LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Odds BK

Oldest football club in Norway and cup specialists

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Norway’s oldest club still in operation, Odds BK represent both the town of Skien and the region of Grenland in Lower Telemark. Still referred to as, simply, ‘Odd’, the club is currently enjoying a new lease of life, having qualified for Europe three years running.

Previous purple patches in the past came between the wars and in the earliest days of the Norwegian game, when Odd played in each of Norway’s first five cup finals.

Named after a Norwegian character from late 19th-century Swedish literature, Odd were initially mainly a gymnastics club before forming a football team in 1894, the date displayed on the badge today.

Skagerak Arena/Peterjon Cresswell

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, perhaps the club’s status at the time, Odd were given a bye to the first Norwegian cup final, in 1902. Losing 2-0 to Grane of Nordstrand, Odd gained revenge a year later, then won the 1904 final played in Skien, a Grenland derby over Porsgrunds.

After Odd’s fourth straight cup win in 1906, Oslo clubs came to the fore and in 1909 Lyn beat the Skien side with a 4-3 win in extra-time.

Coming into the Odd side were players of national renown. Einar ‘Jeja’ Gundersen got the winning goal in the cup final victory 1915 before going on to score 26 for Norway, still the second highest total today. The game was also defender Per Skou’s last cup final for Odd before moving to Lyn and later becoming president of the Norwegian FA.

Stevneplassen/Peterjon Cresswell

Both Gundersen, Skou and Odd’s Otto Aulie were in the Norway side that beat Great Britain 3-1 at the Antwerp Olympics of 1920, a first ever defeat at the Games for the three-time gold medallists.

The most celebrated Olympic football victory for Norway, possibly in the history of the Games, came in 1936. With Odd players Nils ‘Påsan’ Eriksen and Rolf Homberg, the Norwegians beat hosts Germany 2-0. This was the first, and last, football match Adolf Hitler ever watched. Norway went on to lose in controversial circumstances to eventual winners Italy but picked up the bronze medal.

After the war, Odd came closest to a league title, twice losing out in the Hovedserien play-off to Fredrikstad. With the one-league top division in 1963 and emergence of IF Pors from nearby Porsgrunn, Odd lost both national and regional prominence for three decades.

Odds BK tickets/Peterjon Cresswell

In a bid to attract better sponsorship, Odd and Pors merged in the 1990s to come Odd Grenland. Under much-travelled coach Tom Nordlie, Odd won promotion to the top tier in 1999.

Enjoying a first season with the elite for 32 years, Odd went on to win a first Norwegian Cup since 1931 thanks to a 2-1 win in extra-time over Viking Stavanger. It proved to be the only honour won as a player by later Celtic manager Ronny Deila.

With the arrival of a new CEO in 2012, Odd changed names again, to Odds BK, parting company with Pors. Having kept maintained a mid-table top-flight presence for most of the decade, the Skien side kept faith with Dag-Eilev Fagermo and climbed the table in 2014. The return of Skien-born Norwegian international Frode Johnsen to see out his career after glory years at Rosenborg proved decisive. Neck-and-neck with Johnsen’s old club for runners-up spot, Odds BK had to settle for third place, decided towards the end of the last game of the campaign.

Odder'n i skuddet statue/Peterjon Cresswell

Welcoming home another returning international veteran striker, Canadian Olivier Occéan, Odds BK raised a few eyebrows in the Europa League by beating the Swedes of Elfsborg to line up a dream tie with Borussia Dortmund. In front of a record crowd at the Skagerak Arena, the Skien team went 1-0 up right after the kick-off, then scored two in two minutes against the former European champions. The Germans clawed their way back into the game, grabbing a late winner in a 4-3 thriller that will live long in the memory.

Amazingly, Odd went 1-0 up in Dortmund, only to concede three goals in seven minutes. An 11-5 aggregate score did the Norwegians credit but not full justice.

With Occéan still scoring and Fagermo still coach, the Skien club again just missed out on a runners-up spot, this time to Brann Bergen, in 2016. A record average gate of 8,000-plus was also set.

