He was the man whose shootout saves sent Manchester City packing, Mick McCarthy was left laughing, while a certain Robin van Persie felt the full force of his imposing stature.
Dubbed the new Peter Schmeichel in the papers during his finest hour, the Great Dane of Doncaster Rovers’ League Cup run, Jan Budtz, remains in England 12 years on, and he’s hoping the High Peak could yet host a sequel of sorts.
It was the second round of the Carling Cup, Premier League versus League One, yet never had Manchester City and Doncaster Rovers been more equal than at the beginning of the shootout which would decide this one. The old Belle Vue ground was the setting, with Stuart Pearce, a man forever linked to penalty pain and redemption, looking on from the away dugout as his City side faced a Rovers team who fancied their chances – and with very good reason.
Despite the top-tier names present, it would be an English football novice who won the night, as Jan Budtz, the Danish goalkeeping understudy who’d replaced Andy Warrington after an extra-time injury, let everyone know who he was. England international Darius Vassell had fluffed his lines before Antoine Sibierski came up short against the towering stopper, and after decisively pushing away Richard Dunne’s kick, his celebration was composed, with one triumphant arm held calmly in the air.
He soon realised what it meant when engulfed by a mass of ecstatic teammates in red and white, with the Sky Sports cameras not all that far behind as they rushed to speak to the hero of the hour in this traditional, lower-league South Yorkshire ground. That was September 2005 and the pulsating introduction to English cup magic for a 26-year-old who had not yet got his feet under the table at the club, or in his new country, following a summer switch to Donny.
Fellow League One side Gillingham and David O’Leary’s top-tier Aston Villa would be put to the sword at the same venue in the following rounds. Dave Penney’s team had set off on a classic cup run, reaching the competition’s last eight, and but for a still-disputed wedge of added time that allowed for an agonising extra-time equaliser for Arsenal’s Gilberto Silva before penalty defeat, Arsene Wenger’s Gunners would have tumbled too at a rocking old Belle Vue.
It’s still what Jan Budtz is most fondly remembered for, 12 years later and with a number of other English clubs populating his CV since, though little shreds of symmetry can be found in his current scenario. The stage and scenery is different, some of the old cast remain, and his desire certainly hasn’t faded as he guards the goal for Buxton in the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
It’s Alvechurch up next, the penultimate hurdle to a spot in the first round proper of the FA Cup. Jan is one of many notable former pros who’ve taken their football to Silverlands over the years, and although you won’t find the Bucks claiming much headline space right now, the 38-year-old knows just what another foray through a cup wonderland could do for his current club, as he describes.
“There’s different aspects to it, isn’t there? It’s massive.
“That was my first experience over here; a cup run was my debut in English football where we knocked out the giants, you could say, of Manchester City. I saw firsthand what it meant to the club, the fans, everyone around it, and all these years later, people still talk about the run we had.
“Financially to a club, it’s massive; the money could set a club up to build a promotion-winning team. I know a few teams who’ve actually done that and are doing quite well off the income of a decent cup run.
“I think the experience for the younger lads as well, to actually know there’s something outside of league football. Some players have been around non-league for years but to get a cup run and a big club with a big crowd, in front of the cameras, it’s something you’ll talk about forever really.”
Although he’d been playing for a number of years in Denmark, Jan had actually been a full-time professional for less than a year with FC Nordsjælland when Dave Penney brought him to a Doncaster side who’d climbed the divisions and were preparing for a second League One season. Andy Warrington was the long-time custodian but a clash with Man City’s Nedum Onuoha in the cup tie left him unable to continue, and with extra-time in full swing, enter Jan.
“The game went really fast; when the injury unfortunately came to Andy, you didn’t have time to think. I just had a minute to get warm, get the shin pads on, tie the boots, put the gloves on, and then you’re in there.
“From coming on, to saving the last penalty and us winning it, it went like a click of your fingers. I don’t think it’s until a couple of days after or even weeks that you realise, ‘hang on here, this was actually something quite big.’
“I think as a whole, I’d only been in the country for three months and only experienced the English style of football and the whole atmosphere for that long. To play against City, who I’d watched on the telly, to even be in the same stadium as them was unbelievable.
