Preben Walle pays tribute to a Norweigen legend, and reports on how his son has taken up his mantle.
Svein Mathisen. In parts of southern Norway, that name conjures up images of one of the greatest technicians and finishers the country has ever created. When you talk to a certain generation about Svein Mathisen, they get teary eyed and they speak with an admiration and warmth in their voice. He was their Messi, their Rooney, he was the greatest they have ever seen.
“Matta” started his career at IK Start, and he finished his career at IK Start. To Svein, after his family, Start was the best thing in the world. The club’s motto is: “IK Start until I die”, and for Mathisen, this was truer than for anyone else. Up until the last night of his life, he was getting reports on the club and its players. In June 2010, Mathisen was diagnosed with stomach cancer. It was a shock. At the time, Mathisen had just started in his new job as sporting director for the club (having worked as press officer since 2007), a job he always fought to return to until his death in January 2011.
In 1972, Start were promoted into the top-flight after a three-year absence. Before the 1973 season, a young man was promoted from the youth team. Svein Mathisen made his debut for the club in the first game of the season, and was to become an integral part of the Start side that finished third in the league that season, and who achieved numerous top positions throughout the 1970s.
The Start side of the 1970s was a fantastic outfit. Alongside Mathisen, you found players like Trond Pedersen, Svein Otto Birkeland and Preben Jørgensen, who are all considered stalwarts in the IK Start history. Together, they led Start to two Championships, 1978 and 1980, and they are generally considered the greatest generation of Start players ever. They had all come through the ranks together, and they played with an enthusiasm and in a manner that made them the darlings of Norwegian football. The type of football they played is widely known as “Mackerel Football”. As we all know down here on the coast of Norway, where fishing is vital to our existence, the mackerel comes in shoals. And, the Start team from the 70s very much resembled this. They attacked in shoals.
In 1987, Mathisen had a son. The son was named Jesper. It was recognised early that Jesper had the potential to become a great footballer, and under the tutelage of his father, he signed a contract with IK Start in 2004. Jesper, like Svein, was a striker. At almost 6”5, he was never directly compared to his father, but the expectations of him becoming an IK Start legend was always there.
In his first four seasons at the club, Jesper only made nine starts. His early career was marred by injuries, and he never managed to cement his place in the side before another injury struck. In 2007, Start was relegated into the second tier, and in the following seson, finally Jesper managed to cement his place in the side, but now as a centre back. The move helped Jesper distance himself from his dad’s reputation, and he could finally concentrate on his own career, and on being himself.
After Jesper’s move in 2008, he has played 76 games for the club, and he has been an integral part of the side. This season, however, Jesper and the team have struggled badly. They currently sit second from bottom with only nine games to go, and unfortunately appear destined for the drop. The reason behind their poor season has been a collective matter. They do not score enough goals and they have been abysmal defensively. The fans, looking for a scapegoat, have turned on poor Jesper. They have accused him of being in the side, not on merit, but because of his father.
This summer, the frequency of the calls and text messages increased, and Jesper went to the national papers to tell his side of the story. Mathisen was quoted as saying “it’s okay if they call to complain about my performances or the football we play, but when they involve my father, I get angry and upset.” Svein and Jesper had an incredibly tight bond, and when his father died, Jesper said that it was like losing his best friend and his idol, and that it was his father who had pushed him to where he was today.
After he went to the papers, Jesper Mathisen looks a different player and a different person. He looks confident, he is smiling and he looks happy to be playing football. Over the weekend, in an interview with TV2 Norway, Mathisen revealed that he has agreed to finish the book his dad started before he got ill. He will compliment his father’s stories with his own memories of his father, and how he helped him in becoming the person, and the footballer, he is today.
In the end, Svein Mathisen played 663 games for his beloved IK Start before retiring in 1989. Mathisen also played 25 games for Norway over a nine-year period. After he retired, he went on to work in the media. He worked as a journalist and editor at the regional newspaper, and as a commentator and broadcaster for both national radio and TV before he, as I mentioned, returned to IK Start to become press officer.
Jesper has, at the time of writing, played 76 games for IK Start. He is en route to becoming an icon, in his own right.
Personally, this was a very important piece for me to write. My grandfather is currently undergoing cancer treatment, and he has, much like Svein was to Jesper, been a beacon for me. He has been an inspiration, and someone I’ve always looked up to.
Follow Preben on Twitter @Ohpebbles.