Aptly known as Byens Hold (The Team of the City), this infant club, residing in the Danish capital, has become a pillar of success in its native land. They are Scandinavia’s highest ranked football club according to UEFA standings and held their rightful place at the epicentre of Denmark’s footballing revolution in the early 1990s. All this achieved in only a 24-year history. Welcome to FC København.
Few people can be accredited for having done more for the Danish game than Harald Nielsen. An ex-player himself, hailing from the north-eastern town of Frederikshavn, he spent the majority of his playing career in Italy, but it’s what he achieved since retirement that will ensure his legacy. In 1978, his work alongside Danish minister at the time Helge Sander, paved the way for the professionalisation of football in Denmark. From there on, the sport has been augmented profusely with its popularity increasing tenfold.
With the nation’s amateur clubs gaining a professional licence, many cities saw a rise in spectatorship, and whilst most were enthused by their attendance figures, the capital was a place of unease. With the city of Copenhagen playing host to three clubs of relative stature, the concern was that they didn’t possess the adequate fandom or resources to act as an indigenous footballing figurehead.
The notion of a potential merging of teams was first proposed in the 1980s, however the idea of such was swiftly quashed by local supporters, claiming a new superclub would dismantle the identity of their beloved sides. Unfortunately for them, resistance proved to be short-lived when, in September 1991, the amalgamation of two clubs from the Hovedstaden region was announced as a reality.
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October 1991 marked the birth of FC København (FCK) through the merging of clubs Kjøbenhavns Boldklub and Boldklubben 1903. The former were Denmark’s most successful club side, winning no fewer than 15 league titles. On top of this, having been formed in 1876, they were also one of continental Europe’s oldest teams.
The latter had seven league titles to their name and boasted a memorable European night after overcoming German giants Bayern Munich en route to a UEFA Cup quarter-final, a result that UEFA themselves to this day recognise as ‘one of the best ever’.
Both sides provided different elements of their club in order help FCK flourish. Kjøbenhavns Boldklub lent their infrastructure, offering up their Frederiksberg-based training ground while Boldklubben 1903 gave up their licence to allow FCK to participate in the newly formed Danish Superliga. With all this in place, the club now needed to add additional vital components: a manager, a stadium, a chairman and most importantly, players.
Step forward Harald Nielsen. After pioneering the professionalism of the game in his homeland, the Great Dane threw himself into a new challenge by becoming chairman of the newly formed superclub. His vision was for FCK to become a footballing romanticist’s dream – a powerhouse, leading the cult of Denmark’s revolution by dominating the league with their new brand and attractive playing style along the way. Moreover, he wanted to unite the capital’s fan base, with the city’s spectatorship having previously been somewhat diluted between KB and B1903. He stated: “FC København will raise the standard of Danish football and give us new international opportunities.”
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Read | A Tale of One City: Copenhagen
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The managerial situation was soon resolved when the then-B1903 coach Benny Johansen took the reins, bringing with him his squad of players. The situation would be different in the other half of the club where all non-contracted KB players were told they were free to leave. The remainder would make up FCK’s reserve team.
Now that the club was fully established, all that was left was to find a suitable home for Løverne (The Lions). Neither KB’s or B1903’s stadia were deemed suitable for FCK with problems cited about the capacity of the grounds. Their location was also an issue. With both residing on the outskirts of Copenhagen, many saw this as another interdependent reason behind poor attendance figures, with fans having to travel far away from the city centre to attend matches.
Fortunately for the club, investors Baltica Finnas had recently commissioned the construction of a new ground right in the heart of the city. It was a 38,000 all-seater arena that was intended for the Danish national team to play their home fixtures in. Nielsen saw this as the ideal location to provide just the right platform for FCK to build their empire on. An agreement was quickly struck between the parties and the stadium known today as Telia Parken became the new home of København.
Everything seemed to be plain sailing, but trouble was looming. In the suburbs of Copenhagen, the third team of the city took affront to the creation of FCK, thus providing the prelude of a long-standing epic rivalry. Brøndby rejected ideas of jealousy, or indeed that their own club was amorphous in comparison, and so started what is known today as the New Firm Derby.
The club’s maiden campaign in the Superliga would bare instant success. FCK captured the league title at the first time of asking, making them 1992-93 champions, and on top of this brought European acclaim after lifting the Intertoto Cup. All was going swimmingly for the new boys but bleaker times proved to be just around the corner.
