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Northern Lights: Bodø/Glimt

Like most of the wider European public outside of Scandinavia, I first became aware of Fotballklubben Bodø/Glimt following their exploits in UEFA’s inaugural edition of the Europa Conference League.

On a more intimate personal level, I became aware of their far more tangible presence in Lancaster’s Penny Bank pub on Friday 18th February, the day following Glimt’s famous trip to Celtic Park. That night, despite being spurred on by their globally renowned support, famed for their displays of fanaticism on European nights in particular, Celtic were ultimately powerless to avoid a three-one defeat to the Norwegians.

This was a team carried by a veritable tsunami of momentum . Testament to this were the group of fans I became acquainted with in Lancashire's historic country town. They had begun their journey from Glasgow down to London, presumably for their return flight, only to have been promptly ejected from their Pendolino train as the UK’s transport network was strangled by the icy grip of Storm Eunice.

At this stage they were suitably, and understandably, well-oiled having sampled most, if not all, of the spirits and beers available behind the bar. When talking to them of their side’s recent successes, the underlying feeling that they each had was that the very idea of Bodø/Glimt going toe-to-toe with European giants in the shape of Roma and Celtic, was at the very least unlikely but perhaps more accurately, unfathomable.

As they pointed out, this was a town that was on top of the world, both geographically and metaphorically following the club’s run in the Conference League. Bodø itself lies just within the Arctic circle with a population of roughly 52,000 people. To put this into perspective for a British audience, that’s just less than Hereford. It’s also worth bearing in mind that in this season’s Eliteserien, only Tromsø IL are situated further north than Bodø, which itself guarantees a nine-hour drive between the two cities. All other teams competing in the division sit south of the Arctic Circle, with Rosenborg (in Trondheim) constituting Bodø’s shortest southern away trip with a ten-hour drive. In such circumstances domestic flights are naturally the most time-effective means of transport which perhaps provides some reasoning behind the League’s earlier policy of denying northern clubs entry into the top tier of Norwegian until 1972, albeit via a fairly restrictive playoff system.

This change provided an opportunity that Bodø grasped with both hands, wining the Norwegian Cup just three years later in 1975, their first of two domestic cup victories to date. It was during this period in the mid 1970’s that Glimt supporters introduced their now famous yellow toothbrushes to the terraces, a tradition that started after supporter leaders, in an attempt to rouse their fellow fans, used a toothbrush to conduct their singing. It wasn’t long before this came to the attention of an employee from Norwegian dental company, Jordan, who arranged a sponsorship deal with the supporters. The tradition persists fifty years later, with giant yellow novelty toothbrushes a mainstay in the terraces of the Aspmyra Stadion among the Yellow Horde in attendance.

They finally achieved promotion to the topflight in 1977, finishing second in their first season and reaching the final of the cup again, only to be edged to either trophy by Lillestrøm. They held their own for four years before relegation in 1980. Their return thirteen years later also yielded a second-place finish and coincided with their cup final victory over Strømsgodset in 1993. Yet, despite becoming mainstay in the topflight for the next fifteen years, with the likes of Stig Johansen, Trond Olsen and Runar Berg featuring heavily and achieving legendary status at the club, a period of turbulent yo-yo-ing followed that concluded with their latest promotion in 2017.

It's worth noting that this recent rise to prominence hasn’t been the result of the type of inordinate, and perhaps unscrupulous, financial backing that has become part and parcel of the English Premier League. Rather, this is an ascendance built on financial prudency and a recycling of revenues to improve infrastructure and make shrewd transfers.

The club have been able to replace key departures with ease and have been able to continue their upward trajectory as a growing force in Scandinavian football. Eric Botheim, Patrick Berg, Marius Lode and Fredrik André Björkan have all been notable departees this season but have garnered an income in the region of £11 million. Similarly, the previous season saw Philip Zinckernagel head to Watford and prodigious talent Jens Petter Hauge depart for Milan, himself featuring in last season’s Europa League final win whilst on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt. Early signs are that Ola Solbakken is likely to be next on this list.

That these outbound transfers have generated considerable income, with little expense spent on those joining the club and obvious signs that development persists, is nothing short of remarkable. Bodø’s wage bill sits at a level considered modest among English League One clubs. Despite the challenges that come with a fairly variable playing squad, under the leadership of manager Kjetil Knutsen, Bodø have won the last two league titles in Norway and are set to participate in the Champions League qualifying rounds in July.

Undeterred by an exit at this stage at the hands of Legia Warsaw that season, their eventual qualification to the Europa Conference League yielded unprecedented results. They finished the group stages unbeaten having been drawn alongside CSKA Sofia, Zorya Luhansk and AS Roma. Against Jose Mourinho’s Giallorossi their 6-1 home victory will no doubt live long in the memory of Glimt supporters and has ingrained itself in the club’s folklore. This was Mourinho’s first ever defeat by more than five goals and, while most of his post-match comments pointed to the rotated squad he had selected, his acknowledgement when speaking to Sky Italia that “tonight we lost against a team with more quality, it’s as simple as that” was telling. Inspired by Botheim, Berg, Solbakken and Pellegrino, Glimt scored goals of such quality that they no doubt pre-empted the departure of a number of their players to pastures new in the next transfer window.

In the knockout stages, a resurgent Postecoglou-inspired Celtic could do nothing but succumb to Glimt 5-1 on aggregate, defeated home and away by the dominant Norwegians. Joe Hart cut a powerless figure in goal as goals from both Solbakken and Vetlesen in either leg as well as a Pellegrino finish at Parkhead sent Glimt through. Facing another side of continental-renown in AZ Alkmaar, they again progressed in the competition with a 4-3 aggregate win, following an extra time winner from Alfons Sampsted in Holland. Their unbeaten run in the competition finally came to an end at the Stadio Olimpico as they faced Roma again in the competition. Despite a 2-1 victory at the Aspmyra, a Zaniolo hattrick gave Mourinho’s side the platform for a 4-0 home victory.

Defeat in this latter stage of the competition did little to quell the fervour and pride emanating from northern Norway and the crest of the wave that the club continues to ride upon shows no signs of petering out. Indeed, this momentum appears to have now extended to include the whole city. With Bodø having been selected as a European City of Culture for 2024, the club is set to move into a sustainable, self-sufficient stadium made entirely of wood to commemorate the occasion. No doubt the Aspymra will be sorely missed when that day comes but this is an opportunity the club seemingly can’t pass up. Now, with the expansion of UEFA competitions and the resurgence of Bodø/Glimt, don’t be surprised to see the Yellow Horde on the march around Europe in the coming seasons. Weather permitting, of course.

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