From: Stig
Subject: Thursday night and the gates are actually quite good but it's freezing
Date: December 11, 1996

Due to my low involvement in rss the past year, I assume no one much 
noticed that I've been in Athens for the past seven weeks. Indeed, if 
you're relatively new to rss, you probably have no idea who I am - don't 
worry, though, this is more my fault than yours. Anyway, while converting 
some of my old rss articles into Word, I discovered that I had forgotten to 
save my comments on the classic May 16th Vaalerenga-Stroemsgodset 
encounter. In true anal retentive fashion I proceeded to rewrite the entire 
article from memory, and now, in a desperate attempt to get something out 
of that wasted effort and simultaneously heighten my "rss profile", I've 
decided to repost "Thursday night and the gates are actually quite good 
but it's freezing" (<-Half Man Half Biscuit song reference, for those sad 
few of you not in the know).


Last Wednesday, after several weeks of intense studying, I had my final 
history exam. Thursday it was finally time to relax. Time to smell the 
roses. Time to wonder what the hell I normally did before the last,
desperate exam surge. Did I read books? Listen to music? Hang out with 
friends? Did I _have_ any friends?

Around noon, by which time I was so clueless I was watching a re-run of 
the dreary 1995 Everton vs. Manchester United FA Cup Final, some friends 
of mine (I did have some, as it turned out) called and suggested that we 
go to Ullevaal Stadion that evening and watch our hometown team 
Stroemsgodset (infamous for fifteen minutes in 1974 after losing 11-0 to 
Liverpool) play away to Vaalerenga (whose current form is inversely 
proportional to the length of this sentence).

VIF, pre-season dark horses, were at the back of the field after nine games,
looking [all-together now for an overused racing metaphor] more like 
donkeys than like thoroughbreds. On the other hand, SIF's blend of local
grafters and East European unknowns found themselves, as if by some freak of 
nature, in mid-table. Still, I didn't have any great expectations about 
Stroemsgodset, only a determined effort and perhaps a 1-1 draw - the club's 
motto is, after all, "Expect the absolute worst, and you might just be 
pleasantly surprised".

Incidentally, this is as good a time as any to mention that that we have 
missed four or five penalties so far this season, our home stadium is 
closed until August, our first-choice goalkeeper (first-choice, that is, 
after Rosenborg bought previous season's number one) broke his leg in a 
defensive mix-up, and our only "star" player, World Cup striker Jostein 
Flo, is out for six weeks with a broken toe. Get your crosses and excuses 
in early.

A few hours before the game I met my friends at the Vigeland Museum to look
at an exhibition of rejected proposals for a statue of the late, great King
Olav V. Most of the sculptures captured the expression and personality of
the king quite well - that is, if the king had been Norman Schwartzkopf, a
drunken sailor, Jimmy Cagney in the 1930's, a German general, or G.H. 
Brundtland, Norway's female prime minister. Of the twenty odd sculptures -
twenty _very_ odd sculptures - only one bore any resemblance to the real 

Afterwards we dined at a downtown Italian restaurant - "downtown" as in 
"not close to the stadium". I was the only one with a bicycle, so while the 
others took a taxi back to Ullevaal I froze my butt off for half an hour in 
the 2-3 C temperature (but it didn't bother me, since I had just eaten 
ravioli al gorgonzola - "for real men only", the waiter proclaimed). 

So all in all this was a game I couldn't take seriously - post-exam 
disorientation, a general mood of ridicule from the exhibition, the 
freezing cold... and Lee Chapman, of all people, was making his debut for
Stroemsgodset. Due to the Route 1 nature of SIF's attack, the former Leeds
striker has been drafted in for two months to replace the injured Flo as 
target man. Considering his girth, it's hard to see how the others failed
to hit him.

The game was a ping-pong, helter-skelter, wake-me-up-if-there-are-three-
good-passes-in-a-row affair. The few attacks that SIF mustered were easily
taken care of by the linesman, who remained a pillar in the heart of the 
VIF defense throughout the game. The midfielders had the skill and vision
of your average Norwegian sculptor, while it seemed that the statues in the
back four had been made by one. Lee Chapman posed more of a threat to Oslo's
gourmet restaurants than he did to the opposing defense. Of the twenty odd
players - twenty horrendously inept players - none bore any resemblance to
anything at all.

Traditionally, the football matches on the evening before the 17th of May
(National Day) attract large crowds, and the 7000+ attendance was 
impressive, considering the low temperature and even lower standard of 
football that could be expected. It wasn't hard to predict that the 
sentence "The quality of play was not suited to warm the spectators" would
get a work-out in the Saturday papers. The visitors from Drammen had 
nothing to warm their spirits - it's not like you actually care what the 
result was, so I might as well reveal that we lost 3-0.

