Denmark’s national team in the 1980s was one to behold. Names such as Laudrup, Elkjær, and Olsen became synonymous with an attractive, attacking brand of football that was in full flow at the Euros and 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Coach Sepp Piontek laid the foundations for not so much a team, but a movement for an entire nation that would ultimately culminate in Euro glory in the early 90s. In Danish Dynamite, authors Rob Smyth, Lars Eriksen, and Mike Gibbons capture this Danish zeitgeist in a thoroughly engaging and spirited read that will leave fans of 80s football reminiscing on one of the best-assembled national teams in football history.
Danish Dynamite is a lovingly-curated time capsule that focuses primarily on the ‘golden generation’ which represented Denmark at major tournaments in the 1980s. The book draws upon a multitude of resources that gives weight and depth to the narrative, and the descriptions (particularly of the matches) are lavish and vivid. From the national team’s amateur days wherein a session in a pub or bar was more highly regarded than the performance on the pitch beforehand; to the inspirational wins borne from the attack at-all-costs mentality and the soul-crushing losses at the latter stages of major tournaments, the reader rises and falls with the team.
“For the Italian and Germans an international match was business; for the Danish players it was a beano. They were an international team in name and a pub team in nature, steeped in a quagmire of amateurism in both approach and structure.”Denmark’s amateur setup at national level (pg. 16)
Elkjær, Simonsen, Laudrup, Arnesen, Berggreen, Olsen, Lerby—these are not just players, but instantly likeable ‘men of the people’ who enchanted the football world, and who were equally as comfortable on the ball as they were drinking with the fanatic traveling band of Danish roligans. Although this generation of Danish footballers may in some quarters be best-known for that game against Spain at Mexico 86, the authors treatment of this game and other memorable ties (the win against Platini and France, and the grudge match against Belgium in particular) is respectful, insightful, and the benchmark of excellent football reportage.
“…after a particularly brutal opening the game morphed into one of the greatest in the history of the European Championship. A genuinely brilliant football match and a stripped-to-the-waist set-to were gloriously entwined. As the saying goes, in the middle of it all a football match broke out. And what a match.”Denmark v Belgium at the 1984 European Championships (pg. 90)
‘Danish Dynamite’, as the Danish team’s way became known as, was the house that coach Sepp Piontek built, and Danish Dynamite can perhaps be seen as a tribute to his outstanding work. From his beginning as the coach of Haiti, to harnessing the tremendous individual talent he assembled into a glorious Danish national team, Piontek’s influence and character is finely weaved into the narrative. Piontek is a man certainly worthy of mention in football history—he led Denmark to its first World Cup in 1986, and even provided Bobby Robson with his worst memory of management when England capitulated to Denmark in 1983. Thankfully, Danish Dynamite lays out Piontek’s achievements in English-language long-form to a generation of football enthusiasts who may have been too young to remember the Danish team in its pomp.
Some readers may wonder why Denmark’s crowning achievement (champions of Euro 92) gets scant attention in Danish Dynamite, with one chapter at the end devoted to it. Indeed, the glory that escaped the ‘classic’ Danish team of the 80s is seen as an afterthought. However, the main strength of this book is that it poeticises not just the highs but also the lows, and in so gives the missteps, the fateful injuries and red cards, and the painful losses meaning. Danish Dynamite is about the journey, not the destination, of that comet that streaks across the sky and dazzles onlookers. As such, Danish Dynamite is an instant classic of football non-fiction, and is a highly recommended read.
“It was football’s saddest, maddest thrashing. ‘It annoys me tremendously still today, because it’s ridiculous,’ says Elkjaer. ‘We were the better team, but we lost our heads and that’s crazy.’ Yet in a sense it was also in the spirit of Danish Dynamite. This was a team who could win 6-1 one week and lose 5-1 the next—and at Mexico 86 they became the only team since the 1950s to score and concede at least five at the same World Cup.”Summing up the era of ‘Danish Dynamite’ (pg. 190)
UNDER 20:Danish Dynamite is a classic and eminently re-readable account of the 80s Danish team that enchanted supporters and rivals alike.
FULL-TIME SCORE: A barnstorming 6-1 win, reflective of that memorable win against Uruguay in the 1986 World Cup.