Friday, 26 October 2018

Remembering The Royal League

"If we don't find a way forward and negotiate a new TV deal it doesn't look good for the Royal League" Those were the words of then Brøndby chairman Per Bjerregaard after his club won the third and final instalment of Scandinavia's short lived regional Champions League style club tournament.

Described by some as a 'failed experiment' the Royal League ran for 3 seasons starting in 2004/05 with four teams each from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Split into three groups, the first tournament saw the two best teams from each group progress to a second group phase before those two group winners met in the tournament final. For the second and third seasons the second group phase was replaced by a knockout format with the two best third placed sides also joining the first and second placed teams for this.

'Norwegians in charge' reported World Soccer magazine after the first group stage of the inaugural tournament but it was in fact Denmark's FC Copenhagen who went on to win the final that first year beating IFK Göteborg of Sweden on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Gothenburg's Ullevi Stadium. This first edition of the tournament was unfortunately plagued by poor attendances, and although the tournament's highest match attendance was a more than respectable 21,763 for a Copenhagen derby between FC Copenhagen and Brøndby, only 272  turned up to watch Brann v OB, and OB v Halmstads fared even worse with only 86 people present. These were far below domestic league crowds.

Attendances did not fair any better for the second edition of the competition with a low of 63 for one game. That second tournament was again won by FC Copenhagen who beat Lillestrøm of Norway in the final 1-0, and although played at Copenhagen's Parken Stadion home it attracted far below the clubs home league average for that year. All further proof that the competition was struggling to gain interest from fans in the region. Attendance wise there was only limited improvement for the Brøndby won third season, but it was financial issues and problems securing a new TV deal that proved the competitions downfall.

In the end Bjerregaard's prediction of a potential bleak future sadly became a reality for the Royal League. Problems securing a TV deal saw what would have been the fourth edition of tournament delayed and eventually cancelled. Several teams were unwilling participate until a TV was secured and when it became apparent one would not be agreed then the whole competition was scrapped. After just three seasons the Royal League was no more. 

Following the Royal League's downfall plans for a new tournament to be known as the Royal Cup which would also include sides from Finland and Iceland never got of the ground and the short lived experiment of a regional competition for league clubs from Scandinavia died a sad death.

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