It is the calm after the storm, a few days on from Brentford’s breathless draw at home to Liverpool. The ground is empty, lighting rigs occupy the pitch and a couple of blocks behind the dugouts, Christian Nørgaard raises one of the challenges of such memorable occasions under the lights: the insomnia that invariably follows.
“I slept around 2.30am or 3am,” he says. “For a new stadium, it already has a lot of great memories, with the win against Arsenal and the draw against Liverpool – two amazing games. Liverpool was a late game, a crazy game and that makes it harder to fall asleep at night. The Ryder Cup was on so that made it a bit easier – I could watch a bit of that.”
Nørgaard grins but, as well as spending time with his wife, Josefine, and their one-year-old son, Elliot, at home in west London, golf is one of the ways he likes to unwind when time allows, playing three-balls with his Denmark teammates Andreas Christensen and Joachim Andersen, of Chelsea and Crystal Palace respectively.
Who is the best out on the course? “I think that would be me but I’ve also played for longer than them. Hopefully they can get up to speed so we can have more of an even game,” he says, smiling. His handicap is around 14. “Acceptable,” he says, “but I would like to get it lower.
“I played Sam Saunders, the assistant coach from the B team but I got my ass kicked completely. It was embarrassing. I need to get the players here going a bit more because it is quite fun to do next to football because you can keep that competitiveness. It can be frustrating – that is the beautiful thing about golf: it can be the best thing in the world but also the worst. I’ve had so many times where I’ve thought: ‘Seriously, what am I doing here, why am I spending my time going around duffing balls and missing easy putts?’”
Nørgaard is calmness personified on and off the pitch, a crucial cog in a Brentford team that have made an impressive start to life in the top flight and warm company as he discusses an extraordinary year to date – promotion, his first Premier League goal, being part of the Denmark team that reached the Euro 2020 semi-finals and getting married. “It will be hard to top. I’m trying to enjoy the moment because you never know when it could be over.”
Last week his manager, Thomas Frank, who first coached him as a 15-year-old at Lyngby, described Nørgaard as a “late bloomer” more than capable of slotting into the base of Liverpool’s midfield and while that compliment could be added to a timeline comprising predominantly highs, one particular low stands out from a special summer.
The national team has found the Danish fans and the Danish fans have found their national team again
Nørgaard was sitting among the Denmark substitutes when Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch during their opening European Championship game, requiring life-saving medical treatment. His club-mate, Mathias Jensen, replaced Eriksen after a lengthy stoppage.
“It was meant to be a big, big party in Copenhagen, the first time the Euros was ever held there, the opening game against Finland and then that happened, so you can imagine how that was, when you’re up here with all the expectations and how much we were all looking forward to that game and then hitting rock bottom.
“I think everyone learned something new about themselves that day, how they react in certain situations and situations like that which we hope will never occur again in our life. I only saw teammates that were willing to sacrifice for each other or try to help out where they could, not only players but staff as well. Many of the players, the referees and the doctors had not been in situations like this. It was amazing to see how they reacted and how they did their job in very hard circumstances.”
Eriksen’s collapse, Nørgaard says, acted as a reminder of how precious life is and galvanised the entire country. “The national team has found the Danish fans and the Danish fans have found their national team again,” the 27-year-old says, meshing his hands together. “We managed to get even closer, even tighter as a team. Now every game is a sellout in Parken. You receive so much support when you’re driving through Copenhagen – there are flags and red shirts everywhere. There are more important things than sport but sport can really bring people together when something like that happens.”
Brentford, whose owner, Matthew Benham, also owns Midtjylland, is home to a “little Denmark” – Nørgaard is one of seven Danish first-team players, while the co-director of football, Rasmus Ankersen, Frank and his assistant, Brian Riemer, also call Denmark home – and their tight-knit squad have established a wonderful bond with supporters. After their historic victory over Arsenal, Frank made a beeline for Woody, a young fan with Down’s syndrome. Supporters no doubt struggled to sleep that night, too.
For the players, a sleep coach, Anna West, is there to help. “It is a poor night of sleep after a game and then [it is about] trying to get your powers back again before the training restarts. She comes by the training ground once a month and you make a plan, what you need, what you’re struggling with, what are you doing well and so on. Sleep is a big part of our life and has a main role in terms of our injury prevention and performance in general.”
Sunday’s London derby at West Ham provides another opportunity for Brentford to celebrate, but standing in their way will be a familiar face in Saïd Benrahma, who became a fans’ favourite in two sparkling years at the club. “I know,” says Nørgaard. “He did me badly in one of the pre-season games where he dropped the shoulder and he pinned it in the top corner. He can do that in a friendly but I’m not letting him do that on Sunday,” he laughs.