As nicknames go, the ‘New Firm’ tag afforded to Copenhagen's derby is fairly revealing. Like the Glasgow ‘Old Firm’ from which Denmark’s biggest fixture has taken its name, the clubs involved – Brondby and FC Copenhagen – have preserved their city’s dominance, while also maintaining a mutual and occasionally violent enmity.
However, as the ‘new’ element to its moniker would suggest, this is not a derby with the history of its Scottish equivalent. Celtic and Rangers had been battling each other for well over a century by the time this Danish duo first met, and yet, as FIFA.com discovered, the short story of this fixture has already produced plenty of fascinating twists.
This was a rivalry born on 1 July 1992, when the landscape of Danish club football was changed forever by an historic merger. At the time, Brondby were the nation’s dominant force and, after coming within a minute of reaching the previous season’s UEFA Cup final, had provided several of the key players in that year’s UEFA European Championship-winning Denmark side.
Behind the scenes, however, the club had been left heavily in debt by its controversial purchase of a bank, ensuring that conditions were perfect for its pre-eminent position to come under attack. That challenge duly materialised when two former champions, KB and B1903, amalgamated under a new banner: FC Copenhagen (FCK). This new team were never likely to be also-rans. With 15 national titles to their name, KB were - and remain - the most successful side in Denmark’s history, although their star had steadily faded, with all but three of those championships won prior to 1953.
Brondby were nonetheless concerned at the prospect of these past glories being revived, and their misgivings only intensified when the new kids on the block were given permission to set up home in the recently-built national stadium, right in the heart of Copenhagen. As everyone now knows, they had every right to be worried.
Facts and figures
Much to Brondby’s chagrin, the numbers speak for themselves where the New Firm is concerned. Since that fateful 1992 merger, FCK have won nine Superliga titles to their rivals’ five, enjoying supremacy that has become increasingly marked over recent years. Brondby, whose last championship came over six years ago, have also come off second best in individual encounters, managing just 28 wins to 35 losses. They also go into Sunday’s latest New Firm derby having failed to win any of the last eight, with FCK unbeaten in the fixture since August 2008, having won six and drawn two of the sides’ most recent meetings.
Tales of derbies past
The very first match between these Danish rivals took place at Brondby Stadium on 9 September 1992, with the spoils shared in a 1-1 draw. However, a rematch the following month at the gleaming 38,000-seater Parken provided a warning of what was to come. FCK ran out comfortable 2-0 winners, and would go on to take the title in their very first season.
Across the city, spiralling debts were threatening Brondby’s very existence, but a rescue plan kept the club in business and precipitated a memorable fightback in the mid-90s. With Ebbe Skovdahl at the helm, the pendulum swung back towards the city’s suburbs, as Brondby won three successive titles between 1996 and 1998 and even enjoyed a famous victory over Liverpool in the UEFA Cup. A run of five consecutive derby victories between May 1996 and July 1997 appeared to offer further evidence that the old order had been restored, but it wasn’t long before there was another dramatic switch in the balance of power.
Since making it three-in-a-row in ‘98, in fact, Brondby have won the title just twice, and have been helpless to prevent the seemingly unassailable ascent of their city centre rivals. While his tenure was brief, Roy Hodgson’s arrival at the Parken in 2000 heralded the beginning of a new era for FCK, with that season’s Superliga won in fairytale fashion. Sealing the championship with a 3-1 win over Brondby would have been satisfying enough, but the game was illuminated by a sublime bicycle kick from the club’s South African striker Sibusiso Zuma, later voted the Superliga’s goal of the decade.
The following season ended in disappointment for FCK, as they blew a ten-point lead and were pipped to the title on goal difference by their suburban rivals. However, revenge was exacted in dramatic fashion the following season, when – drawing 0-0 with Brondby in a penultimate match they needed to win – FCK snatched victory two minutes into stoppage time thanks to a first-ever goal from youngster Hjalte Norregaard. The championship followed a week later, and while Brondby have subsequently enjoyed isolated moments of triumph – most notably a New Firm record 5-0 win in May 2005 – living in their neighbours’ shadow has become an accustomed and uncomfortable reality.
The rivalry today
Although they boast just 19 years of shared history, these clubs have developed very distinct identities, with Brondby the club of the working-class suburbs and FC Copenhagen appealing to the city centre’s businessmen and professionals. Sadly, as the rivalry has grown, so too has the level of violence, with unsavoury incidents both inside and outside the stadiums forcing authorities to begin a contentious policy of asking fans to provide fingerprints when purchasing derby tickets.
On the field, FCK continue to reign supreme. Having won the title in eight of the last 11 seasons, they have even been able to allow their focus to drift towards Europe, where they last season became the first Danish cub to qualify from the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. The 2010/11 Superliga title was also won at a canter, the finishing post crossed with seven games to spare, and recent evidence would suggest a fourth successive championship is more than likely to follow.
Indeed, with only nine matches played of season 2011/12, Brondby already find themselves 16 points adrift of their unbeaten rivals. As for FCK, the league leaders and reigning champions, they will go into Sunday’s derby confident of silencing the hostile home crowd, and of cementing their position as the New Firm’s dominant partner.