“Then obviously you know the rest; we went on to beat Aston Villa, unfortunately just missed out on beating Arsenal. It was an amazing feeling and something I’ll never ever forget.”
As an archetypal ‘David and Goliath’ showdown, the Man City game was live on Sky Sports. As well as being handed their Man of the Match award after his shootout contribution, Jan subsequently had his image put all over local and national newspapers.
Although social media was a very long way from its current state of popularity and dominance back in 2005, there was a swarm of interest all the same.
“It went quite mad, to be fair. Obviously being a foreigner, being a keeper, and for me personally, suddenly you’re compared to Peter Schmeichel.
“That’s a childhood hero of mine and then suddenly there’s a big mid-page spread in the Sunday paper about Donny landing the next Schmeichel! It went pretty crazy for a couple of months, but you’ve got people around you, like your manager and other people who keep you on task.
“I think I mentioned after the game to a journalist, there’s not really much time to celebrate because we had a game three days later against Barnsley.”
He would feature 33 more times for Rovers, moving on to Hartlepool United in 2007. A lasting career in English football has indeed ensued, with 86 games in the Football League (including loans at Wolverhampton Wanderers and Oldham Athletic) before a non-league career spent with Eastwood Town, Stalybridge Celtic, Gainsborough Trinity, Worksop Town and of course, Buxton.
After such an explosive introduction to life in England, though, is it difficult when that spotlight then subsides?
“I think each player deals with different situations in different ways and I think I just enjoyed it. I came from Denmark, signed for Doncaster Rovers, didn’t know what to expect or what experiences I was in for.
“You don’t expect to go on a cup run and play against Arsenal within your first five months in a country, so you just appreciate it and enjoy it. I didn’t get any expectations that I was going to get a move to a bigger club or anything like that; it’s just literally ‘stay grounded and keep working hard and then maybe those opportunities could potentially come up later on.’
“It’s not like I had a big down or anything after – I just enjoyed the run that we’d been on.”
Jan did get to test himself as high up the pyramid as the Championship, during his 2007 loan stint with playoff-bound Wolves. Matt Murray was the first choice at the time, though an enforced half-time substitution meant a debut for Jan in front of 24,181 at Sheffield Wednesday.
He figured also at the Stadium of Light and Selhurst Park and he explains why his boss from that spell in the Black Country is the one that probably sticks out as the most noteworthy from his career to date.
“In terms of engaging with the players, Mick McCarthy was in a different league. He had the players in the palm of his hand in terms of whenever there was a tactical or team meeting, making sure you’re not late for that, but also on the team coach he would actually have a laugh with you.
“Each manager’s different though, aren’t they? I’m not going to say ‘this manager’s done that, this manager’s a poor manager,’ because I wouldn’t want to be a manager and to have a squad of 20 players that you have to keep happy all the time.
“Even though I only had three months playing under him, though, I’d probably pick out Mick McCarthy as one of the best.”
Certainly known as one of the genuine characters of the domestic game, one particular memory of the Barnsley-born, former Ireland defender and manager still raises a smile for Jan a decade on.
“He was very much laid-back, to be fair, but every time I got on the coach for the away trip, I would have my Apple MacBook, the 15-inch, and it would just come up on his phone, on Bluetooth, as ‘Jan Budtz’ 15 inch’! It’s something he would laugh at every time we got on the coach.”
Jan was thrust into the limelight under the glare of a buoyant Belle Vue, and although even the most sustained of cup runs are fleeting in a wider sense, his pocket of South Yorkshire has become home. A social worker back in Denmark alongside his playing exploits, he had to return to studying after moving to these shores since his qualifications from back home were not deemed translatable.
Beginning as Social Inclusion Officer, he then became NCS Programme Manager for Club Doncaster Foundation, a role he currently combines with playing for Buxton.
“About four years ago now, I got approached by the old Foundation chief exec and he said they were thinking about starting up a social inclusion programme, so I got involved with that. I was playing part-time, it must have been Stalybridge at the time, and I got a few projects to run; one of them was a Premier League-funded programme called Kicks.
