After the misery of being knocked out of the Champions League group stages for the second time in 4 seasons, there were few positives to be taken from another humbling appearance in the Europa League, certainly not in the immediate aftermath of the defeat in Wolfsburg. This competition does, however, offer up new opposition and destinations; 2012 brought an attractive tie in Amsterdam which saw thousands of United fans make the trip (or excuse for a visit to the Dam) as well as a further game in Bilbao. Nonetheless, the footballing Gods decided that instead of a repeat of one of those more glamorous ties, United would be faced with a trip to one of the smallest teams in the competition, FC Midtjylland of Herning, Denmark.
So, Midtjylland, and Herning. The kind of trip that sounds like a real pain to plan, beginning with where exactly to start? United last played in Denmark in 2008, a trip to the northern city of Aalborg in the group stages. Prior to that game it was for a defeat in Copenhagen, which looked to be the most convenient choice of route for this trip. There have been relatively few visits to any parts of Scandinavia in the past 10 years, even during preseason touring predominantly due to the size of the local stadia and therefore lack of revenue it would generate the club. FC Midtjylland epitomized this with the announcement that the capacity for our game would be less than 10,000 – United’s allocation just 800 tickets priced at £71! This was another a kick in the teeth after our relegation to the Europa League, but more frustratingly due to the fact that when Southampton visited earlier this season they were charged just £22; Midtjylland’s commercial director was brutally honest in their reasons for the price rise, not the first or last time that United and the fans will be fleeced. For what it’s worth, the ticket price issue was well publicised in the media build up to the game with some reds taking a fitting “Welcome to Scamdinavia” flag along.
Due to United’s relatively low allocation for the game I was not guaranteed to get a ticket. 741 fans had been to 3 or 4 games, 142 of those doing all 4 whilst I was one of the 599 who’d been to 3. A maximum 740 other fans vying for 800 tickets would appear to be a safe bet, however part of the total allocation was to be taken up by the club staff as well as sponsors (including travel partner Thomas Cook). This dilemma can make it more difficult to plan and book travel, the long trips aren’t quite the same when you don’t have a ticket for the match.
After pondering it and regularly checking flights to and from Copenhagen I eventually booked my outward flight for 48 quid with Scandinavian Airlines. Although it was unlikely that this price would go up to much when fans discovered if they had a match ticket it was a still a small gamble with the ticket unconfirmed. I did however hold off on purchasing the return flight which was around 85 quid. In hindsight I needn’t have worried; the credits I had for attending 3 games was enough in the end, and so with my match ticket sorted I booked the return flight on Easyjet which had unfortunately jumped up to 126. The consolation was that the outbound flight went up almost 100 quid in that time so there was a good saving by booking part of it in advance.
The flight to Copenhagen was pretty swift, just 90 mins, which got me there around 9pm local time on the Wednesday, then just a 15 minute train journey to the central station (36 kr each way – the exchange rate being around 9.6 krone : £1). The plane was about a third full of United fans, the later afternoon flight meaning most were pretty merry already with a solid session well under way.
Having looked at plenty of hotels in central Copenhagen, which seemed to average around 50-60 quid per night, I once again opted for the hostel option, with the spacious Urban House a steal at just under 35 quid for 2 nights. Situated right next to the train station and around a mile from most of the main sites in the city it was a pretty convenient choice. It was a massive place with a really good setup, a lively bar too. The beer there was one of the cheaper we had all trip at 45 kr a pint. The room I was stopping in was a cosy 8 bed, but I spent very little time in it other than getting my head down for a few hours each night.
The City of Copenhagen
I actually saw most of Copenhagen the day after the game on Friday, with pretty much all of Thursday spent in or travelling to/from Herning. It was mainly as expected, cold and expensive, the temperature sticking around 0 degrees for much of the trip and fleeting bits of snow. It was a pretty grand and picturesque place though, lots of old buildings and, like most modern European cities, full of bikes. I did all of my sightseeing by foot as everything was easy enough to walk between, though a bike might have eased my legs a little. One shop I passed was advertising a day rental for about 80 kr but there were plenty of ‘Boris Bikes’ around which were probably fairly reasonable.
The famous Tivoli gardens were pretty close to my hostel, just the other side of the station. I’d heard mixed feedback about Tivoli, an old amusement park dating back to 1843, but it sounded worth visiting. Unfortunately though it was shut for the season, until April. From here I moved onto one of the few attractions I actually paid to see, the Round Tower. This is an old observatory tower with an interesting sloped walkway the whole way up. It was just 25 kr entry and the 5 minute walk up to the top was enough to help me through my hangover. The 360 view from the top meant I could take in all of the city, and whilst fairly clear there was a small bit of cold mist in the air.
It was still pleasant enough to walk through the streets, albeit wrapped up, and through Rosenborg Castle Gardens to head to one of the main tourist spots, Nyhavn. This was just 5 minutes walk from the Round Tower. Nyhavn isn’t quite like it’s Manchester counterpart, but is a strip of bars and restaurants along the canal. It’s full of old boats and the famous coloured townhouses.
