142. Poul Nielsen
Poul ‘Tist’ Nielsen was the first superstar of Danish football. Although he played at a time when opportunities for international football were limited, he scored goals at such a rate that he still jointly holds the national team’s scoring record today, more than 85 years after his international retirement. He also played a crucial role in establishing his only club, KB, as the dominant force in the early years of the Danish league.
Nielsen was born in Copenhagen on Christmas Day 1891, and from an early age took a keen interest in football. As a child, he was often rumoured to have got in to see matches without paying, earning him the nickname ‘Tist’ from the Danish word ‘gratist’, meaning free of charge. At the age of 15 he joined Kjøbenhavns Boldklub (KB), the club he would represent for 20 years. A fast, skillful striker with a powerful shot, he quickly became an important member of KB’s first team.
International recognition quickly followed, with Nielsen making his debut for the Danish national team in a 2-1 win over the England Amateur team in Copenhagen on 5 May 1910 – at the time becoming the Denmark’s youngest ever international at the age of 18 years and 131 days.. After another appearance against the England Amateurs the following year, Nielsen’s only experience of a major international tournament came in 1912 at the Olympic Games in Stockholm. Although he only played in one of Denmark’s three games, the competition did provide him with a first international goal, in the 4-1 semi-final win over the Netherlands. Without Nielsen in the side, Denmark lost the final 4-2 to Great Britain but he nevertheless picked up a silver medal, the first major honour of his career.
At domestic level, KB had enjoyed great success in the Copenhagen league, taking the title for three years running from 1910. The 1912-13 season marked the first official Danish championship under the auspices of the national federation, and Nielsen’s goals led KB into the final as Copenhagen champions, where they would meet the winners of the provincial tournament, B 1901. A crushing 6-2 victory made KB the first official Danish champions. That success would be repeated the following year, this time with a 4-2 win over Copenhagen rivals B.93 in the final.
That 1913-14 season saw Nielsen’s international career really take off with goals coming at a remarkable rate. In October 1913 he scored a double hat-trick in a 10-0 win over Sweden in Stockholm, and then just three weeks later grabbed all four goals in a 4-1 win over Germany. Another hat-trick followed in the spring of 1914 with three of Denmark’s four goals against the Netherlands. By the summer of 1916, he had scored in ten consecutive internationals, with an astonishing 23 goals coming in that run. In October 1916 he scored four in an 8-0 win over Norway in Copenhagen, and a year later added five more against the same opponents. Incredibly, those five goals came in a spell of just 11 minutes.
At that point in his career, Nielsen had an international goalscoring rate of exactly two goals per game, with 32 having come in just 16 matches. In the Danish league, Nielsen’s goals were helping KB to continue their domination, as they finished runners-up in 1916 before claiming a third league title in 1917. KB would retain the crown 12 months later, and go on to add a fifth title in 1922.
As he entered his 30s, Nielsen found international goals harder to come by, with just two coming in a run of 10 matches. By the mid 1920s, it was clear that his career was beginning to wind down, but he was still an important member of the national team when the first ‘Nordic Championship’ began in 1924. Nielsen played four matches in the first year of that competition and scored in three of them, with Denmark winning all three. Although the tournament did not end until 1928, some time after his retirement, Nielsen’s goals played a crucial part in Denmark narrowly taking the title ahead of Sweden.
Nielsen played his last international match on 27 September 1925, a 3-3 draw with Finland in which, perhaps inevitably, he scored one of Denmark’s goals. His final tally for the national team was 52 goals in just 38 matches, a remarkable ratio of 1.37 goals per game. His record total would remain unmatched until 2010, when it was equalled by Jon Dahl Tomasson in his final match for the national team in the World Cup in South Africa. It should be noted, however, that Tomasson’s 52 goals came in 112 games, nearly three times the number that Nielsen played. Had Nielsen played 112 internationals and scored goals at the same rate throughout, he would have finished with a total of 153 goals!
As well as his last international match, 1925 also brought the final league title of Nielsen’s career. KB’s sixth league success came in just the 12th season of the national championship, marking them out very clearly as the dominant force in Danish football at the time. Nielsen would play on for two more years, before retiring in 1927 at the age of 35. In his 20 year career with KB, he played 201 games and scored 276 goals, remarkably the same 1.37 goals per game ratio that he had achieved at international level. Calculated exactly, his club goalscoring rate was even fractionally higher than at international level.
Poul Nielsen died in Copenhagen in 1962, at the age of 70. The fact that he still holds a share of Denmark’s international goalscoring record means that many decades after his career ended, he is still recognised as one of his country’s all time great players.