Midsummer madness or is it simply Fjord Fiesta?

“Maggie Thatcher, your boys took a hell of a beating is probably up there with the likes of “And Smith must score”, “They think it’s all over” and everyone’s bedtime favourite “Dicks shoots and Seaman is all over the place”, but the generation of today would be hard pressed to know what that classic line actually referred to. Well let Uncle Stuart explain.

Back in the early 1980’s we actually had a decent national team. Unexciting, but hard to beat. This was an era of Kevin Keegan splashing his Brut on, Trevor (before he got is Sir) Brooking pulling strings in the midfield, Shilton and Clemence being rotated in goal and a rule that said if you were sent off for your club you missed the next international. Under Ron Greenwood we had qualified for the 1980 European Championships in Italy which had been blighted by crowd trouble and seemed odds on to reach the World Cup in 1982 in Spain. Our qualifying ground contained Hungary (seen as our biggest challengers),Romania, Switzerland and Norway. Back in the 1980’s Norway weren’t very good. They were the lowest ranked team in the group and did nothing to dispel that myth when they lost 4-0 to England at Wembley in September 1980. By the time that the teams met again at the Ulleval Stadion in Oslo in September 1981 it appeared to be a done deal that England would go through and Norway would finish bottom. It didn’t happen that way and Norway’s 2-1 win over England proved to be a major shock and legendary commentator Bjorge Lillelien simply could not contain his excitement on the final whistle. Here is his legendary rant in full…

“We are the best in the world! We are the best in the world! We have beaten England 2-1 in football!! It is completely unbelievable! We have beaten England! England, birthplace of giants. Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana–we have beaten them all. We have beaten them all. Maggie Thatcher can you hear me?”

“Maggie Thatcher, I have a message for you in the middle of the election campaign. I have a message for you: We have knocked England out of the football World Cup. Maggie Thatcher, as they say in your language in the boxing bars around Madison Square Garden in New York: Your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!”

The Norwegians were used to his customary end of game hyperbol but it caused a mild amount of embarrassment in the Norwegian Parliament and they quickly issued an apology.

So history lesson over for one day. But the fact remains that despite some impressive performances on the world stage such as the 2000 European Championships and the 1994 and 1998 World Cups that one night still provides a high point in their footballing history. Domestically times have improved and it is no longer a surprise to see Rosenberg taking their place in the Champions League Group Stages as they have done on a number of occasions, and that is the main problem. Their domination of the game led to every other team simply giving up trying to compete. The best players headed off to the Premier League (such as Jon Obi Mikkel who had been a Lyn player before bizarre Chelsea/Manchester United ownership deal that ended up going Chelsea’s way and Lyn getting £4m, although the London club are rumoured to be suing for the return of this cash) and the next best were snapped up by Rosenberg, leading to a vacuum as so carefully explained at the start of Guns ‘N’ Roses legendary anthem “Civil War”. You would have thought that being based in the capital, city, calling the national stadium home and having one of the biggest fan bases. Well not quite in the case of Lyn Oslo. Yes they had won a few titles but success had eluded them for a few decades and since coming back to the Tippeligaen in 2000 they only had a couple of third place finishes to their name. This season one win from their first thirteen games saw them enter Mid Summers weekend in last place.

Oslo was one of the few capital cities I had not visited on my travels. In fact Norway as a whole had fallen off the Fuller radar so it was long overdue a visit. I planned this one back in March when the flights were stupidly cheap with Ryanair. Yes I know that it is a 2 hour coach ride away but we will deal with that later. The original plan was ambitious for me. Fly to Oslo, watch a game, morning in our Sales office here, pm train to Halmstad via Goteborg for England v Germany in the Under21’s, overnight bus (again as I enjoyed it so much last week!) down to Helsingborgs for Italy v Belarus then back on the bus into Oslo (only 6 hours come on, what’s not to like as Mr Last would say) in time for a midweek game and them back home.

