From: Stig Oppedal@hfstud.uio.no Subject: Thursday night and the gates are actually quite good but it's freezing Date: December 11, 1996 Due to my low involvement in rss the past year, I assume no one much noticed that I've been in Athens for the past seven weeks. Indeed, if you're relatively new to rss, you probably have no idea who I am - don't worry, though, this is more my fault than yours. Anyway, while converting some of my old rss articles into Word, I discovered that I had forgotten to save my comments on the classic May 16th Vaalerenga-Stroemsgodset encounter. In true anal retentive fashion I proceeded to rewrite the entire article from memory, and now, in a desperate attempt to get something out of that wasted effort and simultaneously heighten my "rss profile", I've decided to repost "Thursday night and the gates are actually quite good but it's freezing" (<-Half Man Half Biscuit song reference, for those sad few of you not in the know). ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Last Wednesday, after several weeks of intense studying, I had my final history exam. Thursday it was finally time to relax. Time to smell the roses. Time to wonder what the hell I normally did before the last, desperate exam surge. Did I read books? Listen to music? Hang out with friends? Did I _have_ any friends? Around noon, by which time I was so clueless I was watching a re-run of the dreary 1995 Everton vs. Manchester United FA Cup Final, some friends of mine (I did have some, as it turned out) called and suggested that we go to Ullevaal Stadion that evening and watch our hometown team Stroemsgodset (infamous for fifteen minutes in 1974 after losing 11-0 to Liverpool) play away to Vaalerenga (whose current form is inversely proportional to the length of this sentence). VIF, pre-season dark horses, were at the back of the field after nine games, looking [all-together now for an overused racing metaphor] more like donkeys than like thoroughbreds. On the other hand, SIF's blend of local grafters and East European unknowns found themselves, as if by some freak of nature, in mid-table. Still, I didn't have any great expectations about Stroemsgodset, only a determined effort and perhaps a 1-1 draw - the club's motto is, after all, "Expect the absolute worst, and you might just be pleasantly surprised". Incidentally, this is as good a time as any to mention that that we have missed four or five penalties so far this season, our home stadium is closed until August, our first-choice goalkeeper (first-choice, that is, after Rosenborg bought previous season's number one) broke his leg in a defensive mix-up, and our only "star" player, World Cup striker Jostein Flo, is out for six weeks with a broken toe. Get your crosses and excuses in early. A few hours before the game I met my friends at the Vigeland Museum to look at an exhibition of rejected proposals for a statue of the late, great King Olav V. Most of the sculptures captured the expression and personality of the king quite well - that is, if the king had been Norman Schwartzkopf, a drunken sailor, Jimmy Cagney in the 1930's, a German general, or G.H. Brundtland, Norway's female prime minister. Of the twenty odd sculptures - twenty _very_ odd sculptures - only one bore any resemblance to the real McKing. Afterwards we dined at a downtown Italian restaurant - "downtown" as in "not close to the stadium". I was the only one with a bicycle, so while the others took a taxi back to Ullevaal I froze my butt off for half an hour in the 2-3 C temperature (but it didn't bother me, since I had just eaten ravioli al gorgonzola - "for real men only", the waiter proclaimed). So all in all this was a game I couldn't take seriously - post-exam disorientation, a general mood of ridicule from the exhibition, the freezing cold... and Lee Chapman, of all people, was making his debut for Stroemsgodset. Due to the Route 1 nature of SIF's attack, the former Leeds striker has been drafted in for two months to replace the injured Flo as target man. Considering his girth, it's hard to see how the others failed to hit him. The game was a ping-pong, helter-skelter, wake-me-up-if-there-are-three- good-passes-in-a-row affair. The few attacks that SIF mustered were easily taken care of by the linesman, who remained a pillar in the heart of the VIF defense throughout the game. The midfielders had the skill and vision of your average Norwegian sculptor, while it seemed that the statues in the back four had been made by one. Lee Chapman posed more of a threat to Oslo's gourmet restaurants than he did to the opposing defense. Of the twenty odd players - twenty horrendously inept players - none bore any resemblance to anything at all. Traditionally, the football matches on the evening before the 17th of May (National Day) attract large crowds, and the 7000+ attendance was impressive, considering the low temperature and even lower standard of football that could be expected. It wasn't hard to predict that the sentence "The quality of play was not suited to warm the spectators" would get a work-out in the Saturday papers. The visitors from Drammen had nothing to warm their