Football : Norwegians pine for Anfield

Simon Turnbull discovers a travelling band of fans never walking alone in Oslo
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The Independent Online
It could have been a call to Ormskirk, not Oslo. "Liverpool Supporters' Club," the voice at the end of the line said. It will come as a surprise to many that there happens to be an office in the Norwegian capital which deals with the demands of the Norsemen and women who are devoted to Liverpool Football Club.

"We have a full-time secretary," Roger Dahl said, "but we will probably have three people employed in the near future. We get 200 to 300 new members every week." The Scandinavian branch of the Liverpool Supporters' Club boasts a loyal following some Premiership clubs cannot equal. "Just over 18,500," Dahl said, "17,000 of them from Norway."

Dahl, 33, combines his work as a self-employed computer technician with his role as the membership officer and accountant for the supporters' club. His Liverpool love affair dates back to the night in 1974 when every home player bar Ray Clemence and Brian Hall scored in the 11-0 slaughter of Stromsgodet Drammen in a Cup- Winners' Cup-tie at Anfield. "Liverpool came to Oslo for the return leg and my father took me," Dahl said. That second leg was the first match in which Kevin Keegan pulled on the red No 7 shirt since he was banned for removing it after his uncharitable clash with Billy Bremner in the Charity Shield.

The Cup-Winners' Cup remains the only piece of first-class silverware yet to be displayed in Anfield's trophy cabinet, though a home victory against SK Brann on Thursday would put Roy Evans's team through to this season's semi-finals.

Dahl will be on the red side of Stanley Park to see if they can do it. Some 200 Norwegian members of the Scandinavian branch are travelling to Merseyside to cheer on their beloved Liverpool against the Cup holders from their homeland. Dahl lives in Tomsberg, 100 kilometres south of Oslo. He is a season- ticket holder at Anfield. "I have been for six years," he said. "My seat is in the middle of the Kop, row 38. We arrange transport for every home game, leaving on Fridays and returning on Mondays and we usually take between 100 and 200 people." The cost, in travel alone, is pounds 350 a time. In terms of home life it could be incalculable. "I do have a girlfriend," Dahl said. "But she doesn't think I'm mad. She comes with me sometimes. She likes shopping in Liverpool."

As for Dahl himself, he more than likes the football. As his first Anfield idol might put it, he loves it, loves it.

"I do follow the national team," he said. "But club football in Norway is not so good. You go to the ground, maybe there are a couple of thousand there, and you come straight home. In England it's much more - the match, the build-up, the social life. Yes, I do like a pint in the pub."

English club football has long been an adopted Norwegian passion. Premiership matches are screened live and national newspapers have full-time football writers based in London. No wonder Bjorge Lillelien made such an historical song and dance in his commentary box in Oslo in 1981, urging the ghosts of Lord Nelson, Clement Attlee and Lord Beaverbrook to take note of the "hell of a beating" suffered by "Maggie Thatcher's boys".

It seems strange to reflect that defeat in that World Cup qualifier 16 years ago made such an impact on the Richter scale of football shocks. It is perfectly possible that a Norwegian will score the goal that crowns Manchester United as champions of Europe this season, or masterminds an FA Cup final win for Wimbledon - or, indeed, secures the Championship or Cup Winners' Cup for Liverpool.

Stig Inge Bjornebye is emerging, albeit retrospectively, as the soundest investment Graeme Souness made during his term at Anfield. Bought for pounds 600,000 from Rosenborg in December, 1992, Bjornebye marked his return following a year on the injured list with the Premiership's opening goal this season and has since brought a new dimension with his dynamic wing- back play. Bjorn Tore Kvarme has made a similar impact since his introduction on the right side of Liverpool's three-man defence against Aston Villa in January. A free transfer capture from Rosenborg, the uncapped farmer left Anfield with the Man of the Match award that day and is already a firm favourite on the Kop.

As one letter-writing fan put it in the programme for the Newcastle match last Monday: "Bjornebye is having his best season for the Reds and Kvarme is the biggest bargain we've had." Thanks to the Norwegian branch of the Liverpool squad, there is now a burgeoning Scandinavian fan club on Merseyside.