Denmark

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The country

Once the haunt of ferocious, unruly Viking warriors who ravaged Northern Europe over a millennium ago, Denmark has thankfully left its murderous rage in the past where it belongs, evolving instead into a peaceful, tolerant, politically progressive nation and also, according to the UN World Happiness Report, home to the world’s cheeriest people, even if their paradoxical addiction to antidepressants – they’re ranked fifth in terms of global consumption – makes you wonder whether their jolly demeanour is simply a front for repressed violent impulses that might abruptly reemerge should the medication ever wear off.

Anyway, the key to Danish contentment is often said to lie in the concept of ‘hygge’ which, loosely translated, simply means cosy or intimate, but in practice represents a whole way of life based around enjoying life’s simpler pleasures, spending good times with friends, leaving turmoil and stress outside and then feeling slightly guilty that, not only did you give both of your kids horrible names, but also that you’ve left them outside.

Geographically, Denmark’s terrain and climate doesn’t exactly mark it out as a quintessential traveller’s destination, lacking as it does both the agreeable weather of Southern Europe or the rugged natural beauty and winter sports opportunities offered by their Scandinavian neighbours. Instead, the country’s tourists usually wind up in the capital Copenhagen, including dozens of Americans who – and I know this from personal experience – are prone to crowding around the famous Little Mermaid statue in the city harbour and remarking bitterly about how small it is (yes, they should really warn you about that), while others comment that they “simply can’t see the attraction”, presumably because their loud, obnoxious, near spherical compatriots are standing in the way.        Elsewhere, the city’s main sites include the national gallery – officially titled “Statens Museum for Kunst”, which sounds like it was named by someone afflicted by an unfortunate cocktail of Tourette’s and dyslexia, and Amalienborg Palace, home to Denmark’s reigning monarch Queen Margrethe II, famously a chain smoker who goes through cigarettes like Dot Cotton after a trolley dash in a duty-free shop.

Speaking of famous Danes, despite the country’s diminutive size and population (5.7 million) Denmark has churned out plenty of people considered giants in their respective fields. Of course there’s celebrated  children’s author Hans Christian Andersen, who famously penned the Little Mermaid and the Snow Queen, the latter of which was later bastardised by Disney as “Frozen”, removing the story’s dark edge, adding annoying sidekicks galore, and creating songs so annoyingly catchy they’re liable to have tone-deaf seven years olds everywhere singing along, and any nearby childless couples enquiring into the cost of a vasectomy.          Also worthy of mention are Ole Kirk Christiansen, creator of Lego and unwitting originator of several million foot wounds, and risible pop band Aqua, whose prominence during the 1990s probably helped kill of any last semblance of Danish masculinity.

Little known fact; the Danish Football Association is the oldest in the world outside of the British Isles, having been founded way back in 1889.              103 years later, to general astonishment, the national team won the 1992 European Championships in Sweden, despite the notable handicap of not having qualified for the tournament. Having originally been pipped by for a spot at the finals by Yugoslavia, the Danes stepped in with just ten days notice after the Slavs were disqualified due to their country’s violent dismemberment, and went on to secure a scarcely credible triumph, knocking out both France and holders the Netherlands on their way to the final, where a stunning goal by John Jensen, some inspired goalkeeping from Peter Schmeichel and a late strike from Kim Vilfort sealed a stunning 2-0 win over world champions Germany. Coach Richard Moller Nielsen was is a contemplative mood afterwards, revealing he’d just started decorating his kitchen when he heard that he and his team were required in Sweden, though he was no doubt relieved to escape a summer spent enduring the dulcet tones of his wife patiently dispensing advice on the best way to hold a paint brush.

What makes the events of 1992 all the stranger is that they occurred at a time when the Danes had supposedly already blown their big chance on the international stage. The thrilling “Danish Dynamite” side of the early-mid 1980s were widely tipped to scoop some silverware, but came up short at both Euro 84 – edged out on penalties by Spain in the semi-finals –  and on their World Cup debut at Mexico 86 where, despite looking every bit potential champions in the group stage as they swept aside Uruguay 6-1 and West Germany 2-0, they inexplicably capitulated to the Spaniards in the last 16, losing 5-1 having at one point been 1-0 up and seemingly on cruise control. Instead, Denmark’s best World Cup effort to date actually came with their run to the quarter-finals of France 98, a tournament that saw both Laudrup brothers Michael and Brian in imperious form as they tore apart a hugely talented Nigerian team 4-1 in the second round and then gave defending champions Brazil an almighty scare in the last eight before ultimately losing 3-2 in a see-saw thriller. Hoping to emulate such feats at Russia 2018, the current Denmark team have been handed a seemingly kind first round draw featuring France, Peru and Australia, so if Christian Eriksen can replicate his Spurs form this summer, and if Kasper the friendly Schmeichel proves anything like as formidable between the sticks as his old man, then Denmark could well be worth a punt as potential dark horses. That said, seeing as they’re still largely dependent on Nicklas Bendtner for goals, I wouldn’t advise handing William Hill or Paddy Power too much of your hard earned cash.

The shirt

Not really a busting great deal to say here. It’s a tidy, functional little number, with some nice little features such as the shadow image of the F.A. crest in the centre which keeps it from being overly plain.                          Danish designers Hummel have certainly produced more interesting shirts than this for their fellow countrymen over the years, including the iconic ‘half and half’ pinstripe version worn by the famous 1986 World Cup team, as well as the striped sleeves top in which they won the  1992 Euros (both pictured below), however these designs generally command outrageous prices on ebay and are thus best left to those with more money than sense, as opposed to myself who no longer has very much of either.

   

Finally, interesting to note that at Euro 2004 in Portugal, Denmark trotted out sporting a star above their badge (see picture below), which was presumably a nod to the victorious 1992 team. Prior to this I’d never known any team to commemorate European Championship victories in this fashion, nor has anyone, to the best of my knowledge, followed suit since. Seeing as it’s long been common practice for World Cup winning countries to mark their titles in this manner, regardless of what competition they’re playing in, would it therefore be acceptable if Germany, for example, rocked up at the Euros wearing seven stars representing all of their major tournament wins? Also, would both the Czechs and Slovaks be entitled to a star each considering Czechoslovakia were 1976 European cahmpions? What about the 15 contemporary nations that made up the victorious 1960 USSR team? Oh dear. Can open, worms everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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