Danish champions FC Nordsjaelland have been through their share of off-field trauma in recent years, but the results have kept on coming.
It’s been a good year for FC Nordsjælland. After back-to-back cup successes in 2010 and 2011, the modest Danish club – based in the North Zealand town of Farum on the northern outskirts of Copenhagen – won its first Superligaen championship in May, 10 years after being promoted to the top division for the first time.
As a result, FCN will make their Champions League debut this week when they travel to the Donbass Arena in Ukraine to meet Shakhtar Donetsk. Considering the club started life in the Danish fifth tier only 21 years ago, it’s been a remarkable rise. Indeed, when you factor in two corruption scandals and various financial problems, it’s almost unbelievable.
The club was founded as Farum Boldklub on 1 January 1991 when a group of Farum residents decided to merge two local clubs, Farum Idraetsklub and Stavnsholt FC. The clubs’ colours were also combined, the blue and yellow of Farum Idraetsklub and the red and white of Stavnsholt creating the red and yellow kit the club still wears today.
With the support of Farum’s mayor, Peter Brixtofte – who became the club’s chairman and helped secure vital sponsorship money – the club earned promotion to the fourth tier in its first season. However, it wasn’t until the end of 1990s that Farum really kicked on. Consecutive promotions in 1998 and 1999 saw the club join the second tier – the first division – turn professional for the first time and move to a new, modern stadium, the 10,000-capacity Farum Park.
It quickly became clear that Farum’s hopes of a triple promotion were a pipe dream. Even before the halfway point of the 1999-00 season, the club looked destined for a mid-table finish. The response from the chairman was swift and brutal. Despite having steered the club from the fourth tier in 1994 to the professional divisions, manager Jørgen Tideman was sacked. His replacement, Per Benjaminsen, could do little better, and the club finished eighth in its inaugural season in the division. Hardly an embarrassment, but not exactly the swashbuckling domination to which Farum and its supporters had become accustomed.
The 2000-01 season followed a similar pattern. When it looked like Benjaminsen’s side were going to miss out on promotion, he was dumped. Tom Nielsen took the reins for the last few months of the season, but he too failed to impress and was relieved of his duties in record time. Farum finished the season fifth – and manager-less.
It was Farum’s third season in the first division that changed everything – on and off the pitch. Christian Andersen was poached from B93 to steady the ship and brought with him striker Jeppe Tengbjerg, who immediately established himself as a poacher extraordinaire. With Tengbjerg up front, Farum made a blistering start to the season and looked set for the promotion they craved.
Then, in February 2002, as the business end of the season approached, all hell broke loose. Farum’s chairman, Peter Brixtofte, was accused of abusing his role as mayor to fund a Champagne lifestyle. Danish newspapers claimed he regularly used public funds to buy £800 bottles of red wine from a restaurant in which he was a shareholder and that he intimidated councillors and prevented them from investigating his spending.
Even more damaging was the revelation that Brixtofte had dragged Farum Boldklub into the scandal. In exchange for sponsorship money for the club, Brixtofte had signed hugely inflated deals with private companies to provide council services. On one occasion, Brixtofte instructed his secretary to delay payment of an invoice so that a friend could claim £35,000 in late fees.
A few days after the allegations came to light, Brixtofte resigned from his role as chairman. Farum’s fans could have been forgiven for thinking their exhilarating adventure had come to an end. The club had been shaken to its core and stripped of its main source of income (the various sponsorships deals were deemed void and annulled). Somehow, though, the Wild Tigers’ march continued apace. They finished second, earning promotion to the pinnacle of Danish football and cementing their reputation as an open, attacking side in the process.
After a slow start – one win from their first four games – Farum settled nicely into the Superligaen. By the time the winter break came around at the beginning of December 2002, the club sat in third place, behind only FC Copenhagen and Brondby. After the turmoil of the previous season, it seemed too good to be true.
Unfortunately, it was. The club had soldiered on without its main sponsors, but the coffers were in desperate need of replenishment. When the league restarted in March, the club was on the brink of bankruptcy.
In the nick of time, local businessman Allan Pedersen stepped in and bought the club, investing the funds necessary to keep Farum going. Amazingly, the performances on the field were not affected by the boardroom troubles and the club held on to third place, qualifying for Europe and ticking off yet another ‘first’.
At the end of the season, Pedersen decided to rename Farum Boldsklub in an attempt to distance the club from Brixtofte – who has since been jailed for his crimes – and the troubles of the last two years. In July 2003, the club was rebranded FC Nordsjaelland, after the region in which it is located, North Zealand.
To emphasise the club’s regional focus, Pedersen created Fodbold Samarbejde Nordsjælland (FSN), a regional collective of clubs designed to foster the development of young players. In exchange for tickets, friendly matches and sponsorship, FCN get first dibs on any youngsters from the 70-plus clubs who make up the network. The ingenious model has attracted criticism in some quarters for being predatory, but it has proved very successful.
That said, the change in ownership and the adoption of a youth-focused model did not reap rewards immediately. In their next three seasons, FCN finished ninth, 10th and ninth in the 12-team league. It was not until the appointment of former Celtic midfielder Morten Weighorst as manager that the club’s results picked up.
Under Weighorst, FCN finished fifth, buoyed by the goals of Morten Nordstrand, signed on a free from first division side Lyngby. At the end of the season, Nordstrand was sold to FC Copenhagen for a Danish record transfer fee, 15m kroner (about £1.6m).
Little of that hard-earned cash found its way into the transfer budget, though: it was used to shore up the club’s shaky finances. Despite his best efforts, Pedersen had not managed to shake completely the Brixtofte albatross, and the situation was not helped by the fact FCN’s attendances had dropped since the scandal. Rumour has it that Pedersen wanted to move the club north to Hillerød and expand into ice hockey and basketball, but no such move ever transpired. In any case, having sold their star striker, the club only managed ninth place in 2007-08.
Controversy hit the club again the following season. In October 2008, Pedersen sold the club – technically owned by his holding company, AKP Holding – to himself for a reported figure of 500,000 kroner (about £50,000) days before AKP went bust.
Following an investigation by AKP’s creditors, it emerged that the sale had been forced through without the bank’s consent at an artificially low price. The club was revalued and found to be worth £3.8m at the time of the sale, 76 times the supposed sale price. Pedersen denies selling the club at the lower price and the case has gone to the Danish Supreme Court.
But the team was unruffled by yet more off-field shenanigans. In fact, FCN have enjoyed their most successful period yet since the Pedersen controversy, lifting the Danish Cup in 2010 and 2011 – becoming the first team to win the tournament in two consecutive seasons since AGF in 1988 – and winning the league for the first time last year, with a squad that featured a record five Danish internationals. Their handsome and well-deserved reward is qualification for Europe’s richest, most glamorous competition, the Champions League, and ties against Shakhtar Donetsk, Chelsea and Juventus.
If ever proof were required for the adage 'what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, the story of FC Nordsjaelland surely provides it.