A man clenches his fist and screams into a megaphone. Dogs run wild and clouds of weed smoke drift over my head; carried off on the cool riverside breeze. Amongst the chaos a punk’s fallen asleep in the Copenhagen sunshine as toddlers scream, mates laugh, and couples chat amongst a never-ending sea of local booze. Somewhere in the background, there’s some football. Welcome to Christiania Sports Club (CSC).
“It is the part of the city which has been kept secret to us—but no more”—Jacob Ludvigsen
CSC is Christiania, but what Christiania is, depends on who you ask. To the Danish right, it’s a problematic community of squatters illegally occupying valuable real estate. In the eyes of its supporters, it’s an autonomous zone, an alternative to a harsh, competitive society. Nestled in the Christianshavn region of Copenhagen, about 850 people live in a network of graffitied buildings and all manner of eco structures. A bit like Grand Designs without the overwhelming smugness. Despite a government crackdown following drug-related violence in 2004, marijuana is part of the fabric here. While hard drugs are shunned, the infamous Pusher Street inhabitants still trade buds and hash while ensuring a kicking if you decide to take pictures.
Looking at the colourful, tourist-filled streets of Christiania today it’s hard to imagine that this was an abandoned military barracks in 1971. Homeless people sporadically moved in, risking trespass for a safe place to sleep. Soon after, nearby locals motivated by rising rent prices smashed through the fencing, first established a playground for local kids then a commune. In the words of co-founder Jacob Ludvigsen, the goal was “to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible for the wellbeing of the entire community”.
CSC are a rebellious exhalation from the lungs of this community; a dank cloud haunting the Danish lower leagues with values of diversity, freedom and half decent wing interplay. The club are a reflection of Christiania’s principled struggle to exist. As barricades were erected by residents to defend against police incursions, CSC fought Copenhagen’s police team on the pitch with tasty tackles and record crowds.
I’m in the back of a cab, operating on three hours sleep and a mouthful of lemon flapjack. The driver asks where I’m headed. When I tell him I’m off to watch CSC, he smiles. Turns out I’m being driven by an ex-player, and within hours of entering Denmark I’m witnessing the kind of club CSC is. Ates, now 45, was a decent winger back in the day and moved to Copenhagen from Macedonia in his early 20s. Barely knowing anyone, he went to the local pitches for a pick-up game and saw a bunch of hippy lads having a laugh. He asked for a game; they asked him to join the club.
We pull up below Christiania’s southern entrance to Kløvermarkens—the Copenhagen equivalent of Hackney Marshes without the dog turds and hangover aggro. Spartan red huts give way to glorious acres of immaculate pitches, a café quietly buzzes as footballers chat, sharing a few beers as we come across Jan. A CSC board member from the beginning, he’s an imposing yet disarmingly friendly bloke. I follow him as he goes about the day’s prep, occasionally taking a drag on a huge spliff as he spells out the high stakes of today’s game. He’s passionate yet calm in his jeans and oversized hoodie: a smoking bear-shaped contrast to the stereotypical tea urn eccentrics synonymous with English non-league boardrooms.
To explain CSC’s placing in the world of Danish football, allow me to channel your actual dad and go into the Danish league structure. CSC play in Serie 1 of DBU København and promotion gets you to the Københavnsserien, the fifth highest division of Danish football. So we’re talking National League North/South sort of level. If they win today against second place IF Føroyar, they’re firmly in the promotion frame and Jan’s plotting a suitably massive barbecue back at the clubhouse.
“If they win today, they get steak … If they lose, it’s rat”.
His mischievous smile leaves me not entirely sure he’s joking as I wander off to chat to the guys erecting banners on the car park fence. The centrepiece is a huge photograph of a man and his dog, kind faces watching over the players as they trickle onto the pitch. I’m told the portrait is of Kennet, a well-loved CSC supporter and club volunteer who followed the team all over the world before his tragic passing a few years ago.
“We always make sure he’s here to watch the guys play”, explains Noah—a founding member of CSC, emphasising the club as an extension of the caring values upon which Christiania was founded. He talks me through the club’s roots—the boozy local kickabouts that morphed into a community team made up entirely of Christiania residents in 1980. The goal was to nurture a club to be proud of. A team that was welcoming, diverse and partied hard.
