The day Denmark stood still: Christian Eriksen’s collapse and the heroes who saved him

A Danish journalist recounts how it all unfolded – and what a country united in support of its team thinks of Uefa

A week ago Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch during the Euro 2020 game against Finland, having suffered a cardiac arrest. His heart had stopped beating and, according to the Denmark team doctor Morten Boesen, he “was gone”. This is the story about the heroes of Copenhagen and how Eriksen’s life was saved – and what it meant for the nation.

5pm GMT, Saturday 12 June – the excitement After a year’s delay because of Covid-19, 13,790 extremely excited Denmark and Finland supporters are in the national team’s stadium, Parken. I am not one of the lucky ones so I am watching at home with my wife, her parents and our nine‑year‑old daughter. For everyone in Denmark, though, this is a special moment. There is a national team game at Parken with fans for the first time in more than a year. It is the first time Denmark have hosted an international finals and they have a good chance of going far. But 43 minutes into the match that – and everything else – ceases to matter.

5.43pm – the collapse After receiving a throw-in, Christian Eriksen falls to the ground. No one is near him and everyone struggles to understand what has happened. Quickly it becomes clear something is wrong – very wrong. Eriksen is lying motionless.

The instant heroes The experienced Danish defender Simon Kjær is one of the first to understand the situation’s severity, along with his teammates Thomas Delaney and Joachim Mæhle, Finland’s goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, and the referee, England’s Anthony Taylor. Kjær rushes to Eriksen, puts him on his side and makes sure his airway is open. The 32-year-old is later praised by the team doctors for having played a vital part in saving Eriksen’s life.

The next heroes As Kjær is tending to Eriksen, two brothers rush on. They are Morten and Anders Boesen. Morten is the team doctor, Anders the stadium doctor. They also work for FC Copenhagen, who own and play at Parken, and at a public and a private hospital. The two are former elite badminton players.

When they get to Eriksen, it is clear to TV viewers that the situation is very bad. Thankfully the defibrillator is produced quickly and together with the heart massage it revives Eriksen. “He was gone,” Morten said the following day. “We started the resuscitation and we managed to do it. How close were we to losing him? I don’t know but we got him back after one [shock], so that’s quite fast.”

Morten also praised the staff who helped. “The team surrounding me and physio Morten Skjoldager, the pitch-side doctor, the stretcher team, the paramedics and the doping control officer, and of course, the players, who made a circle around us,” he said. “That made our working conditions optimal.”

Christian Eriksen posted a message on Instagram after his cardiac arrest, thanking fans for their support.
Christian Eriksen posted a message on Instagram after his cardiac arrest, thanking fans for their support. Photograph: Christian Eriksen/Instagram/PA

5.44pm – the team response and togetherness The protective circle Morten mentioned is created by Kjær and Delaney. They quickly gather the other players to give the medics cover and a sense of calm and to protect Eriksen’s privacy. The coolness of the players’ actions is in stark contrast to the expressions on their faces. They show horror, fear and panic. Jonas Wind is crying. Martin Braithwaite is praying. Delaney is holding on to the circle but struggling and having to cover his face from time to time.

5.45pm The Danish Broadcasting Corporation stops showing pictures of the attempts to revive Eriksen. Kjær rushes to the side of the pitch where the goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel is comforting Sabrina – Eriksen’s partner and mother of their two children, the youngest of whom is six months old. The picture of Kjær’s forehead meeting hers as he holds her face is one of the most moving I have seen.

The Denmark head coach, Kasper Hjulmand, praised Kjær’s heroics. “Our players acted outstandingly,” he said a day later. “To see Simon being so far from Christian at first yet still being the second player by his side, helping him, then turning his attention on to Sabrina along with Kasper … He had the capacity to get everyone pulling together, communicate and be a leader. Simon was the role model as he always is.”

5.48pm – silence and panic Crying fans are first shown on Danish TV before the DBC cuts to a stadium overview. I, like many Danes, feel time has frozen. Seconds become minutes. Minutes become hours. Parken is silent. I have been there hundreds of times. Normally it is a place of joy, cheers and boos. Never has it been a place of such silence.

It opens a dark door to panic, fright and sadness. It grips me as I watch what looks like a lifeless man and the panic-ridden faces of players, coaches and fans. I’m not sure everybody in the room noticed the jolting body when the defibrillator is used. My wife then says he’s being given a heart massage. I don’t want to seem too panicky in front my daughter but it becomes unbearable. Frankly, I panic. I leave her with my wife and her parents in the sitting room and go to the kitchen. With tears in my eyes and a burning feeling in my throat I do the dishes. I don’t do them well.

