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Entertaining read (quite long)
« on: October 13, 2009, 03:35:32 PM »

Some of the references reminded me of T&T, and our football....

The forgotten story of ... Danish Dynamite, the Denmark side of the mid-80s.  They won nothing, but the ultra-attacking team of Elkjaer, Laudrup and the Olsens were one of the most interesting in football history

NB: This is a feature-length piece, so you might want to print it off and read it on the way home. Not if you're driving, obviously. guardian.co.uk is not legally responsible for any bumpers damaged in the reading of this article

Winning is for losers. Many of life's more interesting stories focus on those who didn't quite make it; who didn't get the girl or the job or the epiphany or even the Jules Rimet trophy. Johan Cruyff said his Holland side of the 70s were immortalised by their failure to win the World Cup and, when World Soccer invited a group of experts to select the greatest teams of all time a couple of years ago, three of the top five sides won nothing: Hungary 1953, Holland 1974 and Brazil 1982. Lying 16th on the list – above any side from Argentina, Spain, Germany, Liverpool, Manchester United or Internazionale – was the Danish team of the mid-80s.

That may seem odd, given that all they achieved was reaching the semi-finals of Euro 84 and the second round at Mexico 86, when, having laughed in the face of the Group of Death, they lost 5-1 to their Spanish nemeses in football's saddest, maddest thrashing, but it shows the extent to which this all-action, ultra-attacking side captured the imagination from the moment they qualified ahead of England for Euro 84.

As the Danish supporters' song went: they were red, they were white, they were Danish Dynamite. They had world-class players such as Preben Elkjær, Michael Laudrup, Søren Lerby, Frank Arnesen and Morten Olsen, as well as a visionary German manager in Sepp Piontek.

While Laudrup called them "Europe's answer to Brazil", most went for what was probably an even more flattering comparison: they are the only side to have been widely compared to the Dutch team of the 70s. In that respect, Denmark were both derivative and thrillingly futuristic. Although they had the Total Football hallmarks – spatial awareness, ceaseless movement and imagination of passing – they were like a fast-forwarded version of that Holland side. No team has ever had such a collection of jet-heeled dribblers.

As with that Dutch collective, the appeal of the Danes went beyond the field of play. They were unique, refreshing and life-affirming. And even though time has not been kind to their array of tomboy mops, matted thatches and cock-rock mullets, they were seriously cool in a languorous, quintessentially Scandinavian way. Yet unlike the Dutch they were not ostentatious. Self-deprecation was the norm, and they revelled in their role as underdogs.

This was the beauty and the beast of Danish Dynamite: it was a love affair with chain-smoking, beer-drinking everymen who were actually top professionals at some of Europe's biggest clubs, but the considerable joy was tinged with the subconscious fear that the folksy, light-hearted Danish attitude was always going to stop them getting right to the top.

There are so many what ifs. What if the wonderful Allan Simonsen had not broken his leg against France in the first game of Euro 84? What if Denmark had not hit the post twice in the semi-final defeat to Spain? What if Elkjær, of all people, had not fired his penalty over the bar in that shoot-out? What if Denmark had rested players for their final group game against West Germany at Mexico 86? What if Arnesen's wife had not fallen ill before that game? And, most of all, what if Jesper Olsen had not played one of the most infamous backpasses in football history against Spain a few days later?

That Denmark were in a position to ponder such things was a miracle. A tiny country with a population of just five million had never previously produced anything resembling a decent team. The main exports had been bacon and beer, porn and cheese. Danish football did not even turn professional until 1978.

They had reached Euro 1964, but only because qualification was an unseeded knockout: the teams they beat were Malta, Albania and Luxembourg. They took bronze at the 1948 Olympics and silver in 1960; apart from that, nothing. In the documentary Og Det Var Danmark, Piontek's predecessor, a likeable mutton-chopped dreamer called Kurt Nielsen, is asked before a game whether he has any tactical plans. "No," he says. "Tactically it's still about scoring goals."

Simonsen was European Football of the Year in 1977, but despite that and the fact Nielsen's team contained a number of players who would star in the 1980s – Morten Olsen, Simonsen, Arnesen, Elkjær, Lerby and Jens-Jørn Bertelsen – they did not take international football particularly seriously. They hung out at a Copenhagen nightclub that became known as "the clubhouse". Denmark were an international team in name, and a pub team in nature.

