When I was a kid my old boy was forever in Norway. As a teacher at Peterhead Academy he was part of the Peterhead/Ålesund school exchange for near thirty years. The dining room at my folks was a homage to the country with trolls, pictures and other things picked up on his sojourns. To add to this I had seen numerous (hundreds really) of photos over the years, the place always looked like a different world . In other words I always wanted to go. I was lucky enough to visit a few times through my old employment. First to Brønnøysund where I didn’t get to see much due to going offshore but what I did see was exactly what I expected. The colourful wooden houses, fjords and snow. I then was sent to a polyethylene plant in the south a number of times. This meaning I had a bit of social time between the cities of Skien (home of Odds BK) and Porsgrunn (birthplace of one time celtic manager Ronnie Deila, more on him later). It was on these trips that I found the locals extremely welcoming and good craic on a night out over a few Rignes. Especially the guys who took me out in Porsgrunn. This left an indelible mark on my brain about Norwegians. Top folk. However, I had never had a social visit.
Fast forward a few years to when I had found myself in the grips of football ground bothering. I had one of those last minute ideas I am in the habit of. With no summer holiday on the cards and a weekend to myself, I looked at where I could get a game of fitba, that fitted the following criteria. Not too far on the plane, preferably direct and a country I had not been to watch a game. First port of call. Oslo. Who plays there and who are at home? Based on years of playing Champ Manager I knew Vålerenga was an answer. It turned out they were at home. But not at home to anyone, it was derby day against Lillestrøm which I knew was on the outskirts of Oslo. It would have been rude not to take this on. Simple decision to make.
A week after booking up I arrived at Oslo Gardemoen airport. From what I gathered this was one of these airports that are nowhere near the city they are named after, with a train jaunt needed. No problem. Oslo couldn’t be hard to get to. After grabbing a couple of beers for the journey I was on the train and it wasn’t long before I saw floodlights in the distance, which coincidentally belonged to Åråsen Stadion home of Lillestrøm. I did however manage to miss the huge sports village at the other side of the track which includes fitba pitches, athletics set up and more. If I had just turned my head. Seeing the stadium actually got my excitement levels for the incoming weekend way up on the excitement Richter scale. new country, new league. A new league that I did not know much about.
Once in the city centre I was on the prowl for the usual pub and pint to get my bearings and work out where the hotel is. Once I settled on an establishment I was met by some funny stares which I will put down to my boyish good looks but most likely due to my lack of the native tongue. Behind the bar was a Manchester United scarf and I asked the barman why an English team and not a local side. To which I was greeted with an all too common occurrence “our football is shit”. It is safe to say it boils my piss. I hear it in more places than I don’t. Its always disappointment whether in Angola, Czech Republic, Wales and worst of all Scotland. He wasn’t a bad dude and we got on the subject of why I was there and he was full of the welcomes. We talked Manchester United and my travels but very little about the local fitba scene. Little did I know this was to be the start of things to come in terms of friendliness. From here I headed to the hotel and by stroke of luck I stumbled upon the Bohemen Sportspub en route. The reason I knew about this establishment was due to the Vålerenga secretary who I had emailed earlier in the week in regards to tickets. He told me to search it out as it was the main supporters bar in the city and was named Bohemen as the club are nicknamed “The Bohemians”. He also said I would be shown some “great Norwegian hospitality”. I was to search it out after dumping my bag at the hotel. By pure luck the digs were round the corner. Sorted I think they say.
As it was still early I decided to have a wander about the city before hitting the drink, but in all honesty I was champing at the bit for the supporters bar. So there I ended up just in time for the Friday after work pint rush. Or Friday after work Aquavit rush as it were. This place was right up my street. Pretty much every inch of the walls and roof were covered in football memorabillia. It’s exactly how I would have my bar if I had one. For now I will settle for my man cave looking like this(which it does). There were scarves, posters, pennants and all sorts from clubs all over the world. the cluttered look actually gave the place a cozy vibe. A top quality fitba bar. No Aberdeen items though.
