Italian football saw a small invasion of Danes in the wake of the Danish bronze medals at the 1948 London Olympics. After the Danish silver medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics only two players from the medal winning team ended up on the peninsula. One was the future champion and top scorer Harald Nielsen, who was sold to Bologna. The other was the older and less known Flemming Nielsen, who ended up in Atalanta.
Flemming Nielsen started his career at the Copenhagen club AB. He had his debut on the Danish national team in 1954 at the tender age of 20. After 16 national games for AB he made a surprising move to the local city center rivals of B93, whom he then represented 10 times on a national level.
After the 1960 silver Italian eyes egain fell on possible Scandinavian signings. It was Atalanta who offered Nielsen a contract, which at the time made him the most expensive Danish player ever. Nielsen came to a club with good Danish traditions. A decade earlier Atalanta had had great succes with the signings of Jørgen Leschly Sørensen and Karl Aage Hansen. The future would show that they would have no regrets signing Nielsen either
Atalanta in the beginning of the 1960′s was a team that aimed for and got decent midtable finishes. Nielsen immidiately became a mainstay on the Orobichi midfield, playing 92 games and scoring 8 goals over the course of three seasons. He could have had a longer career in Italy had he signed at an earlier age, he was 27 when he arrived in Bergamo, but he nevertheless left his positive mark.
An interesting and dramatic episode from his time in Italy came during a game against Milan, where Nielsen, reknowned for his fiery temperement ended up in a brawl with the Milan star José Altafini. Both Nielsen and Altafini were send off and the crowd in the stands turned their anger towards the Dane. Nielsen himself soon realized that he had been a little to hotheaded and went to apologize to Altafini, who apparently also regretted his part of the affair. When Nielsen wanted to chat with the Milan players after the game however, he wasn’t allowed access to the Milan changing room, because the wardens feared that he wanted to restart the brawl.
Later at the Atalanta player bus Nielsen and his team mates were attacked by an angry mob who wanted to give Nielsen a good beating. When an Atalanta player dared to take a photo of the event, the Milan fans simply smashed all windows in the bus, which had to be protected by the police all the way out of Milano. So much for a nice stay in pleasent Italy… It wasn’t all fighting though, as Atalanta went on to win the Coppa Italia in 1963. Their only triumph in that competition so far.
Flemming Nielsen ended his professional career in Greenock Morton in Scotland, which back then were playing in the top division. He wouldn’t have minded going directly back to Denmark, but a Danish tax rule prevented a swift return to Danish football. The rule said that if you returned to Denmark after less then five years as proffesional abroad you had to pay tax of your entire income during those years – even if you had already payed tax in the country you played in. Not surprisingly a great number of Danish players had interesting five year careers abroad.
After his return to Denmark Nielsen kept on playing football in his old club B93. He also became a journalist at the newspaper Politiken, covering football obviously. In that job he would use little space writing about Danish football heroes in Italy. Nielsen himself along with Harald Nielsen, Kurt Christensen, and Leif Mortensen, who were all sold to Italy in 1961, became the last Danes to sign for an Italian club until the arrival of Klaus Berggreen at Pisa in 1982.