Ο γύρος του κόσμου με ένα σομπρέρο

A tragedy behind triumph: The story of Kim Vilfort

Summer of 1992. Denmark and France face off in the group stage of a major tournament. In a hospital room in Copenhagen, a Danish footballer, who participated in the first two matches of the tournament, watches the game alongside his daughter, who is battling leukemia. To everyone’s surprise, Denmark wins the match and advances to the semifinals, even though they were invited to the competition almost at the last moment.

At the end of the game, the 6-year-old turns to her father and says, “I want you to play in the next match.” He decides to heed her request and returns to the tournament for the next two historic games. When he rejoins the national team, he informs his teammates: “I promised her that we would win it, so give it your all.” Nine days later, Denmark is the European champion for the first time in its history. The goal that seals the final is scored by the man who promised his sick daughter that he would win for her, even though he is not a forward.

Reading the prologue, one might think it’s the script for a fictional “feel-good” sports movie, the kind usually aired on channels on Sunday afternoons. The truth is, they wouldn’t be wrong. The above description is from the movie “Sommeren ’92,” released in theaters in 2015. However, what makes the twist is that the film is based on a true story.

Almost every football enthusiast is familiar with how the Danes unexpectedly found themselves at Euro 1992. On May 31, 1992, UEFA, in the context of UN sanctions, announced the exclusion of Yugoslavia from the tournament. Denmark, finishing second in their qualifying group, took their place. While the Yugoslavs were packing up to leave Sweden, the Danes were rushing to assemble their players to face the English in the opening match just 11 days later.

At the time of the news, coach Richard Nielsen was busy with household chores, remodeling his kitchen. Some of his players had just finished their season in the late-ending Danish championship. Some had already left for holidays, while others were preparing for them. Striker Henrik Larsen, for instance, had booked hotel rooms for a 14-day stay in Greece. “When they told me we would participate in the Euro, I immediately canceled most of the days. I left only the reservations for Crete because we were supposed to go there anyway, after the group stage. In the end, I never went to Greece.”

One of the key members of that team was Kim Vilfort, a utility player in midfield who could play in all central positions. 30  years old, Vilfort, who had studied to become a history teacher, played for Brondby and was considered one of the best players in the Danish league, where he had been voted MVP a year earlier. However, that summer, he faced a serious personal issue.

Kim Vilfort’s 6-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with leukemia a few months earlier, and the family had focused all their attention on the subsequent treatment. “Sometimes, she was hospitalized for a few hours, and other times, she stayed overnight. In those cases, either my wife or I stayed with her, while the rest went home to be with our son. My wife had stopped working.” When the federation called him, Vilfort initially hesitated about going to Sweden. However, he was eventually convinced by his wife and the news from the doctor overseeing his daughter’s treatment, indicating that her therapy was progressing well.

In the tournament’s early days, Vilfort managed to keep his daughter’s situation under wraps. His professionalism was so impeccable that no one suspected a thing. He played normally in the first two games, with Denmark losing to Sweden but securing a draw against England. Thanks to this outcome, the supposed “tourists” from Denmark remained in contention for qualification heading into the last matchday. If Sweden defeated England, and they emerged victorious against the French, they would advance to the semi-finals—a seemingly improbable scenario given the challenging circumstances.

One day before the game against France, however, Vilford received a phone call. His daughter’s condition had worsened, and a family meeting was necessary to decide on the course of action going forward. Without much thought, he gathered his belongings from the room and informed his coach that he was returning urgently to Copenhagen. The Euro was over for him.

The next day, father and daughter watched the game together in the hospital, and in the end, it was decided that the father should return to Sweden. Although many years have passed, Vilford refuses to reveal exactly what was said between them that afternoon and to confirm if the lines included by the screenwriters in the movie are true. He was never a person seeking attention, and when the news circulated those days that he withdrew from the tournament for the sake of his daughter, he felt very uncomfortable. “It was so strange, all this interest in my personal life. Even before the illness, I always tried to focus only on football when talking to the press.”

Denmark made a tremendous breakthrough that day, defeating France with 2-1 , advancing to the semi-final and adding a few more pages to the fairy tale they were living in. In the semifinal, with Vilford back in the starting lineup, they once again shocked Europe, eliminating the titleholder Netherlands of Van Basten, Bergkamp, Gullit, and Rijkaard in a penalty shootout after the match ended 2-2. Ten players took penalties that day, and only one missed—the irony being that it was one of the best executors in the world, Marco van Basten. Among the five successful Danes was Kim Vilford, who once again successfully pushed his personal problems to the sidelines.

Four days later in Gothenburg, Denmark completed the greatest surprise Europe had seen until then. Its last victim was the world champion Germany, with Brehme, Effenberg, Sammer, and Klinsmann. Midfielder John Jensen opened the scoring early in the game, and another midfielder, Kim Vilfort, sealed the match in the 78th minute with a well-placed shot using his “weaker” left foot. The ball hit Ilgner’s post before finding the back of the net. Denmark was the European champion, and little Lene was momentarily happy and proud of her father. “All my friends say that my dad is perfect,” she is said to have mentioned at some point in the movie dedicated to that Danish miracle.

According to Vilfort: “None of us believed that we could reach that far. We all went with the mindset to simply experience it. What all of Denmark experienced those weeks was fantastic. You have to go back to the end of World War II to find another moment that brought so much joy and happiness to the country. Anyone over 35 certainly hasn’t forgotten where they were on the day of the final. When we returned, it took us three hours to get from the airport to the city center. It was the best thing that happened to Danish sports.

The romantic movie that fits the script of the prologue would normally end here. Unfortunately for Vilfort, real life often lacks such sweet endings. When the celebrations and parties ended, reality hit him very abruptly. Little Line passed away in August, 1.5 months after the end of the Euro.

Kim Vilfort hung up his boots in 1998 as a legend of Brondby, with which he won seven championships. After a stint in the club’s youth academies, he has been working there for several years as a scouting director. In 2014, he was voted the best player of the century in the Danish league, and thanks to him, Brondby fans have given the team’s stadium the nickname “Vilfort Park.”

Today, he is an official ambassador for a charitable organization that raises funds for children with cancer, actively participating in the Children’s Cancer Foundation, where one of the nurses who took care of his daughter that summer is the director. During that time, he set aside his emotions for a while, making his little one proud and the whole country happy.



European football

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