Flights sorted for less than £50 (including tax)…then the logistics went into meltdown. Firstly I had forgotten that my outbound trip co-incided with Father’s Day – again! It is a long standing joke in the Fuller household that Daddy is never around on Father’s Day. I Genuinely love the ashtrays (or whatever is now politically correct) in the run up to the day but to me I enjoy every day with my girls and so I do not need any special treatment once a year. Then came the cost. Flights £50 done, hotels add another £500, travel to Helsingborgs add another £100 and this is before you add in the £7 to £10 for a beer (depending what country you are in). So I slimmed down the trip to just Oslo on an overnighter, giving me the chance to still visit the sales office that may become part of my domain in the near future.

So off I went at 3am for the 6.25am flight with Ryanair. Here are my top 5 events of the morning care of Ireland’s finest.

Me and 13 others somewhere
Me and 13 others somewhere

1. I have never been on a Ryanair flight that is anything less than 80% full. I remember reading that Michael O’Leary once said that if he had a route where passenger numbers dropped below 75% then the route would be binned. Well Mike have a look at this manifest. STN to TOR 21st June 2009 @6.25am…Passengers 14 including 2 infants….Fourteen of us!

2. Despite having 14 passengers we were still restricted on where we could sit. “Balance” apparently according to the stewardess, although judging by the size of her legs every time she walked down the plane the pilot would have to re-adjust the controls.

3. We still had the constant adverts playing. Obviously with such a small amount of adults on board who could buy “Bullseye Baggies” they switched tack to “J20″ which sounds very similar to the Bowtime adverts for Strongbow.

4. We landed on time”! In fact we landed 25 minutes early. Perhaps because our load was so light or perhaps because they schedule this 95 minute average flight to be 2 hours.

5. I paid £50 including tax for the flights but Torp is actually 115km away! So you have to get the specially laid on buses that cost £30 return…Hardly a bargain when you add it all up.

So I had a few hours in Oslo before the football, and as it was a stunning day I set off on foot to see them all. I was a little disappointed that the quality of the locals wasn’t in the Sweden league but still they weren’t shy in stripping off for the good weather. I tried to starve off hunger as I knew I could be fed for free at the football later, and it was a good job too. Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. On the BigMac index it is second only to Tokyo and you wouldn’t have much change here out of a £10 for your medium meal. I resisted the urge of any of the local delicacies which looked so fresh that some of them were still studying at school (get it? Fish, Schools?).

Oslo Fjord
Oslo Fjord

I had a wander around most of the tourist sites and was struck how everyone seemed to be happy. It is certainly a clean and spacious city and despite there being public transport galore (£3 for a single anywhere or £6.50 for a day pass) nothing was too far away to be walkable. I spent a couple of hours in Vigeland Sculpture Park with its amazing human sculptures – serene during the day but I bet its blooming eerie at night. I also had a wander down to the Bislett Stadium, home to the annual Golden Mile race and where Sebastian Coe shattered the World Record in 1979. The stadium is now home to a number of annual events as well as the home ground of Skeid who are in the First Division. Lyn and Vålerenga IF have both used the stadium occasionally, notably for the home games played in the now defunct Royal League (top clubs in Denmark, Norway and Sweden). The stadium is very smart with over 15,000 seats and an ingenius indoor warm up track that runs the whole circumference of the stadium (around 550 metres). Recently the stadium was voted one of the 20 most important sporting venues in the world by Sports Illustrated magazine.

But I was not here for this stadium, but for a visit to the Ullevaal, the Norwegian National Stadium and home to both Lyn Oslo and Vålerenga IF. There has been a stadium on this site since 1926 when the then Crown Prince officially opened the stadium and watched a Lyn XI beat Sweden’s Orgryte 5-1. Amazingly the highest ever official attendance was not for football or some strange Alpine sport but when the American Preacher Billy Graham came to town in 1955 when 40,000 believers (?) crammed in. The stadium today has gone through numerous face lifts and is very smart with a double tier horseshoe and a smaller stand at the west end. Lower tier seats are in blue with the upper tier in a smart red. The views from the upper tier are very impressive and certainly underline the green-ness of the city.

