From losers to winners: Brann recovers from a series of ups and downs

Photo: Bjørn S. Delebekk / VG Brann players Vadim Demidov, Bisma Acosta, and Mads Hvilsom celebrate early in this season.

Photo: Bjørn S. Delebekk / VG
Brann players Vadim Demidov, Bisma Acosta, and Mads Hvilsom celebrate early in this season.

Cathrine Løvaas
Bergen, Norway

The Elevator—that’s what they call it in Bergen.

In 2004 Brann won the Norwegian cup. Three years later, they won Eliteserien. But it had been over forty years since the last time the Bergen soccer team had topped the league. In between, it was the ups and downs of The Elevator.

When Swedish manager Rikard Norling took over as Brann’s leading man in December 2013, it gave the team hope for the future. Norling had taken the Swedish club Malmö FF all the way to the top, and Bergen expected something of the same.

At the end of the 2014 season, however, the team was third from the bottom in the league. On November 26, 2014, it was all over, or so it seemed. For 31 years Brann had managed to stay in the highest league. But after a loss in the playoffs against Mjøndalen, Brann relegated to the second league.

The relegation was a scandal and some said that the city had to pay the price. Grown men and children cried. The team was slaughtered by the media and their supporters.

New coach
But what about the Swedish savior? Norling, formerly called “the Philosopher,” was now renamed “Lord of the Fog.” After the last match, Norling ran straight to the supporters in the stands, and they loved him for it. He wanted to stay and save the sinking ship, but in the end he had to go.

Just a few days after he left, local Lars Arne Nilsen was brought in as a new manager. He was a rock, or so it seemed. The team became second best in the second league, spent only one season there, and then went straight back up to Eliteserien.

2016 season
About 500 days after Brann fired Norling, Nilsen reinstated the team at the top. With only two matches left, Rosenborg had already won Eliteserien, but Brann and Odd were standing even with equal points and only one goal separating them. Every goal counted, and the supporters were in for a thriller.

In the first match of the two remaining, Brann played against Start, the last team on the table in the elite league. They had nothing to play for and were already going to be relegated. It was 0–0 after halftime and Odd was winning their game. Brann couldn’t clear a corner, and Start scored.

Suddenly the elevator ascended. Erik Huseklepp scored in the 66th minute, and in the 77th Fredrik Haugen stretched out his foot to put the ball in the net from about 30 meters. After the match captain Vadim Demidov remarked: “The year in the second league was good for us. We learned that we have to fight to win, and we have done that this year. Nilsen made winners out of losers.”

The last match
In the last match, Brann met Sarpsborg 08 in Bergen. Sarpsborg 08 was number six on the table, six points behind Brann, before the match. Ticket presales indicated that this would be the most visited match of the year.

“A victory now would be magic. If we win, Odd Ballklubb will have to win with several goals to steal the silver away,” said forward Erik Huseklepp, who was named the most popular player of the year.

The Bergen team took the lead in the 18th minute with a goal by Jakob Orlov, followed up with a goal by Gilli Rólantsson right before halftime. Sarpsborg 08 did manage to score a goal at the very end of the match, but it wasn’t enough to hold Brann back. With this win, Brann took the silver to end an incredible season and Nilsen was awarded Eliteserien’s manager of the year.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 18, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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