Return of the Vikings
Bill Arthur visits the land of the midnight sun to see how Norway are aiming to conquer rugby league.
Last Updated: 09/08/11 12:22pm
They're the descendants of Viking warriors with names like Erik Bloodaxe, Bjorn Ironside, and Noggin the Nog and they're out to conquer the rugby league world.
Yes, Bjorn the Biff, Isaac the Ice and Kristian the Quick are the new generation of warriors from the far north but thankfully they're just armed with a pair of boots and not shields and great big axes.
And they're quite happy knocking seven bells out of each other in Norway at the moment although they've already started to conquer other nations.
Norway is one of the newest members of rugby league's European Federation with five sides playing the game during the summer months. Most of those teams are in the Oslo area in the south of the country but in the far north of Norway they're into the game as well.
Tromso is 215 miles inside the Arctic Circle, it's nearer the North Pole than any Super League club but up in the city known for its Northern Lights experience they're playing rugby league. The Tromso Polar Bears are one of Norway's leading teams and they've overcome all sorts of difficulties to get the game going in the land of the midnight sun.
There's Norway's lack of physical contact sport to start with. Norwegians like skiing, football, handball and golf but, since Erik Bloodaxe and co departed the scene, they haven't really gone in for the big hits.
That could be changing now because there are plenty of young Norwegians keen to give league a go. The Tromso team includes the usual band of enthusiastic exiles. There's Isaac the Kiwi, Tony from Leeds and Lee from Plymouth, who have all been helping to drive the club along but they've been joined by the likes of Joachim, Jorgen and Kent to form the world's most northerly rugby league team. In fact, they claim to be the world's most northerly rugby team in either code. But I'm not going all the way to Alert in Canada to see if there's somebody kicking a penalty goal from the halfway line to check that claim out.
It's been tough for Tromso to get the team going. They play on the only grass pitch in the area and that's on a hillside high above the city where, even on a mid-summers day, the wind howls in from the Arctic Ocean and there's still snow on the mountain tops. It makes Mount Pleasant seem like a picnic.
Training during the off season in Tromso can be difficult for the team. There are no floodlights at the ground and, with no daylight from November to January, that's a problem. That and the five to six feet of snow that can cover the area in the winter. But they're an ingenious lot are Tromso RLFC and have been known to train in the city's big underground car park to escape the weather. Their players travel through treacherous conditions to get to training and their nearest away game is a two hour flight away down in Oslo.
The Bears have contributed players to the Norwegian national side who recently caused a major upset by beating Germany 32-28 in the European Shield competition at the famous Bislett Stadium in Oslo. Coming up next month for Norway is an international against Sweden. They're already sharpening their axes and polishing their shields in readiness for that Viking derby match.
After that the nights will draw in, and then in some more, until darkness descends on Tromso. Only the beautiful and eerie northern lights will brighten things up for several months. But at least the rugby league players of the far north will be able to sit round the fire and recall the great moments of their season over an ale or two.
At £7 a pint it'll probably be just the one in fact.