It is also easy to get to – a simple 5 stop journey on the T-Bane underground line from the city centre and you are outside the stadium. There is a very well stocked football shop, which was still selling the West Ham kit with XL on the front that the club had not only stopped from being sold anywhere else bar the official West ham outlets but also according to them all been destroyed.

On non-matchdays this is where you can access the museum and guided stadium tour (80NOK). With an hour until kick off it was no surprise that fans were thin on the ground. Father’s Day coupled with a beautifully sunny day was obviously keeping the football lovers elsewhere. So after tucking into my complementary meatballs (very nice) and flat bread I took my seat in the press box, overlooking not only the lush pitch but also with a great view of the surrounding area.

The opponents Odd Grenland were neither Odd nor from Grenland. In fact they came from 100 miles south west of the city and so traveled in some numbers, stripping off to enjoy the sunshine in the sand. They were in fine voice, and quite rightly so as they came into this game in 2nd place in the league, having won promotion last season. They are Norway’s oldest professional team, dating back to 1894. So second v bottom was surely going to go to form, right?

FC Lyn Oslo 1 Odd Grenland 1 – Ullevål Stadion – Sunday 21st June 2009

The loyal Lyn fans
The loyal Lyn fans

In the competition to find the most bizarre pre-team emerging ritual Lyn will take some beating. A strange devil like character ran out onto the pitch and high fived every ball boy in the centre circle and performed a couple of cartwheels whilst the stadium speakers boomed out the theme tune from 1492 – the whole 5 minutes of it. The teams finally came out with no more than 5,000 in the stadium. The hardcore Lyn fans were located in the lower north stand and banged their drums, waved their flags and generally got behind their team. The traveling Odd fans were in the east stand with the sun shining in their faces and facing the Carrot end – empty seats that had huge banners of crowd faces on as if to confuse the opposition.

Once the teams emerged they were introduced one by one and took their cheer from the crowd meaning the game didn’t actually get going until 6.05pm. But surprise, surprise it was bottom of the table Lyn who started the brighter and should have been ahead as early as the sixth minute when Davy Claude Angan lost his marker only to head over from ten yards out. Scoring goals had been an issue for Lyn this season with only two clubs scoring fewer but top scorer Uruguayan Diego Guastavino made no mistake when he was presented with a one on one in the fourteenth minute to open the scoring. Lyn should have at least doubled this lead in the first half with both Angan and Guastavino missing absolute sitters, but credit where credit is due as they were by far the better team.

Grenland made a couple of tactical changes in the second half and the game was a fairly open affair, with a much higher quality of play than I expected. Both goalkeepers were kept busy and made some excellent saves in the second period. The Lyn fans kept the musical tempo up including a nice little ditty using the tune of God Saved the Queen, although how anyone could hear over the constant irrelevant announcements over the address system which appeared to be scores from elsewhere – as if the crowd actually cared! Grenland thought they had their equaliser in the 80th minute when Peter Kovacs towering header hit the underside of the bar but rebounded on the right side of the line despite their protests.

The fourth official came out and displayed two minutes added on. Two minutes separating Lyn and their first home win of the season. Two minutes to keep their concentration. And with just ten seconds of added time gone they gave away a corner and the ball, when hit back in, literally landed on a players foot (there were so many in there it was impossible to see who) and it dribbled into the corner of the next for an undeserved equaliser. The Lyn players had no time to react and on the final whistle fell to their knees as if they had been relegated. It was tough luck on them but that is football. They could and should have been further ahead by half time.

