Erik Huseklepp: 'I came back to Portsmouth for my Stag Do. It's a special place and always in my heart'

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The destination had been kept strictly under wraps from the groom. A weekend Stag Do abroad, taking in a football match and sampling the local nightlife at an address unknown.

Regardless of the secrecy, guest of honour Erik Huseklepp guessed what his friends had in store after joining the nine-strong party at the Norwegian airport - a return to his beloved Pompey.

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It had been more than a decade since the affectionately-named Erik The Viking plundered six goals in 28 appearances during a tumultuous season.

Expecting to challenge for promotion to the Premier League, the £1.5m recruit instead ended the campaign on loan at Birmingham against his wishes, with crisis-hit Pompey in administration and plummeting towards League One.

Erik Huseklepp celebrates scoring against Blackpool in February 2012 - it proved to be his last for Pompey. Picture: Steve ReidErik Huseklepp celebrates scoring against Blackpool in February 2012 - it proved to be his last for Pompey. Picture: Steve Reid
Erik Huseklepp celebrates scoring against Blackpool in February 2012 - it proved to be his last for Pompey. Picture: Steve Reid | Steve Reid

Nonetheless, other than home-town club Brann, that 2011-12 spell represents the favourite times of a career which also brought international recognition.

Well aware of Huseklepp’s deep attachment to the south coast, his two best men believed Portsmouth to be a fitting Stag Do destination in November 2022, taking in a goalless Fratton Park draw with Derby and spending two Gunwharf evenings toasting the groom.

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For the 39-year-old, it was the perfect send off ahead of his May 2023 wedding.

‘Pompey has a special place in my heart and, of course, it helps that the fans still remember me, even though I was there a very short time,’ Huseklepp told The News.

‘I really liked the city and the club, I used to live in Gunwharf, so it was perfect for my bachelor party - even though they never told me.

‘My two best men had kept the destination a secret, but it was during the international break, the Premier League and Championship weren’t playing and I knew Pompey were at home. So I guessed - they chose right too.

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‘I’ve been back a few times since I left. Other than Brann, this was the favourite time of my career, no doubt about it.

Erik Huseklepp watched Pompey's goalless draw with Derby in November 2022 as part of his Stag Do. Picture: Jason Brown/ProSportsImagesErik Huseklepp watched Pompey's goalless draw with Derby in November 2022 as part of his Stag Do. Picture: Jason Brown/ProSportsImages
Erik Huseklepp watched Pompey's goalless draw with Derby in November 2022 as part of his Stag Do. Picture: Jason Brown/ProSportsImages | Jason Brown/ProSportsImages

‘Of my team-mates at Pompey that season, most lived in London, but that was never an option for me, I wanted to live in Portsmouth, so I did.

‘I wanted to feel the atmosphere, I wanted to be a part of a culture and a club. For me to perform at the best level, I want to live where I’m playing. That meant something to me.

‘It’s perfectly okay if other people think differently about that, but for me it was never an option to live somewhere else. I was supposed to play for Pompey and I wanted to live in Portsmouth. It probably helps to connect.

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‘So to come back with my friends was special. Even though it wasn’t a great game against Derby, the atmosphere was good - and it was great to be back.’

Handed welcome financial muscle following the arrival of Convers Sports Initiatives as owners in June 2011, boss Steve Cotterill immediately launched a recruitment drive.

Transfer fees were spent on Jason Pearce, Luke Varney, Stephen Henderson and Greg Halford to bolster the Championship side.

Yet it was the August 2011 arrival of Huseklepp which would represent the most costly, with the Blues splashing out £1.5m to land the Bari winger and Norwegian international.

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He added: ‘I’d played 14 games in Serie A after arriving at Bari half-way through that season (2010-11), but it was a very difficult time.

‘They were struggling in the table and I had an agreement that, should the club be relegated, I could move on. We finished bottom.

Pompey celebrate Erik Huseklepp's first goal against Peterborough in January 2012. Picture: PAPompey celebrate Erik Huseklepp's first goal against Peterborough in January 2012. Picture: PA
Pompey celebrate Erik Huseklepp's first goal against Peterborough in January 2012. Picture: PA | PA Wire/Press Association Images

‘I was on a pre-season camp with Bari in the Italian mountains when I first heard of Pompey’s interest - and it was something I really wanted to do. My ambition was to play in Italy and England, now this was my chance.

