Anders Johansen

Anders Johansen

With all my Norwegian connections, I was amazed that I had never heard of Anders Johansen a football fan from just south of Oslo. He is a groundhopper par excellence and I was delighted when he allowed me to interview him.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. You are Norwegian but where are you from and which Norwegian team do you follow

I’m 44, and the last few years I’ve been writing travel guides to English football for the Norwegian market. I’m from a town called Drøbak, about 25 miles south of Oslo. I was born in Fredrikstad where my dad’s family is from, but been living most of my life now in Drøbak, where my mum’s family is from. As for my Norwegian team, I’ve always followed Fredrikstad (FFK), but sadly my interest isn’t what it used to be (modern football ruined things a bit here in Norway as well), and I’m now more likely to go down to my local club Drøbak/Frogn to watch them play.

When did you first fall in love with football? Was that Norwegian or English football?

I was football mad from a young age, always carrying a ball around with me, often kicking it against a well etc if there was no one to play with. As for watching football, it was probably the English football as I grew up watching it on Norwegian TV every Saturday (they always showed one of the 3pm games live), and was already hooked on that before I started going regularly.

Do you remember the first Norwegian ground and game you saw? Love at first sight or…?

I’m not really sure if the old Fredrikstad ground or Drøbak/Frogn’s ground was my first, but I think it was the latter as we lived in Drøbak at the time (unless I was taken to FFK as an infant before I can remember). My first memory from a football ground is from Drøbak/Frogn’s ground Seiersten Stadion anyway…and the only thing I remember from it is that I lost my dad and probably started crying 😊 Also remember being at that ground and the announcer congratulating the home team on promotion after the game…might’ve even been the same game, but then again it might not have been. Probably wasn’t love at first sight as I didn’t start going regularly until we moved back to Fredrikstad. My dad was away a lot in his work back then (up to 2-3 months at the time) so he never took me to football much. I started going with friends when moving to Fredrikstad, and that’s when I really fell in love with the club, who had also just won the Norwegian cup (with a Fredrikstad player and Norway international scoring what is probably the most famous cup final goal ever in Norway).

How many Norwegian ground have you visited?

Visited my Norwegian ground # 78 tonight. Might do another one tomorrow. Was always just happy following Fredrikstad, or watching Drøbak/Frogn now and again when living in Drøbak. The groundhopping I now do here is pretty much just killing time whilst waiting for the next UK trip.

When did you start to take an interest in English football? Do you remember your first game here?

Like I said, the interest in English football was probably there before my interest in Norwegian football, having grown up always looking forward to Saturday and the weekly TV game from England….also collecting English football cards, Panini sticker albums from English football etc. Maybe a bit strangely, I can’t really say I was a big fan of a certain team as much as I just loved following English football in general. My first actual game in England was actually as late as 1995, when I watched Reading at their fantastic old Elm Park. Unfortunately the game that day was abandoned after some absolutely torrential rain…which was probably a good thing for Reading as they were 0-2 down to Bury after when it was abandoned in I think the 27th minute. It was enough to get me hooked again anyway, and I’d be back for more.

Was there a single moment when you said, “Mmm, I want to visit x hundred ground in the next ten years”?

Not really a single moment like that, I guess. It’s just a ball that started rolling and my trips have been getting bigger and bigger. But the whole thing started when I used to fly over to watch Reading and then sit in the Reading pubs waiting for the next Reading game. I eventually thought I might as well go watch someone else play when they’re not playing, and that’s really how the groundhopping thing started. By then, my first priority was still Reading, and it wasn’t until I started falling out of love with the modern game that I decided I’d rather just do groundhopping – after going to a couple of non-league games and falling in love with the game again.

So, how do you plan a trip? How do you squeeze as many games as possible into each trip? Juggling fixture lists and transport timetables must be a challenge?

It is indeed quite a lot of work, picking games, booking hotels, checking public transport timetables etc. I start by making a list of all the fixtures for every day I’ll be over, then choose which games I fancy before looking to see how they fit into my plans…like if they’re still doable with the game I wanna do the day after etc. Where there’s a will, there’s very often a way, and several times I’ve been dragging my luggage along to games and travelled on for hours after the game to install myself elsewhere with the next day in mind. Let me give you an example: A couple of seasons ago, I was doing Merthyr Town on a Saturday and had booked a (thankfully refundable) hotel there, but then Bishop Auckland had an FA Vase game moved to the Sunday, and I saw there was no way I’d get up from Merthyr Tydfil to Bishop Auckland in time on the Sunday. So I cancelled the hotel and looked to see where I could book accommodation somewhere along the way that would allow me to get to Bishop Auckland in time…and ended up booking accommodation in Birmingham. So I went to the Merthyr game and then got the trains up to Birmingham to sleep over there before making my way up from there to Bishop Auckland in the morning. Might also be worth mentioning that I get a BritRail pass that allows me to jump on any train and gives me unlimited travel for x amount of days. Very handy if there’s a change of plan, cancellations or rearrangements etc.

