Esbjerg

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Ejsberg fB – The Stadium – Idraetspark  – Capacity: 14,500 Capacity (6,500 seats)

The Stadium – Idraetspark
Gl Vardevej 88, Esbjerg

The current stadium was opened in 1955, although it is completely unrecognisable since the latest ground redevelopment was completed last year.  It would not look out of place in any league in Europe and offers some excellent facilities for spectators.  Behind each goal is a small terraced area with a bigger seated section above.  In opposite corners are terraces for the home and away fans.  The main stand is a single tier stand with hospitality areas behind.  Views are excellent from all seats.  Outside the stadium is a large concourse area with a sports bar and club shop.

Who Plays There?
After a period in the wilderness of the lower leagues, EFB has returned to the top division.  It all seems like an eternity ago that the team from the west coast were the undisputed kings of Danish football.  Between 1961 and 1965, the club won four Danish championships and the Danish Cup in 1964.

The club were formed in 1898 under the name of Esbjerg Boldklub, and made its first appearance in the Jutland leagues in the season 1899-90.  In 1923 they merged with Esbjerg Amatør club to form the team that we know today.  Four years later they won their first major honour, the Jutland Championship, and followed this up with appearances in the club final in 1927 and 1928.  They gained promotion to the national league in 1931, finishing 5th in 1935 to record their best ever position.

After the end of the Second World War the club recommenced its fight in the top division, narrowly avoiding relegation on a number of occasions.  In 1955 they moved to their present ground, the Idraetspark.  A year later they recorded their best ever finish, ending the season as runners up to AGF Aarhus.  However, the team was rebuilt in the latter years of the 1950’s leading to the five years of glory.

The golden period ended abruptly in 1969 when they were relegated to the second division, and then again to the third division in 1972.  The team was completely dismantled and rebuilt between 1972 and 1974 which resulted in back to back promotions into the First Division in time for the 1976 season.  That year the team won the Danish Cup for the second time.  A year later the team finished 3rd in the Danish Championship, and just 12 months later they ran champions Vejle close before finishing 2nd.  However, they put the set back behind them in 1977 by winning the title for the 5th time in their history.  This was to be the last title the team won, and their fortunes both on and off the pitch went into decline.

In 1986 the team were relegated back to the second division, and filed for bankruptcy with crippling debts.  A decade of financial struggle ensued, with the club unable to rise out of the second level.  However in 1998 the club appointed Viggo Jensen as head coach, who immediately made changes on the pitch.  In 2001 the team finished 7th in the top division, marking their return to the big time.  In 2003 the team replaced Jensen with Ove Pedersen who took the team to 5th place in the league in 2003, and then a third place finish (and a UEFA Cup spot) in 2004. In 2004/05 the team repeated the feat, and again qualified for the UEFA Cup – beating FC Flora Tallinn 8-1 on aggregate before losing to the Norwegian’s Tromso on penalties in the 2nd qualifying round.

In January 2006 Pedersen was replaced by Troels Bech  after a poor start to the season – the team went into the winter break over 20 points behind Brøndby in 2nd place, and only 7 points off the drop zone.  However, they picked up after Christmas and eventually finished the season in 6th place.  The club also reached their 7th Danish Cup final where they surprisingly lost 1-0 to Randers in the Parken, after a fantastic 2-legged Semi Final victory of Brøndby.  This season the team have started well, although the poor performance of the bottom two has meant that relegation has almost been assured for Vejle and Silkeborg.  Their current position of 6th should see them gain confidence to try and push on into 4th place and a spot in the UEFA Cup again.

How to get to the Idraetspark
The stadium is located around 2km out of the town centre.  On a nice sunny day the walk is very pleasant.  Head westward out of the town centre along Strandbygade until you reach the roundabout with Gl Bardevej and turn right.  Follow this road northwards, in-between the parks of Stranskoven and Vognbølparken.  Just after the junction with Parkvej the stadium will be visible on the left hand side.  If you feel like letting public transport take the strain then catch bus number 4 in the direction of Umanakparken to Gjesing Nord.

