Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bærum SK - Frigg (31-07-2010)

After a week of hard work, and a very long sleep, I woke up just in time to buy and eat an extremely overpriced breakfast and catch the bus from downtown to Sandvika Station in Bærum, just outside of Oslo. From there it was just a 10 minute walk to Sandvika Stadion, home of Bærum Sportklubb.

I bought a ticket for NOK 100 (12.50 Euro) and joined the ca. 125 other spectators, of which at least 25 were supporting the away team, Frigg Fotball, from Oslo. In fact, as far as people wore any team merchandize, it was the blue of Frigg rather than the yellow of Bærum. I counted one jersey, one scarf, and two caps; one of the caps celebrated the 100th anniversary of Bærum SK this year.

The Sandvika Stadium is a very modest accommodation with only two very tiny (five-row) stands along one long side of the pitch. However, that seems to be enough for a team in the second division of Norwegian football. Unfortunately, it didn’t provide us with much cover against the strong wind and mild rain; which completed the terrible ‘summer’ day which was roughly 12C/54F.

The game started quite well, with a good counter by Bærum in the 3rd minute, but the header went wide. A couple minutes later a Frigg attack ended with a shot just wide. The visitors were the stronger team from the beginning and created several half chances, though few led to real danger. Despite the fact that the teams played on a pitch of artificial grass, neither team used a lot of fast combinations. The long passes, though seldom accurate, did make the game a bit more attractive though.

In the 27th minute a good attack by Frigg led to a hard shot from ca. 10 meters, which was saved by the Bærum goalie. The corner was boxed away and the rebound cleared almost unconsciously by a defender on the goal line. However, the next corner was headed in without any chance for the goalie: 0-1. Although the hosts responded directly, with a striker going alone at goal, the Frigg goalie saved bravely and 0-1 was also the half time score.

The second half was even more dominated by Frigg, which was clearly the better team. Unfortunately, the level and pace of play had gone down significantly, and for much of the first twenty-five minutes of the second half little noteworthy happened. The Bærum SK defense was playing worse and worse, but Frigg was unable to capitalize on it. The hosts seldom came to a real attack

In the last quarter of the game Frigg became really dominant, pressuring more and more, and creating various more or less good chances. They didn’t score, however, which made the last five minutes of the game still exciting, as Bærum found a second life and created several decent chances. In a desperate attempt the striker tried to hit the ball in the goal, and this led to the first yellow card of the game, in the 90th minute. In the dying seconds the hosts missed a clear header, making it clear that they were not going to score that day. Hence, the final score was 0-1. The better team won.

Bærum SK was my 350th team, and therefore a special one. To be fair, neither Sandvik Stadion, not Bærum SK stand out in any way. Still, I did enjoy the laid back atmosphere, and the real localness of the club (in fact, they compete not just with the various Oslo teams, first division club Stabæk also plays in Bærum).
Vålerenga IF – FC Barcelona (27-07-2010)

For some reason, FC Barcelona, Europe’s powerhouse, had decided to come to Oslo to start its season. Afraid it would be sold out, I had asked a local colleague to buy me a ticket in advance, two weeks before the game. As the cheapest tickets were no longer available, he got me the second cheapest: NOK 497 (63 Euro): welcome to Norway! Together with my student S., a Flemish Barca fan, I made my way to the stadium in the cold and rain. Despite the fact that the tram hit a car on the way, we arrived at the Ullevål Stadion well in time for S. to buy a ticket (which he selfishly gave to me as a souvenir, as I had gotten an email print out).

The Ullevål Stadion is the national stadium of Norwegian soccer with a capacity of 25,572. It is home to both the Norwegian national team and Vålerenga IF, the biggest team of Oslo and one of the major teams in Norways Tippeligaen (First Division). Consequently, they are one of the few teams with a sizeable ultra section that sings during the whole match.

Despite the inevitable costs of playing a team like FC Barcelona in a friendly, this was clearly a good move. Despite the terrible weather, 21.993 people had come to the stadium, at least half of them to see FC Barcelona. And although many of the Barca were also Vålerenga fans, all of them were Norwegian incidentally, many clearly were not among the hardcore fans and were there more for Barca than Vålerenga (Barca jerseys far outnumbered Vålerenga jerseys). Hence, the game had more the atmosphere of a circus, or major football event (like World Cup or Champions League), than the authentic vibe of a regular national competition game.

After a festive official opening, during which the Barca and Vålerenga songs were sung, we could finally start. Barca had virtually none of its stars, as all World Cup 2010 players were still on holiday, but the second (and later third) teams were fairly eager, despite the horrendous weather (cold, windy and extremely rainy), and still very skilled.

