'Gør drenge til mænd - og mænd til drenge' ('Turn boys into men and men into boys') - FC Copenhagen certainly lived up to their motto on Wednesday night, securing an unexpected 2-0 away win over Ajax in Amsterdam to qualify for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the Danish champion's history.
A strike from Michael Silberbauer and an own goal from Ajax's Thomas Vermaelen were enough to help the Danes overcome the 1-2 deficit from the home leg two weeks earlier - a result which had led to many pundits writing off their chances. The unexpected nature of the victory made qualification for the lucrative group stage all the sweeter, particularly when the draw pitched them against such illustrious teams as Manchester United, Celtic and Benfica in Group F .
"It's a historic day for FC Copenhagen, and something we've been working towards for a long while," smiled Norwegian coach Ståle Solbakken. "I'm both proud and happy. Now we have new challenges ahead of us." "It will be incredible to play in the Champions League. It'll be good for us and for all of Danish football," said midfielder Jesper Grønkjaer on the club's official website.
Having won a number of league championships (1993, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2006) and also two Scandinavian "Royal League" trophies (2005 and 2006), FC Copenhagen have now added another page to their history book by qualifying for European football's elite competition. Before the new season began, the team picked up a number of new recruits, including Grønkjaer from VFB Stuttgart and Claus Jensen from English Premier League team Fulham.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic is the fact that the team has only existed since 1 July 1992, when Copenhagen clubs KB and B 1903 merged. At the time, KB had a strong fan-base and the support of local businesses, while B 1903 had the better team and, critically, a place in the top division. It was decided to combine the two teams in an attempt to break the monopoly of Brøndby IF, who had dominated Danish football since the mid-80s and who won five championships between 1985 and 1991. Only the first XI of the two teams was merged, however, with the two clubs maintaining their traditional independent set-ups as far as the youth teams were concerned.
Timing is always of the essence, and the Copenhagen teams could not have chosen a better moment for their merger, coming as it did hot on the heels of Denmark's surprise victory at EURO 1992 in Sweden. This, combined with the construction of the new ultra-modern and exceptionally spectator-friendly Parken Stadium in 1991/1992 was all it took to form a new fan-base in the capital.
A little success also went a long way, particularly when the new team won the league in their first season in 1992-1993, establishing record attendance figures while they were at it. Whilst the team was almost exclusively made up of B 1903 players, the blue lion's head and the white and blue kit were very reminiscent of KB's kit, thus uniting both sets of fans.
This early success underscored the decision of the two teams' boards of directors, and since then, FC Copenhagen have firmly established themselves as Denmark's premier club, winning four league titles this decade as well as enjoying cup success. Other teams have since followed FC Copenhagen's lead, both in Denmark and abroad, including SpVgg Greuther Fürth in the German second division in 1995 (they merged with TSV Vestenbergsgreuth).
FC Copenhagen have been setting new standards both on the field and off it, in terms of marketing. Parken Sports & Entertainment A/S, who own the stadium and also FC Copenhagen, have built up the club and are currently very much in the black. In 2001, the Parken Stadium was renovated and fitted with a retractable roof, turning it into a multi-purpose arena. Parken Sports & Entertainment A/S has also expanded in recent years, owning not only the entire Parken Stadium complex but also the local handball team FCK Håndbold, whom they acquired in 2002.
Chairman of the board Flemming Østergaard sees Champions League qualification as confirmation of the fact that the club is on the right track, while at the same time keeping his feet on the ground. "While we are over the moon to have qualified for the Champions League, we've not forgotten the basic tenets of FC Copenhagen - looking to the future, achieving our goals and working hard," he says.
Østergaard knows that continued success in Europe can only be achieved by good results in the domestic championship, and thus it comes back to the subject of hard work and not getting carried away. A reminder that success does not come automatically came as recently as last Sunday, when FC Copenhagen lost to strugglers AaB at home in the league 2-0, leaving the team from the capital in third place, five points off the top.
Things should be different, however, when the team play their first Champions League match, at home to Benfica on 13 September. More than 40,000 fans will be there to sing them on, and remind them to 'turn boys into men and men into boys'.