The following nine seasons were littered with underachievement and inevitable disappointment. Løverne only managed fleeting prosperity, lifting just two Danish Cups in this turbulent time. The period also saw the incomings, and subsequent outgoings, of no fewer than 10 managers. In fact, the only notable moments of progress in this near decade drought came off the field when the club became outright owners of Telia Parken in 1998 and signed a shirt sponsorship deal with longstanding partner Carlsberg in 1999.
It wasn’t until the 2000-01 season that FCK would finally recapture the Superliga title and, for all his controversy with the English national team, it was Roy Hodgson who oversaw this historic feat during his tenure of the club. There were memorable points throughout the campaign where Byens Hold rolled back the good times, but one moment of magic stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The New Firm Derby was fiercely contested that year and the fixture at the Parken Stadium was rife with hostility. With the score at 1-0 to the home side, FCK’s South African striker Sibusiso Zuma would score what was later voted as the Superliga goal of the decade. A cross from the left would find Zuma just inside the penalty area. He took it down on his chest as he swivelled his body away from goal before producing a stunning overhead kick that bested Brøndby’s keeper, soaring into the top corner. The match ended 3-1 to København.
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After re-indulging in football utopia, FCK’s fortunes would once again take a turn for the worse. Hodgson’s contract was terminated in 2001 upon his decision to leave in favour of managing Italian outfit Udinese, and as if by chance, the clubs would meet shortly after in a Champions League qualification match. The Italians would end up getting the better of the Danish champions over the two legs, casting an ominous cloud for what was about to follow during the season.
They would go on to lose their league crown agonisingly on goal difference to arch rivals Brøndby after clawing back a seemingly insurmountable 10-point deficit throughout the season.
FCK would then embark on a decade of unopposed dominance, lifting seven of the next 10 Superliga titles along with three Danish Cups. The main man responsible for the club’s unequivocal success was their greatest and most reputable ever manager – a club icon who brought trophy after trophy to the Parken Stadium across two managerial spells spanning eight years and counting. Having seen out his twilight playing years at the club, Ståle Solbakken is the main reason København are today recognised as Denmark’s most successful club side in the modern era.
Under his leadership, FCK completed a European milestone by reaching the Champions League group stages for the first time ever. The 2006-07 season saw them pitted against Celtic, Benfica and Manchester United, but despite an undefeated home record, they were eliminated, losing all three away ties. In Solbakken’s final season, he went one step further by not only guiding FCK into the Champions League group stages but making them the first Danish side ever to reach the knock-out phase, where they were eventually beaten by Chelsea.
It was during his tenure that the club also boasted its two most potent strikers. César Santin is currently FCK’s all-time leading scorer with 84 goals across all competitions to his name. Perhaps more impressively, however, he shared the vast majority of his time at the football club with second top scorer, Dame N’Doye. The duo forged a lethal threat both individually and as a partnership up front throughout Solbakken’s reign. The latter has subsequently been included amongst København’s elite after his selection was confirmed in a fan-voted FC København All-Star XI back in 2014.
The aftermath of Solbakken’s time at Løverne saw three managers come and go in as many years, although this didn’t hamper the club’s ongoing national dominance, with a further two Superligas and a Danish Cup following suit. After unimpressive stints in Germany and England with FC Köln and Wolves respectively, Ståle would return to the club in August 2013 much to the jubilation of the fans. After a dreadful start to the season under his predecessor, Ariël Jacobs, Solbakken steadied the ship, leading the club to a second-place league finish.
Since his second coming, it hasn’t all been rosy. Two runners-up finishes have frustrated the manager and supporters alike. Even the start of last season’s campaign saw them fail to qualify for European competition for the first time in nearly a decade. Yet in the typically resilient fashion that has characterised FCK’s early history, the club bounced back to secure a league and cup double for only the third time. This season has started in the same vein as those in the noughties did, roaring dominance. The club
This season has started in the same vein as those in the 2000s did, with roaring dominance, and the club are once again eyeing progress to the Champions League knockout stages in the coming seasons.
So there you have it, the potted history of this baby-faced Danish giant, dubbed Scandinavia’s finest. It’s a team steeped in success despite a history spanning just over two decades. Indeed, if Carlsberg did football clubs, they’d probably be called FC København.
By Charlie Carmichael. Follow @CharlieJC93