“Another was a government-funded one called NCS (National Citizen Service), which I’ve been solely working on for the last three or four years, so I’m Programme Manager of that and I’ve got a handful of staff working on it for me. We engage with young people, so 15-17-year-olds, and we give them some experiences outside their school term time; employability skills, outdoor activities that increase confidence etc.
“It’s something I enjoy and I still get to play part-time at Buxton, which is my hobby and my passion, so it’s all going really well.”
On the training pitch and match days, familiar faces of yesteryear are all around. One example is the ex-Doncaster left-back currently serving as the right-hand man to former Rotherham defender Martin McIntosh at Silverlands.
“It does help that a lot of the team’s local to me; I’ve got Tim Ryan, the assistant, who I played with at Donny, (Ricky) Ravenhill I played with at Donny, and three or four of the lads I know from other things. I’ve spoken to McIntosh and Tim Ryan over the past probably four years, so prior to coming to Buxton last summer, I’d been against them for three seasons, and each summer I had some kind of dialogue with them in terms of coming to Buxton.
“At the time though, I was happy at Gainsborough so I chose to continue with them. Then there was a change of manager there and I just decided to go and give it a go at Buxton really.
“To be fair, I’ve not looked back, I’ve really, really enjoyed it. It’s a brilliant club, it’s got a great setup, the fans are great – you can have a chat with them after the game, before the game – and it’s really like a family feel to the club.
“Last year, unfortunately, we couldn’t get into the play-offs. I think we had the squad to do it and I definitely think we do this year. Obviously, it helps massively with someone like Liam Hardy in the team, who you probably know will score a goal each game.
“Last season, we relied a lot on the clean sheets, but if you’ve got someone like Liam Hardy who can set you off, you can play off that 1-0 or 2-0 lead. Obviously Liam doesn’t create the goals himself, they come as a team effort, but I’d definitely say having him in the team has helped.
“Having the experience in the side will hopefully, touch wood, get us around the play-offs.”
Buxton FC’s first Dane comes from the town of Hillerød, roughly 20 miles north of Copenhagen, and his twin brother, Ole, was a defender and forward who had a career in Denmark, Germany and Belgium. Doncaster is where he now calls home, but as he plays in the Derbyshire town, how much has Jan sampled of Buxton, or even the nightlife treasures of its market place on a Saturday?!
“Nightlife, yes – we had our end-of-season do there last year. To be fair, I can’t remember the names of the bar but we did have a few sherbets before we went into town!
“Then we stayed in the local b&b before heading home the day after. It’s only when I train and play games that I get to go to Buxton, but actually with the work that I do, we take young people away to the Peak District.
“The scenery and the outdoor part is something that I do enjoy, so I’ve been in the area a lot of times, but not necessarily to Buxton town centre.”
Although four wins on the road in the opening weeks of this season have been a big plus point for the Bucks, just a solitary home success leaves them 14th in the Evo-Stik Premier after 11 matches. The belief appears there that they can hit their stride over the months to come, starting with that aforementioned cup clash at home this Saturday (30th September).
Arriving in England in his mid-20s rather than a teenager was a big help to Jan, he believes, given the maturity he was able to draw from. As he thinks back to staring down the likes of Darius Vassell and having David James as his opposite number in that Man City shootout, or lining up against Arsenal on a pre-Christmas Wednesday night with 10,000 at Belle Vue, what are the most vivid details that come flooding back to him as we talk today?
“I think the Man City game, it went that fast coming on late and then the penalties, so it was a bit of a blur. Then you go into the Arsenal game with the likes of van Persie, Gilberto, and in my case, there was a young (fellow Dane) Nicklas Bendtner, who I had a chat with before the game.
“Then everyone still talks about it – the time the ref added on at the end of extra-time, when Gilberto went up and got the goal and the game probably should have been finished by then.
“What sticks in my mind as a player is van Persie, who was obviously young at the time, huge talent, he was one-on-one with me after about ten minutes and I took him down and he actually got carried off injured. Small things like that, when you look back, it’s actually quite funny to think you’ve experienced that.”
Article/interview by @chris_brookes