‘They were a club known to me, having had a lot of success in the Premier League, and now had a rich owner with plans to get back there. It interested me, something I had to be involved in.

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‘When I was close to joining, some Italian papers ran stories saying Southampton were also interested, but it was news to me. My agent never mentioned such interest, it was just newspaper talk.

‘Arriving at Fratton Park, it seemed realistic to aim for the Premier League. A lot of good players were there, maybe too many the wrong age, but the level of the players was quite good.

‘I know Steve Cotterill is quite tough and people have different views on him, but for me he was a very good manager because you never had to wonder what he was thinking about.

‘He was always direct - today you played a good game, today you were not so good. For me that’s the best type of manager, the honest ones, just talk like it is. He’s a tough guy, but always so honest, which is a good quality.

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‘Cotterill was a good manager, a lot better than Michael Appleton. I didn’t think the club was going in the right direction after he came along.

‘I never found it difficult to settle into English football. Maybe it took two games, but I understood how to play, being on your toes at all times. The Championship was really high tempo at that time, although these days maybe the skill level is a bit better. 

‘Back then some teams were only looking for a fight. There were games difficult to play, it was fight, fight, fight, with the ball in the air, but a lot of matches had a nice tempo.

‘I adjusted fine and scored in my fifth appearance, which came against Blackpool. It’s always easy when the manager believes in you- and Steve Cotterill did.’

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Erik Huseklepp celebrates his 94th-minute winner against Peterborough at Fratton Park in September 2011. Picture: PAErik Huseklepp celebrates his 94th-minute winner against Peterborough at Fratton Park in September 2011. Picture: PA
Erik Huseklepp celebrates his 94th-minute winner against Peterborough at Fratton Park in September 2011. Picture: PA | PA Wire/Press Association Images

The Blues were languishing 18th in the Championship ahead of the September 2011 visit of the Tangerines, when a moment of magic from their Norwegian earned a dramatic victory.

With the game still goalless in the 94th minute, a long throw from the right skimmed off the top of a Blackpool defender’s head and bounced once in front of the winger, some 10 yards from goal.

Pompey’s number 10 cleverly adjusted his body and connected with a flying volley which flew into the far top corner of the net to secure a 1-0 triumph in front of a crowd of 14,935.

It was one of six goals in 28 appearances that season as Huseklepp swiftly established himself as a popular figure among Blues supporters.

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He said: ‘I developed a very good relationship with the fans early on. They liked how I played - I was quick, direct and had some goals that people remembered, certainly that Blackpool one.

‘By that stage of the game my legs were so tired, that’s why I took that shot the way I did.

‘I’m the kind of player that would get the ball and take people on. Even in that situation I could see myself doing that - if I had the strength that is! So instead I decided to hit it first time, aiming for the far corner and hoping for the best.

‘I smashed it and it was a feeling I will never forget. I had planned to show unity should we score, so ran over to the substitutes’ bench and we celebrated there, that was a really good moment.

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‘I did well against Blackpool that season. We went there in February 2012 with a huge away following of 1,400, I found that incredible for such a long distance. We were struggling financially and the fans wanted to protest in this televised game.

‘I opened the scoring with a turn and shot in the first half, then ran towards the fans for my celebration. But a week later we entered administration and it was about saving costs, which meant me.’

Huseklepp, skipper Liam Lawrence and Hayden Mullins all lined-up against Ipswich in a 1-0 defeat in February 2012, but the trio were soon forced to leave Fratton Park - albeit on loan.

Under administrators PKF and Trevor Birch, Lawrence moved to Cardiff, Mullins went to Reading and Huseklepp headed to Birmingham, with the arrangements bringing in loan fees to boost the financially-challenged club.

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Huseklepp tries to find a way through against Watford at Fratton Park in January 2012. Picture: Allan HutchingsHuseklepp tries to find a way through against Watford at Fratton Park in January 2012. Picture: Allan Hutchings
Huseklepp tries to find a way through against Watford at Fratton Park in January 2012. Picture: Allan Hutchings | Allan Hutchings

Michael Appleton subsequently supplemented his shrinking squad by bringing in Manchester City youngsters Luca Scapuzzi and Karim Rekik, along with Derby’s Chris Maguire, all on loan.

