“A lot of people will find their way to our national arena with the complete belief that we can beat the Spaniards”.
If Norway do beat Spain in Euro 2020 qualifying, it would be quite the upset, even with belief and a new generation of immensely talented players coming through. But Norwegian football is no stranger to shocks.
My first exposure to Norwegian football was back in October 1997, when on Channel 5, Chelsea travelled to Tromso for the first leg of the European Cup Winners’ Cup tie. Featuring greats such as Vialli, Zola, Lebeouf and Di Matteo, they somehow lost 3-2. I say somehow, the match was inside the Arctic Circle, and the conditions were, well, Arctic. Playing with an orange ball, the match had to be stopped twice (!) as groundsmen tried in vain to clear the snow that was obscuring the lines. All very captivating and exotic for a 9 year old from London.
Oslo is a wonderful city, beautiful and picturesque, everywhere seems to have a grandeur to it but sprinkled with humility. But before enjoying any of that, the first stop was the Intility Arena, the 16,555 capacity stadium in the east of the city, home to Vålerenga Fotball Damer and their male counterparts. Women’s football is undergoing rapid growth around the world, and it’s no different here, as Matijas Loeb, Supporter Liaison Officer, tells KAISER “Women’s football is experiencing a growing global popularity. The fact that this trend is clear in national football as well as club football is even more delightful. We see the same trend in Norway. With record attendees for a lot of clubs as well as the National team this year.”
“Whereas the men’s national team is struggling in the shadow of the golden ages of the ’90s, the women’s team have had more recent success. Since the first national game played in 1978 the women’s team have participated in six world cups, three Olympic games, and ten European Championships. Norway has won all three of these tournaments, including the Euros twice. In addition, Norway have a silver medal from the World Cup and Euros as well as bronze from the Olympics, making it one of the most successful women’s national teams in the world”
The Intility Arena itself is immediately reminiscent of a British style ground with four distinctive sides and the game saw Vålerenga hosting Røa, who had the excellent sobriquet of the Dynamite Girls, its 2nd vs 6th. It’s a relatively small crowd on a bitterly cold day, but a lot of families (and a dog) in attendance, gave it a welcoming atmosphere.
A small cluster of Vålerenga ultras with flags and tifo chanted throughout. The home side took the lead in the 34th minute, with the referee doing her best Claude Makelele impression, intercepting a Røa counter attack, allowing Waldus to slot home.
After the break, Røa improved and got a well deserved equaliser via Holum and that’s how the game finished.
Having never attended a match in Norway or Scandinavia before today, I was curious about what to expect from the culture here. Norway is regularly high up on those happiest nations and best places to live lists, has a high GDP per capita and studies often show that areas of wealth do not enjoy huge amounts of footballing success. If any of our readers have read the book ‘Soccernomics’, you will know what we mean.
“The British style of support has ruled in Norway ever since the first live broadcast of English football on Norwegian television in 1969. The first organized fan culture could be seen in the terraces around late ’70s early ’80s. With chants easily recognizable from British premier league clubs. Some chants were even sung in English.
“Throughout the ’90s most clubs had independent supporter groups accompanied by their own chants, scarves, flags, two-stick flags, and tifo choreography. In the early 2000s some clubs looked more to a southern European fan culture rather than the British, with the use of drums accompanied by “forza” and “allez”.
“Today we see a generation gap in the fan scene. The “elderly” stick to the traditional supporter clubs, and the younger generation is more inspired by the ultras scene. Most clubs in the Norwegian premier league have ultras group heavily influencing the fan scene, but still being outnumbered by the supporter clubs”.
Walking around Oslo before kickoff, you certainly got the feeling every person in the city is either going to the match or will be watching it on TV or in a bar, there were red scarves everywhere, some fans even adorned with Viking helmets, which gave you the feeling of going into battle.
The Norway national team came into the match on a wave of hope and somewhat of a golden generation coming to the fore, Martin Ødegaard seems to have been around forever, only recently making waves in La Liga since having a tour of duty in the Eredivisie, and of course, most recently the son of Alf-Inge Håland, Erling Braut, ripping up the Champions League. The latter has scored 15 goals in 10 matches so far and once scored 9(!) in an under 20 match. Sadly, he was out of this match with an injury. Do Norway build up ‘The next big things’ like we do in the UK?
Matijas told KAISER “Following Real Madrid’s signing of Martin Ødegaard the expectations of him rose to an unachievable level. It seemed that a lot of people where under the perception that M.Ø could recover Norwegian football single handedly. No doubt he has a bright future ahead, but the kid is still twenty-years-old and needs to play consistent club football at a high level before we will see the best of him.
“Sander Berge as a fellow classmate of 98. He most definitely has a lot to contribute to Norwegian football in the years to come. He accompanied KRC Genk to their first ever Belgian league title in 2019 and will represent them in the 19/20 Champions league as well. He plays with an impressive calm and overview making it understandable that a lot of top-flight European clubs have him in sight.”
When arriving at the stadium, it resembled an out of town shopping centre from the outside, but once inside, the atmosphere hit. Not a spare seat in the house, with little pockets of Spanish dotted around the home crowd. Norway came into the match 4th in Euro 2020 qualifying but only two points from second, Spain are with maximum points.
The game started with the typical Spanish possession, all set to a Norwegian drumbeat. Whenever Ødegaard was on the ball, the crowd held its breath, and he dazzled with balletic poise, dropping deep to start moves. The expectation is a lot for a young man to hold on his shoulders, but he looks every bit the global superstar. At times, it was hard to tell who are the former World and European champions as La Roja are made to look pedestrian in the first half by the Norwegian blend of exuberance and workmanship. Despite the better chances falling to the home side, the first half ends 0-0.
The temperature dropped for the second half and as the players walked out, you could see their breath under the floodlights. Both teams needed a goal to break the deadlock, Better Call Saul. Just two minutes after the restart, the unlikeliest of sources got the breakthrough, Atletico’s Saul Niguez on 46 minutes with a scruffy shot that bounces into the bottom corner. Norway needed an equaliser and immediately pressed for it.
A chorus of pantomime boos greeted Amazon Prime’s very own Sergio Ramos with every touch, but the crowd gave an ironic cheer when Ødegaard nutmegged him. Santi Carzola was then sent on to try and regain some control for Spain, and it was master vs apprentice with Carzola and Ødegaard often clashing in the middle, turning and passing, both seeing four moves ahead.
Spain begun to show their big game experience by turning on the tiki-taka, being the mesmeric wizards that they are in killing a game with a thousand passes. But there is something about this Norway team that just won’t be beaten, with wave after wave of attack as the clock ticked down. Then, in the second minute of stoppage time, drama. The Spanish goalkeeper clumsily brings down the attacker, and it’s a penalty. The tension and anticipation was palpable. It’s Kepa vs King. Goal. It’s the least Norway deserve. Oslo will celebrate long into the night.
Maybe with the new generation coming through, Norway can make an impact at Euro 2020, or if that’s too soon in this cycle, World Cup 2022, and it won’t be too long until a Norwegian side once again upsets the established nations. Perhaps by then, it won’t be an upset?
“I believe that Norwegian football will experience a glimpse of the ‘golden age’ of both attendance and results again, but we desperately need to qualify for an international championship, and it needs to be done yesterday!”