There are nineteen dedicated sports channels currently included in my cable subscription. Throw in the coverage available on the other channels and it’s possible to spend an entire weekend watching sport.
Mrs C can testify to that.
Quite the contrast to my childhood, when the launch of the imaginatively titled ‘Channel 4’, brought the total number of channels up to… yep, you guessed it.
But even the three channels available previously seemed like a luxury to me. With a Norwegian mother, I spent a lot of time in Norway, where the state-owned broadcasting company, NRK, and its solitary channel, was the only option, until the mid-80s.
The schedule comprised an eclectic mix of programmes, but sports coverage was generally limited to five minutes at the end of the news and the weekly half-hour edition of Sportsrevyen (Sports Review).
In keeping with the channel’s diverse output, Sportsrevyen would often focus on sports that even Sky wouldn’t touch.
Orienteering, as an example. A fifteen-minute segment showing athletes running up to a remote tree, with map and compass in hand, pausing briefly to ‘punch their card’ before heading off to the next navigation point.
It was through Sportsrevyen that I developed my interest in ice hockey (possibly because it wasn’t orienteering).
Back home in England, I used to play football around the house with a small sponge ball. In Norway, I would borrow my grandfather’s walking stick and use it to perform slap-shots with a ball of my grandmother’s wool as a makeshift puck.
Both home and ‘away’, many of my family’s decorative household items became collateral damage to my impromptu indoor games. So in order to channel my growing interest in the sport in a less destructive manner, I was taken to my first ice hockey game. Local side, SK Djerv facing off against Stjernen at the Bergenshallen.
Despite having a capacity of around 3,000, a small fraction of what I was used to seeing at Carrow Road, I was blown away.
A sell-out crowd in the indoor arena created an atmosphere, I hadn’t experienced before. The singing and chanting were relentless, fuelled, and prompted by music blaring out from deafening speakers. We ate hotdogs. It was freezing but absolutely electrifying.
On the ice, the action was fast and frenetic. Regular line changes involving wholesale substitutions were made on the fly and created a sense of orchestrated chaos. The puck was moved around at speeds that were too much for my eyes to keep up with. Most of the time, I had no idea which player was in possession, only to hear the air-raid siren and roar of the crowd, which signalled that a goal had been scored. Players collided and were slammed against the boards like high-octane, human dodgems.
I don’t even remember the final score, but my adopted team, Djerv, secured victory with a goal in the final moments of the third period. It was greeted with a ‘beer shower’ of the type now synonymous with football fan parks, and a noise that I thought would lift the roof off the arena.
After the game, as fans of both teams filed out of the arena, there was an air of excitement and exhilaration. No hint of aggravation, just a collective buzz from what we’d all witnessed.
I was hooked.
Djerv were a team that traditionally bounced between the top two divisions and struggled to compete with the strongest clubs (sound familiar?). However, that year, the team hit a purple patch and made a rare appearance in the post-season. Playing in the knock-out format, which determined the league champions, they would ultimately fall short and lose the third-place play-off match.
A few years later, the team merged with IK Bergen in an attempt to create a more competitive club, befitting Norway’s ‘second city’. The newly formed Bergen/Djerv team established itself in the top division for a few years before going bankrupt. Subsequently, a second merger took place which spawned the Bergen Flyers, which sadly suffered the same fate in 2005.
It’s tempting to draw parallels with Norwich City’s attempts to balance success with financial constraints and sustainability, but that’s not the point of this piece.
That game remains one of my favourite and most enduring sporting memories.
It reminds me of why I first begged my parents to take me to places like Carrow Road and the Bergenshallen.
It wasn’t to dissect a club’s business model, its boardroom decisions, or question the long-term strategy.
It was for the experience.
Which is something that should be available to everyone.
Using today’s terminology, I was a ‘plastic’. A kid with no longstanding allegiance to the team I was supporting. These days, someone would surely find reason to criticise my attendance.
“Where were you, at Storhamar away, in League 2”?
But that doesn’t devalue the experience I had.
Clearly, I didn’t have the same passion or emotional ties as the Djerv ‘ultras’, but I loved every minute and all these years later, here I am, sharing recollections of a game that most will have forgotten.
Investing your support into a team can provide a sense of belonging and identity. But as our connection grows, we find ourselves getting lost in discussions and arguments about things far removed from the sporting action.
The rights and wrongs of booing the team. The alignment of corporate sponsors to club values. The role (and roll) of a drum to generate atmosphere. The presence of a vegetable patch at a training ground.
When sporting performances fail to delight or excite, it’s easy to forget why you first went. The thrill of competition and the shared elation or despair, created in small moments of brilliance or ineptitude.
We’re now saturated with sports coverage across multiple channels and social media. Live action, inside stories, reviews, and analyses, all competing for our attention. Promotional hype designed to increase your subscription or pay to view a specific event.
As any regular to Carrow Road knows, you have to sit through a lot of mediocrity and dross to experience the occasional classic. But those games are made all the sweeter, because of it.
When I spend the weekend channel-hopping and binge-watching sport, it’s in the hope of stumbling across those moments of pure drama and excitement.
It could be a nine-dart leg, a shanked tee shot into the water on a playoff hole, a three-pointer on the buzzer, or a break-away goal down the ice when the goalkeeper has been sacrificed for an extra outfield player.
I’d still draw the line at watching orienteering though.