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Why the Danes are happy just to have qualified for Euro 2012

Ulla Essendrop (pictured) is a sports presenter with the national Danish television channel TV2 and, as with many countries in Europe, football is always a big discussion point.

She talks to Total Football’s Ryan Holmes about the popularity of football in Denmark, meeting Sir Alex Ferguson, and why Danish football fans in the country do not expect another big tournament win any time soon.

How popular is football in Denmark compared to other sports?

Football is the most popular sport in Denmark, measured by spectator numbers, television ratings and the number of people who actually play football throughout the country. The country’s proudest football moment was of course winning the European Championships in 1992. The next most popular sport in Denmark is handball. 

Although football fans in Denmark are passionate about the game and the team they support, it is not as much a matter of life and death here as it is in England. Being a supporter of a certain club is not a lifestyle to the same extent as it is in England. 

Of course there are the odd individuals that spend all their money and time travelling around following their team, but that is a rarity in Denmark. The Danes do love their national team (when they play well) and Danish fans are renowned all over Europe for their peaceful and jovial behaviour when attending national games. We call them Roligans – which means fans that support their team and celebrate in a peaceful way. As opposed to hooligans.  

What are expectations like in Denmark when the national team compete in the World Cup and European Championships?

We never expect our national team to win the competitions. We certainly didn’t expect them to win in 1992, especially when they actually hadn’t even qualified, but were given access to the tournament only because Yugoslavia was unable to attend due to ongoing civil war at the time. 

Although we of course do have the best of intentions for our team, the Danes are quite realistic. We were expecting them to qualify for Euro 2012, now it all depends on the draw and the injury status on key players such as Daniel Agger, Nicklas Bendtner, Christian Eriksen and Thomas Sørensen. Getting through the group stage would be a very good start.

What is the standard of football like in Denmark compared to the Premier League?

The Premier League is definitely much stronger than the Danish Super League. Also, the game is faster and much more physical in the Premier League and the technical level is higher as well. 

These are all reasons why so few Danish players have made it into the Premier League. In Denmark, teams don’t rely as much on individuals such as Rooney and the like. The Danish style of play in the Super League is based more on a team effort, simply because we don’t have such big stars.

Whenever someone really talented emerges, they are quickly sold to bigger and better European clubs, such as Simon Kjær (Roma), Christian Eriksen (Ajax), Daniel Agger and Nicklas Bendtner. To me, the Premier League and the Primera Division in Spain are the most interesting leagues in Europe. 

You have met and interviewed some of world football’s biggest names. What was it like to have an opportunity to interview Sir Alex Ferguson, Frank Arnesen and Peter Schmeichel on the ‘History of Legends’ show you hosted?

History of Legends was a live on stage talk show featuring Sir Alex Ferguson, Frank Arnesen – who at the time was sporting director at Chelsea – and Peter Schmeichel. 

The three of them were swapping stories and anecdotes from their extensive careers and I was the moderator. This was a very special summer evening in the beautiful setting of the Danish Royal Opera house. 

The three of them were in a good mood. Lots of banter was exchanged and it was apparent to everyone that they thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company and that they respect each other’s work. It is safe to say that being on that stage interviewing those three international stars was a definite high point of my career. 

You also presented a show with Frank Arnesen, what was it like to be part of the show with such an icon of Danish football?

It is always a great pleasure to work with Frank. He is the nicest man – funny, warm, intelligent, experienced, professional and jovial. 

Although he has been in international football since he transferred to Dutch side Ajax in 1975, he still has so much passion for the game and the players. He has such enormous experience, partly from his active club career and being one of the most popular players on the national team, and partly from his sporting director positions in various European clubs, that it is always so interesting to be on stage with him. 

You have been a television presenter and journalist on many different channels in Denmark, how did you break into the industry?

I made my way into the TV industry totally by coincidence. I have a Masters Degree in Communications and Media Science and worked in a Danish football club as a press officer while doing my studies. So I was headed for a career in sports communication. 

A few days after graduating from university, I was given a position as news presenter on a local TV station, and that is where I developed my taste for working in the TV business.

Having worked there for two years, I suddenly got the chance to move to London and work as presentation editor for a Scandinavian broadcasting company called Viasat, which was a tough, but very educational job. 

And ever since living there for two years, I will forever be in love with London. However, I missed working with sports especially football and after two years in London I was offered my current position as prime time presenter for sports news on the national Danish TV Channel TV2. 

So I moved back home at the beginning of 2007 and have worked here ever since. I still can’t believe my luck. Imagine getting paid to do what I would have done anyway, watch sport all the time. I love it, every single day.

What was it like when you were given the opportunity to present the European Championships Under 21s draw?

I was fortunate enough to be chosen as master of ceremony, which was an honour for me and a great experience. Working on such a big television production that is broadcast live to all of the involved European countries is a dream for many sports presenters I assume, so I felt very lucky to be chosen. 

Although the production was broadcast to millions of viewers all over Europe, contrary to what you might think it was not at all nerve racking for me. Every single person from UEFA and the production people involved were all extremely professional, and I came very well prepared as always, and therefore the whole setup induced such a secure feeling, and the certainty that absolutely nothing could go wrong. And fortunately, it didn’t. We aced it! 

You have even worked alongside John Cleese for a business event. What was it like working with him?

It was a great honour and pleasure to work with such a renowned personality. Growing up, I was a loyal fan of Fawlty Towers and Monty Python, so being on stage with him was definitely another high point in my career. 

He was very kind and professional at the same time. The purpose of his appearance was to speak about creativity and innovation at a seminar and award ceremony for Danish business leaders, and he was a great inspiration to the Danish audience and me that day. 

You can follow Ulla on Twitter: @essendrop

Photo: Miklos Szabo / TV2


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