Look out England, the Roligans are in town

Richard Lloyd Parry
Saturday 15 June 2002 00:00
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When the game kicks off today Cafe Daisy, Japan's only Danish restaurant, will be the place to be in Tokyo, and Jacob Hjaere, owner and proprietor, is fully prepared for the occasion.

The big TV screen is in place, the friskadeller (Danish meatballs) are in stock, and the Carlsberg is on tap. On the CD player, Denmark's favourite football anthem, "Vir er Rode, Vir er Hvide" is playing, and Cafe Daisy's chef, Jesper Skov Jensen obligingly translates.

"We are red, we are white,/We stand together side by side," it goes. "Mother Denmark loves all/Danish boys who can shoot the ball/Like new Little Mermaids./We are the atmosphere, we are the happy fans,/We are the Danish roligans!"

"That bit about 'new Little Mermaids' is difficult to translate," Mr Jensen admits. "But you get the idea."

Whatever their team's fortunes on the pitch today, after the game - in the bars and restaurants of Niigata - England supporters can expect the most cheerful of times. Their opposite number are the Danish roligans,renowned as the most passionate, the most drunken, and the most good - natured football fans in Europe.

Roligan comes from the Danish word rolig, meaning calm and peaceful, and all observers agree that the Danes are the absolute opposite of hooligans.

Their distinctive characteristics were summed up in an academic study by the Danish Sport Research Institute in 1992: "The roligan displays a feature which links him with his counterpart, the hooligan: excessive alcohol consumption. English, Irish and Danish fans compete for the position of being the most drunk - yet fundamentally different behaviour patterns arise.

"Where the heavy drinking of English hooligans impels aggression and violence, the roligan is characterised by the absence of violence, and companiable cheerfulness."

About 1,500 roligans followed Denmark during their first round games in South Korea, and 873 of them have tickets for today's game against England. More than 100 more are expected to pack Cafe Daisy's premises in a quiet street in central Tokyo.

Just a few hundred yards away is Roppongi crossing where thousands of Japanese fans congregated last night in raucous celebration of their team's success. But whatever the result, Mr Hjaere has no concerns about trouble.

"Danes do certainly drink a lot of beer when they watch football," he admits. "But they never become angry or difficult. They just get more and more happy."

"They can put on a nice show," says Mr Jensen. "They carry the national colours, they sing, they make a lot of noise, and they get into very high spirits when they win. They just don't smash cars and tear the city apart."

As "Vir er Rode" puts it, in Mr Jensen's translation: "We are soccer dynamite boots. We don't accept defeat."

The term roligan was coined after the first of Denmark's two previous World Cup appearances at Mexico in 1986. Ten years later they made a big impression at Euro '96 - especially in the city of Sheffield. "No matter how much lager they consumed, and how badly the team performed, the atmosphere wherever they congregated was nothing short of a party," the football magazine, When Saturday Comes reported.

"Numerous pubs ran dry. The police and council officials expressed their amazement that such amounts of beer could be consumed by so many football supporters with no trouble at all."

Not that Danish football is completely lacking in tensions. When the rival Copenhagen teams, Bronby and FCK, meet one another, there are inevitably scuffles, and it was rogue roligans who beat up the British journalist Donal MacIntyre when he was posing as a Chelsea yob while making an undercover documentary about hooligans.

Passions are also high during internationals against Denmark's two historical rivals. "Sweden used to be Danish and so they are great matches," Mr Jensen explains. "But the ones to beat are the Germans. If we beat England tomorrow, that would be OK, but not as good as beating Germany.

"It will always be Germany. Beating the Germans - it doesn't get better than that."

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