Home > Random Rovers thoughts, Travel > Not quite a Danish fairy tale in the Champions League

Not quite a Danish fairy tale in the Champions League

Shamrock Rovers are rightly proud of our history. Alongside the many tales of domestic glory, the stories of playing the giants of European football like Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Glasgow Celtic, sustained many Rovers fans in the difficult years following the club’s exile from Milltown. Six years ago if you were a Rovers fan you were likely to be reading the court pages rather than the sports pages as the club’s existence hung by a thread during the period when the club was in Examinership. Five years ago the away trips were to St. Mel’s Park, St. Colman’s Park or a ground even a Saint wouldn’t want to go in, Hogan Park in Limerick. But in 2011 the away trips require a passport as we head to foreign lands humming the Champions League theme tune in our heads. Tallinn and Copenhagen have been the destinations so far and tomorrow we will find out where we head to as Rovers chase entry in the Europa League Group stages.

With Rovers claiming the required 0-0 draw in Tallinn in their second qualifying round second leg to go with the 1-0 home win, it was a quick turnaround with back to back away trips to get to Copenhagen for the next round the following week. The day trip to Denmark was booked out before I had even got back to Ireland the day after the game in Estonia so I booked on with the official club trip. This had around 60 seats available for supporters to travel on with the official Shamrock Rovers group made up of 40 players and officials. It was the equivalent of travelling on the team bus to an away game so it was a bit of a novel experience travelling on the same airplane as the team. The players were located at the front of the plane that didn’t have a first class section so Dan Murray, Craig Sives and Ciarán Kilduff had to squeeze their lengthy frames into the same size seats individuals like Gary McCabe and myself could readily fit in. All the players were in official Rovers gear with a few additions like Gary O’Neill’s non-Umbro branded headwear and Billy Dennehy’s massive footballer headphones for his iPod!

The Captain welcomed “Michael O’Neill and his Rovers team” on board over the PA having been well briefed by a Rovers fan who works on the ground crew in Dublin Airport. By early lunchtime, we were all in Copenhagen with the team heading to their hotel on the outskirts of the City and the rest of us making our own way into the city centre. This allowed us time for a stroll around the city to get a feel for the place. A good place to start was in the Town Hall tower that affords great views of Copenhagen even on an overcast Tuesday. Having been watching “The Killing” on DVD, I recognised this as the location where the office of candidate for Copenhagen Mayor Troels Hartmann works.

There wasn’t a huge amount of sight seeing time for me, as this was somewhat of a working trip for me. In the previous Champions League round, I had managed to get the gig reporting on the match for the Irish Times as weren’t sending anyone to cover the game. The opportunity arose through contacts I had made when volunteering at the Europa League final and my contributions to the Rovers programme. However it was mainly due to the fact I was travelling out there anyway and Emmet Malone was kind enough to ask me. It did mean giving up watching the game with my friends and fellow supporters in order to cover the match for the newspaper and it was a bit of a learning curve for me.

The Irish journalists were very accommodating to me in Tallinn and also in Copenhagen with the same crew travelling out for that game including Paul O’Hehir, Owen Cowzer, Daniel McDonnell, Philip Quinn and Paul Lennon who were joined on the Copenhagen trip by Emmet Malone. This time around I was covering the game for the Irish Examiner. On the back of the match report in Tallinn, I had carried out an interview over the phone for Danish TV3 who televised the match in Copenhagen. They used a few minutes of audio and lifted a photo of me for the piece off the Internet holding up a Rovers jersey at the 2009 Rovers Player of the Year award with Graham Barrett cut out of the photo. I certainly didn’t come across as the most objective of journalists referring to Rovers as “we” in both the piece they used or when asking a question of Michael O’Neill at the pre-match press conference in Copenhagen much to the amusement of the professional journalists there. Maybe Michael O’Neill was wondering who the person in the Hoops SC T-Shirt referring to his team as “we” was at the press conference! The Copenhagen press officer recognised me off the TV when I turned up at the conference much to my own amusement!


Roland Nilsson pre-match conference was carried out all in English. I’m sure Nilsson was trying not to be condescending but he was certain who was going to win the game the following evening. “We are favourites definitely.” The press got the opportunity to talk to the Copenhagen players pitch side but the only player the Irish journalists wanted to speak to was a certain Thomas Joseph Delaney. This Dane had obvious Irish connections but when asked they were from the 1800s rather than the 1980s so it wasn’t quite what they had hoped for. Ideally for my newspaper target audience I was hoping he had some Cork ancestry but it wasn’t to be!

With a 500 word piece filed, it was a quick bus ride back into the city centre. To give an idea of the cost in Copenhagen, the 15 minute bus ride cost nearly €4. There were some horror stories of burger, chips and a beer costing €27 but we availed of some reasonably priced drinks that evening watching Rangers lose at home to Malmo (which may ultimately mean Rovers may now play Rangers in Europe later this month).

Match day came around with it being a bright sunny day in Copenhagen and a chance to do some more sightseeing in the morning including the Little Mermaid and some of Copenhagen’s modern architecture before catching up with some of the Rovers fans that had arrived by lunchtime on the day trip. Out at the Parken Stadium ahead of kick off, lots of Rovers fans were perusing the merchandise in the Copenhagen club shop that is significantly bigger than our own impressive shop in Tallaght. Don’t know whether we’d be allowed sell a Rovers own brand beer but the Copenhagen Carlsberg beer is an interesting idea.

The Rovers fans, numbering somewhere over 200, were located behind the goal beside the dressing rooms and that allowed them to greet their team with great gusto when they emerged for the game. The attendance on the night would touch just over 11,000 including a sizeable Copenhagen Ultras section down the opposite end of the ground. The home fans must have thought the match would be a walkover when the scored within four minutes of the kick off but they maybe weren’t aware of the resilience of this Rovers team. Rovers created plenty of chances during the game and were unlucky not to score from chances that fell to Dennehy in the first half or Finn, Oman or Twigg in the second half. Admittedly they also rode their luck at the back but Ryan Thompson stood firm on a night he became the first Jamaican to play in the Champions League. The match ended 1-0 matching Michael O’Neill’s objective of keeping the tie alive for Tallaght.

Speaking to the press after the game, O’Neill was honest in his assessment of the game and it showed the measure of where this Rovers team is when he said that “there is a slight hint of disappointment to have lost the game to be honest.” Roland Nilsson came in to say a few words to the press but with deadlines looming was told actually he wasn’t needed for quotes. He was happy to head off with one member of the Irish press core joking after that it’s not often you tell a bronze medal World Cup winner to essentially f— off, we don’t want to talk to you! With match reports filed, it was time head to the airport with the buses carrying the players and supporters getting a police escort out of the city towards the airport for our 00:15 flight.

Ultimately, the fact that Rovers couldn’t get that crucial away goal in Copenhagen would handicap them in the return leg and so when the Danish team scored just before half time in Tallaght effectively ending the tie. Shamrock Rovers as a team and as a club can take lots of positives from the experience of the Champions League and hopefully that will all be helpful as we attempt to become the first Irish club to qualify for the group stages of a European competition. Watching the draw on UEFA.com on Friday lunchtime we will find out where Rovers will be taking us next.

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