For the Denmark national football team, Simonsen was capped 55 times, scoring 20 goals. He represented Denmark at the 1972 Summer Olympics, 1984 European Championship and 1986 World Cup tournaments. He was voted into the Danish Football Hall of Fame in November 2008.
Born in Vejle, Simonsen started playing football with Vejle FC, before he joined the youth team of local top-flight club Vejle BK (VB) in 1963. He made his senior debut for VB on 24 March 1971 in a 3–1 home win against Karlskoga FF. He won the 1971 and 1972 Danish championship with the club, as well as the 1972 Danish Cup to complete The Double. Following an impressive three goals in six matches at the 1972 Summer Olympics, Simonsen moved to Germany to play professionally for defending German Bundesliga champions Borussia Mönchengladbach.
In his first two seasons with Borussia Mönchengladbach, Simonsen had a hard time, as he only played a combined 17 games and scored two goals. However, he was part of the team which won the 1972–73 German Cup trophy. He broke into the starting line-up for the 1974–75 season. He played all 34 games of the season, and scored 18 goals as Mönchengladbach won the Bundesliga championship. Simonsen also scored 10 goals in 12 games in the international 1974–75 UEFA Cup competition, including two goals in the 5–1 final victory against FC Twente. In the following season, Simonsen scored 16 goals as Mönchengladbach regained the Bundesliga in the 1975–76 season. He scored four goals in six games of the international 1975–76 European Cup competition, before Mönchengladbach were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Spanish team Real Madrid on the away goals rule.
1977 was the greatest year in Simonsen's career. In the 1976–77 European Cup, Simonsen helped Mönchengladbach to the 1977 European Cup Final against English team Liverpool. In the final, Simonsen scored a memorable powerful long range goal to level the game at 1–1, but Mönchengladbach eventually lost 3–1. He was subsequently named the 1977 European Footballer of the Year, as the first Danish player in history. The race for the award was tight, and Simonsen squeezed past English midfielder Kevin Keegan by three points and French midfielder Michel Platini by four points to win the prestigious prize. The win was notable, in that Simonsen's native Denmark was not among the top footballing nations in the 1970s, leaving him little room to impress at the international tournaments.
In the following two Bundesliga seasons, Simonsen continued his prolific goalscoring, as Mönchengladbach finished 2nd and 8th respectively. He won another international trophy with Mönchengladbach in 1979, when he scored eight goals in eight games to guide the club to the final games of the 1978–79 UEFA Cup. He scored the deciding goal in the 2–1 1979 UEFA Cup Final win against Red Star Belgrade. Simonsen had been approached by Spanish club FC Barcelona in 1978, but Mönchengladbach refused to let him go. Instead, Simonsen waited for his contract to expire and moved to FC Barcelona in 1979, rejecting offers from Hamburger SV, Juventus, and several Arabian clubs.
Simonsen spent three successful seasons with Barcelona. In his first Barcelona season, Simonsen was the top goal scorer of the team with 10 goals in 32 games, as Barcelona finished in fourth place in the 1979–80 La Liga season. The following season saw several new players at Barcelona, and the club won the 1981 Copa del Rey. Simonsen's 10 goals saw him as third top goalscorer behind new players Quini (20) and Bernd Schuster (11), as Barcelona finished in fifth place in the 1980–81 La Liga. Simonsen was second goal scorer behind Quini, as the club finished second in the 1981–82 La Liga. He also helped Barcelona reach the final of the continental 1981–82 European Cup Winners' Cup competition. In the 2–1 final victory against Standard Liège, Simonsen scored the deciding goal on a header to help Barcelona lift the trophy.
When Barcelona signed Argentinian forward Diego Maradona in 1982, Spanish league restrictions meant Simonsen was to compete with Maradona and Bernd Schuster for only two places allowed for foreign players in each starting line-up. Simonsen saw it as a personal insult, and asked Barcelona for his contract to be annulled. He made a shock move to English Second Division side Charlton Athletic for £300,000 in October 1982. He rejected offers from Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur, in order to play for a club with less stress and attention. Despite scoring nine times in 16 appearances, the club had trouble funding his transfer and wages after three months, and he was put up for sale. Simonsen then chose to return to his childhood club VB in 1983.
He missed the last half of the 1984 season for VB because of an injury he sustained at the 1984 European Championship, but the club managed to win the 1984 Danish championship without him. He returned as a profile of the top-flight Danish 1st Division, but never reached his former form. Simonsen retired from football in 1989 at age 37, and played his last game for VB in November 1989. He played a total 282 games and scored 104 goals, including 208 games and 89 goals in the league, for Vejle Boldklub.
He debuted for the Danish national team under manager Rudi Strittich in the July 1972 friendly match against Iceland. He scored two goals as Denmark won 5–2, and Simonsen was included in the Danish squad for the 1972 Summer Olympics. At the Olympics, he scored three goals in the first three matches to help Denmark advance beyond the first group stage. In the second group stage, Simonsen ran out of steam and he was substituted at half time in two of the last three games as Denmark were eliminated.
He played a crucial part for the Danish national team under manager Sepp Piontek, in Denmark's qualifying campaign for the 1984 European Championship. Denmark led their qualifying group with a single point over second placed England before the two teams met at England's home ground Wembley Stadium in September 1983. Simonsen scored one of the most important Danish goals ever, as he converted a penalty kick against English goalkeeper Peter Shilton. The 1–0 win eventually secured the Danish national team qualification for their first international tournament since the 1972 Olympic Games, and the first European Championship participation since the 1964 tournament. It effectively ended England's hopes of qualification for the tournament. He subsequently finished third in the vote for the 1983 European Footballer of the Year award.
The 1984 European Championship main tournament was a short experience for Simonsen, as he broke his leg in a challenge by Yvon Le Roux in Denmark's first match against France. Even without Simonsen, Denmark reached the semi-finals. He was once more a part of the Danish national team at the 1986 World Cup, Denmark's first World Cup participation. He only played a single match at the tournament, coming on as a substitute against West Germany, as younger players had surpassed him. He played a farewell match against Germany in September 1986 before ending his national team career.
Simonsen played a total 55 games for the Danish national team and scored 20 goals, according to the Danish Football Association. However, some sources chose to include Simonsen's appearance in a February 1981 charity match, to tally his national team career as 21 goals in 56 games. The match was Italy vs. Europe for the benefit of the Irpinia earthquake victims. Simonsen started the game, scored a goal, and was substituted at half time as Europe won 3–0.
Following his retirement, Simonsen went on to coach his former club Vejle Boldklub from 1991 to 1994. During his time at the club, VB were relegated from the new top-flight Danish Superliga to the now second-tier Danish 1st Division. He later coached the national teams of the Faroe Islands from 1994 to 2001 and Luxembourg from 2001 to 2004.
In 2011, he became General Manager of the Danish 1st Division team FC Fredericia. When Fredericia sacked manager Thomas Thomasberg on 8 April 2013, Simonsen and Steen Thychosen took charge of the team as caretaker managers. Following the end of the 2012–13 season Simonsen left both his positions at Fredericia.Scores and results list Denmark's goal tally first.
Updated 16 June 2016Vejle Boldklub
Danish championship : 1971, 1972, 1984
Danish Cup : 1972
German Cup : 1973
German Bundesliga : 1975, 1976, 1977
UEFA Cup : 1975, 1979
Spanish Cup : 1981
Cup Winners' Cup : 1982
Ballon d'Or : 1977
IOC European Footballer of the Season: 1976–77
European Cup Top Scorer : 1977–78
UEFA Cup Top Scorer : 1978–79
Danish Football Hall of Fame