Blog

09/01/2014

Welcome to the heart of handball

EHF EURO BLOG: The EHF's presenter, Tom O'Brannagain, blogs about his first hours in Denmark

It's grey, it's raining, it's dull. You might be forgiven for thinking that this is Ireland, but it's not.

When you look out the window at the picturesque village that surrounds the hotel, you realise you are in the heart of Denmark. It is a small village with a small population but a big heart.

It's called Herning, the birth place of one Jesper Noddesbo, and it is the base for the Danish national team for the duration of the EHFEURO 2014. 

If you didn't know already, 16 teams will descend on Denmark for the major international tournament of the continent. The Danes are dubbing it: "Heart of Handball" and you can see why: If you just focus on Herning, it is a village of 47,000 inhabitants, but has an arena that houses 15,000.

It is sold out for every game of the tournament. The Danes love handball, they are crazy about handball, their hearts beat 'Red and White' and they are proud to be hosting EHFEURO 2014.

There are three other venues including the capital Copenhagen, "wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen", Aalborg away up in the north of the country and a place made famous by a "Madness" song in the 80s; Aarhus (in the middle of our street)

I travelled in on Wednesday and met the Danish team on the plane. They're excited, but nervous. There is pressure. Current European champions, they were annihilated in the final of the World Championship by Spain last year.

It's a bit of a poison chalice for them really. They are the home team, the media spotlight is on them, the hopes of a nation rests on their shoulders and the TV companies expect over three million viewers for their first game.

In a country of just over 5 million that is awe inspiring. It's also huge pressure on these young sportsmen's shoulders.

It's been a slow morning for me. We were welcomed at the officials conference by all the referees and officials of the event.

Often maligned, hated and loved in equal measure (depending on the decision they give), more often than not completely right, they are the men without whom our game cannot be played. They are a great bunch of lads.

12 "couples", because refs referee in pairs, from 12 nations, they are the epitome of a married couple. They travel together, they discuss together, they are BFFs (best friends forever).

And this conference was an eye opener for me. It is incredible the amount of preparation they do. Fitness, rules books the size of a tome, revisiting old games to discuss decisions that were made and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

They will have fitness training, mental training, post-mortems on games throughout the tournament. They are professional in all but name. They leave their families for three weeks to be here and they are at the top of their game.

It's still raining as I write this, but with all the camaraderie, the smiles, the energy that surrounds this event the weather is unimportant. We are all away from home, but home is where the heart is. And the "Heart of Handball" is in Denmark. So I'm home, we all are, and we are raring to go.

It's also the country of Lego and all the little pieces are coming together.

written by Tom O'Brannagain