I remember doing three games on an Easter Friday once. How many have you done on one day?

I’ve done four games in a day a couple of times, but that’s been on organised Groundhops. The most I’ve done in one day outside the organised Hops are 3 games, which I’ve done several times.

How many English grounds have you visited? Which is your favorite…and why? Is there a ground that you particularly don’t like? Why?

I’ve now done 445 grounds in the English pyramid. My favorite ground visited overall has to be Glentoran (The Oval), and as for English grounds…hmmm, hard to pick just one or two, but of current grounds I’d say maybe Workington or Harwich & Parkeston. Both wonderful classic grounds. Even now Workington is a fantastic ground, and I can only imagine how great it was before they knocked most of the main stand down. Ebbsfleet United was another favorite, and it’s sad to see it now being sterilised. Aldershot Town is also up there, and my favorite in the current top 5 divisions…apart from the little prefabricated stand they’ve put up behind one of the goals, it’s like time’s stood still there since the 1950s. Fantastic 😊
As for grounds I don’t really like, I should probably stick to England, as most of the lower division grounds in the Oslo area here in Norway would dominate that list completely (mostly dull, open, council owned plastic pitch complexes with no character). In the UK, apart from the obvious fields, I have to say I found Consett’s new ground pretty horrible. Shame, as I tried to get to their ground 2 times the last season, only for the games to be called off due to snow both times. The only thing I liked about their new ground was the good sized bar. I found the ground devoid of any character whatsoever, a typical example of a dull new build…nice and functional, but so incredibly boring, with the prefabricated stands and of course the god awful plastic pitch (I really can’t stand them!). I remember thinking that “when all the grounds looks like this, I’ll find a new hobby”, and I was glad it was only 90 minutes as I could’ve gradually lost the will to live if I’d stayed any longer. Later, I’ve been to a few more like that. Team Northumbria is another one I really didn’t like, and on my last trip I had a similar experience at St. Helens Town; although hopefully the latter is still a work in progress. On my visit to Royton Town last year I also confirmed my suspicion that I hate caged grounds as well. If you’re after grounds higher up, take a pick from most of the PL/FL grounds the last couple of decades. I think the Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena was an absolutely dreadful experience, but I guess I could’ve just as well been at Doncaster Rovers, Southampton, Cardiff City etc etc. There’s a theme here, I guess…and yes, the only new builds I’ve liked (not just as “not bad for a new build) is probably Weymouth and Dorchester Town.

I have a bit of a soft spot for smaller grounds such as Bærum’s Sandvika stadium in Norway and Stalybridge Celtic’s gorgeous Bower Fold. You?

Agree about Bower Fold, and I do indeed often prefer the smaller grounds, mostly because most of the good bigger grounds have now already been sterilised or knocked down and replaced by a dull plastic bowl. So many ground I have a soft spot for. Could’ve mentioned lots more than the once mentions above…like Crockenhill, Mossley, Prescot Cables, Crook Town, Falmouth Town, Swanage & Herston etc etc.

I love reading your blog in Norwegian. It is clear that you have taken to learning much about English history and culture. Were you always interested or has this been a side benefit of your groundhopping?

Always felt at home in England and UK, and also always been interested in history etc, but guess I’ve no doubt become “worse” over the years.

When are you back next? What are your plans for that trip?

Already booked a flight over on Boxing Day, which I booked back in July. No clue how long I’ll stay yet or what the plans are. Most of the leagues haven’t even announced fixtures for Dec/Jan yet, so a bit early to start planning quite yet. Will probably be a few rearranged games as well. But (and hopefully I won’t jinx this now) if they don’t change the kick off times, I can see myself starting that trip with a Boxing Day double…Oakwood v Lingfield at 11am and the derby game that is Tooting & Mitcham United v Dulwich Hamlet at 3pm. Not a bad one that, and after all, when flying into Gatwick I’ll be stuck in London area that day anyway.

How do the locals take to a Norwegian rolling up at their excuse for a ground on a wet Monday at a level 9 club? Are you welcomed, seen as a bit “odd” or treated as an “away fan” (with all the negative connotations that has!)

There’s pretty a warm welcome almost everywhere below step 2-3. Although I’m often mistaken for an away fan at first, people are very friendly. When they find out through conversation that I’m from Norway, there can be a bit of a commotion at times – guess it’s not an everyday thing for some of these clubs!

PS I must ask you one last question. What do you think of the new Valerenga ground.

It’s good for the club, but I didn’t think it was anything special. Not bad for Norway I guess, although that doesn’t say too much. I think maybe they should’ve filled in the corners(?), and again I’m having big problems with the plastic pitch. At least it’s got a stand with terracing (well, “safe standing” anyway).

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Anders, my friend, of that there is no doubt! To see the up to date list of all the grounds that Anders has visited please visit Groundhopping

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