It was richly ironic that it would take booze money to turn such an attitude around. In 1978 Carlsberg said it would give the Danish Football Association (DBU) a million-kroner sponsorship on the proviso that professional standards were set. That process was accelerated by the fact that so many of the national team were playing abroad, and values learned there were slowly seeping in. A particular influence, unsurprisingly given the way the team evolved, came from Holland: Arnesen, Lerby, Jesper Olsen and Jan Molby were all talked at by Johan Cruyff in the twilight of his career. "He was like a king holding court," said Molby in his autobiography, Jan The Man. "He knew everything and you couldn't help but listen. At times you'd want him to shut up, but he wouldn't." It was worth it: Cruyff broadened their horizons as only he could.

Arnesen and Lerby left the Copenhagen club Fremad Amager to move to Ajax in 1975 at the age of 19 and 17 respectively. Denmark got a headstart on football globalisation, benefiting from the enlightenment and experience that comes with playing abroad. At Euro 84, their 20-man squad contained 14 overseas-based players; the other seven teams had only five between them. At Mexico 86, their squad included players from the champions of Italy, West Germany, England, Holland and Belgium, but not Denmark.

Yet the most important component was travelled in the opposite direction. Piontek, who would later be responsible for the emergence of Turkish football around the turn of the century, took over in 1979; he was only 39, but had already managed Werder Bremen, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Haiti and St Pauli. Though ostensibly dour – he was christened Alemano Bruto, the tough German, during his time in Haiti – he was witty, as comfortable in his own skin as it is possible to be, and he'd been around a lot more than the block.

"I was the national manager in Haiti under the dictator Baby Doc – son of Papa Doc, who murdered 11,000 people," he says in Og Det Var Danmark. "I've met Idi Amin from Uganda. He was a former boxer and had a flat nose. I met him in Saudi Arabia and he said: 'Good discipline, good coach.' I've met [Nicolae] Ceausescu's son, the manager of Steaua Bucharest. Saddam Hussein's son Uday Hussein. Yes, I've met a few."

He had met nothing like the Danes when he took over in 1979. "'I can't do anything with this team', I thought," he said. "I only saw them six times, three days a year. There were limits to what I could achieve. How could I get them to work as a team?"

Piontek was not an overnight success, because he was fighting against an entire culture. He dumped the No1 goalkeeper Birger Jensen, a symbolic sacrifice, but it took a long time for his doctrine to be accepted. "Danes don't like the word 'discipline'," he said. "'Nobody bosses us around. We're no good anyway.' I had to change that." The first signs came when Denmark won eight out of nine in 1981, including a rollicking 3-1 win in a World Cup qualifier against the eventual champions Italy, the Azzurri's only defeat en route to lifting the trophy.

The tipping point arguably came when Piontek moved the training camp to the headquarters of the Danish Confederation of Sport, a bleak concrete dump called Idraettens Hus, with barbed-wire fencing and no TV or phone in the players' rooms. This, the players quickly realised, was serious business. By the standards of the day, Piontek was incredibly demanding and meticulous. He would have three-hour tactical meetings before games; and at his boot camp before Mexico 86, players were pushed to breaking point, with altitude training in oxygen masks as part of a daily programme that began at 8am and ended at 11.30pm.

If Piontek was fortunate to be blessed with an exceptionally talented group of players spanning two generations – in the Tyler Barker age, Morten Olsen (60) is easily old enough to be the father of Michael Laudrup (45) – it took an even rarer managerial talent to harness that group. Make no mistake: we are, or at least we should be, talking about one of the all-time greats here.

Another of his strengths was tactical enlightenment. The presence of the remarkable Morten Olsen as libero allowed his team to switch seamlessly between 1-2-5-2 and 1-3-4-2 formations, often within games. This was Jackson Pollock football: players would go wherever instinct took them as part of a system that many respected judges feel was even more fluid than the 70s Dutch side. Piontek called it the "contra system", and it was perhaps best exemplified by the right-back John Sivebæk's extraordinary goal against Ireland in 1985.

