When Spurs play Tromsø tonight it will be only the second time the club has faced Norwegian opposition since entering European competition in 1962. And that ø will no doubt cause a furrowing of brows over computer keyboards the like of which has not been seen since Jürgen’s umlaut.
Our last Norwegian opponents were Lyn Oslo, the news of which doubtless prompted a thousand “who’s she?” gags. The first leg, on 13 September 1972, saw Spurs visit the Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo and fall behind after just eight minutes, when John Palmer Austnes fired past Pat Jennings. The Norwegian side were part-timers and Spurs, who were defending the UEFA Cup trophy after the victory over Wolves the previous May, had been expected to stroll it. That early goal convinced the Lilywhites they’d have to work.
Within seconds of the restart, Martin Peters equalised, then a 25-yarder from, of all people, John Pratt put Spurs ahead. In the 38th minute the tie went nuts, with Alan Gilzean scoring two and Trygve Christopherson pulling one back for the Norwegians. Christopherson scored again before Martin Chivers stepped up to give Spurs a 6-3 victory.
In the return, Spurs left the Norwegians in the words of the Daily Mirror match report “punch drunk from the power of English football”. The visitors held out for 20 minutes before Chivers opened the scoring by tapping in from close range after the Norwegian keeper spilled a Gilzean shot. Big Chiv went on to grab a hat-trick, with Ralph Coates (2) and Jimmy Pearce seeing Spurs to a 6-0 win and the club’s 15th unbeaten European game in succession.
Just 21,109 came to White Hart Lane for the home leg 41 years ago, a crowd that should be bettered tonight, especially as the club’s dismaying decision to increase prices for the Europa League group games doesn’t kick in, something almost certainly connected with the fact that it’s one of the two cup-ties included on season tickets. At the away leg, just 10,770 attended, but today the stadium holds just 6,859 spectators. Spurs have just 320 tickets for the away leg, priced at £60 each – which I suspect is somewhat more than the price of a normal home game there.
Tromsø was formed in 1920, and is the northernmost top-level football club in the world. The club has played in the Norwegian premier league since 1985, with the exception of one season in 2001 which was spent in the First Division. The club has won the Norwegian championship three times, the last victory coming way back in 1956. More recently, the side has won the Norwegian Cup in 1996 and finished in the top three of the premier league in 2010 and 2011. The team qualified for this season’s Europa League as Norway’s fair play winner after Turkish side Beşiktaş were excluded for match fixing.
While a European night at White Hart Lane still gives me a buzz – I don’t buy into the sense of superiority many Spurs fans seem to have about this competition after just one season in the Champions League – I think it’s safe to say the atmosphere probably won’t be quite on a par with that famous night against Inter Milan. (Whatever happened to that Welsh bloke who played so well that night, by the way?).
The tie should be a gimme, and by the time of the away leg, passage to the next stage should be all but secured, making the prospect of a trip very unattractive to many. The need to economise, the expense of the trip and the relative importance of the tie mean I’ll be one of those not going, although of all the away destinations in this group it’s the one I’d love to have gone to. It’s one of those places you’re unlikely to visit unless it’s for football, it looks absolutely beautiful, and of course there are the Northern Lights to marvel at – the town is one of the best places to see them from.
Tonight, expect to see squad players given a runout – but what a squad we have these days – and a few goals. It’s Europe, but not as we’ve known it.
Martin Cloake is co-author, with Adam Powley and designer Doug Cheeseman, of The Glory Glory Nights, the official history of Spurs in Europe. The book is available from the Spurs Shop, all good retail outlets and online stores, and direct from publisher VSP. Martin’s latest ebook, Sound of the crowd, has just been released, and a full list of his books can be found at his bookstore.