More than a soccer team

Brann fans

Photo: Marit Hommedal / NTB scanpix
Thousands upon thousands of Bergensers came out to sing and celebrate when Brann won 4-1 over Lyn in the 2004 Cup Finals.

Sportsklubben Brann is a pillar of Bergen’s identity

JO CHRISTIAN WELDINGH
Oslo

Sportsklubben Brann is a Norwegian soccer team based in Bergen. The club is rarely mentioned as a title contender in Eliteserien, despite winning the Norwegian league three times (1961-62, 1963, 2007) and reaching the round of 16 in the UEFA Cup (now Europa League) in 2007. The team’s ups and downs, both on and off the field, sometimes dominate the national sports pages due to the club’s cultural significance and enthusiastic fan base.

In Bergen, Brann is more than a soccer team; it is a pillar of Bergen’s identity. When Brann was searching for a new coach last spring, a local journalist wrote: “The coach of Brann is more than a soccer coach. You are coaching an important institution. Brann is more than football. It’s unity, affiliation, and passion.”

Christen K. Gran and Birger Gjestland, who thought the city needed a counterweight to its dominant team at the time, Bergens Fotboldklub, founded the team in 1908. 

The origin of the name, which means “fire,” is uncertain. One story has it that the meeting of the founding group was at Johnsens Café, near the old fire station in Bergen. According to Atle Nielsen’s book on the history of the team, the founders settled on the name Ski- og Fodboldklubben Brann after considering some “short, powerful and one-syllable” names, among them Brann (“fire”) and Fart (“speed”).

The club reached the top in record speed. Their first game was Jan. 1, 1909, a 1-1 draw with Bergens Fotboldklub. They joined a league in 1911 and won the “circuit championship” in 1912. It wasn’t until 1923 that Brann took home their first Norwegian cup trophy, beating Lyn 2-1 in the final after winning 22 of 26 games. They repeated the feat in 1925 with a 3-0 victory over Sarpsborg. Both Norwegian championships came under the captainship of well-known Norwegian player, Finn Berstad, who also led the Norwegian national team to four consecutive Nordic championships from 1929-1932. In later years, Berstad’s son, Finn Berstad Jr. debuted with the team in 1958, and today Finn Berstad Kiosk can be found on Bergen’s Valkendorfsgate

However, the club’s glory days didn’t come until the 1960s with two league titles in 1962 and 1963. Roald “Kniksen” Jensen scored 22 goals, Rolf Birger Pedersen 19, and Roald Paulsen 16 for the 1962 squad (25-6-9), who beat Rosenborg 6-1 and 4-1. For the final 20-plus minutes, Kniksen and another player played in their socks. Rosenborg’s Nils Arne Eggen never forgot that and when he coached Rosenborg in the 1990s, they beat Brann 9-0 and 10-0.

Brann was in third place at the halfway point in 1963 but took over the lead on Sept. 7 with a 3-1 win over Lyn at Oslo’s Ullevål Stadium. In front of 19,500 fans at the Brann Stadion, two goals by Bjørn Oddmar Andersen and one by Leif Amundsen gave Brann a 3-1 victory over Vålerenga in the final match of the season. Brann finished 26-7-7. Jensen scored 16 goals, Pedersen 13.

The 1980s was full of literal ups and downs for the Bergen team. They got relegated from the top division in 1979, promoted in 1980, and it continued like that, being relegated and promoted every other year, until 1986. The team received the nickname “Heislaget,” which translates to “the elevator team.” After 1986, however, the team stayed in the top division until 2014.

The 1990s were characterized by trouble in the boardroom, plagued by varying results and financial recklessness. Brann appointed five different head coaches that decade and at one point the entire board was replaced. Despite the trouble off the pitch, the team placed fourth (1996), third (1999) and second (1997) in the league. 

In 2007, Brann won their first Eliteserien title since 1963 under coach Mons Ivar Mjelde. Mjelde won the title after having taken Brann to second and third place in the league and a cup triumph in the four preceding seasons. Less than a year later, Mjelde lost his job due to lack of results. Still, he kept the job longer than any other coach after World War II, lasting six years.

The years 2007 to late 2015 were a downward spiral for Brann. The club was on a desperate search for someone to lead the club to success, but they never seemed to find the right fit.

The club was relegated in 2014 while being coached by Swede Rikard Norling, a proven coach that was presented as a savior only a year before. Norling was fired after 10 games the following season when the team seemed to be in danger of being relegated to level three in Norwegian soccer. His replacement, Lars Arne Nilsen, was able to turn things around and secure a promotion.

Nilsen followed up with a second place finish in both 2016 and 2018 but was sacked earlier this year due to a poor start to the season. His replacement, Kåre Ingebrigtsen, has been the head coach at clubs like Ranheim, Bodø/Glimt, Rosenborg, Oostende in Belgium, and APOEL Nikosia in Cyprus, and has an outspoken goal of bringing trophies back to Bergen.

Brann has one of the most passionate fan bases in Norwegian soccer and is among the clubs with the highest average attendance. Fyllingen, from Fyllingsdalen in Bergen, played in the top division in 1990, 1991, and 1993, which increased the local rivalry. Now, Brann’s biggest rivals are Trondheim’s Rosenborg, Oslo’s Vålerenga, and Lillestrøm (currently not in Eliteserien).

Brann is also the only Norwegian soccer team that has an official American fan club, Brann US. They watch Brann’s games in Legends Barn in Manhattan, N.Y. 

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Jo Christian Weldingh

Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.

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