Denmark treated the ball with the utmost care; their goalkeeper, for example, never, ever kicked from the hand. This led to a number of goals that came from what were almost relay runs straight down the centre of the pitch, most notably against Scotland at Mexico 86. John Eriksen's goal against West Germany in the same tournament, a creation of delicious simplicity, even came from a chipped goal-kick. A chipped goal-kick! Both goals were notable for the way the attacks crescendoed. Denmark were full of mouthwatering dribblers: Arnesen, Laudrup, Elkjær and the two Olsens. All were quick but all, more importantly, had a devastating change of pace.

Positivity was ingrained in the side – in the Mexico 86 match against West Germany, Lerby ran 30 yards to deliver a ferocious bollocking to Sivebæk just for passing the ball back to the keeper – but not to the point of naivety. The first name on Piontek's team sheet was the underrated defensive-midfield whippet Bertelsen, while he instructed Klaus Bergreen to man-mark Michel Platini in the first game of Euro 84. (Platini scored a deflected winner, but Bergreen did a decent job and lamented Platini's "lousy shot" on live TV after the game.) The defenders are often criticised, but this is more than a little harsh. Denmark did not have a glass jaw, only an exposed one.

Piontek was also stubborn, but not intractable: when Morten Olsen and Søren Busk approached him suggesting the sort of pressing game and cavalry-charge offside trap that would later become familiar at Arrigo Sacchi's Milan, Piontek assessed its merit and soon implemented it. Nor was he averse to displays of sentiment: he included Simonsen, who at the age of 33 had not played for Denmark since breaking his leg at Euro 84 and had never fully recovered, in the World Cup squad. He then gave him 20 minutes as substitute in the dead rubber against West Germany, a gesture of the richest humanity.

And though Piontek was a strict disciplinarian, he rarely pushed it too far. "He came with a lot of German discipline but also knew he had Danish players – they also need some of their own responsibility and he found a good balance between discipline and freedom," said Morten Olsen, who has been Denmark's manager since 2000. "We couldn't play as a German team, we had to play as Danes. He knew that and that was very, very clever."

Similarly, even though Piontek had clamped down on the side's booze culture, he remained aware of the team-bonding capabilities of alcohol. When Denmark reached the semi-finals of Euro 84, he allowed the players a night out with a curfew time of 5am. (Most arrived back just in time for breakfast, and lunch had to be put back to 5pm.) The fact that such a night out was now a novelty was testament to the extraordinary change in attitude that Piontek had engendered.

Piontek and his team took the whole of the country on a vicarious voyage of discovery: as Denmark's first great side, they were subject to the peculiar kind of goodwill, gratitude and unconditional love that only occurs when you are exploring virgin territory. There was none of the wearying cynicism, complacency and expectation that accompanies modern football. This was an intoxicating red-and-white fairytale. The commentator Svend Gehrs, Denmark's answer to John Motson in the 80s, hit the nail on the head when, seconds after Denmark had qualified for the semi-finals of Euro 84, he described them as "this unconquerable team of optimists". Throughout that period, Gehrs had a happy habit of capturing a nation's voice:

"I'm stunned, but I have to present our new star player: Jesper Olsen. Here he outwits four defenders and [Peter] Shilton. Presenting Jesper Olsen" – after Olsen scored a last-minute equaliser against England in 1982 (the phrase later became the title of a book Presenting Jesper Olsen: Sublime moments in football told by the players themselves).

"Unbelievable! That man is fantastic! He goes past two defenders, the world's best keeper (Jean-Marie Pfaff) approaches him ... Well done, Preben! He is unbelievable. He hurt his thigh, and so what?" – after Preben Elkjær's winner against Belgium put Denmark into the semi-finals of Euro 84.

"But Jesper, Jesper, Jesper. That's lethal" – after Olsen's backpass against Spain in 1986.

This was not just blind partisanship. Neutral observers were similarly moved. When Laudrup scored a peach in the 6-1 win over Uruguay at Mexico 86, ITV's John Helm announced: "The boy's a genius!". After that same game, a Mexican TV commentator said: "Senors, Senores, you have just witnessed a public fiesta of football."

There was a fiesta among the public, too. Inextricably linked to the Danish Dynamite experience were the Roligans, the Denmark fans renowned for their peaceful good cheer. (Rolig is the Danish word for calm and mild-mannered). Almost all clad in red and white, they were shiny, happy people, described as the "nicest drunks in the world" (you can see some in this marvellous gallery), and even won the Unesco Fair Play Trophy in 84.