Every time I’m away I will sport some kind of Aberdeen garb. Tourie in the winter and polo shirt in summer. As the weather was cracking the tshirt was the garment of choice. To start with I just got funny looks. Funny maybe being incorrect. More quizzical really. Eventually on beer number two I was offered an Aquavit from the guy next to me. This led to him and his mate joining me at my table. (I will mention at the point I cannot remember names barring one from the weekend. Possibly Aquavits fault). From here my feelings on Norwegians skyrocketed. I cant say I had been in friendlier company out with the confines of my own country. These guys were funny, generous and really interested in Scottish fitba and my travels. They also affectionately named me “Mr Aberdeen” which stuck for the weekend. As the evening drew on the amount of folk coming to speak to was incredible and for a guy who doesn’t drink spirits the levels of Aquavit being devoured was awfully high. Two bits of information that stuck with me from the evening and wasn’t blurred by distilled tatties. One was when I was told that fans of any club are allowed in the Bohemen UNLESS you are Rosenborg or Lillestrøm. Great I thought, as it proved there must be some kind of needle there between the sides. The second more important this being I learned was that Frigg FK were at home the next day . With Vålerenga kicking off at 5pm for TV this was a chance to get another game/ground under my belt. I did look the second division and found Skied were home but it clashed with my trip to the Ulleval. I didn’t however check the third division where I was now to get a derby as the visitors were IF Ready also of Oslo. After a few more beers and night cap Aquavits I was invited to join the boys from 2pm the following day in preparation. I politely declined as I had a city and its sites to see and also some third tier fitba. I did cut a deal where I said I would meet them post match however.
After rising nice and early and surprisingly fresh I was out pounding the streets of the city. On the list of places visited, the Kulturhistorik Museum (right next to the hotel), Slotts parken (bonnie), De Kongelige Slott (the Royal Palace) and the truly spectacular Frogner Park which is filled with lets say, unique sculptures including angry babies and maybe too many penises. The central bridge is awesome but the “piece de la resistance” has to be the monolith. Sculpted by Vigeland, this beauty is huge and made up piled up babies and adult bodies. I spent more time in the park than I expected meaning a couple of the things to do bit the bullet. The weather was scorching and the place was awesome so I couldn’t really complain. The park was right next to the Frigg game too so for handiness it was spot on………….or was it?
There I was at the Frogner Stadion looking at American football posts. “What the fuck”. What had I done wrong here. I checked the internet and there it was “Frogner Stadion 12.00”. I noticed the gate to the pitch was open so in I popped, for nosiness and to ask about. It was then I bumped into a guy decked out in Vålerenga colours, not the fitba team but the handegg(aka gridiron) team. He explained that Frigg had been playing there at times but were probably at the Torteburg Kungstress as it was gridiron at the Frogner today. After getting directions I was on my way. Turning up at the wrong ground for the first time gave me a laugh and a daft tale to tell, didn’t have much affect on my day , probably lost out on a pint at most and within ten minutes I was at the Torteburg anyway.
Frigg FK 1 v 0 IF Ready
Torteburg Kungstress, 3. Division, 24/6/17
I arrived at the ground to be faced with nobody. I immediately thought I had got it wrong for a second time in a day. There was however a guy and his kid having a kick about on the pitch. I decided to ask if I was in the correct place. As I got closer I realised the wee dude was wearing a Frigg shirt. This put me at ease. As the guy had already clocked me I decided to still initiate conversation despite knowing I was in the right place. Incredibly as I spoke the guy said “Scottish yeah?” to which I agreed. He then went further and impressed me with his knowledge of accents. “Aberdeen or close by?” This triggered a twenty minute conversation about football and Scottish football in general. Turned out he was a fan of Oslo football and was to be at Frigg, the first half of Skied and then Vålerenga. He also turned out to be a celtic fan too. He said he gets over around four or five times a season which in fairness is more than most Scottish folk I know who claim to support celtic. During our chat I explained that I have scarves from every non Scottish ground I have been to and it looked like I was away to break the run as there was no shop. He explained I was probably correct. He also informed me I was early and there was still around an hour until kick off. Internet had let me down for the second time. So there was only one thing to do, I wished him all the best, scudded the ball into the top corner past his hapless son and headed for a pint at the pub nearby I clocked earlier. A good pub it was too , Den Gamle Major it was called.
