Until November 2013, Tromsø IL were the world’s northernmost top-flight football club. Their Alfheim Stadion hasn’t moved, it’s still backdropped by a Polar sky and surrounded by treacherously icy streets – but TIL’s 11-year adventure in Norway’s Tippligaen is over. A 0-0 draw at the Alfheim with yet-to-be-crowned 2013 champions Strømgodset followed by a 4-1 defeat at Brann Bergen sent Tromsø to the lower-flight Adeccoligaen. There in 2014, they won’t even meet their bitter rivals Bodø/Glimt, promoted back up as champions.

It’s one thing for Tromsø fans, the Isberget (‘The Iceberg’), to fly hither and thither for games in Oslo, Trondheim and Stavanger, even hire their own fast boats to Bodø only 550km away. Now TIL supporters must take the plane to modest marine or lumber communities such as Jessheim, Mjøndalen and the 1,000-strong island village of Ågotnes. This is serious dedication, something akin to zooming in to the nearest airport to watch your team play in Wallingford or Shanklin IOW.,


‘It’s a major blow,’ said Alf Edvard Masternes, head of Isberget. ‘The budget will have to be cut significantly. None of us thought it would come to this. But we will carry on supporting our club. More than ever, in fact.’

Previously, TIL had managed a run of six consecutive top-flight finishes in the league, and taken a couple of major European scalps. They qualified for the Europa League not be winning the cup – they lost the 2012 final on penalties to second-flight Hødd – but by fair play. The club’s motto reads ‘Stolthet. Lagånd. Redelig Spill’ – ‘Pride. Team Spirit. Fair Play’.

So what can Spurs expect this month, 350km north of the Arctic Circle? A broken community? A half-empty stadium for this dead rubber of a Europa League fixture? Anything but.

‘We were delighted when we heard the draw,’ says Alf. ‘Here in Norway we have a special affinity with English football. And teams are always a bit wary coming this far north.’


And Tromsø is very, very north. Turn Norway upside down, keep Oslo where it is and Tromsø would be in Italy. By late November, the Polar winter has drawn in. In Tromsø’s charming little wooden-housed town centre, the football-focused Jernbanestasjon pub and the Bastard Bar fill with locals sinking pints of local Mack before staggering out into a star-filled sky. The probability gauge behind the counter in the city’s tourist office rises to predict that day’s appearance of the Northern Lights, cruise ships prepare to leave Tromsø harbour for tours of the Arctic Ocean and outdoor conditions grow fierce. It was around here, a century or so ago, that Roald Amundsen prepared his men for his successful assault on the South Pole. It was from here that Amundsen later disappeared, flying off towards Greenland, never to be seen again.

Here, too, Chelsea sank without trace. In 1997, Tromsø scored three times past them in a blizzard at the Alfheim – though partly thanks to Gianluca Vialli’s two vital away goals in the last five minutes, Chelsea went on to win the Cup-Winners’ Cup. The first strike that night was by Steinar Nilsen, a net-burster from long range. Brought in as head coach when relegation threatened his old club in October 2013, Nilsen is in the managerial seat for the Tottenham game. His assistant, Sigurd Rushfeldt, is Norway’s all-time record league scorer, for Tromsø and Rosenborg Trondheim.


Nilsen’s former team-mate hails from Vadsø, almost as north as north can be in mainland Norway without being in the Barents Sea, at the borders with Russia and Finland. In the TIL club offices, this inhospitable region is painstakingly mapped out with colour-coded pins that stretch as far as Murmansk. Each pin represents a local club, a school, a sports centre, any kind of communal facility where boys play football. Each pin is where representatives of TIL have flown in, set up a match, promoted the club and scouted for young talent. Thus in terms of geography alone, TIL may have a fan base as extensive as that of Juventus or Hajduk Split.

The rivalry with Bodø, back then just plain Glimt, dates back to the Northern Norwegian Cup. A regional tournament of complex logistic, dutifully played annually except during the Nazi occupation when Norwegians laudably refused to play ball, it was inaugurated soon after Amundsen’s disappearance. Tromsø’s win of 1956 is still honoured behind the main stand at the Alfheim, though bitter defeats to record winners Bodø live long in the memory. As does the win against Chelsea.

‘It’s been snowing for days here,’ smiles Alf. ‘We’re hoping to at least finish a disappointing season on a high.’