For a more detailed view about football in Denmark and who plays where, click here to access Footiemap.com’s excellent Danish football maps.

How to get a ticket for the Idraetspark
It has been quite along time since any game at the Idraetspark has come near to selling out.  Even the visit of Denmark’s top team FC Kobenhavn fails to have the locals flooding to the stadium.  The average attendance this season is just over the 7,000 mark.  A ticket for the main stand will cost 100Dkr, and a place on the open terrace will be 80Dkr.

Around the Idraetspark
The stadium is located in the green parks of Idraets, with little around in terms of hospitality.  There is a small supporter’s bar at the ground and any visiting fans from the UK are always made more than welcome.

Nearest Airport – Esbjerg Airport (Airport Code EBJ)
Telephone:      +45 6712 1400
Website:          http://www.esbjerg-lufthavn.dk

Bus number 9 leaves the airport at regular intervals during the day, and travels to the main train station.  The trip takes around 20 minutes and costs less than 20Kr.  A taxi would take around 10 minutes and cost 100Kr. There is also a bus direct to Billund Legoland – bus 44 runs at least hourly and takes around 80 minutes. British Midland also have a daily flight (bar Saturday’s) into Esbjerg from Aberdeen.

OUR LAST VISIT – MARCH 2010

Easter.  What a wonderful time of year.  Especially in the UK as it invariably means rain, or even as we have seen this week (and last year) snow.  But elsewhere in Europe the holiday means more than just time spent at B & Q/Ikea/DFS and more about shaking off the chains of winter and enjoying the great outdoors.  As you will know from following this very blog, Scandinavia has had a harsh winter.  Jutland, the big sticky out bit on the end of Germany that belongs to Denmark has seen record lows and snow that would put the Canadian Rockies to shame.  As recently as two weeks ago when we were here on our EFW/TBIR Springbreak we saw significant parts of the country still covered in snow as we took our private chopper to all parts east and west.  But spring has indeed arrived in these parts and sunshine was the order of the long weekend whilst Britain was still hiding under an umbrella, ella, ella.

In quite a few European countries, Maundy Thursday is a Bank Holiday.  The day that Jesus, supposedly but let’s keep this above the religious line, had his last KFC with his mates before the events of Good Friday.  Yet, despite being a Christian country only our civil servants are given leave (of their senses) in Britain.  In Denmark it is a big day.  And we are talking football.  I first experienced Maundy Madness two years ago when I planned a day of FIVE games in one day in Copenhagen, thanks to Carlsberg and some fortuitous fixture scheduling.  However, my day was ironically ruined by snow (you can read all about it here).  This year the weather was kind and I had booked a day off to take in two new grounds in Jutland – Esbjerg and FC Midtjyjlland.

First up was the train across the country.  And when I mean across the country that is exactly what I did.  Copenhagen to Esbjerg is the longest East/West route you can take in Denmark and involves crossing the Great Belt Bridge which links the islands of Zeeland Funen together.  Before Copenhagen became a mecca for budget airlines, and this magnificent feat of engineering was open, Esbjerg was the number one tourist destination for Brits coming to Denmark as it is where the ferry from Harwich docks.  The town itself is dominated by the North Sea, and even the best known tourist attraction, the “Men at Sea”, four 9 metre high statues made from white concrete that sit on the “dock of the bay” facing out into the sea.  The sculptures, among other things inspired by the Easter Island monoliths , portrays the pure and uncorrupted human encounter with nature.  Man as it was when it came out of the mother’s womb. Man before it gets up and begins to act on its own. Only then will man “dirt” on his fingers…not my words but those of designer Svend Wiig Hansen.

The only other thing to bring anyone so far west is the football team.  Esbjerg FB are five times winners of the national league, the last time in 1979, a time known in Danish football as BBC – Before Brondby and Copenhagen.  They are currently in their ninth consecutive season in the top flight although apart from a third place in 2004 they haven’t exactly set the league alight although this may be about to change as with just over a quarter of the season remaining they sat in fourth place, just one point behind Silkeborg.  Visitors AGF, from Aarhus were not having a season to remember on the other hand, sitting just two places above the relegation zone although actually closer to Esbjerg in 4th than to Randers in 11th.

