This adventure actually started back in March 2015 in Valencia when Mrs Football Nerd and I first encountered three kindred Norwegian football obsessives in an Irish Bar (where else?) watching the North London Derby. Bonded by the common language, humour and nostalgia brought out by our passion for the game; Hans, Nils and Evan became our friends and Hans in particular a companion on some eclectically selected football experiences; so when Hans suggested we come over to visit him in Norway to watch his local team, Bryne FK, it seemed like an obvious thing to do given that the major European leagues have now wound down for the summer.
After the short flight across the North Sea we arrived in Stavanger on Friday afternoon making sure that we stocked up on the free buffet available at our hotel, given that Norway is not only the newly crowned happiest country in the world but quite possibly the most expensive on earth. It was then off to a local bar to rendezvous with Hans and the rest of the Stavanger football massive at a local bar called Bøker & Børst (literally books and booze); where the beer flowed but somehow we resisted the temptation to help ourselves to the broad selection of literature or board games available throughout the bar. Although Nils did convince us that for the true football experience it was obligatory to get ourselves off to Viking FK on Sunday evening in addition to the trip to Bryne on Saturday; which of course we found little reason to argue against
During the course of the evening we got to meet another two football obsessives in the form of Morten Carrot Man (so called as he feels it is his duty to bring carrots to all matches to share out amongst supporters to ensure that they eat healthily!) and Aberdeen Alexander (whose mum is from Aberdeen of course!). As is the way of these type of soirees when football fans gather, there was no way we were going to let the night end at a sensible hour so we headed off in search of a club for a late drink eventually returning to our hotel in the early hours of the morning.
Breakfast followed by a walk in the chilly, breezy weather did its best to sort our slightly fuzzy brains from the previous evening out and then it was time to meet up with Morten, Alexander and another Bryne-supporting friend Gøril whose brother used to be the keeper. In the tradition of football fans the world over, we of course headed straight for the backseats of the rail replacement bus armed with 250 Kroner (£25) worth of beer, which actually comprised just ten soft drink sized cans of Heineken, and settled in for the 40 minute or so bus ride.
As we de-bussed on arrival, we accosted the chap we had noted wearing a Bury shirt on the bus, to discover that he was a groundhopper called Henry who had long since broadened his horizons beyond Gigg Lane and the UK and had visited more than 200 grounds across Europe. The fact that he had selected a Norwegian second division ground in Bryne as well (of course!) as the Viking game the following evening without any connection to either, made us feel either a tad humbled or slightly saner depending on your perspective.
Bryne itself, despite officially being the 49th biggest town / city in Norway is actually relatively small, yet despite its population of just over 11,500, it boasts two pubs and a football ground, so is in fact well-served for the basic infrastructure needs, well at least for football fans.
We had chosen to arrive at the ground nice and early with the promise of a band, sausages on the grill and readily beer in the build-up to the match; to call it a fanzone may have been stretching the point somewhat but it was perfectly good entertainment and the time flew by until it we were due to head into the ground.
We opted to stand on the terrace which ran along the side of the ground in a throwback to the way that football used to be back in the day, and despite the lack of beer on sale inside, we managed to survive through a couple of rounds of coffee topped up by the contents of Mrs Football Nerd’s hip flask, which was originally purchased in anticipation of the prices in Norway.
The game itself with the visitors Nardo sitting just 4 points behind the so far unbeaten Bryne; was interesting enough and far less long ball than we had been led to believe by our Norwegian associates the previous evening. Ultimately it was decided by a first half penalty although Bryne could have made it much more comfortable if they had converted a second spot kick late in the match.
After the game we all headed down to one of the two local pubs to analyse the match and continue our ongoing football chat before enjoying some delicious homemade pizza thanks to Mrs Hans, before heading back to Stavanger just before 11pm. It had been a long but highly enjoyable football day.
In an attempt to add some tourism into the beer and football schedule, Mrs Football Nerd and I opted to undertake a fjord cruise on Sunday morning which, given the drizzly grey conditions so reminiscent of a typical British bank holiday, was actually a wise use of our time. The scenery all around was simply stunning and in many ways it was made all the more dramatic by the ominous looking grey skies.
Upon returning to shore there was just enough time to for a couple of pints in Bøker & Børst before heading down to the station to meet Groundhopper Henry and to find our way to Viking Stadion for our second match of the weekend.
After spending some time deciphering which bus and where to get it from, which consisted of Groundhopper Henry and myself trying to translate the bus stop guides into Northern English, and rather more practical Mrs Football Nerd asking someone who worked at the station (genius!); we got the correct bus and made the short-trip to the outskirts of town where the ultra-modern stadium nestles in a newly developed business park.
After spending a not insignificant amount of our pre-match time playing hunt-the-ticket office, we secured ourselves match tickets at £26 each, for those of us used to the Premier League this was a pleasant surprise. With the absence of any bar in the surrounding area, Mrs Football Nerd and I called on our experience of similar situation at De Kuip (https://football-nerd.org/2016/09/16/pre-match-beers-in-a-chinese-restaurant-and-away-fans-throwing-teddy-bears-just-an-ordinary-day-at-de-kuip/), knowingly led our new comrade towards the Thai restaurant we had noted on the way from the bus stop, to find it as we anticipated full of Viking fans enjoying their pre-match beers.
Viking Stadion is a very modern and well-appointed with a good view from just about anywhere; however with Viking rooted at the bottom of the League with a total of 9 points after 15 games and the visitors Sogndal a mere 5 places and 10 points better off, the crowd of just over 7,000, less than half of the stadium’s capacity, wasn’t much of a surprise.
The game was evenly balanced throughout with both teams decent on the ball, although Viking enjoyed the greater share of possession they struggled to create any opening against the three man-mountains of the Sogndal defence. Just past the hour the hosts finally made the breakthrough, with a near post header from a corner by one of their own central defenders, Martinsen (yes I looked it up!). The lead was to last all of a minute however when sloppy defending allowed Ramsland (and again, thank you Soccerway!) to bundle home after driving through the middle of the home side’s defence, albeit with more than a hint of handball about it. In the end, neither team had enough to sway the game their way and both had to reluctantly settle for a share of the points.
Back in the Thai restaurant after the match, the three of us reflected on a thoroughly enjoyable football weekend and spent time discussing ever more random destinations that we fancied in the future before heading back to Stavanger for a few more rounds and the obligatory McDonald’s stop.
The magic of these sorts of trips is founded upon the surreal location combined with the familiarity of going to a football match and how the routine and behavior are almost identical wherever you choose to be. I have no doubt whatsoever we will be back at some point in the future but for now it is time to go back to the European Football Atlas to see where we fancy next? For Mrs Football Nerd and myself this continues with a trip to the Star Sixes at the O2.