For Morten Merhøj, football isn’t just something to do on the weekend, it’s been a central part of his life through travel, education, relationships and work.
After a local football club visited his Physical Education class at school when he was 12 years old, Morten fell in love with the game. He was then fortunate enough to get the opportunity to travel to Australia as part of a trip to see and play the game against Australian school teams as well as attending his first ever game at the MCG.
“I will never forget my first Friday night game at the MCG, meeting AFL players and playing against school kids who grew up with the game,” Merhøj said.
A few years down the track, and he is now the person going around to local schools, teaching the game to students and recruiting them to join the team he was coaching, just like he did when he was 12.
“Later I went to Australia with my own group of young players to give them a similar experience and I am proud to see that many of those kids, now grown men, still play and love the sport today,” Merhøj said.
Morten then moved to Odense to study at the Southern University of Denmark. The nearest footy club for him was more than two hours away, so he made the big decision to start his own club – the Odense Lions.
A year down the track and the club expanded to create a women’s team, the Odense Lionesses. For Morten, the decision to create a women’s team resulted in him meeting his future wife, who was one of the founding women in the Lionesses team.
In the 2015 Euro Cup in Croatia, both Morten and his partner played for Denmark – Morten with the Vikings and his wife with the Valkyries. Both came home with medals, as the Vikings won gold and the Valkyries won silver. Football clearly runs through Morten’s family and he is grateful that his old coaches went to his school to introduce him to Australian Football.
What attracted Morten to the sport compared to others was the physical aspect of the game. It’s not just about the tackling, according to Morten, but also the willingness to run, fight and launch yourself at the ball.
When not playing on the field, Morten has had a number of roles in the game across Denmark. He was a junior coach and board member at his first club. Now, he currently holds roles as Chairman of the DAFL Development and elite committee, vice-president, head coach, Women’s National coach, National team manager, DAFL umpire coordinator, chairman of the DAFL tournament committee and SDU Australian Football University Coordinator.
“My passions have also evolved beyond the playing and into organising, planning and developing setup, players and the sport in general,” he said.
Looking ahead to the future, Morten believes clubs around Europe will continue to develop and grow.
“I am always impressed when I hear of people starting clubs from nothing because I know how much work is needed. The rise of women’s football is also a key factor to success in Europe. Clubs with women playing and involved in running things is, in my opinion, stronger and hope that we will see even more women’s teams start around Europe… The future of Australian Football in Europe is looking bright,” he said.
Football in Denmark is also looking bright, with new facilities being developed while on the international stage, the Denmark Vikings are planning to send a team to this year’s European Championships in October.
It’s clear that Morten loves his football, and it has been a key pillar to his life so far, growing up with the game and even meeting his wife through the sport. Looking ahead, if people are inspired by Australian Football like Morten was when he was just a kid, then the game will be in good hands.