I am proud to be Danish. Now more than any time before. To watch the Denmark players act the way they did, to see the way they shouldered responsibility in the heat of the moment after Christian Eriksen’s collapse and to see the way they cared for each other was incredibly admirable.
It makes me proud as a Danish person but also as the captain of the women’s team. The whole country feels the same: immensely proud to be represented by these players and this team in this tournament but also in general. In that moment this tournament became bigger for us and the whole country is completely with this team and their journey.
I sat with the women’s team in Spain, before our friendly there, to watch the opening game against Finland. We came together before dinner. Then the incident happened. It was just scary to look at. And the TV cameras didn’t shut off. We were just sitting there, like everyone else, waiting. Some of the team were crying. It hit everyone hard. But you’re just watching it – you don’t have a close relationship with him. I couldn’t help but think about how the players felt, those that are close to Christian, that have become extended family. It was tough to watch them too.
There are a lot of leaders in and around the team and they handled the situation and media incredibly well. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable and that has helped contribute to the deep togetherness between the team and the country. I am sure that the players have become even closer to each other too. When something like this happens it exposes you: you have to show your feelings, you have to talk about your feelings and that brings people together because everyone can relate and identify.
Collective experience of trauma bonds people and you can see the positives of that being channelled into the games now. There is a unity and belief that could drive this team to the final, but it’s not a coincidence that this happens. That such a tragedy could create something good in this tournament is because of the way they have handled it all. It says a lot about the team and the players and I believe now more than ever, with how the team is playing and the route to the final, that anything is possible.
What could work in their favour going into Saturday’s quarter-final against the Czech Republic is that some of the pressure has been lifted. They feel the huge support, from the fans in the stadiums, from those who have waited outside the hotel to welcome them back after game, and in the media. They know that no matter what happens, we’re proud of them. You can see within the team too, that they’re proud of each other; you can see that in the way they’re playing and the freedom they are playing with. Some of the football they’re playing is the best I’ve seen in a long time.
The manager, Kasper Hjulmand, who wouldn’t have been in charge if this tournament had been played last year as planned, has shown he is both a great coach and a great leader. He has built on a really good environment and dynamic in the team. Everyone knows their role, they know where they are and what he expects from them – that makes it easy for the players to perform. He sees the players who are not playing too and that’s really important. The other day he was praising Mathias “Zanka” Jørgensen who hasn’t played a minute, but he singled him out when talking to the press, said he had been so important for the team in the way he’s acting, even though he’s not playing and that he is making the team able to perform better.
We’ve experienced that wider care. Hjulmand came to one of our camps and talked a little bit about his vision for the national teams collectively. He stands for equality. He has some really good values and I think you can see this in the way he is as a leader. His driving force is obviously to win games but it’s also to build a togetherness within Danish football and Denmark generally.
There has been so much to love about this tournament so far. I don’t think I have seen a better day of tournament football than Monday’s thrilling 5-3 victory of Spain over Croatia and Switzerland’s incredible defeat of France on penalties. The letdown though has been the mixed messaging from Uefa on support for LGBTQ+ rights throughout this tournament.
It has a responsibility to act and not just respond, but in refusing to allow the Allianz Arena to be lit with the rainbow flag, in investigating Manuel Neuer for wearing a rainbow captain’s armband (even if it did decide to allow it) and in allowing Budapest to host multiple matches they are failing to do that.
As individuals we can do only so some much but these big organisations could and should be leading the way. Imagine if instead of banning Germany from lighting up the Allianz it was Uefa using its power to tell the German FA to turn the lights on – then we’d be talking.
At the very least the mishandling of the situation and unwillingness to challenge the discriminatory views that are spilling into the stadiums where the Hungarian national team play, as a result of the political decisions made in the country, has led to a debate and has prompted teams and players to actively show their support for LGBTQ+ community. That means a lot.
It’s important that young people in Hungary know that in many other countries it is OK to be gay and that there are people out there who want them to just be themselves and not feel forced to be something else. It is difficult to imagine what it is like to feel like you will not be accepted in your own country. They need to know we are with them.