Remembering the Royal League of Scandinavia

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A super league featuring the best football teams from Denmark, Norway and Sweden? It happened, but it didn't last long. Read on for the full story.

Recent plans for a European Super League shocked many football fans across the continent. Protests notably in England saw the plans quickly fall apart. But the concept of a league featuring teams from multiple countries is nothing new.

Malmö Stadion, former home of Malmö FF.
Malmö Stadion, former home of Malmö FF (1958 until 2009).

There are the existing European tournaments of course, and pre-season tournaments in Spain and the Middle East. Plus there were some previous attempts at cross-Europe competitions such as the Intertoto Cup. But there was also a lesser-known attempt in Scandinavia.

Football or soccer is a popular sport throughout the Nordic region, but the region's reputation on the European stage is not exactly stellar. That’s especially true for Norwegian football, despite the emergence of Erling Haaland and Martin Ødegaard.

Although recent good performances from Denmark’s national team have attracted attention, many European football fans would struggle to name more than a handful of clubs from the region.

It could have been very different had Scandinavia's Royal League lasted more than three seasons.

The story of the Royal League

The premise of the Royal League was a good one. Give the best teams from Norwegian football together with Denmark and Sweden a chance for glory, while giving the players a chance to impress to a wider base of football fans.

Launched in November 2004, the Royal League was planned to be an annual football tournament involving the best four teams from the three Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

The flags of the Scandinavian countries
The flags of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

However, despite initial excitement, the tournament suffered from a general lack of interest from all involved. There are striking similarities with the UEFA Nations League of today.

Some clubs played reserve and youth team players, which in turn hit attendances. Interest from media both in and out of the region was indifferent.

The timing of the tournament didn't help. It started immediately after the season ended in Norway and Sweden, traditionally a time when players take a hard-earned break. Meanwhile in Denmark, it came in the already packed mid-season period.

After three seasons, the failure to secure a TV deal saw the fourth season of the Royal League cancelled. In future years there were attempts to revive the tournament, potentially involving teams from Iceland and Finland, but they came to nothing.

Royal League 1: 2004-05

The inaugural tournament had an unusual format involving two group stages. The top two teams from the first stage involving three groups of four progressed. In the second group stage, the two group winners contested the final.

FC Copenhagen pictured in 2019. Photo: Alexander Ishchenko / Shutterstock.com.
FC Copenhagen won the Royal League twice. Team pictured here in 2019. Photo: Alexander Ishchenko / Shutterstock.com.

Norway's four representatives in the tournament were Vålerenga, Rosenborg, Tromsø and Brann.

Despite three of the six teams making it through to the second group stage being from Norway, the final was contested between Sweden's IFK Göteborg and Denmark's FC Copenhagen.

After a 1-1 draw, the Danes won an epic penalty shoot-out 11-10 to take the first Royal League title.

Royal League 2: 2005-06

The tournament's second outing saw a simplified format, with the second group stage replaced with a more traditional knockout tournament. The two best third-placed teams joined the first and second-placed sides from the group stage to contest the knockout phase.

Norway's representatives in the second season were Vålerenga, Start, Lillestrøm and Lyn.

Parken, the home ground of FC Copenhagen. Photo: Maykova Galina / Shutterstock.com.
Parken, the home ground of FC Copenhagen. Photo: Maykova Galina / Shutterstock.com.

Lillestrøm made it all the way to the final, where they faced the tough challenge of playing FC Copenhagen on their home ground of Parken. A late goal secured the title for the Danes, although the attendance of 13,617 showed the tournament was struggling.

Royal League 3: 2006-07

Norway's representatives in the third season were Brann, Rosenborg, Lillestrøm and Vålerenga. All except Rosenborg made it through to the knockout phase, but all three sides fell at the quarter final stage.

The final was a Copenhagen derby between Brøndby and FC Copenhagen, held at Brøndby's home ground. A first half penalty was enough for Brøndby to secure the title against their city rivals.

The end of the Royal League

Initially when the 2007–08 tournament was cancelled for financial reasons, there had been plans to continue. But in October 2008, it was announced that the following season's tournament would also be cancelled as the TV rights had not been sold.

Might the Royal League make a comeback?

Many Scandinavian teams have good relationships with one another, often playing games in pre-season. But there seems to be little appetite for a return of the Royal League.

Football BH sums up the tournament's number one issue nicely: “Rarely is a new competition ever viewed in the same way as ones that have existed since the beginning of the sport. Winning the Royal League was much like lifting the Nations League. Hey, at least the intentions were good!”

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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