Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Top 5 Crappy Danish Stadiums

When we need to talk Danes, we go to the great Dane. I'm not exactly sure why, but... so sayeth, The Worm:

About two years ago, I wrote a piece on a website which shall remain unnamed in which I argued for relegation and promotion from and to MLS. Quite a few of the responses I received then and one of the first counter-arguments I still meet today when I raise the issue with American soccer fans is the lack of soccer-specific stadiums and the difficulties in getting sponsors to build them.


First of all: Since when does a stadium need to be "soccer-specific"? Some of the greatest soccer venues in the world, including Juventus' Delle Alpi and Roma's Stadio Olimpico have tracks around and if you can play baseball and football at the same stadium, why do you need one especially for soccer? Second: When did state-of-the-art fan facilities become a prerequisite for playing soccer?

Being Danish, I have witnessed and felt on my own body the horrendous facilities that Danish soccer fans have had to put up with even in our top division, even today, and so it is my hope that the following will make some spoiled American sports fans realize that this beautiful game really has very little to do with the stadiums at which they're played.

I give you - in no particular order - the Top 5 Crappy Danish Soccer Stadiums:

Lyngby Stadion (pictured above)
Home of: Lyngby BK
Until: Still in use
Capacity: 12,000 (1,500 seats)

While Lyngby Stadion was probably a sight to see when it was opened in 1949, it stands today as little more than a somewhat poorly maintained piece of Danish soccer history.

The field, although mainly used for soccer, is surrounded by an athletic track. The main stand has 1,500 covered seats and the opposite side has covered terraces. These two roofs, however, are the closest this stadium gets to anything resembling luxury as the rest of the standing room is made up by "terrace-shaped" dirt mounds covered with grass.

These meager facilities, however, have seen Lyngby BK win two Danish championships - the latest in 1992 - and hosted European matchups against Sparta Prague (1984), Red Star Belgrade (1985), Glasgow Rangers (1992) and Lokomotiv Moscow (1999).

Having fought their way back after a forced relegation due to a bankruptcy in 2002, the club returned to top flight soccer last season, but finished last. They have started another season as a 1st division side - at Lyngby Stadion.

Ikast Stadion
Home of: FC Midtjylland
Until: 2004 (Still in use for Ikast FS 2nd division)
Capacity: 15,000 (728 seats)

When first division clubs Herning Fremad and Ikast FS merged in 1999 to become FC Midtjylland, this embarrassing patch of grass was deemed the better option for the ambitious new venture's home field. Most likely because of the - at least official - capacity of 15,000. For five years, FC Midtjylland played their home games here until the completion of their new stadium SAS Arena in Herning.

A main stand with 728 covered seats is the one feature that qualifies this as a stadium as the rest of the field is surrounded by dirt mounds with concrete slabs building up the dirt so as to make it resemble actual terraces. For the fan on a budget, a good stepladder will provide a nice view from outside the grounds.

Despite their sub-par facilities, FC Midtjylland's first season resulted in promotion to the Danish top flight followed by fourth and third place finishes in that league. However, the stadium was not found worthy of the UEFA Cup and their home games against Sporting Lisbon in 2001 and Anderlecht in 2002 were played at the more modern stadium of nearby rivals Silkeborg.

Randers Stadion
Home of: Randers FC
Until: Still in use but modernised in 2006
Capacity: 20,000-ish (12,000 after modernisation)

Randers FC saw the light of day in 2003 as an ambitious venture between six local clubs lead by 1st division club Randers Freja based at Randers Stadion.

The field was surrounded by a cinder track and spectators could watch from either the main stand with seating as well as terraces, or from the surrounding dirt mounds, which the observant reader will now recognise as a basic feature of the small Danish stadium.

The new club won promotion to the SAS Liga after only two seasons and played its first season as a top flight club in these surroundings. Renamed Essex Park Randers, most of the stadium entered the 21st century in 2006. Most of the cinder track is gone and three modern stands now make for nice photos from most angles but the western end is still hanging on to the dirt mounds of the old 1920's relic.

The old club Randers Freja had its golden age in the late 60's and early 70's and although they never won a championship, some decent league positions and a cup triumph has let Randers Stadion see European action against teams like Hamburger SV, FC Cologne and Rapid Vienna. A more recent UEFA Cup challenge for Randers FC against Fenerbahce in 2006 was relayed to NRGi Park in Aarhus.

Viborg Stadion
Home of: Viborg FF
Until: Still in use but modernised in 2007
Capacity: 18,000 (9,796 after modernisation)

Viborg is just the 15th largest city in Denmark, and as such, the old Viborg Stadion did not seem out of place. However, the local soccer pride spent the '90's in the first and second flights with a 10-year run in the best league from 1998 until their relegation last season - and for a club of that status, the facilities were just not good enough.

Almost a mirror image of the old Randers Stadion, Viborg FF's home field was surrounded by a cinder track. The main stand had a couple thousand covered seats and the opposite had covered terraces. At either end spectators watched from... you guessed it: dirt mounds.

