I WAS going to start this piece with one of those fancy quotes that writers find prior to finishing an article, one that encapsulates the mood of the piece and stirs the emotions ahead of an interesting read, writes ANDREW YATES.
But I couldn’t find one, so I’ll begin with a quote I heard numerous times during my three night trip to Tromso, Norway.
“You’re from Liverpool, and you have come to Tromso. Why the fuck would you want to do that?”
There’s a couple of things wrong with this quote. A. I’m not from Liverpool, I’m from the Wirral but when you travel anywhere in the world you say Liverpool and not the Wirral. Nobody knows where the Wirral is.
B. The people of Tromso were not actually surprised I was in their city, just shocked I was there to watch their football team play.
Tromso IL, or TIL, are in the Norwegian Tippeligaen which is the top division in Norway and they play their football at the Alfheim Stadium which has a capacity of 6,859. They are also over 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle and, as far as my research tells me, the northernmost top level side to ply their trade inside that very cold, yet wonderfully landscaped Circle.
I travelled to Tromso to meet Jorgen, one of the team’s pitch announcers and also a huge Liverpool fan who helps to run the local supporters group, Liverbirds of Tromso.
I’d planned the trip around their last game of the domestic season, a ‘do-or-die’ relegation decider against Odd, a team from the south of Oslo who had already secured Europa League football for next season. Win, and the team secure a stay of execution in the country’s top division. Lose, and they’d be facing a relegation playoff.
Thankfully, and rather bizarrely when I realised who it was, Tromso had Morten Gamst Pedersen in their side. You will of course remember Pedersen as one-time best free-kick taker in the Premier League and, if my memory serves me correct, he once lashed a beauty in against Mancheter United for Blackburn Rovers. So he was alright in my book.
Before the game I was treated like a VIP guest, which was all a bit mad to be honest. Turns out not many Reds come here with many telling me I was the first. One of the Tromso directors handed me over a signed shirt and I was taken up to the executive area to enjoy some pre-match food and Norwegian dark ale. It was very much a ‘where I am’ moment when I’m sat in an executive suite in the Arctic sipping on some mad beer and slurping some Hungarian goulash soup, but I took it all in my stride.
To add to the moment, I looked up to the tele and there were the devilish Reds netting the sixth goal against Watford. The pull of the English game became all too clear here, as most seemed more interested in our dancing Brazilian duo than they did Tromso surviving the drop.
Attentions turned to the match, and it became clear why many had asked me why I wanted to watch Tromso. Somehow, though, they churned out an impressive 3-1 win and a few lads in the stand, drunk on Norwegian moonshine, took their tops off in the minus six temperatures while a lot of the fans were not happy with how poor the season had been for their local club.
Staying up has certainly helped, though, and a local businessman has also recently bought the Alfheim Stadium and rented it back to the club for a single Norwegian Krone a year to help the club begin to build a base for success. They played in the Europa League three years ago against Tottenham, and who knows maybe one day a few thousand Scousers can descend to this wonderful place to try that goulash I haven’t stopped raving about since I returned.
The post-match party all got a bit crazy, I hardly paid for a drink and was introduced on stage at the supporters bar as ‘the lad from Liverpool who’s here to watch Tromso’. Half cheered and the other half booed. If you aren’t a Liverpool fan, you’re a United fan. Apart from two fellas I met who were Arsenal fans who I just felt a bit sorry for. They knew I did as well.
As previously mentioned, the main supporters branch in Tromso are the Liverbirds of Tromso who have over 700 paying members who regularly meet up to watch Liverpool play.
They convene at the Bastard Bar in the centre of town, once host to Ozzy Osbourne and his Black Sabbath band. It is a heavy metal establishment which serves cheap ale, a rarity in Norway, and has three large screens to show Jürgen’s Reds in all their glory. I felt the bar name was a fitting tribute to the current Liverpool side, given that they’re being absolute bastards to just about every defence in the country right now.
Liverbirds Tromso, who as well as following all things Liverpool, help to raise money for two charities. One is the Church’s City Missions in Tromso which helps struggling families with children whilst the other one is a little closer to home in the form of Jamie Carragher’s 23 foundation. Such is the length Jorgen goes to raise money for charity he recently won the Liverpool Supporter of the Year in Norway and will attend a game in the city in March 2017 as a thank you for his relentless work.
Last year they raised over £5,000 split between the two and have already surpassed £13,000 in 2016 with a month still to go.
His popularity was clear to see when I met up with him in Tromso, the fact one of the charities was the 23 foundation gives you an indication what Liverpool and the city itself means to those who live so far away.
My trip got me thinking about those that visit Anfield, given I was the surprise (and only) inclusion from Merseyside inside the Alfheim Stadium.
It has been and continues to be a rather taboo subject when it comes to the debate of ‘tourist fans’. It is incredibly difficult to categorise and it is certainly something that has divided the fanbase over the years. I’ve grown up with it from a young age, the older lads telling me of bygone days when all the local lads walked in together and watched the match, whilst many my age continue to miss out on matchday tickets and will often put the blame on those travelling to Anfield ‘with their iPads and half and half scarves and Bill Shankly statue selfies.
The recent local ticket scheme which gives priority to those who live in an L postcode for certain tickets is a superb idea and has given parents the chance to take their children, who have grown up in Liverpool, to the game. I just miss out of that as the Wirral postcode is CH. This gives you an understanding of how difficult it is to keep everyone happy.
One thing I took away from my trip to Tromso was seeing the other side of things. I knew I could get frustrated that hoards of Norwegian fans travel over to watch Liverpool and the 8,500 extra seats at Anfield are, for the most part, corporate tickets. I knew I could moan at whoever listens to me about the ticket situation and how I’ve missed out on enough games in my life. I’ve written a piece previously on this site in which I said I watched Chelsea, Juventus and the AC Milan game all on television.
Maybe it is time to begin to accept what we have in front of us. Yes, there are other ways around it and the club haven’t handled things all too well in recent times, but if meeting the Norwegian fans of Liverpool taught me anything, it’s that they all just want to be your mates and support Liverpool Football Club. The emotional pull of this club, our club, their club, extends even hundreds of miles into the Arctic circle. And I for one think that is boss.
Paying members of this small, humble city commit themselves to the club and despite the jokes about ‘Norwegian Liverpool’ it was a delight to meet them, talk football with them and spend time in such a stunning part of the world.
Their mentality is just the same as those that frequent this site in fact. Just win the fucking lot.
I hope come May, we’re all out wherever we are, having the best night of our lives.
Up the Arctic Reds.