Newcastle cult hero Bjorn Kristensen could have been remembered as one of Denmark’s greats, had he taken a phone call more seriously in the summer of 1992.
Then aged 28 and an established international who had played at the European Championships four years earlier, Kristensen remembers the conversation with national-team boss Richard Moller Nielsen.
‘We had not qualified (for Euro 92) but there was the war in Yugoslavia. The coach called and asked if I was ready to play – maybe we had a chance to go, just maybe,’ he says.
Newcastle cult hero Bjorn Kristensen has some great stories from his colourful career
The defender missed out on Euro 92, which Denmark won, after choosing to stay at home
‘My wife was pregnant and due in June. We were in the summer house, I had found the red wine…
‘I had only played a few games for Newcastle after injury at the end of the season, so I told him no, I didn’t think it would happen.
‘And then the rest of the story, well that is history.’
Yugoslavia were booted out by Uefa and, given 10 days’ notice, Denmark took their place at the finals in Sweden – and duly won the tournament.
‘That’s life. I can cry about it or get on with life, there’s nothing I can do.’
Kristensen had signed for Newcastle in 1989 and, to this day, is fondly remembered as a classy, moustachioed centre-back, seldom afraid to drop his shoulder and venture upfield.
Over a few beers in the charming Peter Gift pub here in his hometown of Aarhus, the 56-year-old takes us back to his time in England.
‘I’ll have a Newcastle Brown Ale,’ he says on arrival, the moustache now a shadow but his elegant, straight-backed posture unmistakable. ‘I picked this pub because I know you can get Brown Ale here.’
His former Magpies team-mate, Mick Quinn, has sent a text message, ‘Tell the fat b****** he owes me a pint for every time I bailed his defence out by scoring the winning goal!’
‘Fat?’ says Kristensen. ‘Wasn’t it Quinny who “ate all the pies”?’
The moustachioed Newcastle stalwart has some wonderful memories of Tyneside
A few miles from here is Ceres Park, the home of AGF Aarhus, the club where Kristensen made his name. Inside the stadium’s museum is a picture of him chasing Gary Lineker, then of Barcelona.
‘Myself and (Aarhus team-mate) Frank Pingel went to talk to Newcastle at the same time but I came back to play against Barca in the Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final. We drew 0-0 in Spain and lost 1-0 here, Lineker scored. I was not marking him though.’
The picture suggests you were?
‘Ah, that was another moment… The day after that game I signed for Newcastle. It was a dream, all we watched on Saturday afternoons as a kid was English football.’
But the dream soon turned into a nightmare when Newcastle were relegated from the First Division. It was not until the following season that Kristensen became a favourite on the Gallowgate.
‘One of my first games I got a knock on my ankle near the touchline and I was lying down, shouting “Oww, oww”. The fans started mimicking me, “Ooh, ooh”. I learned the hard way that you had to get up and play on, don’t be a p***y!’
Kristensen caught up with Sportsmail’s Craig Hope over a Newcastle Brown Ale
Kristensen, though, soon realised that flight was sometimes better than fight, especially on a night out with his new team-mates.
‘Do you remember “The Boat”?’ he asks. ‘The nightclub on the Tyne, with the revolving dancefloor?’
The Tuxedo Princess is the stuff of legend on Tyneside.
‘We were out one night and I had a brand new Armani suit on, I felt great. Suddenly, some guys were not very keen on us. I said, “I’m going now”.
‘Just as I got outside, I got smacked on the back of the head and fell. I jumped up and started running, straight over the Swing Bridge. I was quick so they could not catch me, but I fell again. I was safe, but then I looked down. The knee and elbow of my suit were ripped, “Oh f***!”.’
He suspects that his pursuers were Sunderland fans, not that he hung around to find out. But Kristensen was in no doubt as to the perpetrators when his club car was smashed up following Newcastle’s defeat to Sunderland in the playoff semi-finals.
It had been a toxic night at St James’ with a pitch invasion coming very close to seeing the match abandoned. Sunderland emerged with a 2-0 victory.
‘With a few minutes left the fans ran on the pitch and we all ran in the dugout, it was scary. When we got back on, we all played on one side, right next to the tunnel!
‘When I left the ground my Alpha Romeo was in pieces. It was already inscribed with, “Driven by Bjorn Kristensen”. Bit of a giveaway, yeah? It was the Newcastle fans who give it a kicking though!’
If Kristensen was someone who avoided conflict, the same could not be said of compatriot Pingel, the forward who had been a boxing champion in Denmark.
Kristensen is now a successful businessman who has formed and sold several companies
‘John Hendrie started a fight with Frank one day in training. He picked on the wrong Dane… Frank could handle himself and went back at him, I would have ran away!’
Pingel scored just one goal for Newcastle and returned to Denmark after an unhappy six months.
‘The local newspaper was harsh on him. But I couldn’t tell him, it would make him so angry. He would say, “Here is my name, what does it say about me?”. I would say, “Ah, yes, you played okay, getting better all the time”. It actually said he was c**p!’
Kristensen knew how to handle Pingel, with whom he remains close friends. Others did not.
‘We played in Northern Ireland with Denmark and were drinking after the game. Frank was arguing with the captain, who got upset and went to bed. Because of the situation in the country, the security guards had guns. Frank “borrowed” one and went to the captain’s room – we all ran up after him. When we got there he was pointing the gun to the captain’s head!’
Kristensen’s Newcastle team-mates did not have to go to such lengths to persuade him to play golf, but he was nonetheless a reluctant participant in a sport previously alien to him.
‘We had “golf Wednesdays” which were always followed by a night out, so I had to learn to play. I had been on the driving range only twice and the lads told me I had to play in this Pro-Am tournament. I didn’t have a clue.
‘There were about 100 people in the crowd watching me tee off for the first time ever on a golf course. I swung and it flew off to left. Next thing, it bounces back onto the fairway – it had hit the greenkeeper’s house! Everyone applauded!’
Kristensen was adept at dropping a shoulder and carrying the ball out from the back
By the time Kevin Keegan arrived as manager in 1992, Kristensen was sidelined with a serious knee injury. He was eventually loaned out to Bristol City.
‘It was a shame because I had been playing well – or at least I must have been judging by the amount of man-of-the-match beer tankards I still have!’
But he laughs as he recalls his biggest contribution under Keegan – a scouting report on Andy Cole.
‘I was training with Andy every day at Bristol and Keegan called to ask if he was any good. I said, “He is lazy. He never trains. He doesn’t tie his laces. He doesn’t warm up. But I think you should definitely sign him, he’s brilliant!”. And I was right!’
But Kristensen’s days at Newcastle were numbered.
‘I was p****d off with Keegan because he didn’t play me. We had John Anderson’s testimonial and Keegan was on the opposition. I had my chance, a 50-50 tackle, and I gave him one. I knew it was the end for me.’
A two-year stay at Portsmouth followed where he was reunited with Jim Smith, the manager who had brought him to Newcastle.
‘We were playing in Greece in pre-season and Jim was on the balcony next to me. I jumped over and shouted “boo!”. He spilt his beer and nearly fell off his chair. He jumped up, “You Danish f****** pastry!”.’
The image of prankster hardly tallies with the Kristensen of today, a successful businessman who has formed and sold several companies, as well as entering the world of politics and advising those in local government.
If only his decision making had been as smart in the summer of 1992.