spirits - it's not like you actually care what the result was, so I might as well reveal that we lost 3-0. I don't recall what happened at VIF's first and third goals, suffice to say they were ping-pong, helter-skelter, where-the-fuck-was-the-defense goalmouth scrambles. The second goal came as a result of our keeper completely missing the ball on an attempted clearance. When I add that he was, without any competition whatsoever, our Man of The Match, you'll begin to understand why the Stroemsgodset defense is a registered charity. So, in the grand tradition of low-grade football, we booed perfectly reasonable decisions that went against us and shouted "wanker!" at the opposition. In a hilarious mock-Freudian analysis of sports by the American cartoonist Dan Clowes, gridiron football is ritual male rape, golf is a metaphor for the Oedipus complex, and so on. On football he writes: "... the low emphasis on scoring in this mostly non-American sport suggests a different type of manliness - that of prolonged foreplay. No offensive player may use his hands.. clearly, masturbation does not fit this code of masculinity." Hence, I suppose, the English tradition of "wanker", instead of equally viable insults like "dickhead". In this psycho-sexual context, it was sadly our team who were the wankers - unable to make a pass, let alone score. An increasingly (sexually) frustrated Lee Chapman shouted "Fuck! _Slow down_!", but the SIF players did neither, so to speak. The match was strictly one for the Puritans. Don't get the impression that the poor passing was due to a frenetic tempo - far from it. Despite basing their game on the traditional fast-paced English style, the Godset players were lazy and lethargic - except when they had the ball, when they apparently couldn't get rid of it quick enough. On counter-attacks, only one or two players jogged upfield in support of the ball-carrier. The few successful flicks from Chapman were wasted, since no one bothered to make midfield runs. Players strolled back from offside positions. Their almost impressive lack of effort suggested they were - once again - reenacting the classic Espaņa'82 snoozefest between West Germany and Austria. So why do I watch them? Because they're there. Or rather, because they're _here_. I whole-heartedly support Manchester United and to a lesser extant Oxford United, but the disadvantage of being an armchair fan is that shouting at the TV doesn't really have an effect on your team, despite what you'd like to think. Watching TV or listening to the radio also never really gives the entire story of a football match (even though it's debatable whether VIF-SIF was a story the public needed to know). Another reason for supporting SIF is of course nostalgia and sentimentality - hometown memories, a bond with old friends (us vs. them). Also, I don't have as much emotionally invested in the team, so I feel only a "detatched disappointment" when they lose. It's almost like I take a perverse pride in them being so bad - hence my mentioning that 11-0 drubbing. It's not a "No one likes us, we don't care" mentality, rather "_We_ don't like us, we don't care". Watching Stroemsgodset makes me feel like a hard-core Halifax Town supporter, though at times it's more like non-football than non-league. Believe me, if I'm ever threatened by shady characters in dark alleyways, all I have to say is "Don't mess with me, buddy, I've been to quite a few Godset games in my time", and they'll back off faster than the SIF defense. ---Stig PS - That night I dreamt I took the SIF players on a round the world tour. First we flew off the Holmenkollen Ski-jumping Hill and landed in the old copper mines in Roros. In Paris we visited the Eiffel Tower, before entering Notre Dame. Then we climbed the Washington Monument and descended the Grand Canyon. I wonder what it all meant... -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Lee Chapman lived down to the initial impression he made, scoring only one goal and generally contributing little. The team celebrated the reopening of our home stadium with an abysmal 4-2 defeat against fellow strugglers Bodo/Glimt - "ring out the old, ring in the new". A few weeks later SIF were beaten in the quarter-finals of the cup, losing 2-0 at home to Vaalerenga. As the team slipped down the league table, the goalies kept on breaking their bones; all in all SIF used six goalkeepers in the 26-match season, surely some kind of record. The bottom two were by now long gone, seemingly leaving four or five teams to try to avoid the third relegation spot. Despite having the easiest run-in, SIF somehow managed to slip into _second last_ place, needing an away win (and most likely a big one) in the last round and the two teams above them (Moss and Vaalerenga) to draw or lose - i.e. we were dead. The West Brom supporters' motto "semper fallant" ("they always let you down") applies to SIF more than most, and I called home a week later to simply confirm relegation. It turned out that neither Moss nor Vaalerenga won, while SIF had unbelievably snatched a decisive 6-2 goal in injury time. As Cicero might have put it: "Semper ixnay fallant!"