So after dumping my bag at the CabInn (see what they have done there? I had reserved a “Captain’s Special” room, complete with my own parrot and a mini-bar stocked with Rum), I headed west, then a bit north until I reached the Blue Water Arena.  The ground had recently gone through some major renovations to increase the capacity to 18,000 and thus making it the fourth biggest stadium in Denmark (behind FCK, Brondby and Aarhus).  It is also a ground that recently broke its European cherry, hosting Denmark’s November 2009 friendly with South Korea in front of nearly 16,000. And what a spankingly good and smart ground it was too.  I met Lars, Esbjerg’s Media Man and he gave me a quick tour of the facilities and a blanket to keep me warm.  Yes, a blanket.  It’s a Danish thing, but they actually trust their citizens in bars and other outdoor places when it is cold and give them a nice green fleecy Carlsberg blanket to keep your legs warm.  And because the Danes are such an honest lot at the end of the day they put them neatly in a pile by the door.  Imagine that in England?  They would be appearing on eBay every hour.  I mean who would honestly take one….

So I took my seat in the very corporate main stand and watched the dancing girls on the pitch.  Now watching them gyrate away to Beyonce was fun enough, but someone at the club decided to have some more fun by switching on the sprinklers, soaking them in a spontaneous wet T-shirt competition.  Despite the temperature being in the single digits they didn’t complain and carried on regardless much to the crowd’s amusement and entertainment.

Esbjerg Fb 0 AGF Arhus 4 – Blue Water Arena – Wednesday 31st March 2010 – 6.15pm

AGF took to the field in a nice olive green kit, almost Werder Bremen-esque but that is as far as any comparison can go.  The opening fifteen minutes was full of huff and puff but the visitors did have the best chance when David Devdariani narrowly fired wide from the edge of the box.  Peter Ankersen then saw his header from close range brilliantly beaten away by Rasmussen in the AGF goal, and just a minute later Søren Rieks excellent first touch took him away from the AGF defence but his cross shot went narrowly wide.

It certainly wasn’t the warmest of places, with a very chilly wind blowing off the North Sea and straight across the ground and I had to invest in another blanket to keep my extremities warm. But half time arrived and out came those dancing girls again, thrusting away to Roxette, showing more energy than most of the players had in the first 45 minutes.

Apart from a couple of needless yellow cards and a drop in temperature by a few degrees very little happened in the first 20 minutes of the second half.  But in the 65th minute Esbjerg were undone by a move they tried time and time again in the first half as a superb pass from the half way line sent in Stephan Petersen behind the full back and he blasted the ball into the roof of the net for the visitors.

One became two a few minutes later as Devdariani hooked the ball in from close range after Esbjerg failed to clear a corner.  By this stage most of the 6,200 (the exceptions being the two sets of hardcore fans in opposite corners who never gave up singing) were too cold to function and it was no surprise that the home fans started heading for the exits when in the 75th minute Dennis Høegh turned his man in the box and shot into the corner of the net to complete a remarkable ten minute spell for AGF.

Five minutes to go and Esbjerg at last got some reward with a fortuitous penalty awarded to them, although the referee should have waited a few seconds for the home team actually had the ball in the net.  Keen to get on Jesper Jørgensen took the penalty despite the fact that AGF keeper Rasmussen was not ready. Unfortunately, the referee did not have the balls to allow the penalty and so it was retaken.

This time he hit it well but Rasmussen stuck out a hand and diverted the ball onto the roof of the net.  The AGF players jumped on him in the net and their joy was complete just two minutes later when the impressive Petersen hit a sweet shot from the edge of the box into the Esbjerg net to complete a 4-0 rout which flattered them somewhat, but that is football.

For me it was time to walk back to see what Pirate adventures I could get up to for the night before I headed up to Herning in the morning.

More photos from the game can be found here.

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