The assertion that he’s part of a supporters group is quickly shot down—it’s clear the fan culture is far more relaxed. It’s about fun, friendship and football. This proud informality caused concern when the burgeoning football club applied to enter the DBU København in 1982. The players didn’t take the piss and loved playing, but that wasn’t everything in the early days. Training was irregular, and the players and fans partied together in line with the club’s famous invitation to ‘Joint The Club’. Christiania were seen as society’s outliers—did they have a ‘place’ in Danish football? It’s a frustration that persists for Noah, “Many people in the higher leagues see us just as hippies and artists, they don’t see the football institution we have created. It’s bullshit”.
This desire for sporting respect that maintains Christiania’s social values is exemplified by the scene unfolding before me. Speakers have been unloaded as volunteers spark up, Wiz Khalifa shifting into a bit of Pink Floyd (for the dads). This is juxtaposed by the pre-match focus of the team being put through rigorous drills by clearly professionally minded coaching staff. It feels an odd mix for a club with such informal roots, but it’s a contrast Noah is familiar with, saying that maintaining balance comes from the lessons of Christiania, that people contribute in different ways and you get out what you put in.
“It’s about empowerment … no matter who you are, how fucked up you are, how talented you are, Christiania taught me that the community will care for you and support you. And when you help the community, that empowers you too”.
CSC’s rise through lower league Danish football is built on this foundation of reciprocal sacrifice. Noah’s mate volunteers to demonstrate, snaking across the pitch on one of the famous Christiania bikes laden with banners, corner flags and a megaphone for the day ahead. The desire of this CSC veteran is for growth but with this ethic intact, weary of how authority over others can change you. “A referee may be a nice person off the field but when they get their cards and that fucking tool in their mouth they can turn into a tyrant,” he warns. There’s no cops, no security, no stewards.
I return to Jan—he’s just driven back a refurbed 1964 hydraulic van from Wales to drive the team about, so that’s good. Some of the hundred or so fans meander to the blue seats, but most take their place on the grass. The diverse sense of community is tangible. Immaculately mohawked old school punks kick back with bottles of local brown ale, families set up camp around their pushchairs as young lads in tracksuits mingle with hippies before kick-off.
If you’ve been led to believe anything about CSC, whether through Snoop Dogg’s love for the club shirt or the plethora of spliff themed artwork on social media, you’ll know it’s no secret they like a smoke. It’s important to acknowledge that the club is so much more than this glib generalisation, but it’s also very, very true. The club’s motto is You’ll Never Smoke Alone and, considering that this is an airy Sunday league pitch with no stands, within 20 minutes I’m smelling like a suburban 16-year-old in need of a good spray of Lynx Africa before seeing their mum.
It’s a stark contrast with the efforts on the pitch, and it’s clear CSC have a tidy team. The big bloke with the megaphone does his best to rile the fans up, and while everyone’s engaged with the action, the relaxed atmosphere emits only a few half-hearted responses. But the fitness levels of the players are as high as the fanbase, with a lot of creativity coming from Mansour on the left flank—a local lad from a refugee background. His link up play culminates with a cross and glancing header into the bottom corner from the towering tattooed centre forward who I think is called Jenssen but was frankly too terrified to ask. Noah’s got a mic hooked up to the PA, shouting “SEEE-ESSS-SEEE” between puffs and enjoying the sunshine.
The second half tails off as IF Føroyar sneak a deserved equaliser. We only know the mysterious scorer by Noah’s announcement over the crackling PA—“Blue Idiot”, so we’ll go with that. The fans clap the players off as they embrace friends and partners. I grab a beer and come blinking into the sun. What strikes me is you’d never know there’d been a game on. The fans’ chat about social responsibility isn’t idealised lip service. No one tells anyone what to do, no-one’s acting a dick, no-one leaves a mess. A young lad carries empties inside as the fans play headers and volleys, pétanque, and that inscrutable game of chucking bits of Jenga about that’s popular in the parks here.
I stumble back to the CSC Club House, a members-only bar off to the side of Pusher Street, with an invitation to watch the Champions League final. It’s a clash between an Ultras club, Berlin squat bar, and an English lower league function room. People play pool below dozens of donated football shirts (including an incredible signed Patrick mid-90 West Brom kit). A display cabinet glistens with ephemera, from trophies and pennants to a framed photo of Woody Harrelson in a club scarf after a battle with the local produce. Slot machines whirr and buzz seemingly out of place until Jan explains they’ve hacked them for a far higher chance of winning. Even little Diego’s lovingly framed up on the wall, peering through the abundant smoke next to a Christiania skateboard.
