A late afternoon in Bologna: Vino, Calcio e “Dondolo”

Late in the afternoon, I chat with Giovanni in a cozy cafe close to Piazza Maggiore in the “heart” of Bologna – the capital of the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Giovanni – an elderly well-dressed man who has lived all his life in Bologna – quickly and passionately convinces me that Bologna is something very special. Europe’s first university was founded here in 1088 and the city has Italy’s most delicious specialty shops with fish, meat, pasta, vegetables and fruit. Giovanni is a little surprised when I tell him about my nationality: “Danimarca, Nielsen e Campione italiano”” exclaims Giovanni with arms and legs fencing. “Nielsen – Capocannoniere la squadra campione del 1964”. And Giovanni continues the story of how he – like his father and grandfather – has always been a loyal and faithful fan of Bologna FC. The conversation continues for the following hours over more than a single glass of Brunello for my Italian friend and me.

The apprentice operator “little Halle” from Frederikshavn

The 1960 Olympic Games was the event where the Danish national football team and not least the only 18-year-old Harald Nielsen from Frederikshavn became known. Not only through the black and white TV transmissions from Rome, but also at the biggest football clubs in Italy. Harald Nielsen made his debut for the national team in September 1959 – only 17 years and 322 days old – and he is thus still the youngest Danish national team player ever. Harald Nielsen became the Olympic tournament’s top scorer and managed to score a total of 15 goals in 14 international matches before signing a contract with Bologna FC in the summer of 1961. As an international professional, more international matches for Denmark had now been put to an end.

Top scorer in Serie A and national champion with Bologna FC

Harald Nielsen quickly achieved great sporting success at Bologna FC. Already in the first season, Nielsen – with the nickname “Dondolo” – became the club’s top scorer. And in the two following seasons also top scorer in Serie A with an impressive 19 and 21 goals. The sporting climax with Bologna FC came in the 1963-1964 season, when the club – i.a. with German Helmuth Haller and Bologna legends Ezio Pascutti and Giacomo Bulgarelli, who still today hold the club record of 488 games – won the national championship – Il scudetto.

Also success off the pitch

After six seasons with 81 goals in 157 games for Bologna FC, Harald Nielsen moved to FC Internazionale Milano in 1967 for a transfer fee of half a billion Italian lire (approx. DKK 6 million), making him the most expensive footballer in the world at the time . However, Harald Nielsen did not achieve the same success at FC Inter (1967-1968), SSC Napoli (1968-1969) or UC Sampdoria (1969-1970) as he had at Bologna FC. In the last three seasons, it amounted to a modest 4 goals in 22 games. The primary reason for the few games and goals was that Harald Nielsen was hampered by a back injury after his time at Bologna FC. Harald Nielsen ended his career on the field in 1970, but subsequently he – together with his wife Rudi – had great success importing Italian leather goods to Scandinavia. In the late 1970s, Harald Nielsen – together with Helge Sander – was very proactive in relation to introducing a professional league in Denmark. And in the 1990s, the dynamic businessman started F.C. Copenhagen, where he was chairman of the board in the period 1992-1997 and a board member until 2006.

Bologna Football Club 1909

Bologna FC was founded in 1909 and already from the beginning of the 1920s the club established itself as one of Italy’s best. Up until the Second World War, the club won six national championships and several Bologna players also played a prominent role in the Italian national team – “Gli Azzurri” – which became world champions in both 1934 and 1938. Also in the 1950s, Bologna FC maintained its position in the top of Italian football, i.a. with the Danish midfielder Axel Pilmark, who reached a total of 274 games and 2 seasons as captain for the club.

Sporting ups and downs and financial problems through the decades

Over the past five decades, Bologna FC has not – unlike clubs such as Juventus FC, AC Milan, FC Inter, AS Roma, SS Lazio and SSC Napoli – managed to maintain the position at the top of Serie A and the number of relegations and promotions between Serie A and B has been big. And in the 1982-1983 season, the downturn with relegation to Serie C – the 3rd best tier – was total. In the past two decades, the club has also been characterized by major financial problems, which have had an impact on the sporting results. In the 2015-2016 season, however, Bologna FC returned to Serie A, where in recent seasons it has mostly resulted in positions between No. 10 and No. 16.

Legends never die – not even at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara

On Sunday afternoon, the trip goes to Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, which is named after the manufacturer Renato Dall’Ara, who for more than 30 years (1934-1964) was an extremely well-liked and respected club owner of Bologna FC. Bologna FC, which currently is placed in 11th place in Serie A, the promoters meet from Frosinone Calcio, which is very surprisingly placed in 8th place. Harald Nielsen died on 11 August 2015 after a long illness, but at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara and in Bologna the fans still remember “Dondolo” – the fishmonger’s son from Frederikshavn.


Bologna FC 1909 – https://www.bolognafc.it/en