Posted by: Christian Wulff | May 3, 2012

Lyn – Vålerenga: A special derby in a special cup

Paragraph 4e in the tournament rules for the Norwegian F.A. cup states that the set up of games in the first rounds will ‘take into account geographical, economical and sporting considerations’. It’s a peculiar way of organising a cup competition. While many tournaments involve some kind of seeding system, the F.A. in Norway do not even draw the first three rounds, instead picking the teams that will face each other based on the criteria above. In addition, paragraph 4f states that all top flight clubs will have an away game in the first two rounds. With top flight teams being kept away from each other until the fourth round and the F.A. also deciding which team will have a home tie until the semi-final stage, it inevitably removes a big part of the unpredictability that gives cup competitions so much of its charm.

The Norwegian F.A. also restrict participation in the cup to 250 teams, which means there will hardly ever be any teams from lower than the 3rd division. While a free draw could increase travel cost for smaller clubs due the sheer geographical size of Norway, there are no real impediments to introducing a system where all clubs are divided into regional groups for the first rounds and to have an unconditional draw within those groups.

Why does it even matter? Well, the Norwegian Cup is not your average domestic cup competition. This may be a bold statement, but you will struggle to find a completion that has more prestige and importance within a European county, especially with the fading glory and mismanagement of the F.A. Cup in England. This has partly to do with Norwegian football history and wider sports tradition. The cup dates back to 1902, while the first real semi-national league was not introduced until 1937 (there is a very bold footnote to both those dates. The domestic cup didn’t actually allow clubs from the north of Norway to compete until 1963, while the top flight didn’t permit clubs from that region until 1972).

Another significant factor is that the winning team receives the King’s Trophy. It is a trophy that goes back to 1879 and is given out to a team or individual in almost all sports in Norway. For example, in athletics it is given out to the male and female athlete who has achieved the best results in that year’s Norwegian championship. It is a trophy with an incredible sporting tradition and an iconic place in Norwegian culture and society. The fact that it is given out to the winner of the domestic cup is not a sign that that team is considered the best team in the country, but a result of the cup’s long legacy, increasing its prestige and importance.

Added to this, the cup final weekend in Norway is still a massive deal, with a coverage in both the sport press and wider media that is reminiscent of the way the F.A. cup used to be treated in England. Always held early on a Sunday afternoon, Oslo city centre is inevitably painted in the colours of the opposing teams the night before, the hip fashionistas of the capital having a horrid time last year with the bright clashing red and orange of Brann and Aalesund. The Norwegian cup is not immune to the factors that have degraded the significance of so many other domestic cups around Europe, and the Norwegian F.A. should seriously consider changes to its format to keep the competition as interesting and unpredictable as possible. Before this season, no top-flight team had gone out in the first round since 1993.

However, the ability to cherry-pick team to play each other does sometime give the football association a chance to engineer the essence of a cup draw; a David vs. Goliat match involving local and social rivalry, steeped in football tradition and history. The game between Lyn and Vålerenga yesterday was exactly that sort of occasion, potentially the most intriguing first round game the cup has ever had.

Only three years ago the game would have been a common occurrence. Lyn, historically from the west side of Oslo, are one of the true aristocrats of Norwegian football with eight cup and two league titles, with a 5-4 aggregate loss to Barcelona in the Cup-winners-cup in 1968 as their proudest European achievement. Vålerenga originated in a working class district in the east end of the city, and had their most successful period in the early eighties with three league championship and a cup triumph within 5 years, with another two cup final defeats in the same period. While on the surface their rivalry looks to follow the social and historical lines of Boca Juniors and River Plate, the reality has always been a lot more blurred.

Although stereotypical known as a ‘posh’ club, over the last 30 years Lyn never had the same economical backing from rich investors as Vålerenga, instead relying a lot more on the grassroot organisation and local community backing. Vålerenga, for all their historical links to a working class community and their fans proclamations of ‘urban bohemian’ snobbery, has always had much greater revenue streams and financial backing from benefactors– coming across much more like a Norwegian Chelsea than the community club it is at its heart.

Inter-city rivalries are uncommon in Norway but from 2002, when the two clubs were finally re-united in the top-flight, the match-up slowly turned into one of the most interesting in Norwegian football. Sharing the national arena Ullevaal as their home ground, Vålerenga should have had the natural advantage through their greater financial backing and twice the average home gate of their rivals. Vålerenga did win the league in 2005 but in the period between 2002 and 2008 the average league position for both teams were 7th. There was one other fact that kept annoying Vålerenga fans about Lyn: They just couldn’t beat them. In fact, Lyn went 15 league games unbeaten against their rivals, a record dating back to 1989.

When Vålerenga finally won a game in September 2009, it was a hollow victory. By then, Lyn was in serious financial problems after their main investor had left the club the previous year. The club struggled to continue as a going concern throughout the season, leading to a fire-sale of players and drastic wage cuts. They survived financially by the skin of their teeth but were relegated from the top flight. However, the next year the economic realities finally did catch up with them, the club declaring bankruptcy in the middle of the season, unable to complete their league fixtures.

Vålerenga failed to show any sort of sympathy towards a team they had always felt superior to, although that supposed difference in quality never materialised on the pitch. In fact, the club – with the help of celebrity priest and Vålerenga fan Einar Gelius – had showed a complete lack of both humour and class by performing a tasteless mock funeral of Lyn, coffin included, in a promotional stunt before the last top-flight game between the clubs in 2009.

