A Player Abroad: Operation Fortuna Hjørring

by Tiffany Weimer

The second part of our season in Denmark’s 3F Ligaen starts next week. We have a long break that spans from the end of November until the end of March. For the most part, aside from the internationals that have a break for the holidays, the teams stay and train together during the “offseason”. This is a different idea than what we have seen in the US professional/semi-professional leagues. The only comparable organization to this system would be the NCAA where teams stay together most of the year.

The Danish women’s league was founded in 1973 with eight teams. There are currently ten teams in the league. The idea that some of these clubs in Denmark (not all are fully professional) can operate all year (some since 1973!!) and not be millions of dollars in debt is admirable.

IMG_0771My interest was sparked last week as I sat in a room full of Fortuna Hjørring staff members at an annual meeting about the club and its economy. Each person in the room (including our team) received a packet of all the numbers pertaining to the club’s finances.

For 2012, the club (a women’s club!) made over 400,000 DKK. Divide that by 5.7 (the conversion rate) and we made over $70,000 last year.

Fortuna Hjørring had an interesting start. After Denmark won the “World Cup” (it wasn’t a FIFA event yet) in 1971, there was a little buzz about women’s soccer in the country. (Sound familiar? 1999?) This, along with FIFA including women’s soccer, led to the Danish Football Association (DBU).

So, Fortuna hopped on board with an official professional (I say official because the women’s club had a soccer team in the late 60s. At the time they were involved with the men’s club in Hjørring, but that ended after problems arising about locker room space) women’s soccer team.

John Robert Larsen was the first coach in Fortuna. He also started the Dana Cup in 1982. It would turn into one of the world’s largest and most international youth tournaments. The Dana Cup is what helps fund the club with almost everything being connected in some way. Fortuna players help out at the tournament during the summer and many staff members do double duty with club and tournament tasks.

The club also owns all of its land, buildings and most of the houses the players live in. They hold concerts, camps, clinics and BINGO nights to raise money. They do all the little things that every club is capable of doing. It’s actually quite incredible.

As a player abroad, I take a lot of comfort in knowing my team will be there when I wake up in the morning. I had the experience of being named a developmental player in Women’s Professional Soccer, after having a semi-guaranteed contract taken away. You don’t think of the word “semi” until you realize you no longer have something.

What Fortuna has done here in the small town of Hjørring is create a place where women can thrive and young girls can strive. The club has a second team and a third team and youth teams and older women’s teams. At the meeting last week there were two awards given to women who have been a part of the club for 40 years… 40 years! They started playing as children and continue to be involved with administration today.

This club is an outstanding example of what professional leagues throughout the world can look like, if it’s done correctly. All it took was one man, Larsen, to say “hey, I don’t need all the money we make from the tournament, let’s do something with it.” That idea is somewhat lost in the US. I’m sure it has to do with culture and what Americans perceive to be the most important thing, but look at the opportunities this one man has provided for thousands of girls and women.

So, what I’m trying to say with this piece is that women’s soccer can be a viable operation. When the money is in the right hands, women’s soccer is exactly what it’s supposed to be.

It’s my hope that the US can figure this out and down the road somewhere some little girl can say she played for the same club for 20 years.