MATHIAS JORGENSEN famously ended last year by treating every Huddersfield Town fan who had made the long trip to Southampton to a pint.
Come the end of 2018, however, it is the Dane who is likely to have most cause to toast Big Ben chiming in the new year with a shout of ‘cheers’ as he reflects on a quite remarkable 12 months.
Not only did ‘Zanka’, as the Terriers defender prefers to be known, help preserve Premier League football in Yorkshire by playing every minute of the club’s ultimately successful fight against relegation.
But the summer then brought a trip to the World Cup and the accolade of becoming Huddersfield’s first ever goalscorer at the finals. He also came within a whisker of helping Denmark into the last eight, Croatia only ending that dream in a penalty shoot-out en route to meeting France in the final.
“As a year, 2018 has so far been good for me,” said the defender to The Yorkshire Post. “It would be a bit greedy to ask for more so maybe it couldn’t have gone any better.
“Okay, maybe a place in the quarter-finals would have made me happier. But, overall, it has been a good year.
“Getting to the Premier League, first of all, was special. Then, playing every game and staying up, that was great.
“But to follow that by going to the World Cup means, it really doesn’t get a lot better than that.”
Jorgensen was one of four Terriers at this summer’s finals in Russia. For a club who had previously only sent three players in their entire history to a World Cup, the most recent of which had been Ray Wilson in 1962, this came as a great source of pride to the town.
Aaron Mooy, the heartbeat of an Australian side that bowed out in the group stage despite drawing 1-1 with Denmark, spent the most time on the pitch.
But Jorgensen wasn’t far behind the midfielder’s 270 minutes of action. He also had a starring role on the night that Denmark went so close to knocking out Croatia by, first, opening the scoring with a scuffed shot inside 61 seconds and then cynically fouling Ante Rabic as he prepared to tap in what would surely have been the winner in extra time.
Those who feel sport should be played with a Corinthian spirit may have disapproved but Jorgensen’s actions were vindicated when Kasper Schmeichel saved Luka Modric’s subsequent penalty to send the Round of 16 tie to a shoot-out.
“I had to take him (Rabic) down,” he says in a very matter-of-fact manner. “I knew the new rules. But I didn’t have time to think. Red or yellow card made no difference, I had to stop him. It was for the team and the country.
“I wanted to give our world class ‘keeper a chance to save us. Which he did. But, unfortunately for us, we didn’t capitalise on that.”
Croatia’s subsequent 3-2 triumph from the spot meant a return home and a lifetime probably wondering, ‘What if?’ Nevertheless, the Huddersfield defender looks back with pride on a summer that he will never forget.
“Thinking about that game against Croatia still gives me the chills,” he added. “Playing in the knockout stages is crazy enough but to then score in the first minute. And it doesn’t matter how it went in!
“The World Cup was great. We were mainly in camp but we saw a bit of Moscow. The Kremlin, Red Square and places like that.
“But, after we went out, we would look at Croatia on their way to the final and think, ‘Why not us?’
“It wasn’t the scariest side of the World Cup (draw). With all respect to England, had we played ‘just’ England in the semis then that would have been the best chance Denmark has had of reaching a World Cup final. Maybe for ever, who knows.”
Asked if he had been tempted to repeat his gesture of last December – when the defender dipped into his own pocket to buy all the Town fans who travelled to Southampton two days before Christmas a pint – as a means of easing the disappointment felt back home, Jorgensen laughed: “No, as it would have been a bit expensive to buy everyone in Denmark a drink.”
Now back in Huddersfield, Jorgensen’s focus is back on the Premier League and keeping Town in it.
He added: “It is kind of a weird coincidence to flip around with the fixtures so we play Chelsea and Manchester City in the first two games rather than the final week of last season.
“The night after Chelsea (when Town’s players stayed out all night in London celebrating survival) was definitely one of my fondest memories of 2018.
“We all wanted to be together, as we had been in the trenches together all year. We were all still in our Huddersfield Town club gear but we just wanted to go out and enjoy the things we had accomplished.
“A few of the Danish lads did mention that night in Russia. Kasper asked, ‘Why would you ever want to go out in your tracksuit?’ They found it funny. But we were all in it together.”
So, the big question is whether Jorgensen can improve on what has, with four months still remaining, already been a stellar year in his career?
“It will be difficult with no World Cup,” he said. “But, definitely, you try to build on the experience you have had and try to make the most of the opportunities.
“Staying up was great but we know this is a new season. We can’t live on what happened last season.”