Former football stars unite for charity

UN/UEFA football
"Figo versus Ronaldinho!"

Words by Jonas Mikkelsen – with additional contributions from Verity Postlethwaite and Jose Gigante.

On 21 of April 2018 the first ‘Match for Solidarity’ was played in Geneva. The charity football game, which featured former male and female football stars, was arranged in partnership between the UN Office in Geneva and UEFA.

My first recollection of watching football was a 2-2 draw between Denmark and England at Wembley. I watched it on our black and white colour B&O TV set from underneath our sitting-room table in the heartland of suburban Copenhagen.

Denmark’s qualification to the 1984 UEFA European Championships in France secured my solidification as a fan of the game. Even with Denmark’s semi-final loss to Spain – at the hand of a missed penalty from my – then – hero Preben Elkjær Larsen, I knew I was hooked for life.

Just watching the big games, however, was not enough for me. I sought out the local team – Lyngby BK – which played in the top-flight. One of my earlier memories, around 1987, was watching the debut of the slightly overweight future hero of Denmark’s 1992 UEFA European Championship winners Henrik Larsen – nicknamed ‘the Big One’. Lyngby BK won the one-off six months long Danish League ‘Superligaen’ in May 1992.

As the fixture table turned from calendar year to the regular football season, with arguably their best team ever – ‘the Big One’ led from midfield. Match winner on the big day against B1903 – at the time the worst football venue in kingdom Gentofte Stadion – was Torben Frank, hammering the volley into top corner. Bliss.

Years of questionable management followed. Former office chair salesman Flemming Østergaard became owner of the club – now Lyngby FC, sold the Big One to arch-rivals FC Copenhagen, sold Lyngby and then took over FC Copenhagen, a club that went on to become the biggest success-story of Danish football. Flemming Østergaard was later convicted and handed a prison sentence for insider trading of FC Copenhagen stocks. Lyngby’s derout ended with bankruptcy in 2001.

With roughly 35 years of hardened fan experience, I attended my first charity match, the UN/ UEFA organised ‘Match For Solidarity’. This game had all the glam that had been absent from my fan years. It was a beautiful day in Geneva. All the superstars – old, but alive – with the cream of women’s football added as an apparent afterthought to the line-ups. Figo versus Ronaldinho!

The women players were by far the ones in best shape, bar Henrik Larsson. The match was UEFA Champions League in slow-motion, perhaps it was that, or the sun, that made me sleepy during the first half.  I don’t know how much of a difference the match day income from the roughly 20,000 spectators, who paid between 0 and 22 CHF to get in, will make in the push for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, but it can’t be much.

I have been thinking long and hard of how to link the match to the word solidarity and I think the only link is the alternative cost of the involved. Putting a # in front of nice words doesn’t add content or context. I would even debate the word ‘Match’, these guys weren’t even fit!

Lyngby BK has stayed in the topflight since it last returned in 2016. It’s impressive that the club is still in operation, even if its share of bad and dishonest football administrators has been higher than any other club in my home country. The survival speaks to the pathos of the sports side rather than the business side. I have always associated the club with freewheeling attack-oriented football and home-grown talent from an excellent academy.. However, a fatigue and a feeling of deja vu, which I am sure many football fans can relate to, is becoming the overriding feeling. Lately the club has been in economic turmoil (again) and a group of local investors, made up of fans, former players and others for which this thankfully isn’t the case. Now that is solidarity. Forza Lyngby.

Solidarity in my realm of football is tangibly connected to a series experiences and their legacy. Good and bad. Can the UN be part of letting UEFA undermine its hard earned solidarity for the celebrity cause? I don’t think so.  If a sustainable legacy of the ‘Match for Solidarity’ is to be established, there has to be a direct link between the values it wants to project and the actions taken. My home club is perhaps not the best example, but it has a legacy – for good and for bad – that people want to preserve. What will next year’s ‘Match for Solidarity’ bring? The celebrity footballers will be one year older and even less in shape.

Or will we see an explosion in diversity and civic information – let’s educate the spectators of the purpose of their presence other than invading the pitch at their leisure.

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