Although Vålerenga was mid-season and Barca played its first game with its second team, it was the visitors who were the better team. After a couple of half-chances, mostly created by a swirling ball and a blundering Barca goalie, the visitors showed their superior skill. After a beautiful one-two through the center the ball was perfectly placed in the far corner: 0-1 and the audience went crazy as if the home team had scored. However, just one minute a Barca defender gave a light but dumb push in the box, and Vålerenga took the present: 1-1 through a penalty.

In the 31st minute the hosts could even make it 2-1, but the Barca goalie stopped the shot. As the crowd around me was continuing its “Barca Barca” chants, they were rewarded in the 35th minute, when a midfielder pounded the ball from just outside the box in the net. Not the best action of the home goalie: 1-2, also the half time score.

At half time Barca exchanged its whole squad and was now playing with Barca 3 and… Zlatan Ibrahimović. As soon as this Swedish superstar made his appearance, people in the stadium went crazy… though they were to be bitterly disappointed. In all my 350+ games, I doubt I have ever seen anyone move so little and so slow as Zlatan Ibrahimović that night (maybe Piet Keur in his Feyenoord days comes close). Incredible! Then again, Barca didn’t need him, as the Vålerenga libero functioned as their 11th man, kicking the ball straight into the feet of the Barca striker, who only had to take two steps and kick the ball into the net: 1-3. This was the start of several minutes of terrible defending by the hosts, which was only punished again in the 65th minute, when Barca got a free header in the box: 1-4.

To keep everyone happy, Vålerenga scored once more, the next minute, through a shot from 20 meter which was missed by the weak Barca goalie: 2-4. And that was roughly the end of the game, as Barca seemed ready to leave rainy Norway from the 70th minute on, and Vålerenga didn’t have the quality to seriously challenge even the third team of Barca. The only excitement came from a crazy guy, who ran on the pitch to give his man love to Zlatan, who remained unfazed. The guy was finally caught by security, who dragged him off under loud applause.

Not much happened after that. Vålerenga cleared its whole bench so that everyone could legitimately claim they had played against Barca. Who would ever know that by that time the only known player left on the pitch was Zlatan, and he barely moved.

Overall, it was an enjoyable evening, despite the rain, costs, and kind of artificial atmosphere of the game. However, I would probably have preferred to see a regular league game of Vålerenga, to appreciate its singing real supporters better. As there is no doubt, together with probably only Rosenborg BK and Lillestrøm SK, Vålerenga IF is the only Norwegian team with a real following.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stabæk Fotball – Rosenborg BK (25-07-2010)

Just one day after my glorious basking in the sun at Kjelsås, I am standing in my jeans and jacket, umbrella covering me from the rain, waiting for bus 31(E) to take me to the Telenor Arena to see a game in the Tippeligaen, Norway’s First Division. The bus ride takes just 15 minutes, but then I have to wait more than 20 minutes in line to buy a ticket for NOK 220 (27.50 Euro), which is the cheapest! As the ticket office is run by Ticketmaster, it comes as no surprise that the ticket itself is boring. And they could have done so much better; just look at the cover of their match program!

Although happy that the stadium is covered, it is a mere 13C/55F and raining, I am a little shocked that it is actually an indoor stadium. Although this makes sense in the harsh Norwegian climate, it is only the second time in my life I see a professional football team play indoors (the other being the Michigan Bucks).

The official capacity of the Telenor Arena, the new home ground of Stabæk Fotball which only opened in 2009, is 15,600 for football games (23.000 for concerts). This evening it is half full; the official tally is 9.479. This is probably in part because the game is live on tv. That said, almost half of the people are supporters of Rosenborg, the Norwegian powerhouse from the northern city of Trondheim, which is also on top of the league today. While many probably live in Oslo, a couple of thousand must have made the 500 km (300 miles) journey for this game.

Stabæk is the second biggest team in Oslo, behind Vålerenga, certainly now Lyn Oslo went bankrupt (fortunately I saw them several years ago). They are in the middle of the league and seem to have a modest fan base, with the ‘ultras’ behind one goal, opposite from me, and some enthusiastic kids behind the other. At times they chant together, though the answers from my side sound a bit weak.

From the beginning Rosenborg is the better team, having most of the ball and chances. Their passing game is fast and quick, which is undoubtedly helped by the artificial grass of the Telenor Arena. They create various half chances, but often the final pass is missing or the finish is weak and imprecise. Stabæk mainly tries to counter, but often keeps too many players back to create real chances.

The atmosphere is a bit sterile, which might be the odd setting. While both groups of fans sing for most of the game, it is never really loud. The game slowly starts to become boring, which is mostly the fault of Rosenborg, which never shoots at goal and sees every attack end with another pass too much. The home team has only sporadic chances. In the 23rd minute they play a beautiful one-two pass, but it is horribly missed. The half time score is 0-0, which is way too little for Rosenborg.

