Where the city of Bergen sets on fire
The Norwegian American
“The city is Bergen and the team is Brann
The place is a stadium, and everyone sings:
Heia Brann, Brann, Brann, Heia Brann!
(Everyone holds up the scarf)
Byen er Bergen / The city is Bergen
Along Kniksens Plass in Bergen, sits the fiery heart of Bergen, Brann Stadion, home pitch of Brann fotball, or what we know as soccer. Nearly 2 miles from the center of town at the foot of Mount Ulriken, it was originally built in 1919 and is the oldest stadium in Eliteserien. Only a piece of the southern stand from the 1930s remains from the old days.
The final renovation was in 2019, when the Fjordkraft stands were completed. Capacity is 16,750, third largest in Eliteserien, behind Rosenborg’s Lerkendal in Trondheim (21,421), opened in 1947, and Vålerenga’s Intility Arena (17,333) in Oslo, opened in 2017. The national stadium, Ullevål Stadion in Oslo, holds 28,000.
Brann hasn’t been the most successful team—going 44 years between a title and once being nicknamed “The Elevator Team” for bouncing between relegation and promotion. But they have had some of the most passionate fans, often averaging the highest attendance in the league. The stadium lights up Bergen and the seven mountains on Sunday evenings from March to November.
This has been one of the down years. The Fire is in 10th place as of Oct. 9 and made another managerial change, bringing in former Rosenborg boss Kåre Ingebrigtsen. This is also the season where few fans are being allowed into the stadium because of coronavirus restrictions.
Bergensers grow up with two things—rain and Brann fotball.
“Personally, I have been a Brann fan since I could walk,” said Alexander Helle, creative director and manager of the Norwegian Rain outerwear store in Bergen. “Sitting on the lap of my father at the stadium every game until I was old enough to have my own seat. We get the Brann players in the store from time to time.”
Morten Telaug is the support coordinator for the Battalion fan club. “The gang that tirelessly and steadfastly works to create the stadium atmosphere Brann and Bergen are known for…The more members the Battalion has, the more they can work to support Brann, organize away trips, create Norway’s best member magazine, create fantastic grandstand events,” says the website. On the website are 48 cheering songs split into categories: Absolute must; Must be known; Latest news from Store Stå; These must be known; These you should be able to and learn while the others are sitting. At the top of the list is “Nystemten,” the city anthem—and everyone knows it. Even the players sing it before games,
Amazingly, the stadium is also home to a Montessori school, kindergarten, conference facilities, and community sports center. “At the Stadium there’s a lot of space that normally is empty apart from match days,” said Thomas Brakstad, director of media and communications at Brann “Therefore, the school, kindergarten, etc., rents some of the available space.”
The fans’ fervor was evident in 1995, when right before the start of the season, popular player Trond Egil Soltvedt was released with the only reason being “disloyalty,” and Frank Strandli, Inge Ludvigsen, and Claus Lundekvam were disciplined. Fans protested in the center of the city. Some supported Soltvedt, some the board and manager Hallvar Thoresen. The story was in the national press. Brann lost the home opener to Molde 6-0, resulting in the whole crowd shouting for the board to resign. Attendance dropped. Halfway through the series, Brann was in last place, Thoresen was replaced by Kjell Tennfjord, who led a Brann surge to the middle of the standings and a place in the Norwegian Cup finals, “sparking immense optimism around the club.” Winning solves everything.
Brann founder Christen K. Gran dreamed of a fotball and sports facility, but his fellow members on the sports field committee for Bergen Municipality weren’t keen to the idea, so he pursued other avenues. He had his eye on Fridalen near the Haukelandsmyren railway. Developers had purchased properties in the area. The club’s NOK 2,500 bid was rejected, and the settlement ended up costing NOK 4,500 per goal. Gran and co-founder Birger Gjestland chipped in NOK 30,000 each. Bergen shipowners and numerous private donors completed the deal.
The official groundbreaking was in 1918. The first game was May 25, 1919, with the Norwegian national team defeating Brann 6-2. According to the Brann 1938 anniversary book, the game was “played in scoop bag splash,” and “the party at the lodge afterwards was just as humid. Anyone who says he came home sober is lying.”
The facility also produced a top-notch track oval attracting athletes from around Norway. Terraces were on each side of the field. The west side, or Clock End, was open.
A donor effort rescued the stadium from debt in 1927. The stadium fell into disrepair during World War II. According to Jan-Erik Larsen’s book, From goal to utmost despair, additions and repairs were made continually as money was available.
In the 1930s, a main stand was erected but didn’t extend the full length of the field. Each subsequent expansion was done differently, resulting in an odd configuration.
