Denmark vs Ireland, Copenhagen – June 2019
Denmark June 2019. The best way to arrive in Copenhagen is perhaps across the Øresund, that bit of water which connects the Baltic Sea with the North Sea. And the best way across it is by the almost five mile-long bridge, completed in 2000, and since made famous by Danish/Swedish crime drama series The Bridge starring Kim Bodnia – now the insufferable Russian handler, Konstantin, in Killing Eve – and Sofia Helin. A quick drop off at the Hotel Loeven, an overpriced flophouse to be honest, and it was down to see the sights. This was my fifth visit to Copenhagen and as I’d seen so much of it before I gave the regular sights a miss. The Tivoli Gardens – a tourist trap I’d yet to be snared into and open for the first time on any of my visits – was not really my bag despite it being of significant historical interest as the second oldest amusement park in the world (the first is at Dyrehavsbakken in a northern suburb). The Little Mermaid had long been crossed off on my list. Dubbed the most disappointing tourist attraction in the world, it’s a title I wouldn’t argue with. Located to the north of the city centre, getting there involves a train ride and an irregular bus journey before walking through residential streets. However one of the best ways of seeing Copenhagen is by doing a walking tour, often free in that you pay the guide in tips.
“Randy Paddies Shock Sex Mad Danes.”
I walked 50 yards up the Vesterbrogade from my hotel to the scene of one of the most notorious in Irish football fan history, the City Pub. On the evening of 13 November 1984, the night before Ireland’s 3-0 defeat to Denmark, an inebriated couple of unknown origin, were beginning to take things further than were suitable for a family bar. Predictably enough due to the drunkenness of the male, there was little success and the incident didn’t make up the gossip doing the rounds the next day. However, there was something brewing, and like the Chernobyl incident 18 months later, the first dispatches landing our way were from far to the west of Ground Zero. A friend of mine out in Copenhagen had an indignant call from his cousin out in Mayo, because that Irish scandal rag The Sunday World, ran an article on the couple’s antics called “Randy Paddies Shock Sex Mad Danes.” Now Copenhagen has cleaned up its act since the 70s and 80s, but back in 1984 one could walk into a Danish newsagent and pick up your Marathon, 20 B&H, The Sporting Life and possibly add to the basket a magazine depicting a woman attempting copulation with some barnyard animal. Ergo, shocking ‘sex mad’ Danes entailed more than failed drunken heterosexual intercourse in a bar at midnight. I spoke to the bar man about the event – he’d only worked there for 20 years – and he was rather amused with the story, especially as I described the rag as on the one hand running such sleazy stories, while on the other having a 40-something virgin in a frock calling himself father, giving advice on marital affairs. I did ask about a drink I had on my first visit, introduced to me by conscripted young soldiers. Think of a Bloody Mary, but with a tomato juice made solely of chillies instead of tomatoes. A Flaming Mary if you will. Sadly, the barman had never heard of it, and any desire for a Scoville-scale busting hit for my chilli addiction would have to be met at the kebab shop back by the hotel.
There was no time for that, so off further down the road, across the road from the Tivoli I stopped at The Old Irish pub, next door to the suspiciously similar sounding Old English. This chain, I was later informed, was selling beer at 20kr (£2.40). I didn’t try it; the fact that one bloke I spoke to, claimed he’d drunk seven pints already and was still fairly comprehensible suggested I wasn’t missing much either. I briefly met up with a friends, including Steve from Amsterdam and Fiona, an early 30s Copenhagen-born woman with an Irish mother. I’m always fascinated meeting people born on the continent of Irish parentage. Like myself, they tend to have one ‘foreign’ parent. I joked with Steve (half Irish and half Dutch) about the film Goodfellas and how we were like Henry Hill. Unlike the character played by Joe Pesci, Tommy DeVito, who gets ‘made’, the central character Hill (Ray Liotta) can never reaches such Wiseguy heights, because his old man was Irish. To be ‘made’ necessitates having pure Italian blood. Anyway, this was irrelevant to DeVito, who upon walking into a party to celebrate his promotion, promptly gets whacked, revenge for having stiffed a rival for reminding him of his shoe shining days. Fiona was a bit confused about it all, never having seen a film released when she was a toddler, nor the relevance to us which, come to think of it, wasn’t much. None of us had shined shoes, been ‘made’, or ‘whacked’ anyone as far as I knew.