The Greens had their finest season in 1999/2000, finishing fourth in the league and defeating Aalborg BK in the Cup final, thus qualifying for their only UEFA Cup run to date. However, the home games against CSKA Moscow and Rayo Vallecano were moved to Silkeborg Stadion.

Blue Water Arena
Home of: Esbjerg fB
Until: Still in use but under modernisation
Capacity: 16,000 (18,000 after modernisation)

While there are definitely worse stadiums in Denmark, Esbjerg Stadion (Blue Water Arena) makes the list due to the fairly proud history of the club and the city's status as the fifth largest in the country.

When the club re-entered the best league in 2000, it was finally decided that the stadium facilities where outdated and a new stand was erected opposite the main stand, reducing the capacity to 16,000, of which 5,200 were now covered seats. The remaining end terraces, however, remained as concrete reminders of the 50's relic that is only now being brought into the 21st century.

Esbjerg won five championships at the old stadium. The latest of them was in 1979 after which it would be 25 years before they would take their next set of medals - bronze. The only recent European run - UEFA Cup 2005-06 - was a short one against unimpressive opponents Flora Tallinn of Estonia and Norwegian Tromsø.

I guess if you have read this far, I owe you some kind of point. I have just given you five horrendous examples of what Danish soccer fans even in the top flight have had to put up with until very recently, so my simple point is this: if you're going to argue against promotion and relegation to and from MLS, you'll have to come up with something better than inadequate facilities.

- Poul-Henrik Worm


euroman said...

I'm not sure the only problem for MLS investors is the stadium issue. A franchise costs 15-40 million dollars and they don't want a second didvision team with limited marketing/ROI possiblities. BTW, I beleive in promotion/religation and the excitement it provides throughout the season.

Since you are a bit of an expert on Danish Football perhaps you can provide some insight into the coming January trafer market. I see Micheal Parkhurst is going to FCN but I haven't see or heard too much else. What have you heard or what's you guess into who may dip the toe into the transfer market? Targets?

Worm said...

I'm sure the stadium issue not the only problem, or the biggest one for that matter but it does seem to come up as an issue so I just wanted to lay it to rest because I think it's a load of BS.

Danish transfer talks this year have concentrated mainly on coaches - a huge puzzle which is now falling into place.

Champion coach Erik Hamrén left Aalborg BK for Norway's Rosenborg. He was replced by Scotsman Bruce Rioch but he got the boot and assistant Allan Kuhn took over. He will be replaced by Magnus Pehrsson from GAIS Gothenburg and there are rumours that Kuhn may take over at GAIS.

Former Midtjylland coach Erik Rasmussen will become Jeremiah White and Benny Feilhaber's new coach at Aarhus GF instead of Ove Pedersen who will replace Troels Bech at Esbjerg. Bech was presented yesterday as the new coach at Silkeborg.

Johna "Faxe" Jensen takes over from Colin Todd at Randers and finally, AC Horsens coach Kent Nielsen replaces Tom Køhlert at Brøndby while Brøndby assistant Henrik Jensen goes to Horsens.

The only major player transfer rumour I have heard/read about thus far is that Odense BK's Senegalese top scorer Baye Djiby Fall could be on his way to Ajax to replace Jan Klaas Huntelaar.

Etymology said...

The reason for the soccer specific stadium requirement is largely about revenue. In order to make more money, they want to own the stadiums that soccer is played in. Since advertising, broadcast, and other revenue streams arising from soccer are not yet terribly lucrative, then they need to minimize the cost (by not having to rent stadium space) and maximize the value (by owning the venue they get concessions, parking, and the ability to rent it out for other uses).

Other issues are:
It frees them from having to schedule around the stadium's other uses, since soccer is in line behind American Football and other sports for attention from the average spectator.

It allows them to control the environment and the fan's experience, which enhances value. Since, unlike Denmark, Soccer has to compete with other wildly popular sports, they have to make the experience more valuable. Where Americans might go watch other sports in crappy venues because they are devoted to the sport, we do not yet have such a following for soccer in the US.

I wish people here loved their soccer enough to not care about these things, but, with the spectre of the failure of NASL still looming over American Soccer, it looks like it will be some time when the sport is taken on its proper terms- the quality of the game.

Worm said...

Just about everything you said there made sense to me. The only thing I don't buy is that US soccer fans aren't devoted enough to go watch the sport in a crappy stadium.

Obviously, soccer doesn't have as many fans in the US as football or basketball, but I'm convinced that the fans that exist are every bit as devoted as other fans. It is true that Danish soccer doesn't have to compete as hard with other sports but remember; we're a nation of about 5½ million - there can be only one. I'm certain that there are more soccer fans in the US than in Denmark by far, and they can just as easily be found in lower divisions.

"My" idea when I wrote that column two years ago was to open MLS to promotion from the USL. Some teams there show average season attendances in excess of 10,000. There are three teams in Denmark and maybe ten in all of Scandinavia who can present numbers like that. Imagine what the prospect of MLS can do to those numbers - fancy new stadium or not.

Harris said...

Does Hundested have a stadium?

Worm said...

Sure... if you want to call it a stadium.

Harris said...