Back at the Torteburg I arrived back for kick off for my first experience of Norwegian fitba (I had seen Viking Stavanger at Pittodrie in friendlies but that doesn’t really count). Id would be lying if I said the standard was very high. It wasn’t, and the game lacked anything, no niggle, no flow and no well, anything. I did notice that it looked as if the every player on the pitch was mid twenties and below, not a bad thing. I wish I played third tier fitba in my twenties. The highlight of the half was when a Frigg shirt and tied official came up to me and quizzed “the man in black, you must be the one from Aberdeen”. I could only think the details of my earlier conversation had made its way into the clubhouse. I was invited into the boardroom at half time by the geezer. For what I was unsure but the invite was there. Once the game had fizzled out into half time I made my way to my “appointment”
When I entered I was met by the same committee member from earlier and another two guys, I was made welcome and offered a cup of tea. I was told they had never known a Scotsman to deliberately take on a Frigg game before and could only remember an Irish guy turning up once upon a time. We talked Frigg, and how they lead a hand to mouth existence . I found out they are named after Frigg from Norse Mythology and nothing to do with “the good ship Venus”. I was also told that they had one venture into Europe into the old Fairs Cup only to be dumped out by a Scottish team. That was Dunfermline who put them out 6-2 on aggregate after two mirrored scoring games. They had qualified as runners up in the Norwegian cup. The Norwegian Cup being the only trophy they had won in their existence with three wins in a ten year period between the two wars. But hard times had fallen on them with relegation to the third division the previous season to my Torteburg visit. This may have explained why the Frogner Stadion was down as their ground on the net as they most likely used it in the second tier. After a good blether with the guys, I was handed the holy grail , a scarf and told “we heard about your collection”.Elated doesn’t cover it. I offered a donation to the club and I was told that all I needed to do was tell people back home that the people at Frigg were great people. Sounded like a more than fair deal to me.
The second half was much and such the same. There was very little for the fifty or so people in attendance to get excited about. During the half I spied the guy from earlier, he pointed and gave a thumbs up obviously to say “nice, you got one”. I am due that man a pint to this day. Even now I still don’t have a break in my collection in sixty four attempts and that is the closest I have came to missing out. Top geez. Back to the game and this derby was settled with a bit of a scrappy goal five minutes from time but they all count and Frigg were to earn the bragging rights. Really not much of a spectacle but another ground banked, scarf acquired and a bonus topping up of my tan also added into the mix. Also possibly the most random game of fitba I had attended but I suppose “there was fuck else to do”. I tried to catch my scarf saviour before FT but he must have left early to get to Skied. With a wee bit of time to burn I decided a quick pint and a taxi up to the Ulleval was the orders of business
Vålerenga 3 v 1 Lillestrøm
Ulleval, Eliteserien, 24/6/17
Vålerenga have had a reasonably nomadic existence since the sixties. They played at the Bislett Stadion(Skieds current ground) for two separate periods of time, then the Ulleval which extended longer as the clubs issues put the new stadium on hold (the Intillity Area opened last season). So I was to watch them in the national stadium, not far from the ski jump which dominated the skyline on the taxi ride up.
I got there and was beyond impressed with the fan zone. There was a an indoor bar/pizza restaurant and a portable outdoor bar(which crapped out when a pipe burst, seeing the beer streaming down the concrete was sad to see). There was a kids club with a mini fitba pitch where kids had a kick about while their parents had a beer. Next to the pitch there was a set of goals with the sheet with the holes where fans could win prizes. Then there was the club shop which was well stocked(no hassles with a scarf here). There was also a football shop built into the ground that had all sorts of football shirts. Unfortunately for me there were no Norway XL tops left but the selection was fantastic. Some clubs could learn about matchday experience from the Oslo side. Once my ticket was purchased and a couple of beers were scoofed, I decided to venture into the Ulleval.
The ground inside is tidy. It is bowled all the way round on two tiers, with the top tier being closed. This ruining the atmosphere somewhat as it seemed to rattle around the place. I took my seat and watched the warm up with a beer basking in the Norwegian sun. I couldn’t hear my inner monologue mind you. This was due to the adjacent Lillestrøm fans who were making a din and proceeded to do so until the end of the game. Good boisterous fans that lot
The teams appeared for the pre match handshake formality nonsense and were greeted with a cacophony created by both sets. To the left of me the pyro party and singing started in the home ultras end and to the right the Lillestrøm fans unfurled a huge surfer flag celebrating their centenary and chanted in a seriously intimidating fashion. You would have thought the ground was full for those couple of minutes. It wasn’t even half full for the record. Once the noise had died down and the smoke dispersed we were under way.