Around 16,000 Danes went to Euro 84 in France; among their number for the semi-final was a young Peter Schmeichel, who did the 38-hour round-trip even though he was playing for Hvidovre against Brondby the next day (they lost 8-1). At Mexico 86, their group included the Scotland pair of Steve Nicol and Charlie Nicholas, who joined in the merriment after the match between the sides. The Roligans had the same infectious sense of fun as their team and complete love for the players. One day, in Copenhagen, somebody graffitied "What if Jesus comes back?" on a wall. The next day, the answer came: "Then we'll move Elkjær out wide."

It's no surprise the players were so popular. It's not just that they were so obviously talented, but they were normal blokes who seemed as boyishly excited about what they were achieving as everyone else. And they happily laughed at themselves. All of them, and even Piontek, hammed it up in the video for one of the great World Cup songs, the gloriously kitsch Re-Sepp-Ten ("We are red, we are white, we stand side by side"). Simonsen was happy to be killed off in the 1977 film, Skytten. And when his career was all but killed off after he broke his leg at Euro 84, the players asked to sing a comic folky song for him on live TV (it is the fifth video down on this page): "Allan you're our friend … we think of you again and again … this is a song for you … Hope to see you in Paris." Theirs was a genuine brotherhood. "They were willing to make fools of themselves to show Allan he was in our thoughts," said Piontek. "They worried about their friend whose career, in reality, ended here. That proved to me they were a team." There is so much to say about each individual player, but as this piece is already ridiculously long we've put those player profiles here.

The Danish Dynamite story began as it would effectively end: at the feet of Jesper Olsen. His backpass against Spain in 1986 provided a neat bookend to a dream that began with his stunning last-minute equaliser in the first Euro 84 qualifier against England.

It was Bobby Robson's first game in charge, in September 1982, and England had not conceded in over seven hours of international football. Yet in a tumultuous atmosphere that had the feel of an uprising they were run absolutely ragged, with Elkjær giving Osman one of the great chasings, and would have been well beaten were it not for Shilton.

In the end, they almost grabbed a scandalous victory. But Olsen, aided by a routine off-the-ball run from Lerby that caused all manner of chaos, swerved irresistibly through the heart of England's defence before passing the ball coolly under Shilton. "Denmark were brilliant," enthused Robson, who couldn't let his own concerns override the sheer joy at seeing such a thrilling emergent force. That did not stop the tabloids printing headlines such as "RUBBISH" and "ENGLAND'S SHAME".

The risible ignorance of such a response would soon become clear. In the 12 months before the return fixture, Denmark established themselves as one of the world's best sides. When they hammered the future European champions France 3-1 in a friendly two weeks before meeting England again, the watching Robson described their performance as "chilling" and said they were "a formidable team, one of the best I have seen for 10 to 15 years".

If anything, Robson's comments served to numb his own players into subservience. Denmark had such an air of calm that nobody realised they were equally terrified going into the match at Wembley, which they only realistically needed to draw to maintain an iron grip on qualification. It was a two-card poker game in which both parties had a two and a seven of different suits. "We entered the pitch bluffing," said Morten Olsen. "They knew we were good but we made us out to be even better."

Against a meek England, Denmark's 1-0 victory was almost too easy: even though they didn't have many chances either side of Simonsen's 38th-minute penalty, they kept the ball with a comfort that sent English football into one of its occasional bouts of soul-searching. In The Times, Stuart Jones said there was a "numbing inevitability" to the result.

The victory, watched by over 80% of the Danish population, was crucial to the emergence of the team. "It signalled to a great group of players how much they could achieve," said Piontek, "for England were still considered one of the top teams." So, now, were Denmark. Victory in Greece took them to the European Championship and at the end of 1983 they were voted World Soccer's National Team of the Year, with Piontek named Manager of the Year.

Denmark went to Euro 84 as one of the fancied teams, despite an appalling build-up: their seven warm-up matches brought a 6-0 defeat, a 4-0 defeat and only three goals. Their group contained the hosts and clear favourites France along with Yugoslavia and Belgium. They lost a cagey opening match to France 1-0, a game best remembered for the hideous crack when Simonsen's leg broke after a challenge from Yvon La Roux, and for Manuel Amoros headbutting Jesper Olsen.