After some much needed liquids for both the pitch and me at half time, as well as yet another wiener in soft taco, the most filling snack in the stadium, the second half starts with the music stopping and the home fans singing their song (not too loud though, we are Norwegian!). As in the first half, Rosenborg creates the chances and then squanders them by not shooting. Stabæk’s play is deteriorating fast… poor passing, dumb defending, this must end badly, even against a team that refuses to shoot. And in the 65th minute someone finally shoots, the goalie saves, but the rebound is scored: 0-1.

Unfortunately, the goal makes the game even more boring. Although Stabæk increases the pressure, though is unable to create many chances, Rosenborg seems content with the 0-1 and hardly tries to counter. This notwithstanding, most of the (few) chances are still for Rosenborg. But then, totally unexpected, Stabæk finally plays a good through ball, which is coldly finished, 1-1, and the crowd goes wild (Norwegian style).

With only six more minutes to play, Stabæk seems to have pulled off a stunner against the league leaders. But that is not what the terrible number 23 (Vegar Hedenstad) has in mind, who until then had mainly excelled in screwing up every single Stabæk corner kick. While being the last man, some 20 meters from his goal, he plays the ball in the feet of the Rosenborg striker, who simply walks a couple of meters and scores: 1-2 in the 89th minute. Game over!

In the end, 1-2 is a fair result. Although Rosenborg played poor, and didn’t pressure for the second goal directly, they were much better than Stabæk. On a good day, Rosenborg is among the better teams of the small leagues (e.g. Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden), while Stabæk is a decent team in the Norwegian top league. And although the club has a decent amount of fans and a brand new stadium, I didn’t really feel the atmosphere in the Telenor Arena. Too sterile for me.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kjelsås – Frigg (24-07-2010)

I arrived at Oslo airport just after noon, tired but fit enough to make my way to a game after checking in at the hotel and getting some coffee downtown. After a 30 minute tram ride from downtown Oslo (line 11) I arrived at stop ‘Grefsen Stadion’… but there was no stadium to be seen. Fortunately, I could hear the music playing from behind one row of houses and so I could find my way to the small and hidden Grefsen Stadion.

I paid NOK 80 (ca. 10 euro), but unfortunately did not get a ticket. It was roughly 15 minutes before kick-off on this beautiful Saturday afternoon and I went to the small canteen to get me a freshly baked waffle.

Kjelsås-Frigg is a game in the Norwegian 2. divisjon – Avdeling 1 (Second Division – Section 1), which consists mostly of teams from the larger Oslo region. On this beautiful afternoon, roughly 25C/75F with a light breeze, some 110 people attended the game, including some 10 supporters from Frigg Oslo Fotballklubb and three Flemish guys; turned out that one was working for Frigg and he had two mates over. Most of the people sat on the one and only stand, which consisted of a wooden structure with plastic seats which were being slowly but steadily overtaken by grass and weed.

The guests started the game the most aggressive and in the 6th minute they already scored through a header from a corner kick: 0-1. It would take till the 11th minute for the hosts to have their first (very weak) shot at goal. In the 21st minute Kjelsås is very unlucky, as they hit the crossbar with a devastating shot. Two minutes they are even more unlucky, when the (good) referee gives a penalty after a collision between the Kjelsås goalie and defender and a Frigg striker. The penalty is coldly converted: 0-2.

This put Kjelsås in overdrive and they finally start to create some pressure and chances. Already in the 26th minute they score, after a fast free kick is volleyed in: 1-2. After that the game quickly deteriorates, with Frigg uninterested in attacking and Kjelsås unable to attack properly. Despite the Astroturf the passing is poor and the only remarkable aspect of the game is the shouting on the pitch. 1-2 is also the half time score.

The beginning of the second half sees the best and the worst of the home goalie. At various corner kicks he totally misses the ball, but then at several other occasions, with shots from close range, he makes miraculous safes. As Frigg is increasingly interested in keeping the score and wasting time, Kjelsås keeps pressuring for the equalizer, unfortunately mostly fighting more with the ball than the opponent. In one of their few good attacks over 5-6 players Kjelsås finally scores, in the 76th minute: 2-2.

Despite the relative heat, for Norwegians 24C is hot, the last fifteen minutes oif the game are the most entertaining. Almost every minute one of the two teams has at least half a chance to score, and shots go just wide, just over, or are well saved by the respective goalies. But despite all the drama, 2-2 will also be the final score.

Very satisfied I walk back to the tram, which brings me back to my hotel in 30 minutes. This is what groundhopping is all about: a cozy stadium, nice weather, some nice snacks (waffles this time), and some entertaining football (even if it was not really high quality). It’s good to be back in Europe!