year that the Parken opened (and Denmark became shock European champions), 1992, FCK have been regular international competitors ever since. Before then, it had taken decades for Danish clubs to make any sort of impact upon European football, evidence of the amateur nature of the game here rather than its long heritage.
When KB – now a part of FCK – took up the sport in 1879, they were the first football club on continental Europe. Up to the 1950s, all titles were shared between the capital’s big five: KB, B93, AB, Frem and B1903, proud amateur clubs all, with cavalier, old-fashioned attitudes, sharing the municipal Idraetspark. By the time professional football came in, as late as 1978 (!), the big five had fallen far behind suburban contenders such as Hvidovre and Lyngby.
The real breakthrough came from Brøndby IF, from the unfashionable suburb of Brøndbyerne west of Copenhagen. The first club to go full-time professional and the first to float on the stock exchange, Brøndby were the first to make a real impression in Europe, culminating in a UEFA Cup run that took them to within minutes of a final in 1991 – with a team featuring stars from Denmark’s shock Euro 92 win the following year.
But even by then, bad business decisions had almost sunk pioneering Brøndby. Meanwhile, at the newly built Parken stadium, FC Copenhagen were established as a merger between KB and B1903. B1903 had the players, KB had the dormant fan base, and the new national stadium needed a league club as tenants. Brøndby rivals FCK bought the Parken and brought in Roy Hodgson as coach to win the title in 2001.
Brøndby fought back to win the double under Michael Laudrup in 2005 – their last great side. Days away from bankruptcy in 2013, Brøndby have returned, initially thanks to new owner Jan Bech Andersen personally bankrolling the return of local hero Daniel Agger from Liverpool. Runners-up spot to FCK in 2017 allowed Brøndby a fourth straight run in the Europa League, wins over Hibernian (on penalties) and Hertha Berlin still fresh in the memory from 2016. European matches are played in the Brøndby Stadion, also used by Denmark for friendly matches now and then. A first league title for Brøndby since 2005 would not be a huge surprise come May 2018.
European competitors in 2017-18 for the first time this century, Lyngby Boldklub had their heyday in the ’80s and ’90s, occasionally returning to the top flight for a short visit. They play at the shabby old Lyngby Stadion – get there by S-train to Lyngby, then a ten-minute walk north via Toftebaeksvej.
The relegation of Akademisk Boldklub in 2017 means that Copenhagen has no representatives in the second flight 1st Division in 2017-18. AB were a dominant force in the amateur years and won nine titles up until 1967, but fell on hard times and moved to the suburbs in the 1970s. They play at the fine Gladsaxe Stadion – the No.250S bus from City Hall Square stops right outside. In same section of the third-tier 2nd Division, and equally venerable, B93 play at the Østerbro Stadion. Their trophy cabinet also contains nine league crowns, won over 30 years between 1916 and 1946.
In Copenhagen’s suitably unglamorous north-west, Brønshøj Boldklub also attract football romantics for fixtures in the same division.
Way over in Farum, 20km from Copenhagen, FC Nordsjaelland are currently looking good for a European place in 2018-19, their unexpected title win of 2012 granting them the right to be tonked by Chelsea, Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.
Copenhagen Airport is 8km (five miles) south-east of the city, connected by regular metro to Nørreport (15 mins, 36kr) or rail to Central Station (15 mins, 36kr), both from terminal 3. A taxi (+45 70 25 25 25) should cost around 200kr.
The transport network of buses, two-line, 24-hour metro and trains is divided into zones, with fares calculated accordingly. A single ticket starts at 24kr. The one-day City Pass (4 zones, 75kr) is valid from the airport.
The Copenhagen Tourist Office has a hotel-booking service, pay on departure, no cancellation fees. The Hotel Rye, the closest to Parken, is an inexpensive B&B with a concierge. It’s down a quiet side street a few hundred metres from the stadium.
For a centrally located, stylish stay, the recently renamed (and revamped) Hotel SP34 is a boutique spot on the edge of the Latin Quarter. The Hotel Ascot is set around elegant historic baths. Nearby First Hotel Kong Frederik is also charmingly historic.
Equally central, the 15-storey Danhostel Copenhagen City is a panoramic, five-star hostel by the harbour. Another good budget option is the small chain of Cab-Inn hotels: the one at Vodroffsvej 55 is by Forum metro station.
Sports bars abound. Pub & Sport is a dependable if standard choice next to City Hall Square. The Central Station branch of the huge, Scandinavian chain of US-inspired sports bars O’Learys offers TV screens, ribs and burgers, as well as Samuel Adams beer.
Around the corner from Nørreport Station, The Globe has screens of varying quality spread around the nooks and crannies on both floors. There’s a Sky feed in an easy-going atmosphere.