Four days later they thrashed Yugoslavia 5-0, although the official Uefa site says "there has never been a more misleading scoreline". World Soccer partly agreed, suggesting the match could have ended 10-6 or 12-7 to Denmark; either way, it meant Piontek's team required only a draw against Belgium, who themselves needed a win, to reach the semi-finals.

It was a bona fide classic, end-to-end and staggeringly ill-tempered in view of the fact that many of the Denmark side played in Belgium. There were nine Anderlecht players on the pitch at one stage and, when Rene Vandereycken banjoed his club-mate Arnesen, another club-mate Morten Olsen shoved him over. "If I had a gun," said the usually calm Olsen, "I'd have shot him." It was all so heated that, at one stage, the referee pushed Bergreen over.

Belgium went 2-0 up shortly before half-time, but a penalty from Arnesen and a header from Brylle put Denmark level and then, with six minutes to go, Elkjær scored his famous solo goal. Denmark had discovered yet more uncharted territory: a European Championship semi-final against Spain.

Impossibly, this was an even better game. Lerby gave Denmark an early lead, and, in an incredible, you-attack-we-attack second half, Arnesen and Elkjær hit the post either side of Antonio Maceda's equaliser. Spain had plenty of chances too. Bergreen was sent off in extra time for a second bookable offence by the English referee George Courtney, but Denmark held on for penalties.

The first to miss was Laudrup, with the score 2-2, but Courtney booked the Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada for encroachment and ordered a retake. On it went to 4-4 when Elkjær, the man you'd have put your house on, walked coolly up to the spot. "I wasn't nervous at all," he said in Og Det Var Danmark. "I'd taken six penalties for my club that year and scored on all six, so I was sure I could do it." He passed it high over the bar.

Qvist ran across to hug Elkjær and promise he would save the next penalty, but Manuel Sarabia put Spain through to the final. Elkjær trudged off, his backside visible because of a huge rip that had resulted from some earlier mistreatment by a Spanish defender. Seeing another man's bare backside will never again be infused with such poetic sadness.

While the world is reasonably familiar with Denmark's very public exploits at Euro 84 and Mexico 86, their apogee was a private party that occurred between the two tournaments: an extraordinary 4-2 victory over a very good USSR side in the 1986 qualifiers. The date was 5 June 1985, Danish constitution day, and it was when Danish Dynamite became cultural history. Not until then did the Danes truly believe that the fairytale of Wembley and France was more than just that. Not until then could the fans finally stick it to the chattering classes who had rejected football as an oafish pastime.

The game itself, played on a Wednesday afternoon in an astonishing atmosphere, could easily have ended 6-6. Elkjær and Laudrup – at that stage the world's best strike partnership, followed by a lot of daylight – each scored two, and it swung from end to end at a pace that looks fast even by today's standards (watch most 80s games and you'll see how much this has changed). It was a relentless, pulsating contest of audacious finishing, goal-line clearances and breathtaking midfield charges that split open defences like a Japanese steel blade to the belly of a bloated tuna.

Piontek described it as the most beautiful game during his reign. "What you saw from Laudrup and Elkjær against the Soviet Union really was not normal," he said in the book Tynd Luft (Thin Air). "[The Soviet players] were so strong. They could have won 5-4 or 6-5. There were no breaks. It went boom-boom."

"For me this will always be the game," adds Laudrup. "A lovely sunny afternoon, a packed national stadium and then the game itself: six goals – which could easily have been 10 – one amazing opponent and a match where nothing was decided even when at 4-1 after 67 minutes. I've haven't had that feeling before or after."

It is the only football match that Molby owns on video. "I was on the bench," he said, "and it's the best match I've ever seen."

That USSR game was part of a topsy-turvy 1985 that summed up the Danes' thrilling unpredictability. They played eight games that year; in four they failed to score, in the other four they scored 17. Five of those came in their penultimate World Cup qualifier, away at Norway. Denmark went in at half-time 1-0 down and in serious danger of missing out on the World Cup. They hammered five unanswered goals in the second half and then eviscerated Ireland 4-1 at Lansdowne Road in their final qualifier. Perhaps it was simply a case of them finally getting their just deserts: in two scoreless qualifiers against Switzerland, they hit the post five times and missed a penalty.

