Lars Høgh is a man without public critics. For most of us, this would indicate that we never really made an impact. But not Lars.
Lars Høgh figures prominently in my – and many others’ – conception of OB and Odense, though he’s never been the loudest on the team, or the one to elbow his way to the front of the crowd.
This is both a personal and affectionate homage to an athlete who is also simply good at being a decent human being. And, for me, perhaps also a portrait of OB and Odense, for better or worse.
Lars Høgh’s talent for embracing life and the people he meets along the way has inspired many, but probably also – once in a while – irritated more than me alone. To try to compare yourself to Lars Høgh is like standing in the shadow of your own reflection. Always prepared and determined. Always friendly. Always taking time for others. Always positive. Never involved in a conflict. Who can live up to that?
If anyone has other tales to tell about Lars, their whispers are drowned out by thousands of positive personal anecdotes, which, cobbled together, make up the myth of Lars Høgh.
Which is probably why I feel like the words I write here will never quite do him justice. But I’ll write them none the less.
Let’s start with the thing that, ironically, most often gets filtered out by the media portraits of the man: The football. The cold, hard facts alone aren’t enough to make the man a legend, or so goes the perfunctory introduction to the journalistic report on Lars Høgh.
Lars Høgh Cup Champion in 1983
Photo: Carsten Andreasen
I guess I’m as contrary as you can get to this point. Because that opinion has – in a single sentence – reduced the game of football to a simple matter of tallying points, titles, high salaries, and the names of big foreign football clubs.
It’s the same as the idea that the structure of the Superliga’s new final round, games all week long, and a never-ending expansion of the sport’s commercial pie are all necessary if little Denmark wants to compete on a European level. It’s a fair perspective, but for me, that’s not what it’s all about.
And Lars Høgh is my proof. When the Berlin wall came down and football rushed towards the end of history, where big TV contracts, betting sponsors, and new European club tournaments were the answer before anyone even took the time to consider the question, Lars Høgh was already there, standing goal for OB. A debut in 1977 and then 100. 200. 300. 400. 500. 600. 700. 800… 817 matches. From beers in the locker room to Fitbits in bed. Never before. Never again are we going to experience the like.
Lars Høgh wins the Cup Final in 1991 against AaB at Odense Stadium.
Photo SIFA Idrætshistorisk Samling
Lars Høgh has as many or more league games for a single club than Ryan Giggs, Paolo Maldini, and Francesco Totti. Lars Høgh’s 817 matches for OB are a much larger accomplishment in terms of modern football than winning a Champions League trophy or becoming top-scorer in the Premiere League.
And for all of us who are old enough to have experienced some of those matches, his isn’t the story of a goal-keeper who lacked the determination or quality to get his ticket abroad. Quite the opposite. He’s remembered in flashes of football-poetry as a player who moved his surroundings every time he stepped into the goal.
Lars Høgh is embraced by OB’s doctor Christen Villberg after ‘the Miracle in Madrid’
A flash of Michael Laudrup, a December night in Bernabeu, as he runs alone with the ball towards OB’s goal, where “Høghen” (the Hawk) employs a subtle feint of the foot to lure Laudrup into kicking towards the far corner and before the foot hits the ball, knows where the shot will be placed.
A flash of match number 817 at Vejle Stadium, where Lars Høgh at the age of 41 commits a half-clumsy penalty kick, gets permission from Knud Erik Fisker to stay on the pitch, and - as if it were the most natural thing in the world – saves the penalty so OB can win 1-0. In front of 2,627 attendees, of which at least half – myself included – had turned up from Odense to say goodbye to Lars Høgh, while the other half participated in equal measure in the celebration. A remarkable farewell season in which Lars Høgh even received flowers from the opposing fans at stadiums across the country.
One of the most gifted goalkeepers in Danish history, who only got as far as he did through pure will and determination, but yet still stayed at OB his entire career. Why?
As Lars himself said in 1993 after a national team selection: “I want to win, and I have ambitions – even as a 20-year-old. But I don’t have national team ambitions, or big dreams about a future career out there in the world of football.” Lars Høgh always been ambitious about making every single training and every single day as good as possible, but he didn’t have mechanical aspirations about career planning his football or his life. Lars Høgh has always done his best, but it’s been sincere dedication in a human form.
Lars Høgh thanks OB’s fans in his testimonial after the end of his football career.
Which naturally leads to the myth about the man, Lars Høgh, who always met ball-boys, football fans, clubhouse fanatics, and the stars of the sporting world in exactly the same way; with curiosity, without prejudice, and as equals.
How many of you have a childhood memory of a blonde-maned man resting after a match or a training session, chomping gum while enquiring politely about you and your friends’ lives? And who picks up the threads of the same conversation the week after, even though you’re perfect strangers?
How many of you have stood some godforsaken place on Funen, getting served an autograph with a big L and a big H, ages after all the other players have trudged into the locker room?
How many of you have experienced Lars’ simple charm – a down-home, salt-of-the-earth kind of charisma all his own?
A whole lot of you have, apparently, since the same stories seem to keep popping up again and again, no matter who you talk to, or read quotes from. All the way from people with a tangential interest in football, to the current coach of the national team, Kasper Hjulmand.
My meetings with Lars Høgh limit themselves to moments like these and to the many OB matches I’ve watched where he guarded the goal. I don’t have access to the deep stories about the weighty conversations and complex relationships he may have with some people in the football universe. Or the loving, yet strained relationship a star naturally would have with a club which basically hasn’t won anything of note before or after he played for it.
Everyone has their own story and together they form a myth. A myth that, for me, can be used to answer otherwise unanswerable questions like “What is OB?” “What is Odense?”. Honest, generous, hard work, rather than pretentious self-promotion. Friendliness and decency and perhaps a bit of a naïve perspective on the outside world. Informality and a total absence of snobbery.
I went to school with a guy who believed that the meaning of life was to mean something to other people. If that’s true, then the point of football must be to mean something for all the people watching. Seen through that perspective, you can’t find a much greater football legend than Lars Høgh.
I bet he deserves an Albani beer, as the Danish broadcaster says in this presentation of Lars Høgh's saves from the match against Real Madrid at Bernabeu: https://youtu.be/NLs-8kXrWhg?t=529
Lars Høgh back at Odense Stadium for the unveiling of the wall behind the Richard Møller Nielsen stand