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Danes still punching their weight

Denmark has a fine football tradition dating back to 1889 when their FA was founded.

Danes still punching their weight
Danes still punching their weight ©Bob Thomas/Getty Images

Founded on 18 May 1889, the Dansk Boldspil-Union (DBU) was the first national football association in mainland Europe. 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 Superliga 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 significant 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 coached the Danes at two FIFA World Cup final tournaments and during two European Championships.

Olsson was succeeded in March 2016 by Norwegian Åge Hareide, whose playing career included stinits with Manchester City FC and Norwich City FC. As a coach, Hareide has won domestic titles in Sweden with Helsingborgs IF and Malmö FF, in Norway with Rosenborg BK, and in Denmark with Brøndby.

The Danish women's team enjoyed success in reaching the semi-final of UEFA Women's EURO 2013, and the team qualified for UEFA Women's EURO 2017 in the Netherlands.

In 2015, Denmark reached the semi-finals of the European Under-21 Champonship, and also made it through to the 2017 final tournament with nine victories and a draw in the qualifying stage under coach Niels Frederiksen.

The Superliga was expanded to 14 teams for the 2016/17 season, with the campaign culiminating in a six-team championship round, and the other eight teams contesting a two-group final phase which includes UEFA Europa League qualification, direct relegation and top flight/second division promotion/relegation playoffs.     


Jesper Møller

Jesper Møller
Jesper Møller©DBU

Nationality: Danish
Date of birth: 9 June 1963
Association president since: 2014

• A lawyer by profession, Jesper Møller was an enthusiastic footballer as a youngster at Frem Skørping but he found his niche as an administrator, joining the board at Aalborg BK in 1993 and becoming chairman of the club's amateur division in 2000.

• In 1998 Møller was brought onto the Danish Football Association (DBU) board, where he represented league clubs' interests. In 2004 he became the association's vice-president, and he was then elected as president on 1 March 2014.

• "I see myself as an open and spontaneous person with a unique sense of humour," the president explained. "As president, I am going to work for openness and dialogue, solidarity and cohesion. I want dialogue with the clubs in particular."

General secretary

Jakob Jensen

Jakob Jensen
Jakob Jensen©Anders Kjærbye/dbufoto.dk

Nationality: Danish
Date of birth: 6 November 1974
Association general secretary since: 2020

• Jakob Jensen began his duties as CEO of the Danish Football Association (DBU) in March 2020. He has an educational background as a Master of Science in Political Science from Aarhus Univeristy, where he studied from 1995 to 2001. He also studied at the University of Washington from 1998 to 1999 before moving into politics.

• Jensen has held various positions as head of division, minister counsellor, deputy permanent secretary and director-general at a number of different ministries. Since 2013, he has also worked as an external examiner at four Danish universities.

• "As a boy, I ran around in the national team jersey with the DBU logo on the chest with great joy," he says. "And I'm very proud of being at the head of the organisation that still makes boys and girls of all ages play and dream of being part of something bigger. I'm looking forward to working with the fantastic volunteers in the clubs, and the many fans of the Danish national team and Danish football as a whole."