Yet, coupled with a 10-point deduction for entering administration, the Blues were relegated from the Championship in April 2012, with one match to spare.

Huseklepp added: ‘I never understood. Surely it costs more to get relegated to League One than keeping the players and staying up?

‘We had big financial problems, the administrator wanted to get rid of the costs, but I wouldn’t have had an issue taking a salary reduction to try to help the club stay up.

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‘If Michael Appleton had suggested that to me, I would have done it to help the club. But he told me to go to Birmingham, he told me to leave. I never got the feeling he was particularly happy with me as a player.

‘I have a strong feeling he wanted to bring in players he knew, that was the real reason. If it was Steve Cotterill he would never have told me to leave, he got me, and I’m quite sure he would have told me to stay despite the financial issues.

‘You never know, I could have kept Pompey up, I was playing well, I could have helped. We were 18th before the points deduction, had we kept those players we may have stayed up, who knows?’

Despite returning to Fratton Park in May 2012 at the end of his Birmingham loan, Huseklepp never played for Pompey again.

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The Blues’ dire financial situation dictated a first-team fire sale, while those unable to be offloaded had to be removed by mutual consent, involving the tearing up of their contracts.

In the case of Huseklepp, there was interest from former club Brann, who paid an undisclosed fee for the winger in July 2012.

Signalling the 10th Pompey departure of the summer, he was soon followed by Kanu, Dave Kitson, Tal Ben Haim and Lawrence as the entire senior squad departed.

He added: ‘I could have gone to Blackpool, Ian Holloway was a bit interested, but I just wanted to go back home.

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‘Relegation meant Pompey were now in League One and I still had ambitions to play for the national team. I couldn’t have stayed, if I had I wouldn’t be in Norway’s team any more. It’s a choice I had to take for my career.

‘As it turned out, the club needed all the players to leave anyway.

‘I thought I was getting better and better at Pompey. I scored six times and had a few assists as well, but should have scored more. For a winger, that number of goals is okay, but I should have had 8-9, then I would have been happy.

Erik Huseklepp was forced to go on loan to Birmingham in February 2012 with Pompey in administration and struggling financially. Picture: Empics SportErik Huseklepp was forced to go on loan to Birmingham in February 2012 with Pompey in administration and struggling financially. Picture: Empics Sport
Erik Huseklepp was forced to go on loan to Birmingham in February 2012 with Pompey in administration and struggling financially. Picture: Empics Sport | EMPICS Sport

‘Still, it’s really nice to see them back in the Championship now and I hope the club has ambitions of returning to the Premier League. The Premier League deserves to have those kinds of passionate fans.’

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In January 2022, Huseklepp was appointed assistant coach at Brann, working alongside Eirik Horneland, his former manager.

They won the Norwegian First Division in their first season and last term finished second in the Eliteserien, losing out on qualification for the Conference League following a 6-5 penalty shoot-out defeat to AZ Alkmaar.

The current season began in April, with Brann presently in second position, separated from leaders Bodo/Glimt by goal difference after 13 matches.

Although despite his coaching commitments, the 39-year-old hasn’t quite yet hung up his boots.

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He said: ‘I always had plans to work inside football, but didn’t know which type of role I would take.

‘I have a really good relationship with the manager. In my short time at Haugesund I really liked working for him. and, since coming to Brann, we have enjoyed very good success.

‘I retired from playing at the age of 35, but occasionally play for Vadmyra for a bit of fun. It’s one of the clubs I grew up in, a fifth or sixth level team, it’s not a professional club, not many are in Norway.

‘I started two years ago because they were in danger of relegation, so I offered to help - and we stayed in the league. I never train with them, I just play some games when I can.

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‘I still enjoy football, it remains so much fun. I’m passionate about it, Pompey fans are passionate about it too, when I was there they reminded me of Brann and I loved that, I loved their affection for the game, they really care.

‘You don’t find that everywhere and that’s probably what hit me most about my time at Fratton Park. Those passionate fans - it really was wonderful.’

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