Continuing I took in a few more sights in the north of city and around the harbour. At perhaps the tip of this, probably a 20 minute walk from Nyhavn, was another famous spot, the Little Mermaid statue. Nothing too impressive and the walk to see it would probably have been better cycled but as it’s been there over 100 years it gives it legs. Just before reaching the statue there was the National Gallery of Denmark who were promoting their ‘David collection’ with another familiar sculpture. I nipped across the harbour on my way back into the main city centre and passed the Church of our Saviour with it’s distinct spiral tower. The church was close to Christiania on the well named Pusher Street; this was a pretty interesting area, what sounded like a hippy community with lots of stalls selling weed. There were plenty of signs around pointing out their 3 rules; No photos, No running, Have fun. I did manage to sneak a few pictures around the entrance and of their campaign to help identify the Manchester canal pusher.
After a few more drinks back in the city centre I headed out to the much quieter west side which housed the Carlsberg headquarters and factory. This was about 25 minutes walk from the central station but so quiet with hardly any other bars or anything much around. I opted not to do the brewery tour which was less than 100 kr; I’ve seen a fair few breweries and after having drunk predominantly Carlsberg all trip (paying an average of 48 kr a pint) I was happy enough to leave it.
The City of Herning
FC Midtjylland are based in the city of Herning, just under 200 miles west from Copenhagen and on the mainland of Denmark. It’s a small place as we found out on arrival, a population of around 50,000 and very little to see which justified the decision to stop in Copenhagen. The train over was 770 kr on the day, had I been a bit more proactive I might have been able to book a cheaper advance – or, pay the penalty fare which was 750 kr! Quite a few reds jumped on the 9am train which got us in just before midday, some of these were stopping in Herning for the night with the last train back at 10pm (the game finishing at 9pm local time) but we made that with plenty of time in the end. It was a pleasant journey though, the train crossing two bridges which connected the smaller islands to the mainland, one of these was pretty much at sea level so the views were great. A handy pack of Tuborg for 50 kr helped pass the time for the 3 hours we were on it. A handful of reds we bumped into at Herning station had opted to stop in nearby Billund, home of Legoland. From the sounds of things this was another pretty quiet part of Denmark, with the lads we spoke to actually heading from the centre of Billund back to the airport bar due to a lack of other options!
We jumped into one of the local pubs first for a cheaper pint before finding where most United fans had congregated on pretty much the only strip of bars in the city. Here we bumped into champion boxer Ant Crolla who had come over on the Thomas Cook day trip, a top red who makes it to a lot of games despite his schedule. We did, however, miss Sir Bobby Charlton and Ed Woodward who’d passed by earlier and were probably wise to keep themselves away from the reds drinking on the main street. After a solid afternoon session and with the fans all in good voice, we left for the ground, a 45 minute walk avoided thanks to a load of local shuttle buses which got us there in 10 minutes.
A few more pre-match pints were had in a hotel next to the ground where a number of reds had stopped; aside from the MCH Arena there was just this hotel, a car park and the adjacent Jyske Bank Boxen arena which hosts gigs and other events. Aside from that it was eerily quiet in the immediate area so not a hotel I’d of opted to stop at, it did however serve 3 pints for 100 kr, the cheapest we paid all trip.
The MCH Arena was just a single tier all round, the 12,000 capacity only receiving a 9,200 attendance on the night due to the UEFA restrictions. There were obviously some bitter feelings from the United fans around the ticket prices but it was also absolutely freezing which didn’t help the mood of the night. To add to this United were suffering from a large number of injuries, which added to the young players in the starting XI, some making their debuts for the club. After a promising (of sorts) start and taking the lead, we were pinned back and lucky to stay level with stand in keeper Sergio Romero making a few good saves. The 2nd half was no good at all, going behind after a really uninspiring performance from the United players which, given the form over the past few months, led to the fans boiling over a bit and giving an honest assessment; “fucking shite.”
The stewards decided to hold us back in the ground after the game, which we’d not expected to happen given that the majority of us needed to be back on the last train, however it ended up being just 10 minutes or so before the gates ‘opened’. There wasn’t too much optimism on the journey back, there’s so much uncertainly around the club’s current situation which isn’t helping on or off the pitch. We never let the result get in the way of a good trip, results will be one of the last reasons I’d stop going, but it’s great when we’re able to enjoy more of it.
The return leg is next Thursday and a 1-0 win would see us scrape through to the next round, with the draw for that on Friday. It’s hard to really think about the next trip and who we might face but the players owe it to the fans to turn it around next week. Looking further ahead we’re currently 5th in the league and in danger of slipping out of the European positions all together. I would hate to see another 18 months with no Euro away trips to look forward to after Moyes left us with that in 2014, so come on reds.
Total travel costs: £262
Miles travelled: 1,620
Accommodation: £17/night (shared room)
Match ticket: 720 kr (£71)
Average cost of pint: 48 kr (£5)
United Allocation: 800
Result: FC Midtjylland 2: United 1
Match played 18/02/16