Let’s get the essentials clear: I am a former footballer (pretty good one, I’d say 🙂 ), I’m a registered coach and referee and I formed my own football team while I was working in the USA. So, I think I know a lot about football. However, these characteristics are also mixed with being a fan of a professional team for nearly 60 years, and one that is not a big club, but one that I grew to love because I lived five minutes from their home ground, and watched as a boy. They have done much better than their resources could explain, rising from the lowest ranks to nearly winning the top league; defeating big clubs when they looked set for defeat; producing international players, who also went on to be great mangers. They never moved home. So, I have spent a lot of time trying to understand how my emotions get pulled and pushed by the actions of other men, some of whom I rate highly and others whom I think ought to be doing other work. I’m also a traditionalist in thinking that you support your local team and that you do not waver in your support if and when your team fails–that’s when they need most support.
So, yesterday, my Norwegian friend drove us 170km south-west from Oslo to his home town of Skien to watch the local team, Odd (The Arrow), play against a team, Viking, from the west coast city of Stavenger. Viking were sitting at the bottom of the league table, while Odd were in the lower half of the table. That didn’t change after the match, which Viking won 2-0. Now, I don’t know the history of the rivalry between the two teams, but know that Odd has won the national cup more than any other team, and one of its players holds the record for the longest headed goal. Viking had been a dominant club in the top division, especially in the 1970s, but have now fallen on harder times. Both clubs were formed in the 19th century, so have deep roots in their communities and in national life.
Anyway, we were not in Skien for an history lesson, although we started our day there with a visit to the home of playwright and author, Henrik Ibsen, and saw that he lived with his family in comfortable surroundings, before he headed off to Oslo. Skien used to be a logging town in an area also good for skiing.
After the cultural visit, we went to the central part of the city and found a nice spot for lunch, and enjoyed the never-ending daylight eating by the canals. We then went to the home of some friends, which was just 200 metres from the Skagerrak stadium. The ground sits squarely in a residential community, and holds about 12-13,000 fans. It’s been redeveloped and now also has apartments as part of the complex.
We walked to the stadium and were quickly in the game-day atmosphere.
The atmosphere was interesting to me: the visiting fans had taken over the stadium from the start, with their strong singing and clapping and jumping. Admitted, we were close to them, but the Odd fans, with their drum and flag were at the other end and high up. They seemed to have less voice and not be ready for a constant chanting contest. But, the local fans around us were urging and arguing with their players to do better. I couldn’t understand most of the comments, but they often seemed given with a touch of hostility. But, Viking scored first and early as a through pass caught the goalkeeper hesitating and a little prod under his jumping legs led to 1-0 in favour of Viking. The second goal was also from poor defending when the forward was inside the penalty area without much challenge and the shot was good into the bottom corner. Odd were trying to attack slowly and with deliberation, but not much penetration. Viking were happy to counter-attack. So, at half-time, it didn’t look good for Odd.
In the second half, they brought on two forwards (one Canadian, the other Senegalese) who were good for a more direct style of attacking and looked good for most of the rest of the game, but in the end the score didn’t change, and it was 2-0 at the end. Some Odd fans had left early sensing that the match was over early in the first half. Viking fans were obviously happy to the end and beyond, and I could imagine them singing and drinking all the way home on their 5 hour drive. ‘We are Viking and we are king!’ would have been a good chant.
My friend took the defeat well. I think he was better behaved because we were visiting. 🙂 We talked a lot about the match and about the team on the drive home. Norwegian football has changed a lot, from the days of being predominately part-time, and Odd’s strengths in finding and developing local talent was not enough to succeed in an era of professionals who could be bought for high fees, especially from overseas. Oddly, one of Odd’s young players is about to be sold to a top Italian side; he did not have a great game and was perhaps protecting himself for his new employers, or just having an off day.
On our way back to Oslo we stopped for gas and a drink. The air was crisp and windy but sunny. We saw some ball boys with their families and asked how they been chosen. Odd uses youth players from teams in the area, to help forge links. The man with them was a farmer, who explained that cows were no longer good business and he now raised pigs. I suggested he learn how to cook them Jamaican jerk-style and create even better business. Maybe, next time I visit I’ll see a sign saying ‘We sell Odd Jamaican jerk food’ 🙄😊👍🏾🇯🇲