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Friday, 26 August 2011

Scandinavian spotlight: How Do The Small Clubs Survive?

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Having spent the past two midweeks watching the exploits of the various Scandinavian clubs in European competition with the likes of FC Copenhagen jetting off to the Czech Republic for a Champions League qualifier against Viktoria Plzen, and Malmø and Odense also involved, it got me thinking about the lesser lights of Scandinavian football.

I live in Bergen, Norway, and a lot of people will have heard of SK Brann, Bergen's biggest and most successful club. Indeed they were Norwegian champions in 2007 and reached the last 32 of the UEFA Cup. Most people will not, however, have heard of Løv-Ham the nearest league team to where I live.

Formed in 1975 when the local teams Løvåsen and Hamre amalgamated, they currently play in the Adeccoligaen, equivalent to the Championship or Scottish First Division. Last season they even reached the dizzying heights of the play-offs for promotion to the Tippeligaen where they lost to Fredrikstad, but don't be fooled . . .  Løv-Ham are very much a hand-to-mouth outfit.

Competing against the obvious attractions of a much older and successful club such as Brann is hard enough, but trying to exist on gates of a couple of hundred is damn near impossible. The stated aim of the club, however, is not to be a major force in the game (that will never happen), but to be a club which develops the best of the talent in Bergen, such as Fredrik Haugen and Erik Mjelde who now play for Brann.

This mission to develop talent obviously brings in some money, but for a small club like this there are other hurdles to be overcome. Both Norway and Sweden are bigger than the UK and Ireland combined so the distances travelled to compete are huge compared to England or Scotland. Several teams in the Addeccoligaen come from around the Oslo area, but even that is 200 miles from Bergen and one club, Alta, comes from the Finnmark region in the far north where Norway loops over the top of Sweden and Finland. The only way to get there is to fly (the railway goes no further north than Bodø which is itself in the Arctic but nowhere near Alta) and the return journey is 1,700 miles. Obviously the costs are huge, but at this level the division is a nationwide competition. 

The club almost had to pull out of the league a few weeks ago before the money was secured to ensure their continued participation in this season's league. This may not be such an issue next year as the club currently sits second bottom despite an impressive 4-3 victory away to Hødd last weekend.

Løv-Ham are by no means the only club feeling the pinch here. Lyn Oslo are a club which was twice national champions and eight times cup winners. In the 1972/733 season they played against Spurs in the UEFA cup and competed in the same competition as recently as 2006/07. They no longer exist, going bankrupt on June 30 2010, due in part to the legal wranglings surrounding the transfer of John Obi Mikel from the club to Manchester United and subsequently Chelsea. The London club later launched a legal claim against Lyn for the whole £16 million the player cost (£12m to Manchester United and £4m to Lyn) and the failure of a new sponsor to be able to save the club.

Even in a country as wealthy as Norway, which last year was number one in the United Nations Human Development Index, there is no escaping the fact that football is a part of the entertainment industry and therefore one of the first areas to feel the pinch when people are watching their pennies. We've seen drops in attendances at many UK clubs recently and no-one can really claim immunity, but it is a testament to the dedication and hard work of people at clubs like Løv-Ham that these clubs can continue to survive and hopefully prosper as important parts of their communities.

Article by Iain Macfadzean

Related Articles:

Transfer Window Hits Scandinavian Football Hard

It's All Hotting Up In Europe

Will There Be Any Shocks Across Europe This Season?

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Colin Illingworth



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