Sunday, 15 June 2014

Danish Dynamite, by Rob Smyth, Lars Eriksen and Mike Gibbons (Bloomsbury)

What do you get when you put together my favourite footballer when I was a young 'un, one of the most iconic players for the team I support and one of the most entertaining international sides of all time? The answer is Danish Dynamite and, thankfully, the authors haven't made a 'rigtig Jesper Olsen' of what's an incredible story.

The said Olsen was my favourite player growing up, an elegant, tricky winger who, prior to arriving at Manchester United, dazzled for Dutch side Ajax and at international level only to, spoiler alert, make a terrible mistake that cost Denmark so fatally at the 1986 World Cup.

While the story of that tournament (plus the preceding Euro '84 and subsequent Euro '92) will be relatively well known to most of that era's football lovers, who embraced the stylish football played by the Danes, the book's strength is the context in which the tale is told. How Denmark climbed from European qualification also-rans to global tournament favourites, from one of the last countries to cast aside amateurism to one that contributed players to the world's greatest and most successful clubs - and how they reacted to success and failure.

Most of all, though, it's the characters who best connect with the reader, from German-born manager Sepp Piontek to the extravagant talent of Preben Elkjaer to the unsung Jens Jorn Bertelson, and it's through their eyes that Denmark are transformed from a team who treated matches as an excuse for a good time to putting on such a good time that even Diego Maradona called them "amazing".

If I had one significant criticism it's that several passages of the book contain some awkward phrasing that reads as though it's a translation, which may well have been the case. But that's more than made up for by the detail gained through dozens of in-depth interviews, some great anecdotal behind-the-scenes irreverence and simple, effective storytelling that should enhance its appeal beyond mere football hipsters.

So, rating time:

Danish Dynamite, by Rob Smyth, Lars Eriksen and Mike Gibbons (Bloomsbury) - 7/10

Next up: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Acting (But Were Afraid To Ask, Dear), by West End Producer (Nick Hern Books)

* Here's a preview of this review, where excitement got the better of me.

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