Of the 11 cities across Europe that hosted matches during the recent Uefa European Championship, it was Copenhagen that stirred the emotions of football fans like nowhere else.
On June 12, just 41 minutes into the first of four tournament matches at the city’s Parken Stadium, Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsed moments after sprinting for the ball. The Inter Milan midfielder had to be resuscitated on the pitch as fans in the stands and viewers at home watched on in shock.
Thankfully, Eriksen was saved by medics, and although Denmark went on to lose that match against Finland and the subsequent home game against Belgium, Kasper Hjulmand’s side rallied to defeat Russia 4-1 in the final group fixture in a sizzling atmosphere that what sampled by captivated viewers across media platforms and channels worldwide.
In adversity, Denmark’s displays were arguably one of the stories of the tournament – and there is little doubt that the special atmosphere in Copenhagen had helped to propel the team, who ultimately bowed out at the semi-final stage.
Parken Stadium was able to welcome around 23,000 fans to the Denmark v Russia match, with a similar figure attending Spain’s thrilling 5-3 extra-time win against Croatia on June 28 – the last game staged at the venue during the competition.
“It was a traumatic experience that brought people together in Denmark, but it really felt like the whole football world stood together in support and created a rare experience of internationalism, connecting people and creating a bond of universal respect,” says Lars Vallentin, senior manager at Wonderful Copenhagen, the official tourism organisation of the Capital Region of Denmark.
“We went on to lose against Finland and Belgium, but both the team and the country seemed more united and suddenly everyone was ready to create a new football fairytale.”
The togetherness and inclusivity witnessed in the aftermath of the opening fixture at the stadium, extending through to the conclusion of the tournament in the city, were common themes of Copenhagen’s Euro 2020 campaign. Visitors to the city’s Football Village fan zone were able to watch the yearly LGBTI+ tournament, Pride Cup, as well as the Danish national deaf team and other events.
Inclusivity and sustainability
The staging of the Pride Cup during Euro 2020 inspired the passion and community feel that permeated through the screens of the worldwide audience tuning in to see the matches at Parken Stadium. Furthermore, those fan-focused events came ahead of Copenhagen hosting the combined WorldPride and EuroGames events from August 12-22.
For Vallentin, LGBTI+ inclusivity and sustainability are two of the main areas of focus for Copenhagen in the months and years ahead, with sport acting as one of the key vehicles.
“Copenhagen is a world-leading city within sustainability and LGBTI+ rights,” he says. “The city aims to become CO2-neutral by 2025 and we have pioneered diversity by being the first to allow registered same-sex partnerships.
“For Copenhagen, sustainability is the core of everything that is done, and it plays an integral role in the events in the city. Most importantly, the whole energy infrastructure of the city is greener than most cities. Commuting is done by bike, the driverless metro or even the electric harbour buses for the scenic traveller.
“Whenever we host events, we want to integrate the sustainable solutions of the city, creating a more sustainable event, but also sending people home with new experiences of how things work here. It could be by inspiring people to take the bike, or maybe the clean harbour is something other cities could replicate, and the same goes for the energy sector with the many wind turbines surrounding Copenhagen.”
Showcasing the city
Vallentin feels that Copenhagen was “craving a celebration” after the Covid-19 lockdown, and with Denmark having dealt with the pandemic relatively well compared to other nations, the city was already “relatively open” by the start of Euro 2020. High testing numbers and the rollout of a COVID-19 passport proved key to ensuring the infection rate remained low throughout the tournament.
Copenhagen is currently running a wide-ranging inclusivity programme promoting football, with a particular focus on girls, social minorities and “more mature players”. For Wonderful Copenhagen, Euro 2020 presented a perfect opportunity to showcase the city’s efforts.
“The city organised many events in the Football Village. There have been football tournaments specifically targeting girls, and the city hall square has been decorated with a large grass patch and ball leading into the exhibition of memorabilia from other tournaments,” says Vallentin.
“But really, not much needed to be done. Copenhageners were ready to celebrate and everywhere around the city there were flags hanging out the windows and people wearing football jerseys. Eriksen’s incident created a national shock making the Euros seem pointless and irrelevant, but as he was brought back everyone could exhale with relief and all the emotions, tension, and anxiety from this created the basis for a huge positive burst of energy and love running through the streets of Copenhagen.”
A reinforced brand
If Euro 2020 had taken place without any travel restrictions in place, more overseas fans would have been able to experience the unique Copenhagen atmosphere in person rather than through their screens. Vallentin, though, believes the tournament still provided Copenhagen with an “amazing” platform.
“Copenhagen has reinforced its image as a lively and safe destination, where people love to celebrate their sporting heroes and where events are well organised, and the party is in a loving atmosphere,” he says, outlining the ‘hygge’ feeling of comfortable contentment that runs through the city.
“One of Copenhagen’s core strengths is the people and our way of being. It’s a city with more bikes than cars and a hugely exciting gastro and beer scene. Copenhagen is ranked as Monocle’s most liveable city and is one of the happiest places in the world.”
This year, Denmark may not have matched the success of its shock Euro 1992 title triumph. However, on and off the pitch, this was a tournament to remember, and especially for Copenhagen.
“This tournament shows what a great mobiliser sport can be,” says Vallentin. “The drama and tragedy followed by success on the pitch and camaraderie did not only bring the Danish team closer together; it was a real shared experience with tears and relief that brought the whole country together – and for a little while it felt like it brought all of Europe together.”