I don't recall what happened at VIF's first and third goals, suffice to 
say they were ping-pong, helter-skelter, where-the-fuck-was-the-defense 
goalmouth scrambles. The second goal came as a result of our keeper 
completely missing the ball on an attempted clearance. When I add that he 
was, without any competition whatsoever, our Man of The Match, you'll begin 
to understand why the Stroemsgodset defense is a registered charity.

So, in the grand tradition of low-grade football, we booed perfectly 
reasonable decisions that went against us and shouted "wanker!" at the 
opposition. In a hilarious mock-Freudian analysis of sports by the American 
cartoonist Dan Clowes, gridiron football is ritual male rape, golf is a 
metaphor for the Oedipus complex, and so on. On football he writes: "... 
the low emphasis on scoring in this mostly non-American sport suggests a 
different type of manliness - that of prolonged foreplay. No offensive 
player may use his hands.. clearly, masturbation does not fit this code of 
masculinity." Hence, I suppose, the English tradition of "wanker", instead 
of equally viable insults like "dickhead". In this psycho-sexual context, it 
was sadly our team who were the wankers - unable to make a pass, let alone 
score. An increasingly (sexually) frustrated Lee Chapman shouted "Fuck! 
_Slow down_!", but the SIF players did neither, so to speak. The match was 
strictly one for the Puritans.

Don't get the impression that the poor passing was due to a frenetic tempo -
far from it. Despite basing their game on the traditional fast-paced 
English style, the Godset players were lazy and lethargic - except when 
they had the ball, when they apparently couldn't get rid of it quick enough.
On counter-attacks, only one or two players jogged upfield in support of 
the ball-carrier. The few successful flicks from Chapman were wasted, since
no one bothered to make midfield runs. Players strolled back from offside 
positions. Their almost impressive lack of effort suggested they were - 
once again - reenacting the classic Espaņa'82 snoozefest between West 
Germany and Austria.

So why do I watch them? 

Because they're there. Or rather, because they're _here_. I whole-heartedly
support Manchester United and to a lesser extant Oxford United, but the 
disadvantage of being an armchair fan is that shouting at the TV doesn't 
really have an effect on your team, despite what you'd like to think. 
Watching TV or listening to the radio also never really gives the entire story 
of a football match (even though it's debatable whether VIF-SIF was a story 
the public needed to know).  Another reason for supporting SIF is of course 
nostalgia and sentimentality - hometown memories, a bond with old friends 
(us vs. them). Also, I don't have as much emotionally invested in the 
team, so I feel only a "detatched disappointment" when they lose. 

It's almost like I take a perverse pride in them being so bad - hence my 
mentioning that 11-0 drubbing. It's not a "No one likes us, we don't care"
mentality, rather "_We_ don't like us, we don't care". Watching 
Stroemsgodset makes me feel like a hard-core Halifax Town supporter, though
at times it's more like non-football than non-league. Believe me, if I'm 
ever threatened by shady characters in dark alleyways, all I have to say is
"Don't mess with me, buddy, I've been to quite a few Godset games in my 
time", and they'll back off faster than the SIF defense.


PS - That night I dreamt I took the SIF players on a round the world tour. 
First we flew off the Holmenkollen Ski-jumping Hill and landed in the old 
copper mines in Roros. In Paris we visited the Eiffel Tower, before 
entering Notre Dame. Then we climbed the Washington Monument and descended 
the Grand Canyon. I wonder what it all meant...

Lee Chapman lived down to the initial impression he made, scoring only one 
goal and generally contributing little. The team celebrated the reopening 
of our home stadium with an abysmal 4-2 defeat against fellow strugglers 
Bodo/Glimt - "ring out the old, ring in the new". A few weeks later SIF were 
beaten in the quarter-finals of the cup, losing 2-0 at home to Vaalerenga. 
As the team slipped down the league table, the goalies kept on breaking their 
bones; all in all SIF used six goalkeepers in the 26-match season, surely 
some kind of record.

The bottom two were by now long gone, seemingly leaving four or five teams 
to try to avoid the third relegation spot. Despite having the easiest run-in, 
SIF somehow managed  to slip into _second last_ place, needing an away win 
(and most likely a big one) in the last round and the two teams above them 
(Moss and Vaalerenga) to draw or lose - i.e. we were dead. The West Brom 
supporters' motto "semper fallant" ("they always let you down") applies to 
SIF more than most, and I called home a week later to simply confirm 
relegation. It turned out that neither Moss nor Vaalerenga won, while SIF 
had unbelievably snatched a decisive 6-2 goal in injury time. As Cicero might 
have put it: "Semper ixnay fallant!"