Cold, dark and boring: Norwegian Football

When I go abroad, I always get people telling me that I come from such a cold and dark country. Most people think that skiing is our most common way of getting somewhere and that polar bears walk the streets.

If I meet people who have at least a little interest in football, I throw out names like Riise and Solskjaer, and the ice is broken. But if our national team becomes a subject, it’s back to the same again: boring. Long balls, headers and a striker who rarely scores.

That is what most people think, but here’s what’s really going on with the beautiful game here in the land of the fjords.

Frosty Football

Vålerenga Rise, Rosenborg Fall

In 2005, an era ended when Vålerenga won the league and thus broke Rosenborg’s hold on the domestic throne. For 13 consecutive seasons Rosenborg won the Tippeliga. Former Lierse, Rennes and Hertha Berlin player Kjetil Rekdal lead his side to their first league title since 1984.

Vålerenga is a club worthy its own chapter, with a rich history, but relatively few titles. They have some of the noisiest supporters and one of the best atmospheres in any football stadium anywhere in Scandinavia, especially when it comes to the big games.

At the same time as Vålerenga were flying high, Rosenborg were at their lowest point in decades. They finished the league in 7th place, after battling relegation for most of the season.

Most the struggles Rosenborg has had over the last few years stem from the rapid changes in management. After Nils Arne Eggen left the club in 2002 there has been a new coach for every single season, not a recipe for stability.

2005 may have been disappointing for Rosenborg, but in 2006 they were back and won the league yet again. Yet again there were troubles with the coaching staff, as Per Mathias Høgmo went on sick leave and left Knut Tørum in charge.

In 2006 however, a new candidate for the league title emerged as SK Brann from Bergen pushed Rosenborg all the way. This would be a sign of things to come.

Brann had not won the league since 1963, but had come close on several occasions. They had recently won the cup, their first piece of silverware since 1982 and it was clear something big was going to happen.

Players like Martin Andresen, Håkon Opdal, Erik Bakke and the 2007 top goal scorer Thorstein Helstad helped shape an offensive side, eager to — as their fans sang — bring the gold home.

Interest Exploding

People began flocking to the stadiums as the league became less predictable.

An incredible growth in attendance from a total of 1,190,604 in 2003 to 1,899,834 in total for the 2007 season was the result of an evenly contested league where more than just one team could win, unlike the 1990s and early 2000s.

In 2007, Rosenborg started the season poorly. Brann and Stabæk were the early leaders and kept their position for most of the season.

Even though Rosenborg performed sub-par in the league, they performed above all expectations in the Champions League. They played in their 10th season in the Champions League, a feat uncommon for a team from a footballing minnow like Norway.

They drew with Chelsea away and beat Valencia 2-0 both at home at Lerkendal and away at Mestalla. Perhaps not coincidentally, both Jose Mourinho and Quique Sanchez Flores left their posts at Chelsea and Valencia shortly after.

Back home in the league Rosenborg ended up in fifth place, while it was the red-shirted Brann who won their first league title in 44 years.

Unlike in Trondheim, were few people used to show up celebrating the gold, as it became almost routine for Rosenborg, in Bergen people started celebrating well before the title was secured, escalating to a fever pitch when the players finally got their medals.

Now, however, it’s time to wake up and hope the hangover has passed. As the league starts at the end of March, no one knows how it will end. It’s open, the wages are higher than ever, the TV-deal is at an all time high, as is the attendance.

So don’t come and tell me Norwegian football is cold, dark and boring.

Photo credit: svegh on Flickr.

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