On my first visit to Norway last November, I stayed briefly in Oslo, and was in the Ullevål area of the city, close to Ullevål Stadion which is the home of the Norwegian national football team, and Vålerenga football club. Part of the complex is also a football museum, there is a fanshop, and the offices of the Norges Idrettsforbund (Norwegian Sports Association), the Norwegian Fotballforbund (Norwegian FA) and the Norwegian Olypmic and Paralympic Committees can be found there. Perhaps only Bislett Stadion, closer to the city centre, and host of many world record breaking triumphs in speed skating, rivals Ullevål in terms of importance in Norwegian sport.
The stadium was built in the 1920s, opening in September 1926 after Lyn football club agreed to go for this site over others. A deciding factor in the choice of Ullevål was that Akersbanene, the local tram company, had the rights to the Sognsvann line. A private company was established to build and run the ground made up of Lyn football club, Aker municipality who owned around 25% of the company, and several other sports clubs whose combined ownership amounted to 5%. It has been revamped over many years since then, and Vålerenga moved in to make it their home in 2000. Lyn’s share in the ground, which by the mid 2000s, had been much reduced to just over 13% of the ground, was bought out by the NFF in 2007.
Last night I finally got to go and see a live game at Ullevål, as Norway took on Germany in a World Cup Qualifier. Although no one expected an upset in this game, the Norwegian team acquited themselves well and it was the second goal, which came just before half-time, which really killed the game as a contest. Up to that, Norway had responded well to going a goal down. The goal came after 15 minutes, and was the result of poor attempts to clear the ball from the Norwegian box. The goal had been coming as Norway set itself up lying very deep in that opening period, and attempting from early to spring the counter attack. After the goal, they responded well, playing positive and more open football. They pushed their own line a little higher up the field, and one chance which broke was one of those great almost goals that any football fan will be familiar with.
The second goal, which came not more than a minute before half time killed off whatever resolve the Norwegian side had, and the second half was all about damage limitation. Not that 3-0 was a flattering scoreline, as it seemed Germany were capable of being broken down when Norway strung their passes together. It was a fantastic occasion despite the result and will certainly be a memorable game for me.
Myself, herself and her uncle got to the ground in good time, and I bought myself a scarf – a nice deep red scarg with ‘NORGE’ on one side and ‘JA, VI ELSKER’ on the other. Ja, vi elsker is part of the opening line of the Norwegian national anthem, which was played on the night by a large brass band wearing a cream uniform (so if anyone can help me identify who they are, that’d be great). I tried to use my debit card to buy the scarf, but, being an utlending (foreign) card, it wouldn’t work, so herself had to step in to buy it for me.
As we approached this impressive ground – it’s a fine stadium but has a surprisingly small capacity of around 28,000 – I went to look for a match programme. Much to my surprise, not only had they programmes but they were free! I was fully expecting to pay 100NOK (about €10) for a programme at such a big game but instead they were completely free, which I thought was a great touch from the NFF.
Once inside the ground, and taking our seats – we were sitting just the German away support in mixed seating – we got ready for the buildup. After a while the players came out for one last warm up and then the brass band came on. The carpet was laid out on the halfway line and the cardboard fixtures put up, the flags were held and the national anthems were sung. Time for kick-off.