Yet that is not the only year in which they had peculiar results. In 1984 they lost 6-0 and 4-0 in friendlies against Holland and East Germany before excelling at Euro 84. They could be erratic within games, too: in their Mexico 86 match against Scotland, Denmark were kept at arms' length for 75 minutes of the match. But in the other 15, leading up to Elkjær's only goal, their rhythmic, incessant pressure made you feel that a goal was not so much in the post as sent by recorded delivery.

This was a team who could win 6-1 one week and lose 5-1 the next – as they did at Mexico 86, when they became the only team since the 50s to score and concede at least five at the same World Cup.

"In Mexico we shall attack, like we always do," promised Piontek. And even though they went out in the second round – the same as entirely forgettable sides from Italy, Morocco, Paraguay, Bulgaria, Poland and Uruguay – they were undeniably one of the teams of the tournament. It is easy to look back with a revisionist gaze and assert that they never had a realistic chance of actually winning it, but that simply is not the case.

After the first week of the tournament, The Guardian's David Lacey wrote that they were "at the head of a distinguished list of European candidates" to win the tournament. When the ITV co-commentator Billy McNeill was asked during the Uruguay game whether they could win it, he said: "It would be difficult to back against them." In the ITV studio, Brian Clough raved about them. They were the real deal. Even after the tournament, Fifa's technical report noted that they "played the most spectacular football during the tournament … their readiness to risk something, linked to a full physical commitment, provided the Danish game with an exceptional dynamism."

It was not just their futuristic football that caught the eye. Their kit was groundbreaking and breathtakingly cool: red-and-white halves were nothing that hadn't been seen before, but the white and red pinstripes on them were, like the team, entirely new. The kit was premiered at a fashion show that was live on the evening news of the sole Danish TV channel at the time, with Morten Olsen, Per Frimann and, of course, Arnesen modelling it on stage. It was quickly called "the carnival suit".

In a sense Denmark were lucky: Fifa banned similar halved shorts, which would have been too much of a good thing, and insisted that they could be only one colour for TV purposes. So Denmark were left with basic red or white shorts to go with their red or white halved shirts, and used each permutation in their four games.

Denmark were placed in the very first Group of Death with West Germany, the South American champions Uruguay and Scotland. Denmark were bottom seeds because it was their first World Cup. Despite that, and the truly appalling pitch in Nezahualcoyotl (staggeringly, it is described as "very good" by ITV's Helm; in those days if it was green it was great, even if it was in reality a bobbling beast), they breezed through with three wins out of three.

First came a tight 1-0 win over Scotland, thanks to a typical through-the-brick-wall goal from Elkjær, and four days later they wowed the world by trouncing Uruguay 6-1. It can't be ignored that Uruguay were reduced to 10 men at 1-0, but by then Denmark were already all over them. It was unforgettable stuff. Laudrup scored a solo goal of such smooth, bewitching brilliance that it almost overshadowed the fact that Elkjær scored three and made two in one of the World Cup's great individual performances.

That left Denmark top of the group and with a conundrum going into the final match against West Germany: draw or win and they would face Spain in the second round, lose and they would have an easier match against Morocco. Any potential inclination to throw the game was washed away by the opposition: Denmark had never beaten West Germany, except for a friendly in 1971 when Germany fielded an amateur side, and had not played them for 14 years because of German indifference towards an opponent they believed to be beneath them. And Piontek, never given a real chance in his homeland, was desperate to win.

Having beaten Italy, France, England, the USSR and Uruguay in Piontek's time, this was an irresistible chance to bloody the nose of another supposed superior. Even though their second-round game was just five days away, Piontek rested only the players on a yellow card, Nielsen and Bergreen. "We had a team meeting and decided to go for the win," said Molby. "The truth is we felt we could take them all." They took Germany, 2-0 in another staggeringly open game, with Jesper Olsen scoring a gloriously arrogant, gently caressed penalty that brought this superb commentary from Barry Davies: "'Where am I going to put it? You've gone the wrong way, haven't you.'"

Unbeknownst to Denmark, their campaign was going the wrong way. This should have been one of their finest hours, but when you watch the game now you can almost hear the Jaws music. The genesis of the defeat to Spain lay here, with the frustratingly avoidable sending-off, and consequent suspension, of their playmaker Arnesen.

"I had been irritated throughout he game," he said in a radio interview in 1989. "My wife had fallen ill. She was lying there and one guy said it was meningitis and the other said it was a virus. I think that was why I was incredibly aggressive. She wasn't on her death bed. I think all the excitement that came with this had an indirect effect on what happened."