The game was decent. Lillestrøm started the better team and put Ronnie Deilas men to task. The hosts were not at the races in all honesty. The “Kanarifugla” took the lead on quarter of an hour through Krogstad who cut in from the left to start the move and found himself six yards out to finish it. The travelling fans went completely berserk. Falling over seats etc. I was maybe four meters away from them. Great to watch such a passionate response to a goal. Vålerenga took it as a wake up call and turned up the heat and to be fair to Ronny the fister they played to their strengths. Their strengths being their left back(Lindkvist) and left midfielder (Finne) were immense. Every time the ball was on their side they looked like scoring. They banged in three superbly worked goals all from the left and were deserved winners. The first coming from a Lindkvist cross which found Zahid to smash home from twelve yards. That man Lindkvist swung in an inch perfect cross for the second and Abdellaoue was in wide open space to head past the helpless Origi. HT came and I couldn’t believe the swing in play. It literally was a half of two halves. Both quarters being highly enjoyable. The second half was a competitive and Lidkvist was a terror again but he had no part in the “Bohemians” third. I was an individual effort from his fellow left sided team mate Finne who finsihed a fine solo effort across the goal and into the bottom corner.
The third goal triggered off the village idiot. The guy had been pretty verbal towards the away fans and covered me in gobbings a few times. He also tried to initiate chat but he was indecipherable and that was not because he was speaking Norwegian but because he was so pissed up. After explaining I didn’t speak Norwegian he continued to try and speak to me. Until the third went in he never left his seat. But the game being killed was the invite to shake his cock and shout obscenities. He was warned about his conduct numerous times but it wasn’t until he tried to get it out to shake at the Lillestrøm fans he was huckled out, and most likely sent back to the local nut house. The game ended and the home fans taunted their rivals as they shuffled out. I did notice Ronny refrained from doing the roar.
A cracking game and more than glad I did it. Hashed plans sometimes are the best plans. After the game I decided on the train back. As I went to buy a ticket I and was told “fuck the ticket shit, nobody can check”. Obviously I was clearly not a local as they must bump post match trains, so I stuck out when trying to purchase. The dude who introduced himself as Joran then proceeded to offer me a beer as we boarded the train. He was a sound dude and the football chat was on for the southbound fifteen minutes. I asked about Lindkvist and told him he was one of the best players I had seen in the flesh. He informed me that he was of to AIK in Sweden for “fuck all money”. This clearly enraged him. It would have enraged me too.(I looked a few months later. 160k he cost. Why are Aberdeen not scouting in Norway. This guy was phenomenal). I was asked if I saw the flares and told they are highly illegal and would cost a fortune in fines but “its worth it as it was Lillestrøm”. After I jumped off the train I headed back to the Bohemen Sportspub and didn’t put my hand in my pocket for two hours. I genuinely wasn’t allowed. I was greeted with “hey Mr Aberdeen” in a very Norm from Cheers kind of way. Same old faces from the night before. The beers flowed, the Aquavits flowed. Ronnie Deila was being interviewed on the TV and even though I didn’t know what he was saying I still found him to be smug and have an air of arrogance about him. Body language says a lot. To top the night off, I bizarrely got caught up in some sort of love triangle which was utterly bizarre and took a while to latch on to. A guy from Friday night had arranged to meet a girl, she took a friend, who he had hooked up with in the past but she still wanted him and the girl he had invited out wanted me but he tried to get me with the friend. It was my cue to leave. I said my goodbyes and told everyone I would be back when the new ground was up and running. Something I hope to stick too. I headed back to the hotel to shower and get ready for a few beers elsewhere in the city. What I didn’t know was I couldn’t get in anywhere as Oslo is the busiest nightlife I have seen anywhere on my travels. I ended up drinking Modelos in a Mexican speaking to the bar staff for an hour. It was the only place I could find without a half mile queue. I decided to hit the hotel bar for one or two before bed. A bit of a anticlimactic ending but it didn’t put a dampner on Oslo. Beautiful city with fantastic people. Ill definite be back. Norway in general actually.