Long Reads

Odense BK and the Miracle in Madrid

It was a tale that even Hans Christian Andersen himself could not have dreamt up. Michael Schjønberg hit the ball across the box where Jesper Hjorth left it for Morten Bisgaard to slot home, leaving Real Madrid absolutely stunned. In second-half injury time, Danish minnows Odense Boldklub (OB) scored a goal to send the Spaniards crashing out of the UEFA Cup. One of Europe’s most famous clubs had fallen foul to one of the greatest upsets in European club football history.

They called it the ‘Miracle in Madrid’, 6 December 1994, a team who had never been past the first round of a European competition before came back from a home first-leg deficit to knock out the Spanish giants.

OB at that time were one of the more successful teams in Danish football, league champions in 1977, they won two more league titles in the 1980s and had finished as high as second only two seasons previously. Domestic club football in Denmark, however, had been completely amateur until 1978 and only in recent years had it become fully professional. Real Madrid, on the other hand, were six times European Cup winners and had twice won the UEFA Cup itself. Real Madrid’s squad included big names stars such as Fernando Hierro, Luis Enrique, Michael Laudrup, Raúl and Chilean star Iván Zamorano. Almost all of OB’s players, however, were completely unknown outside of Denmark. It truly was a mismatch of enormous proportions, and if you needed more proof of the gulf between the two teams well they had actually met in the first round of the same competition in 1990 and Real Madrid prevailed 10-1 on aggregate!

OB would meet Real Madrid in the third round of the 1994-95 UEFA Cup but their campaign started in the preliminary round where they eased past Estonian side Flora Tallinn 6-0 on aggregate. A 6-1 aggregate victory followed in the next round over Northern Irish club Linfield. Real Madrid defeated Sporting CP in round one thanks to the away goals rule after a 2-2 aggregate scoreline. In the second round, Real Madrid dispatched of Dynamo Moscow 6-2 over the two legs to set up a tie with either German side 1. FC Kaiserslautern or Odense BK in round three.

Nevermind Real Madrid, beating Kaiserslautern would in itself be a tall order for OB. Kaiserslautern had finished second in the German Bundesliga the previous season, just one point behind champions FC Bayern Munich. Their squad included players such as Stefan Kuntz who would go on to play a key role in the German side that was to win the European Championships two years later, and an ageing Andreas Brehme who had been part of Germany’s 1990 World Cup winning side.

In the first leg away in Germany OB more than held their own and with the match poised at 0-0 heading into the final 20 minutes took a shock lead. A thunderbolt long-range strike from Carsten Hemmingsen, brother of club captain Michael, found the net from comfortably more than 30 yards out. Cue wild celebrations from the men in blue and white. OB’s lead only lasted two minutes, however, as a Ciriaco Sforza corner flew past everyone and into the net. A 1-1 final score meant it could be a fascinating second leg in Denmark’s third largest city. OB’s away goal gave them the advantage going into the second leg, and despite all the excitement promised the game actually finished goalless. Nonetheless, it was a massive result for OB, they had knocked out one of the bigger names in the competition and set up a dream last sixteen tie with the mighty Real Madrid.

The first leg took place in front of a bumper crowd at OB’s Odense Stadion and was a five-goal thriller. A swerving effort from outside the box saw Michael Schjønberg give OB the lead on the stroke of half time and the locals couldn’t believe it. 22 minutes into the second half, however, Real Madrid found themselves level when a ball across the box saw Iván Zamorano slot home from close range. José Amavisca fired the visitors in front two minutes later but OB levelled the game eleven minutes from the end with a strike from Hjorth. 2-2, unbelievable! That, however, was not the end of it though. Real Madrid’s Danish international Laudrup along with his brother Brian was one of the country’s star players, and far too good for the substandard Danish Superliga had made a name for himself abroad, most recently in Madrid. That night he was to hand the visitors victory. His low drive from just outside the box in the 90th minute settled the match and left OB with a mammoth task ahead in the second leg.

OB were only one goal down after the first leg but with Real Madrid having three away goals to their name OB would need to win the second leg by two clear goals if they wanted to progress to the quarter-finals, a seemingly impossible task.

OB were inspired that night, and none more so than Goalkeeper Lars Høgh. Høgh’s heroic performance prevented what would have been a Real Madrid rampage. Time and time again he made important saves to stop a truly dominant home side from furthering their advantage from the first leg. Laudrup had a chance saved at close range, Alfonso had a drive blocked, then Emilio Butragueño forced Høgh to make a brilliant save, Laudrup had another effort saved in the second-half, and Høgh was also on hand to save from a free-kick. For Høgh it really was the game of his life.

All those saves were all fine and well but OB actually needed goals if they wanted to progress. They hit the crossbar in the first half but finally got the breakthrough on 71 minutes. Hjorth played the ball through to Ulrik Pedersen who raced into the box and slotted home. A real sense of nervousness suddenly swept through the Bernabéu, the home side were still ahead in the tie but only just.

Whilst Real Madrid continued to create chances they failed to find an equaliser, and it was in stoppage time that the inconceivable happened. Bisgaard had first entered the pitch thanks to a substitution less than ten minutes earlier and when he put the visitors 2-0 up you could almost hear a pin drop. The OB players went wild pilling on top of each other. Others were going crazy in the away team dugout, and those commentating on the match for Denmark’s TV2 were getting more than a little excited, but the rest of the stadium was in complete silence, they could not believe what they had just seen.

A small club from Denmark whom many Real Madrid supporters might not have even heard of before had just dumped them out of the UEFA Cup. Yes, the white half of Madrid would be crowned Spanish league champions at the end of the season, but it would always be the campaign in which they lost to little Odense Boldklub.

OB would ultimately suffer a 1-0 aggregate loss to Italian side Parma in the next round, which still stands as their most successful European campaign to date. Lars Høgh would in total make 817 appearances for OB in a career that spanned over twenty years, and now runs coaching courses in Denmark. Ulrik Pedersen retired from football in 2011 having played for several clubs in Denmark and now works as an environmental consultant. Morten Bisgaard returned to OB in 2007 before retiring two years later. Bisgaard originally left in 1998 and had spells with Udinese, FC København, and Derby County a club for whom he made 101 appearances. He now works as a TV commentator back home in Denmark.

Almost 25 years on and OB’s achievement seems just as incredible as ever. In the current Champions League era where the continent’s biggest clubs get richer each year, and even more dominant season after season, it’s a shock we may struggle to see the likes of again. That night in Madrid, it really was the stuff of miracles.

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