Arnesen was ticking throughout the game. First he was booked for dissent in the first half when he should have been given a penalty. Then, after a breathtaking, high-speed dummy on the counter-attack that would have put him through on goal, he was butchered by Ditmar Jakobs. In hindsight, it is obvious that Piontek should have taken him off. But this was Germany, this was payback. And with a couple of minutes left in the game, Denmark paid for it.

"I get the ball in the halfway line and it is as if I'm trying to goad [Lothar] Matthaus," says Arnesen. "A little bit too much. I could have just played the ball to Morten Olsen, but I keep the ball demonstratively a bit too long and then he comes gliding from behind and kicks me but doesn't hit me, and then kicks again. Just as I get up, I make a reflex move, where I just kick out behind me and just as I kick and see the ref, who is standing 20 metres from me, I knew that I was going to get sent off."

By the standards of the day, it wasn't a red-card offence – it was Beckham on Simeone, basically – but back then referees showed a straight red even when it was for two yellows, so we can perhaps assume that was the case here. Arnesen put his hands to his knees, trying to work out what he had done, before his body relaxed itself and did a backwards cartwheel. He then sat with his head on his knee for 10 seconds before walking over to shake Matthaus's hand and apologise.

"And then you walk. All the way to the other side of the pitch. Damn, it was as if something was humming ... Humming in my head. I didn't hear anything. I walked past [the West German squad member] Dieter Hoeness, who said: 'Why do you do something like that?'."

Denmark missed Arnesen terribly in the second-round match against Spain, although that was not apparent at first. They took the lead through another magnificently lazy penalty from Olsen. But Spain would not break. Unlike almost every other team in the world, they were not afraid of Denmark. This wasn't a great Spain team, far from it, but something about Denmark rubbed them up the wrong way and made them find an extra level of determination. They would also beat Denmark at Euro 88 and then, on the darkest of nights for Danish football, in qualification for the 1994 World Cup.

If Denmark were marginally the better side in the first half eight years earlier, they were far from their best. And then the entire game changed on the stroke of half-time. Hogh threw the ball out to Olsen, and he dummied Julio Salinas before playing an inexplicable, blind pass across the face of his own box. Hogh wasn't there, but Emilio Butragueno was, and he tapped it into the net. "But Jesper, Jesper, Jesper, that's lethal" said Gehrs with the most heartfelt resignation and national melancholy.

"I shouldn't have played that pass," said Olsen 10 years later. "It's just one of those things you can't change. If it had happened in the group stages, we would have played another game, and it could all have been forgotten. Of course, it's unfair that I will be remembered for such a thing, but that's how it is. It's mainly in Denmark people still talk about it so maybe it's good that I don't live there."

So they do. To this day, a serious faux pas is described as a "rigtig Jesper Olsen" (a real Jesper Olsen), whether by the general public or even in parliament. It was traumatic stuff, for sure, yet the received wisdom that Denmark simply collapsed after that doesn't ring true. They started the second half strongly, with Elkjær nearly scoring after an outrageous angled run from the halfway line. He then missed a decent chance before, against the run of play, Butragueno headed Spain in front in the 56th minute.

Piontek immediately brought on Eriksen, a forward, for Andersen, a defender, and that left Denmark exposed to ruthless Spanish counterattacks. Some will say that Piontek went for it too soon – there was still half an hour to go when Eriksen came on – but Denmark were used to playing with three at the back, and an almost identical substitution at an identical stage of the Euro 84 match against Belgium had been rewarded when the substitute Brylle scored within three minutes.

The problem was not the change but the fact that, for whatever reason, Denmark completely lost their discipline. A nominal 3-5-2 formation was more like 3-1-6. For the third goal, Busk was left one-on-one against Butragueno, with no other player within 30 yards; for the fourth, Spain had four attackers on three defenders. It unravelled quickly and disastrously, and Denmark were spanked. This was truly shocking stuff: those who woke up the following morning (it was an 11pm kick-off in England) to be told the score were not at all surprised. Then they were told who had won.

With such a staggering defeat, there was an inevitable need to look for reasons. A frequent refrain in the British broadsheets was that Denmark's lung-busting power game could not cope with the squeezed itinerary of a major tournament, particularly in Mexican heat, while Piontek blamed the psyche that he had fought so hard to change.