Similarly a number of fans leave the stadium: it is too much. My daughter comes into the kitchen and hugs me from behind, showing maturity beyond her years.

5.57pm – Eriksen leaves the stadium Eriksen is carried out on a stretcher and brought to the nearby Rigshospitalet. A photographer takes a picture of him with his eyes open but we do not know that yet. At this time there are no news of his condition. We do not know whether he is alive.

6.10pm – the wait and the amazing Finland fans We wait. And wait. The stadium announcer keeps saying people should stay and there will be more information at 6.45pm. But the wait is excruciating. Fear, sadness and confusion are the prevailing emotions.

A mural dedicated to Christian Eriksen at the Rigshospitalet.
A mural dedicated to Christian Eriksen at the Rigshospitalet. Photograph: Mads Claus Rasmussen/EPA

After a while, though, the Finland fans do something amazing. They start to chant “Christian” over and over and after a while the Denmark fans get it and start chanting “Eriksen” back. This goes on for a while and gives us all hope. It’s a light in a pitch-black room. And it was not only the chanting: as Eriksen was carried off the Finns handed their flags to the paramedics to shield the player from the fans. “Kiitos Suomi” (Thank you Finland) does not begin to cover it.

There is no news on Eriksen’s condition but I start receiving pictures from a photographer friend showing he is awake leaving the ground. Morten later confirmed: “Christian spoke to me before he was driven to hospital.”

6.32pm – the greatest news Finally the news that Eriksen is alive, in hospital and stabilised is published by the Danish FA. The relief is incredible. My wife and her mother have also had tears in their eyes and we well up again. This time it is joy and relief.

7.05pm – the game is to be restarted A statement from the Danish FA says the match will restart at 7.30pm, to the surprise of most Danes. Not many thought that would happen and it later transpires the players were given two options: play on the night or at noon the following day.

In the next few days anger at Uefa grows in Denmark over the organisation’s insensitivity, with the former international Michael Laudrup telling TV3+: “Having to make a decision so soon after a big emotional event is wrong. They [Uefa] should just have said: ‘We won’t play more tonight, of course, and then we will look at what possibilities there are.’”

7.16pm – Denmark reenter the pitch They are applauded not just by the fans but also by the Finland team. Several players on both sides have tears in their eyes.

7.20pm – the director of football speaks Peter Møller reveals the players have been in touch with Eriksen. He says they had the restart choice from Uefa and decided to get it done with, even though they were not in a state to play.

The match restarts at 44 minutes. The last two minutes of the first half are played and then there is a five-minute break. Finland score 15 minutes into the second half and soon afterwards Kjær, who is very close to Eriksen, and Wind, who has looked distraught, are taken off.

Kjær would never normally want to come off but this is too much for him. “It’s a shock that will be in me forever,” he says in a statement five days later. “All that matters is Christian is OK. I am proud of how we acted as a team.” As for Eriksen, he watched the last 10 minutes on TV from his hospital bed. The result? Denmark lost. No one really cares.

A tribute for Christian Eriksen takes places before Denmark’s Euro 2020 match against Belgium.
A tribute for Christian Eriksen takes places before Denmark’s Euro 2020 match against Belgium. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Aftermath Eriksen was discharged from the hospital on Friday, walking out holding his son’s hand. He had successful surgery to insert an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which can shock his heart into action if the same happens again.

Eriksen’s cardiac arrest is likely to help others. The foundation Tryg Fonden is putting defibrillators all over the country and people can have a short course on how to use them. Then, when someone calls 999 to report a possible cardiac arrest, it goes out to everyone registered in the area who knows where the nearest defibrillator is. In the last week 2,000 Danes have signed up for this programme.

This week The incident has shaken the country. It is hard to overstate how well liked Eriksen is in Denmark. A real team player, he has never been flashy, is always kind and often spends his little free time doing charity work. The relief here is monumental.

There is anger at Uefa. Play on the night or the following day? Young traumatised men should never have been made to make that decision. “I regret I didn’t just order them on to the bus but I was very emotional too,” Hjulmand said. “There are protocols, yes. But good leadership is also making decisions that go further than those protocols.”

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This has also been a wake-up call for many Danes, including myself. Life is extremely fragile. If a super-fit 29-year-old can have a cardiac arrest, what about the rest of us?

On Thursday Denmark played Belgium. They were 1-0 up at half‑time but on came Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne and it was too much for us. Belgium won 2-1 but it was a fantastic Denmark showing in a match that seemed to bring us even closer together. We are so proud of the players and staff and how they have conducted themselves. The team can still progress but no one really cares about that. We are thinking about what is important: Christian Eriksen is alive.

Tom Carstensen

The GuardianTramp

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