Norway and England: a match made in heaven

Whilst the Premier League now is enjoyed by millions around the world, Norway has always had a unique relationship with the English game. Welcome to IBWM, Michael Moruzzi.

There are a lot of stereotypes about Norway: everyone is tall and good looking; you need the sovereign wealth of a Russian oligarch to get drunk there; and they love English football. Hackneyed as these statements may be, there is an element of truth behind all of the above.

Without focusing on their genetic good fortune, or the laughably high price of beer (you will weep as you hand your krone to the barman), there is something endearing about the average Norwegian’s love of English football.

It all started back on 29 November 1969 with a live broadcast of Wolves Vs Sunderland (Wolves won 1-0) on NRK (Norway’s public broadcaster). Norway’s obsession with English football was born. The programme - called Tippekampen - became a national institution until the mid 1990’s when NRK lost the rights to show Premier League football.

As the popularity of English football grew, so did familiar spin off industries such as playing cards, fostering interest among younger fans. The most popular English clubs in Norway will come as no surprise; Manchester United and Liverpool dominate, but older fans are also likely to favour Leeds, Everton and Nottingham Forest, reflecting the era they started watching the game. Indeed, most English clubs that enjoyed success during the 1970’s and 1980’s are likely to find a smattering of fans in Norway thanks to the TV exposure.

However, if you had to identify a golden era in this Anglo-Norsk relationship, it would have to be the 1990’s. Not only was this the strongest period for the Norwegian national team, qualifying for the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, but much of their top talent was based in England.

Throughout the 1990’s Norwegian players such as Lars Bohinen, Henning Berg, Alf Inge Haaland, Tore Andre Flo, Ronnie Johnson, and of course, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, all left their mark on the English game. For obvious reasons, no other player did more to enhance the reputation of Norwegian football than Solskjaer, and his late winner at Camp Nou in 1999 could be seen as the climax in Norway’s love affair with England. This is a fundamental appeal of the English league, as Trond, a Rosenborg and Manchester United fan, explains:

“When Norwegian players are signed by English teams it’s a bigger deal than in other countries. The EPL is better covered in our newspapers and on TV than other leagues, so we can watch the progression of Norwegian players more closely.”

But, what of Norway’s own football culture? Despite that period in the 1990’s, as a football nation, Norway doesn’t quite have the international pedigree of their Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Denmark. The flipside of this is that in Rosenborg BK (RBK) they have arguably the most successful Scandinavian club side of the modern era, participating in the group stage of the Champions League 11 times in 12 years, and twice making progress to the knockout stage. Rosenborg’s success would suggest a decent standard of domestic competition for Norwegian fans to follow, but conflicted loyalties can be a problem.

The Norwegian season takes place during the summer to avoid the harsh Nordic winters, so the potential for clashes with EPL broadcasts is minimised, but not averted entirely. As Trond explains, it comes down to individual loyalties:

“I would watch a RBK (Rosenborg) game over a United game anytime, but I have a strong local identity. Others follow their English team as they feel they are guaranteed more quality football for the two hours spent.”

Divided loyalties become more apparent when Norwegian club sides play English teams in Europe. Whilst some, like Trond, feel Norwegians should forget domestic rivalries to support their own sides against foreign teams in European competition, it appears his sentiments are not shared by his countrymen, who are more exited at catching a glimpse of their adopted English team. This scenario is reflected in pre-season games involving English clubs in Norway, when fans of the opposition can often outnumber the home team. That’s not to say Norwegians don’t back their own teams properly during the domestic season. Thomas, an English designer based in Oslo, is impressed by the close relationship between the supporters and the players in Norwegian football, but feels the lure of the English game is irresistible in comparison,

“I've never heard of fans making a big effort to travel to an away fixture here, where as they'll use £500+ on a weekend of English football.”

Given the advent of digital television during the past decade, and the availability of football from multiple sources, is it possible that new trends are emerging in Norway’s consumption of football that could threaten the dominant position of the EPL?

Niklas Wildhagen is one example of the changing football demographic; a Bundelsliga fanatic and author of the Norwegian Musings blog, he admits that German football has not captured the imagination of Norwegian fans like the EPL, but suggests interest in other competitions is growing:

“There are certainly more Spanish and Italian football enthusiasts in Norway now then there were ten years ago. Italian teams like Juve, AC Milan, AS Roma and Inter have a decent amount of fans that follow their every game.”

Even so, Niklas acknowledges that most of those fans that follow Serie A or La Liga will also follow an EPL side (he himself is a Liverpool supporter), but this recent trend reflects Norwegians’ general appreciation of good football. Indeed, Trond believes that Serie A and La Liga are technically superior to the EPL, but without the historic legacy they do not command the consistent, daily coverage.

That is unlikely to change for some time. Support for English sides has become so engrained in Norwegian culture it appears they often override more nationalistic loyalties. These Norwegian Anglo fans are not fickle; once they choose their side they are committed, and will invest significant amounts of time and money undertaking pilgrimages to support them.

You’re more likely to find Norwegian fans checking out the pubs before the game and soaking up the atmosphere than visiting the club megastore. It’s also worth remembering that this relationship began long before the marketing of the Premier League to a global audience. For that reason the Anglo-Norway football bond should endure for many more seasons as a shared appreciation of football culture between two football obsessed nations.

To read more from Michael, visit Regista Blog, and follow him on Twitter @Regista_blog.