The climax of the Norwegian football season will see the lowly club Follo FK from the second tier of the football system take on Strømgodset from Drammen in the hotly-anticipated Norwegian Football Cup Final on Sunday. Follo’s coveted spot in the cup was earned despite all possible odds.
The final of the Norgesmesterskap (“Norwegian Championship,” usually referred to as Cuppen or NM) is held at Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo and is traditionally attended by the king and other luminaries. The winners of Cuppen – which pits teams from different leagues against each other in a series of knockout rounds – are given the title of “Norwegian Football Champions.”
This year’s final has grabbed much attention over the participation of Follo FK, a small club based in Ski in Akershus that plays in the Adeccoligaen (the league below Norway’s top league, Tippeligaen). Follo managed to beat the likes of Tippeligaen champions Rosenborg of Trondheim and other top clubs to progress to the final. Their “giant-killing” spirit has won respect and captured the imagination of many Norwegians, including those not particularly interested in the sport.
Follo, formed just 10 years ago as an amalgamation of several local teams, caused a similar shock in 2006, when they reached the quarter-finals of the competition after beating the holders of the Cup at the time, Molde FK. This season, they beat top teams including Lillestrøm and Rosenborg, with the latter victory described as the greatest cup upset in the competition’s 108-year history.
Follo’s cup run is made all the more extraordinary by the fact that they have even been relegated from the Adeccoligaen for failing to apply for a licence before the official deadline, despite the fact that they finished 12th in the league and outside of the relegation zone. This shocking oversight by the board of directors has led to their resignation en masse and, after pressure from fans, to board members forfeiting the honour of sitting with King Harald V at the cup final. To add insult to injury, the club’s ailing finances suggests that the team would be unlikely to have sufficient funds to succeed in gaining a league licence in any case.
Drammen-based Strømgodset, on the other hand, has won the cup four times since being founded in 1907, with 1991 being their most recent triumph. As well as being Tippeligaen champions once back in 1970, the club has played in continental European competitions, and has been in the top-tier of Norwegian football for the last four seasons.
In the run-up to the final, Norwegian media have been firmly focused on Follo and their predicament. Even the uniforms that the team will wear have drawn attention: Follo will not be allowed to play in the special pink outfits — meant to urge support for breast cancer research — that they wore when they beat Rosenborg in the semi-final, since regulations state that a team must compete in the kit they’ve worn for the length of the season.
Follo has won support from musicians that hail from the area, who have recorded a number of songs to support the team, including world-famous band Turbonegro re-recording their song “City of Satan” as “City of Follo.” The head of the Follo supporters’ association, called “Followers,” told NRK that “there are so many songs that I haven’t heard them all.”
Meanwhile, Strømgodset will qualify for European competition through the cup regardless of whether they win or lose. While in normal years only the cup winner would qualify for the continent-wide competition known as the Europa League, Follo’s lack of licence means that they would be unable to compete, giving the place in the competition automatically to Strømgodset.