The 1960 glory years brought the crowds. On Oct. 1, 1961, a Norwegian Cup semifinal against Fredrikstad drew a record 24,800 fans. In 1962, Brann needed to win its final two games at the stadium to become champions of what was then known as Tippeligaen. The 4-1 victory over Fredrikstad was witnessed by 24,200 fans, while the 3-0 finale against Eik drew 17,000. In 1963, a draw in the final game against Vålerenga would allow Brann to repeat as champions. Bjørn Oddmar Andersen scored a double, and Leif Amundsen added one goal in a 3-1 win in front of 19,500 Bergensers. Brann averaged a league record 15,486 fans a game, a mark that stood until 2003 when Rosenborg beat it.
Roald “Kniksen” Jensen, Rolf Birger Pedersen, and Roald Paulsen were the stars of those teams. The revenue they generated in those glory years enabled the extension of the first grandstand in 1964 and earned the nickname “Kniksen Grandstand.” A top-notch gym was built under the bleachers. Lights were added in 1973.
In September 1976, a Brann-Lillestrøm game drew 21,208, and the season finale against Mjøndalen brought 22,358 spectators. The record for a league game was 23,900 in 1978 against Lillestrøm. Many fans, though, stood around the field, which caused problems. Fans could enter the pitch as well as throw things. The “growing undisciplined behavior among the public” resulted in the construction of 9.8-foot fences behind the goals on both ends and discussions about adding a grandstand on the north side began.
In 1978, the upper tier of the new grandstand was built. The lower part of the bleachers was for Store Stå, the Grand Stand, with standing room for 3,000 of the ardent singing fans. The 2007 season was successful on the pitch—with the first league title in 44 years—and an average of 17,225 fans. This stand was destroyed and replaced with Sparebanken Vest main stands, with 4,354 seats.
Contemporary locker rooms were installed here. Inside were corporate VIP lounges on the fourth floor; Brannbørsen, The Fire Exchange, restaurant on the third; on the first floor, press conference rooms, media workspaces, and interview areas; on the second floor, Brannallmenningen, Brann Commons, the “people’s VIP with a license to serve alcohol.” The Frydenbø bleachers near Inndalsveien, with 3,381 seats, were completed in 1999. Within those were administrative offices, a community sports center, and a kindergarten.
In a unique transaction, the Stor-Bergen Boligbyggelag, Greater Bergen Housing Association, sold its majority share, 51%, in the stadium to Brann for the same amount it purchased them. This gave Brann total control of the facility and revenue.
Some people still refer to the Frydenbø bleachers as Hansa, as the beer company had sponsored the section for many years. Within the bleachers, a 1,000-seat area was established before the 2014 season and hosts the Battalion.
At the east end, a 3,898-seat section, the BOB Grandstand, replaced a standing room area in 2006. It provided offices for club officials, room for The Fire Shop, and in 2016, a medical clinic was added.
Grass from York, England, which was comprised of 99.3% sand and 0.7% soil to enhance growth, was laid in February 2009, along with heating underneath.
These new grandstands featured modern accoutrements, which made the old south end Fjordkraft grandstand vastly outdated and dangerous. From 2017 to 2019, negotiations and construction were undertaken, with the final renovation completed in 2019 in time for the opener against Strømsgodset. All the renovations closed off the stadium and created an intimate environment. It also includes 300 student apartments.
A statue of Jensen, who died in 1987 at 44, was installed in 1995 in Christie Park outside the stadium, and the square outside Sparebanken Vest stands was named Kniksens Square in 2008.
Wales beat Norway 2-1 in the first international game at the stadium in 1933. It was the first of 17 international games at Brann, with Norway never losing again in Bergen (12-4-1). It’s also been the site of three Norwegian Cup finals in 1922, 1930 and 1947 and the national track and field championships in 1920.
So how does all this fiery excitement translate through American eyes today? Sam Strickland, a transplant from Bergen’s sister city Seattle has made the following observations:
“If I were to compare it to the Seattle Seahawks, I would say that I don’t believe that people in Bergen are as crazy for their hometown team as we are in Seattle,” he said. “In Seattle, it seems like everyone is wearing a jersey on game day, and that just doesn’t seem to be the case here.
“That being said, I think it is just a reflection of our respective cultures. Norwegians in general are quieter, and Americans are more expressive. The best way I can describe it is that on game day, in Bergen, you would be forgiven if you thought it was just a normal day if you were to just be in the city center or around town. But if you get close to the stadium, maybe an hour before the game, it is obvious that a game will be played and there is a lot of excitement in the air.”
Especially when the singing begins.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.