Lyn’s collapse was a sad demise for a Norwegian football institution, but also the first step towards a new and more sustainable future. The club managed to settle the debt linked to their reserve team, and were allowed to take over its place in the 4.division – the fifth tier of the league pyramid – from 2011. The team was compromised of previous reserve and youth players, complemented by others that had played for their – amateur – 3rd team in the 6th division. The ‘new’ Lyn team beat Lokomotiv Oslo 6-0 in their opening fixture in front of almost 2000 fans – unheard of on that level in Norway. They steamrolled through the division winning all their games, and are this season currently 2nd in their 3rd division group.

After getting through the two qualifying rounds, Lyn knew which game they wanted above anything else in the 1st round proper; a local derby with Vålerenga. The F.A. duly delivered and this Tuesday the club reached another significant milestone in their ‘new’ history, the first game against their city rivals, now three tiers above them in the league system. Lyn was allowed to move the game to the historic athletic stadium of Bislett – one of Vålerenga’s former home grounds – and hosted their rivals in front of 11 273 spectators. That was a new attendance record for a first round game in the Norwegian cup, with the previous one of 5625 standing since 1945.

Vålerenga, who have been far from impressive in the league this season, rested some of their players but still had several regular starters lining up against Lyn. The away team dominated most of the game, goals from Nielsen and Anene giving them a 2-0 lead halfway through the second half. But Lyn refused to lay down and equalised 20 minutes from time through a Faisal Dahir header. With five minutes remaining they had an equaliser controversially disallowed, the referee judging that Vålerenga goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld had been impeded when coming for a cross in the area. Vålerenga held on to a 2-1 win, avoiding the embarrassment they experienced last year when they went out to Kjelsås in the second round.

For Lyn it was still a proud and historic day, another step out of the ruins and towards reclaiming their place at the top level of Norwegian football. As for Vålerenga, a club whose previous economic problems could have seen them gone the same way as Lyn, they would surely welcome the swift return of their rivals and the injection of football interest and rivalry in would create within the capital. They might even figure out how to beat them in the league as well.

Cup round-up:

Even with the very kind set up for top-flight teams in the first round, two of them still crashed out for the first time in 19 years. Sogndal have had a surprisingly impressive start to their league season, but they could not match Florø on any level, going down 3-0 to the third division side. Newly promoted Sandnes Ulf also lost to a club from the fourth tier, the gloriously named Staal Jørpeland beating them 3-1.

The rest of the top-flight teams did survive and while there were no repeat of the double-figured scorelines of last season, Strømsgodset and Rosenborg did go close with 9-0 and 8-0 wins respectively.

All the first round results can be found here

League round-up

In the league fixtures last weekend, Rosenborg were knocked of the top of the table after they conceded an injury time equaliser away to Aalesund in a bad-tempered affair. Steffen Iversen had put them ahead with six minutes left, before the former Spurs, Wolves and Crystal Palace player ‘Charlie Adamed’ a penalty wide two minutes later.

Rosenborg lost their number one spot to an increasingly impressive Strømsgodset side. This blog have previously extolled the virtues of the young team and their genuinely talented coach Ronny Deila, and they have continued their steady progress by replicating their excellent home format away grounds. They secured their second away win in three attempts against Lillestrøm, Adama Diomande getting the only goal. Strømsgodset’s starting line-up consisted of only one outfield player above the age of 23, the captain Alexander Aas. Strømsgodset should not have the quality and depth to sustain a genuine title challenge, but stranger things have happened in Tippeligaen. Lillestrøm are now second bottom, this being their 16th league game in a row without a win.

Sogndal continued their wholly unexpected and brilliant start to the season, beating champions Molde at home and going second in the league ahead of Rosenborg. After six games, Solskjær’s team have now lost all their away games while wining all their home games. They had an average start to the their title-winning season last year as well and are still only three points behind Rosenborg, but they do need to start showing some character and strength away from home. Hønefoss are together with Sogndal and Rosenborg still the only undefeated teams, the newly promoted side drawing away at Tromsø, the two teams now lying 5th and 6th.

Fredrikstad and Ulf Sandnes played out a real humdinger, the away side going 3-1 up within 20 minutes through two goals by Tommy Høiland, who was also fouled for the penalty that Aksel Berget Skjølsvik converted. The impressive attacking duo of Tarik Elyounoussi and Etzaz Hussain brought Fredrikstad level in the 2nd half, the former setting up Hussain for the first goal, and then scoring the penalty that brought Fredrikstad level. The home team had some glorious changes to complete the come-back, but five minutes from time it was Høiland that stole the limelight again, his intense pressure forcing a Fredrikstad own goal and a remarkable 4-3 away win for Sandnes Ulf.

Without anybody really noticing, Haugesund have recorded two very impressive 6th place finishes in the league since they got promoted in 2009. They are continuing that quiet display of quality this season, their victory over Viking taking them fourth. They will surely start attracting a lot more attention through their two excellent strikers, Nicola Djurdjic and Alexander Søderlund. The Serbian have got four goals so far this season, but the Haugesund-born Søderlund have been even more impressive so far, his fantastic long-range effort against Viking giving him his fifth goal of the campaign. The 24-year old is still uncapped by Norway, but it is surely time for Egil Olsen to seriously consider bringing him into the Norway squad.

Round 6 results: Aalesund – Rosenborg 2-2, Lillestrøm – Strømsgodset 0-1, Viking – Haugesund 0-2, Fredrikstad – Sandnes Ulf 3-4, Stabæk – Odd Grenland 0-2, Tromsø – Hønefoss 0-0, Sogndal – Molde 2-1, Brann – Vålerenga 1-2

You can get all the stats and watch free (and legal) highlights of every game at the altomfotball.no website. Click on the result of each game and, eh, press play (there will be a short commercial first). This page will also include all the match facts, line-ups and formations.

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