Shortly after, I moved onto to meet other friends at the Southern Cross, an Australian-cum-Irish bar on Løngangstræde that I had drank in the previous year. Back then I had bumped into a local father and son on a night out. The father was a roofer but the son was a medical student, something his dad was naturally rather proud of. But the son explained how his rather meek background and his standard state schooling didn’t prevent him following his dream of being a doctor. This was Scandinavian socialism at its best I thought. What part said socialism has played in the Danish capital’s reputation as a pricey city is debatable. Taxes on booze are high indeed, but it also depends what you consider pricey. A couple of years ago I worked out that – if I could somehow blag a lift to Luton Airport – it was cheaper to spend a Bank Holiday August weekend in Copenhagen (hotel and flight) than Great Yarmouth. However, I work by what my son calls the BeerDAQ index, where the expense of a city is measured purely by the price of a pint. Copenhagen on the face of it is only beaten on alcohol prices by Oslo, Reykjavik and maybe some of those Arabian Emirates that like to fleece drinkers. It is most definitely Blue Chip. But if you work to what I’d called the Bob Jones Index – which I’ve named after the abstentionist bigot, whose South Carolina university he founded in 1927 is most famous in Ireland for granting Ian Paisley senior an honorary doctorate – then Copenhagen is still expensive, but cheaper than much of rip-off Britain, and indeed Ireland. For instance, it is £4.20 from Kastrup Airport by train, and cheaper by metro. The cheapest fare from Heathrow is £10.50.
“The Spring Universe”
Copenhagen, for a couple of decades a poor man’s version of Amsterdam, now markets itself also on being a cultured foody centre with highbrow restaurants like Geranium – located at the north corner of the Parken Stadium – where according to its website, “The Spring Universe” meal will leave you with little change from £300. This place was, what someone I know labels far inferior gastropubs, too ‘ponsified’ for my liking. Geranium’s mission “to create meals that involve all our senses” that “restores, challenges and enriches” punters, reminds me of Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, and such a place being a centre of gastronomic heaven was as credible as invisible clothes being the latest in high fashion. But I’d be happy to change my mind if I were to get a Flaming Mary there.
I’m not a bacon sarnie man, I just want an honest bite
On my last visit I got a taste of a batch of what looked like grass in the Southern Cross. Scandinavians are big on such stuff, and they seem to like dumping it on the breakfast buffet along with rotting fish. I’m not a bacon sarnie man, I just want an honest bite. So I stopped off at on the way out to the Parken and enjoyed a delicious veggie burger and chips at Café Munk on Nørre Farimagsgade for around £18. Perhaps a bit pricey, and sadly the alcohol on offer failed to rise above 2% due to the restaurant waiting for their licence. But the free tap water was almost on par with Evian. Even cheaper is the street food market Reffen out on Refshaleøn on the opposite side of the harbour from the Little Mermaid for those on a tighter budget.
84th minute equaliser
We arrived at the Parken close to kick off. The game was one of those where Ireland should have lost but could have just as easily won, with Callum Robinson coming close to adding to Shane Duffy’s 84th minute equaliser in injury time. Duffy may have been the hero on the pitch, but the one off it was a stadium steward called Kim, who helped waylaid Irish fans succumbing to a combination of beer and fast food up and down the stairs. To be fair, the away stand was a semi-permanent structure – removable for concerts so I’m told – in which the metal flooring became slippery with the passage of time and spilt beer. I asked Kim for his name and I tried to impress him that he shares the same Christian name as one of Denmark’s famous actors. “I don’t watch this Bridge programme” he replied with a curious smile. “Sorry to disappoint you but I don’t know who that actor is.”
Friday night in Copenhagen was busy, possibly busier per mile than much of London. I opted for a few drinks at the Shamrock Inn behind the Old Irish on Jernbanegade, where beers were as low as 40Kr (£4.80), leaving at a respectable (for Copenhagen) 3am, so as to be in reasonable condition for my midday flight to Stansted. The next morning at the Central (Hovedbanegård) Station, I was summoned by an elderly group of Spanish women to help them out. My good deed for the day was aided by me being a Castilian speaker, managing to get the four through the ticket machine process that only had instructions in English and Danish. They were off to Malmo and asked me if I had been there. “¿Como estaba?” they enquired, and laughed at my instant reply: “Es aburrido” (It’s boring). But at least the BeerDAQ will be lower there than here.