Founded on 18 May 1889, the Dansk Boldspil-Union (DBU) was the first national football association on mainland Europe. Yet, at the time, only one of the 20 clubs in Copenhagen was dedicated exclusively to football. Even the first DBU president, FIA Markmann, had a background in cricket and tennis.
Football, like cricket, had been introduced to Denmark by British expatriates who arrived from 1847 to build the railways. Where cricket's appeal remained limited to more privileged social circles, soccer rapidly became the popular sport. It was first presented to a curious public in September 1879 by the Københavns Boldclub (KB), whose flourishing football department had 70 members. By 1881 KB were able to establish a youth section and, on 16 December 1883, they arranged Denmark's first domestic club match. Football then prospered, to the extent where the Danish Labour Party threw its weight behind the new working-class pastime.
As early as the 1889/90 season, the DBU sponsored a competition involving seven Copenhagen teams. A Danish championship was played in 1913, yet it was not until 1929/30 that a full-blown league was organised with ten sides in the first division. A second division was added in 1936 and a third in 1945. Structural modifications followed in 1958 when the established autumn/spring campaign was changed to a calendar-year season, ending in November, and the three divisions were expanded to 12 teams each. In 1992 the Danish Superleague was launched and, immediately, the campaign reverted to autumn/spring. The first five years of this new-look competition produced five different champions, confirming a renewed spread of power in the national game.
Denmark had, meanwhile, taken a pioneering role in European football with Ebbe Schwartz becoming the first President of UEFA in 1954. For all that innovation, though, the country was nudged somewhat into the wilderness as continental soccer became divided between western professionalism and eastern amateurism: it was not until 1971 that the DBU accepted foreign-based professionals in the senior international side.
After two decades out in the cold, with only a silver medal at the 1960 Olympic Games to show for their efforts, the Danes embraced semi-professionalism in 1978. Just nine of the 48 league clubs opted to retain amateur status. Even so, it took another seven years before Brøndby IF signed 20 full-time players to become the nation's first all-professional squad.
All the while, Denmark's youth development programmes were nurturing sufficient talent for Allan Simonsen to be crowned European Footballer of the Year in 1977. Soon the national team were playing a major role on the world stage. Their stylish performances would be rewarded in 1992 when Denmark won the UEFA European Championship held in Sweden. The national side have qualified for 11 of the last 15 major tournaments – including six successive EUROs from 1984–2004 – with a litany of Danish talents sparkling at elite level. None shone brighter than Michael Laudrup who was elected the All-Time Greatest Danish Player in 2007.
Another key figure has been Morten Olsen. The first player to reach 100 Denmark caps, in 1989, he became a club coach at home and abroad before, in 2000, being appointed national team boss. Olsen's contribution was underlined in the FIFA World Cup qualifier against Sweden in October 2009 which secured the country's place in the South Africa finals: it was his 100th international as coach, making him Denmark's first centurion as both player and manager. He has now coached the Danes at two EURO and two World Cup final tournaments.
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