England's semi-final opponents come from a truly blessed plot
Most of you are probably unaware that there is a football tournament going on right now, and that on today England play Denmark.
Presumably everyone will want Denmark to win; having lost their first two games, and with their star player almost dying on the pitch, they have the best story arc of any football champions since, well, Denmark won it in 1992.
But there are lots of other reasons to cheer on this small Scandinavian country, which is remarkable in many ways.
1. It’s the least corrupt country in the world
Danish diplomats at the UN in New York always used to pay their parking fines, which is often used as a test of how corrupt a political culture is, since until 2002 diplomats didn’t have to.
2. It is the second happiest country on earth
(And male suicides have almost halved in a decade).
3. The Danes are very impressive at infrastructure building…
… and now they’re going to build an enormous artificial island in Copenhagen. In Britain that would take us 80 years to get done.
4. Copenhagen is the best place to cycle
As with Amsterdam, this was the result of a conscious decision taken in the 1970s when car use was at its highest point — as were road deaths. They built hundreds of miles of segregated cycle lanes and the majority of people cycle to work…
5. … and when they get there Danes work very few hours, which might explain:
Absolutely loving the straight inverse correlation between level of prosperity and hours worked pic.twitter.com/QbvazuYneB
— Thomas Escritt (@tomescritt) June 20, 2021
6. King Canute
Probably one of our finest kings; sure he was bloodthirsty and ruthless in his youth, and cut off some people’s ears in Kent and blinded some other people, but he grew up to be a wise and effective ruler of Denmark, Norway and England.
Also, his point about telling the waves to go back was probably a joke on his sycophants, but one that backfired spectacularly.
The Danes conquered England in 1016 but they probably fought on the English side at the Battle of Hastings. There is some evidence to suggest that the king of Denmark was alarmed enough about the Normans that he sent troops to help King Harold. There were, of course, hundreds of “settled Danes”, the descendants of Vikings who had settled in the Danelaw and whom by now were becoming English. King Harold himself had a Danish mother. More famously, Viking settlements in Yorkshire and the east Midlands had a huge influence on our language.
8. It ‘punched above its weight’ historically
For a tiny country, Denmark had a surprisingly big empire, with colonies in India, and the Caribbean (Alexander Hamilton grew up in the Danish island of St Croix). Iceland was still a colony until 1918, while Greenland still is. The Faroe Islands voted for independence but they never got around to actually leaving.
… imperialism aside, Denmark was the first country to abolish the slave trade, in 1792.
Yes, it’s boring but Denmark is a world leader in wind power — almost half of its energy now comes from the renewable source.
Denmark is such a high trust society that mothers leave their prams outside restaurants — with their babies inside. In Britain, social services would be on your case for that.
12. Even more trust
Likewise, it’s far more common for children to walk around unaccompanied there, while here you’d assume they were feral “hoodies” about to pull a knife on you. (Okay, maybe that’s just me).
14. The men are very popular!
In the 10th century it was observed how Englishwomen weren’t entirely put off by Viking men, who unlike the English washed their hair. Today it seems Danish men are still something of an attraction, providing “almost half of all non-British male reproductive material imported into the country”, in the poetic language of the fertility industry.
15. On a more serious note…
… England fans are not shy of mentioning a certain 20th century conflict, but Denmark’s story under Nazi occupation is remarkable, as Dominic Sandbrook narrates in his excellent new children’s book on the Second War:
At the end of September, the Danish leaders had a word with the Jews’ religious leader, the Chief Rabbi. On the morning of the 29th, the Rabbi told his congregation that they should go home, pack their bags and tell their friends. The Danes would take care of the rest. Two days later, when the SS burst into Jewish homes in the capital, Copenhagen, they found them deserted. The occupants had vanished. All over the country, ordinary people had taken Jewish families into their homes, hiding them in cellars and attics, back rooms and summer houses. Like their King, they saw it as ‘a human and a national duty’ to help their neighbours in their hour of need.
The vast majority of the country’s population reached safety in Sweden, brought over by ordinary Danish men and women, who had got together in an extraordinary fashion.