"This Danish attitude started creeping in (after the group stages in Mexico) where players thought, 'Oh well, we've made it this far, we've done brilliantly and nobody can blame us'," he said in Tynd Luft. "At the end, there was something missing in their frame of mind. This transition to: 'We can and we must!' Perhaps it hadn't succeeded as well as I thought."

That, pretty much, was that. By Euro 88 the team was past it, and lost all three games to Spain, Italy and West Germany. They failed to reach Italia 90. One generation morphed into the next and, astonishingly, an inferior Denmark side won Euro 92.

By now Piontek had gone: he was tipped over the edge in the summer of 1990 when a tabloid made dark claims about a bank account in Liechtenstein. He resigned and took over as manager of Turkey. Some said it was a smokescreen; Piontek was open about the fact he wanted to take advantage of Turkey's lenient tax laws, yet says he would have stayed but for that story. Either way, it was a sad end. He was not around to preside over Denmark's most successful team, but he had certainly presided over their most memorable one.

Danish Dynamite: The Story of Football's Coolest Team by Lars Eriksen and Rob Smyth will be available in all bad bookshops just as soon as they find someone to publish it. Until then you could do worse than watch Og Det Var Danmark (the DVD has English subtitles) or, if you understand Danish, read the following: Danish Dynamite: The players' own stories from the 80s team, Frankie Boy: A biography of Frank Arnesen (By Jens Andersen), Tynd Luft (Thin Air): Denmark at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. (By Joakim Jakobsen), Guldkjær: Preben Elkjær's autobiography.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2009, 03:52:01 PM by kicker »
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Offline PantherX

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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2009, 03:50:04 PM »
That real long in truth boi.

I agree.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2009, 07:56:07 PM by Tallman »

Offline Brownsugar

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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2009, 06:43:48 PM »
Wait, wait, wait.....all yuh quote de wwwwwwhhhhhhhoooooooolllllleeee article to type a few words about it....dis is not ah fete in here, is madness!!.....  ??? :-\
"...If yuh clothes tear up
Or yuh shoes burst off,
You could still jump up when music play.
Old lady, young baby, everybody could dingolay...
Dingolay, ay, ay, ay ay,
Dingolay ay, ay, ay..."

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Offline WestCoast

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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2009, 06:56:25 PM »
Wait, wait, wait.....all yuh quote de wwwwwwhhhhhhhoooooooolllllleeee article to type a few words about it....dis is not ah fete in here, is madness!!.....  ??? :-\
in trute eh and TWICE :o

leh meh go back and read it eh :D

oh gaud, ah bun
« Last Edit: October 13, 2009, 08:18:29 PM by WestCoast »
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Offline Observer

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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2009, 07:38:33 PM »
Really liked this piece. Not long ago a real old talk buss out about that Denmark generation.
Great team that never won anything, but still considered great. Imagine!
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Offline Bakes

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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2009, 09:40:32 PM »
Michael Laudrup... one of the best passers ever.

Offline capodetutticapi

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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2009, 10:04:32 PM »
that team was poison.
soon ah go b ah lean mean bulling machine.

Offline Big Magician

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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #7 on: October 13, 2009, 10:12:58 PM »
that football team was very special... great to just look at...brilliant
cool read
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Offline trinikev

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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #8 on: October 14, 2009, 07:34:11 AM »
Whey sah yuh wasn't lying when yuh say this long lol.....ok back to read it now...
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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2009, 07:48:48 AM »
Really liked this piece. Not long ago a real old talk buss out about that Denmark generation.
Great team that never won anything, but still considered great. Imagine!

Eventually Denmark won the 1992 Euro tournament and 1995 Confederations Cup.

Offline trinikev

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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2009, 08:22:02 AM »
Really enjoyable read  :beermug:

Nightmare, Denmark eventually won titles in '92 and '95, but it wasn't the same team from the 80's that was the subject of the article.
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Offline kicker

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Re: Entertaining read (quite long)
« Reply #11 on: October 14, 2009, 08:54:52 AM »
Michael Laudrup... one of the best passers ever.

Not a shabby dribbler either...

His younger brother Brian was a genius player as well.  Led Denmark to the Euro title in '92.
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