But most emblematic is the floor. You’d miss why at first, but that’s impossible with Noah about. He grins as my eyes widen, realising the entire space is a majestic marble mosaic, replete with huge a CSC badge under the pool table. He’s spent three years salvaging kitchen surface off-cuts from a skip and painstakingly constructing this masterpiece. Despite having zero experience, the club totally supported him. “I made this for the club,” he says proudly, “This is exactly what Christiania are about”. I just can’t imagine this happening anywhere else. It’s special.
I’m embraced as a guest without the usual (and understandable) scepticism of other politically-minded football clubs. Tuborg keeps magically appearing as Real begin to put Juve to the sword. Jan’s threat of serving up rat meat doesn’t materialise—he’s on the barbecue, cheerfully cooking steaks and smoking a spliff of about the same size. Toby works the bar, a 26 year Christiania stalwart by way of Martock, we chat about the commercialisation of the commune. I don’t want to interrupt the bloke, but I’m concerned that people are just serving themselves. That’s until I remember that you get out what you put in here. Every person chucks the money in the till themselves. I mop up some salad with half a hotdog bun like the animal I am.
I go for a piss and climb over the team’s dirty kit in a sad heap next to the washing machine as people enjoy one of the most illustrious games in world football on the telly. As I flush I contemplate this aesthetic contrast and the football cultural connotations, before realising this was the passive smoking talking and I desperately need to sit down.
As Marco Asensio finishes the job in Cardiff, someone’s got a bit tired and emotional with the megaphone and keeps blasting the siren. It’s tactfully wrestled off him and things wind down. I sit with Ralf, the chairperson at CSC and Noah, as they enjoy a smoke on the sofa. The latter is keen to show that nights like this are the essence of CSC—“THIS is the social part you know? Any new player, we take them straight to the Club. It’s our home; it’s what we’re about”.
There’s definitely a few of the squad who’ve enjoyed a smoke, but I can’t help but feel this passionate affirmation of old school CSC values clashes with the team’s increasingly professional mind-set. They still play on Sunday league pitches but so much has changed. Only one Christiania resident is in the squad. Some coaches and players have professional experience. They’ve got Hummel sponsoring their (amazing) kit with the likes of Daniel Agger and Snoop Dogg parading it about. More pressingly, with training three times a week, physical conditioning has severely limited the players’ desire to get fucked up.
Ralf picks up on this subtext.
“Look … we know that the club can’t grow without commercial and professional expertise. We do want to grow, to give the coaches what they want. But these are skills we do not necessarily have”.
This isn’t a board with a financial stake but a deeply emotional one that informs the club’s identity. As Noah says, “We’ve put more than 25 years of our heart and soul into this club”, and he’s guarded about a future without principled stewardship. The club’s historical beef with referees, the cops, and their connection to Christiania’s radical heritage, understandably concerns veterans, wondering how the DBU will treat them as they fight for promotion with all the restrictions that opportunity could bring.
CSC have so much potential to grow, and there’s a desire for new blood, but at what cost? As Noah says with one last drag, “What we want is a new era … after our time”.
I say my goodbyes and begin the hunt for a taxi back to the hotel before collapsing in a hazy bubble with ideas well above my station about this club’s future.
Two days later I return to the CSC clubhouse to thank Jan, rudely interrupting a visit from his daughter. As I snap shots and take one last look at Woody Harrelson’s dead eyes, I think about the creeping commercialisation of Christiania and how the club faces similar pressures. I talk about the conversations I’ve had, of the struggle to balance principles with footballing growth. He smiles and tells me about the time CSC drew Helsingør in the cup in 2016, a top club in the Danish Superliga. They opened up the clubhouse to all Helsingør fans, watching them awkwardly get off the coaches, not knowing what to expect. They’re greeted by Jan and the rest of the crew with a warm welcome and as much beer as they can drink. He tells me how cool it was to see the shocked smiles on their faces. I query why you’d be so hospitable to away fans before such an important game, and he looks happily confused.
“But it’s great! This is exactly what football is supposed to be about right?”
This appeared in the long sold out issue 10. We’ve still got a few limited edition issue 12’s knocking about here, and you can still get the newsstand issue in our 400-odd stockists. Have a look at this map before going outside though. Oh, and you can subscribe to issue 13 here. We’ll shut up now.