So I finished off the meatballs, listened to the press conference in Norwegian and then headed back into the city centre.  It was 10pm but still the locals were out in force,with the sun still shining brightly.  The Radhusplats (Town square to me and you) was being busily prepared for the Mid summer’s Eve festivities. Apparently as Mid Summer’s Eve was on a weekend this year they postponed the celebrations until midweek so that they could have a day off work – so much for my planned night of revelry in the Fjords! I had also timed my trip to miss four of the biggest music acts in the world.  AC/DC and Metallica had played Oslo the previous week, The Killers were due to rock the Spectrum on the day of my departure and A-ha! had played in front of a dozen or so here in the Radhusplatz just forty eight hours earlier.  Oh how at least two of the Norton girls would have loved to have been sitting on the bench where I was, thinking that Morten could have parked his bumcheeks in this very spot!

Despite the fact that the sun showed no sign of ever setting I took the presence of an evil looking cloud over the city as an omen to head back to the hotel.  In classic Scooby Doo tails this cloud would have been created by an evil genius who was trying to get the King’s gold by scaring him away from the Palace.  It didn’t work but it was enough to send me back to my bed and a decent nights sleep – well a few hours until the sun came back at 4am….Not quite the Fjord Fiesta  I had planned!

About the Ullevål Stadion
The Ullevaal Stadium is home not only to Lyn Oslo and Vålerenga IF but is also the national stadium. It was inaugurated in 1926 by HRH Crown Prince Olav, arguably Lyn’s most famous supporter, the future King Olav V was a lifelong honorary member of the club. Norwegian Football Association acquired a majority in the stadium in 1960 and Lyn’s ownership has since dwindled to the 13.07% share the club owns today.

Originally the stadium had a running track and could hold more than 35,000 spectators. The running track was eventually removed and there have been several redevelopments over the years, the last of which was completed in 1999 when the main stand was rebuilt. The current all-seater capacity of 25,572 spectators is far greater than Lyn’s average attendance (which has been steadily rising over the past few seasons, ending at 6459 for the 2005 season, 7059 for the 2006, and is predicted to keep rising), but the club has recently chosen to remain at Ullevaal until at least 2010.

The Football Museum is located in the Hafslund Stand. Opened in 2002, the centenary year of the NFF, it documents over 100 years of Norwegian football history. Guided tours of the stadium, including the royal box and the dressing rooms, are available.

It has not been graded as a European host stadium by UEFA as of yet, primarily down to size although facilities are certainly on a par with other 4 and 5 star ones in Europe.

The future of club football at Ullevaal is at any rate uncertain, as both Lyn and Vålerenga have voiced their intent to move to new stadiums when their leases run out in 2010. Vålerenga are planning a new stadium at Valle Hovin, where the club currently have their administration and training facilities. The new stadium would be located closer to the club’s historical roots at Vålerenga and also the majority of their fan base in eastern Oslo. Lyn, meanwhile want to build a new, smaller stadium in the western part of the capital and have focused primarily on securing permission to redevelop Frogner stadion.

How to get to the Ullevål Stadion
The stadium is located next to the Ullevål stadion station of the Oslo T-bane, and is served by lines 3, 4 and 5 (the Sognsvann Line and the Ring Line). The stadium is also within a ten-minute walk from Rikshospitalet station of the Oslo Tramway, located on the Ullevål Hageby Line and served by trams 17 and 18. In addition, the highway Ring 3 runs nearby.

How to get a ticket for the Ullevål Stadion
Tickets for club matches can be purchased online from the club’s websites (http://www.lyn.no and http://www.vif-fotball.no). Tickets start from 160NOK (around £16) and rise to 200 (NOK). Average crowds of less than 10,000 mean there are plenty of tickets for sale on the day of the game from the Fotball Shop which is on the corner of the stadium as you exit the T-Bane. Tickets for other events are sold via the stadium website at http://www.ullevval-stadion.no and include national team games, concerts and the odd preacher man visit.

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