Norway’s Gooners are football bigamists

From Helge Pedersen Re: Marketing Arsenal to tourists

Dear Myles,

Regarding Arsenal and overseas visitors to the Emirates, I have a few comments.

As you know Arsenal is a club with an international fan base.

So there is no shortage of people from overseas who want to come to watch a game at the Grove. But what do you label these people; tourists, supporters, fans?

Being one of these tourists, fans, supporters myself I do find it a bit patronizing calling us tourists because I know that thousands of Norwegian Gooners have a very strong relationship with the club – even if it is a long-distance relationship.

The English game has a long history of Norwegian support which origins from the Inter War period with betting on league games was first introduced.

Reporting of English league games in fact was first published in Norwegian papers in 1902 – the same year the Norwegian FA was organized. In 1968 the first televised game was shown live; “tippekampen” became an institution on Norwegian state broadcasting every Saturday afternoon.

Today several hundred thousand subscribe to TV2 Premier League HD and are able to watch every game in every round of the Premier League. Canal Digital shows the Championships and both the League Cup and the FA cup are televised. Norway has a population of 5 million.

Norwegian football anthropologist and fellow Gooner, Hans Hognestad, calls Norwegians for “football bigamists”; we are able to love two teams at the same time – our local Norwegian team and our English one (interview in daily paper Dagbladet 30.04.12).

It is no longer geography that decides what team you support – Arsenal has supporters in Timbuktu, Zanzibar and near the North Cape (where I live).

According to Hognestad 45% of supporters says that their English team is the most important to them, only 15 5 says it\’s the other way around. Hognestad\’s PHD thesis on the subject is called: “Norway between Bergen and Middleborough: Football identities in motion.”

My personal experience from my home town Alta, a small rural place in the outer periphery of Norway (a periphery on the outskirts of Europe) with 20.000 inhabitants are that being a supporter of an English team is a tribal thing here as it is in England.

There are of course differences, but the allegiance people feel is strong and part of people\’s personal and collective identities.

Supporting Liverpool is passed on from father to son; it is the same with United supporters.

Discussing the English game is as common as discussing the weather, meeting in pubs to watch games creates spaces for masculine fellowship and the banter between supporters of different teams are a part of almost any conversation.

If you meet people you haven\’t meet before and don\’t know what to talk about – then talk about the latest transfers or games in England and it is highly likely that you have broken the ice.

The main local club, Alta IF, who play in the Norwegian first division (second tier in Norway) have home crowds of about 500 people – if you count supporters of English clubs locally – you can quadruple that figure. There are over 100.000 organized supporters of English clubs in Norway.

Getting to see a game at the Grove is difficult for people. First of all you have to pay for the flight and hotel in London which costs you a minimum £600 from Alta (two times two hours flight to London), then you have to get a ticket. Up until last season that was not very easy.

The Scandinavian supporters club have five season tickets which are balloted to interested supporters every weekend, so you might get lucky. If you are not you can buy an organized tour through one of the several Norwegian trip organizers, or you buy from contacts in England or on the black market when you arrive.

So making it easier for overseas supporters (not tourists)  is in my opinion a good thing.

Arsenal don\’t belong to North Londoners exclusively (anymore) – it belongs to a global Arsenal community.

All the best Myles!

Northern Gooner