The gateway to the Arctic, Tromsø is surprisingly passionate about its football. This is a town that’s 350km beyond the Arctic Circle, a 27-hour, 1,650-km drive from the capital, Oslo, and yet is home to a club whose fans fly everywhere to follow them.
These fans, known as Isberget (‘The Iceberg’), followed Tromsø IL faithfully through 2014 despite relegation the previous November. European campaigners two years running, Tromsø IL successfully dealt with their first lower-flight season in over a decade to gain promotion back to the Tippeligaen.
Previously, Tromsø (‘TIL’) achieved six seasons of top-six finishes in the top six, reached a cup final and beat the likes of Galatasaray in the Europa League. Few European sides relish a trip so far north – Chelsea succumbed to TIL in 1997 in a blizzard, though scored two late away goals to set them on their way to winning the Cup-Winners’ Cup.
TIL were founded in 1920, not long after the big names in Norwegian football further south, much further south. Their lesser-known local rivals IF Skarp were also on the scene, while the more prominent Tromsdalen were formed in 1938.
By then, TIL were already North Norwegian Champions, winning the trophy in 1931 and setting up a serious rivalry with Bodø/Glimt. Teams were allowed into the main all-Norway cup in 1963.
In the league, TIL remained in the lower divisions until 1986. That year, they also won the cup for the first time, partly thanks to legendary keeper Bjarte Flem. A second cup win a decade later still lives in the memory, a late win over Bodø/Glimt thanks to a goal by Sigurd Rushfeldt.
The victory allowed TIL passage to the Cup-Winners’ Cup and a match with Chelsea. A hammer-like shot from Steinar Nilsen opened the scoring in Tromsø, where heavy snow had the ground staff on to clear the touchlines on more than one occasion.
A famous 3-2 win was the end result and although the eventual cup winners thrashed TIL 7-1 at Stamford Bridge, the club and the town of Tromsø were on the map.
Since then Roma, Athletic Bilbao, Red Star and Partizan Belgrade have been among the teams to visit, and struggle for a win, draw or worse. In 2013 Besiktas were also beaten, 2-1, one goal coming from Welsh under-21 international Josh Pritchard on loan from Fulham.
Drawn with Tottenham, Sheriff Tiraspol and Anzhi Makhachkala in the group stage of the Europa League, TIL clocked up the air miles while at home, the club slipped from mid-table to the relegation zone. Despite bringing in the heroes of 1986-87, coaching duo Rushfeldt and Nilsen, to save the day, TIL could only hold Strømgodset to a 0-0 draw at home. A 4-1 defeat in Bergen signalled the end.
In 2014, Tromsø met local rivals Tromsdalen in the lower-flight Adeccolligaen – and will come up against the equally reviled Bodø/Glimt the Tippeligaen in 2015.
Tromsø Airport is 3km (two miles) north-west of town. A bus (15min journey time, 70Nkr single, 100Nkr return) runs every 20mins to hotels in town. From town, it leaves from outside the Gründer bar on Storgata.
The Tromsø Tourist Office has a hotel-booking service. The nearest hotel to the stadium is the cosy and affordable Ami, a 5min walk downhill to the town centre, a 10-15min walk back. Also on that side of town is the recommended City Living, a convivial apartment-hotel. Nearby are two branches of the budget business Thon Hotel group: the Polar and the Tromsø.
Also close are the newly opened Smart Hotel and the reliable Rica Grand Hotel Tromsø, with the popular Gründer bar/restaurant in the same building. Another in the Rica chain is the waterfront Rica Ishavshotel.
By the harbour you’ll also find the upscale Clarion Collection Hotel With, with a spa on the top floor. The Radisson Blue Hotel Tromsø is also close to the water – and even closer to the busy Rorbua bar it forced to move.
Home of Mack beer, Tromsø is a great night out, bars clustered near the harbour and on parallel streets nearby.
A handful of football-focused bars stand out. The excellent Jernbanestasjon (Strandgata 33), done out like an old railway station, is covered in football scarves from Norway, Britain and elsewhere. The music is well chosen, the atmosphere buzzing, particularly after midnight. The Victoria Fun Pub is just that, with old album covers on the walls and a curling lane at the back.
Run by a bunch of mates who couldn’t decide on a name, the Bastard Bar (Strandgata 22) is the ideal spot to watch the match, with a big screen and football conversation around the bar. TIL fans gather at the club-like Rogers (pronounced ‘Roh-Gairs’), with its DJs and maxiscreen. Nearby waterfront Kaia brews its own beer in traditional surroundings.
Flyt is more café-like, with the accent on outdoor winter sports, but its burgers make it worth a visit. Gründer in the Rica Grand Hotel Tromsø is also mainstream but a convivial place for a drink, a bite and watch the match.
The oldest pub in town is the Ølhallen, in the Mack Brewery building, in business since 1928, done out with vintage beer advertising. Note also the huge stuffed polar bear, a creature you’ll also find in the superb Rorbua, packed to the gills most nights, with live music and a raucous atmosphere.