After a poor start to 2017, Odd have since recovered and look promising candidates for another season in Europe in 2018.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Known as ‘Falkum’, the area west of the town centre where Odd have been based since the golden days of the 1920s, the Skagerak Arena was transformed into an all-seater venue with an artificial surface in 2008. Skagerak is a local energy company based in nearby Porsgrunn.

As part of the reconfiguration, the stadium had to be rotated, and the old main stand is now behind the north goal, Tribune Nord, nearest the main road of Fridtjof Nansens gate. The other three stands are new and twin-tiered.

Skagerak Arena/Peterjon Cresswell

For 2017, away fans have been moved to lower sectors R1 and S1 at the Tribune Nord end of the sideline Sparebank1-Telemark Tribune. Home fans, the Oddrane, congregate in the South Stand where a middle section immediately behind the goal becomes a standing area for domestic fixtures.

In 2016, average gates exceeded 8,000, a record. Oslo’s Vålerenga and, when they’re doing well, Strømgodset, tend to bring away supporters in numbers. Neighbouring Sandefjord were promoted to the top flight in 2016.

Capacity is just under 12,000.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The Skagerak Arena is a 10-15min stroll from the north-west side of the town centre – if you’re staying at the Hotell Dag Bondeheim, say – but a bit of a trek from the Telemark Canal, all the way from the Clarion Collection hotel, for example. From Skien train station north of town, head down Gjerpensgate opposite, left at the bottom down Maelagate then right down Slemsdalgata, a good 15-20mins.

Skien Taxi (+47 355 86 000) quotes Nkr130 daytime from the town centre, Nkr155 in the evening.

The stadium has its own bus stop, Stevneplassen, which also serves the festival area across the road. It’s on the M2 route that runs from Rådhusplassen near the Thon Hotel, calls at Skien terminal main bus station, then reaches Stevenplassen two stops later, journey time 10mins from Rådhusplassen. Buses run every 20mins Mon-Fri daytimes, every 30min Mon-Fri eve and Sat daytime, every 1hr Sat afternoon/eve & Sun. It’s pretty handy for going back into town – services run until after 10.30pm. Buy tickets on board.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The club offers discounts for online sales. In person, advance tickets are sold at the club shop, the Telemark Klubbservice (Mon-Fri noon-6pm, 3hrs before kick-off), and at the Kiwi Falkum grocer’s store by the stadium, with longer opening hours of Mon-Sat 7am-11pm.

On the day, the ticket windows (Billettsalg) behind the Tribune Nord on Fridtjof Nansens gate open 3hrs before kick-off. Availability is usually never a problem. Away fans have their own match-day outlet by gate 9, open from 2hrs before kick-off.

In the early rounds of European games, the online price is an across-the-board Nkr155, and Nkr80 for children, seniors and students.

For league fixtures, price categories are colour-coded, Nkr300 for gold, the best seats, Nkr250 for black, Nkr200 for red, Nkr150 for white behind the goal. Discounted prices for seniors, children and students run from Nkr100-Nkr225. On the day, prices rise by about Nkr25-Nkr50.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Telemark Klubbservice (Mon-Fri noon-6pm, 3hrs before kick-off) is a reasonably sized store on Fridtjof Nansens gate.

Souvenirs include signed posters of players’ likenesses – Odd have obviously employed an excellent designer, the match posters are works of art. There are also all kinds of tops bearing the club badge and its signature arrow, sunglasses, T-shirts bearing the message ‘Too Odd For This Shirt’ and quite wonderfully, mini individual sledges.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Before every home game, everyone meets at Fort Falkum, opened in 2011 by the Stevneplassen site for annual festivals and recreation, opposite the stadium on Fridtjof Nansens gate. It’s a friendly atmosphere, away fans are welcome and sometimes live music is laid on. There’s a proper bar counter with draught beer but most gather outside. It only operates on match days.

Over the road, by the stadium, a family-friendly pre-match Fan Zone is set up, with games and fast-food tents.

Stevenplassen is also dotted with a couple of permanent venue, such as the Rudolf Kiosk (Århusvegen 40), basically a shop with a hot-dog outlet, Ringnes beer by the bottle and tables outside. Opposite, the Tinholt bakery (Århusvegen 33) is also a konditori, which means it sells coffee, even hot dogs – but no booze.

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