'Forget Manchester United and Liverpool, the real fans are at Fratton Park' - Meet the Norwegian boss who supports Portsmouth
Motivational mantras adorn FK Haugesund’s dressing room, their content noticeably lacking native Norwegian tongue.
The Eliteserien side are managed by club legend Jostein Grindhaug, yet messages of inspiration daubed across the walls are delivered in English – while Pompey occupies his heart.
Never one for convention, in his youth he broke away from forging customary affiliation with either Liverpool, Manchester United or Leeds.
Amid a nation which savours the Premier League, Grindhaug opted to follow the fortunes of a south-coast club outside the top flight.
At the time managed by Alan Ball during his second Fratton Park spell in the late 1990s, the Blues signified an unusual footballing choice for the then-Haugesund midfielder.
Indeed, Venner av Portsmouth – Pompey's official supporters’ club in Scandinavia – consists of just 107 fans. Of which Grindhaug is member number 11.
Still, the 47-year-old remains a passionate follower, on one occasion electing to wear his prized Pompey shirt in a press conference, while is often spotted parading in it around the club.
The manager of one of Norway’s leading teams has no interest in covering up his footballing allegiances.
Grindhaug told The News: ‘Norwegian people are connected to English football. It is huge over here.
‘It started with matches from the top league being shown since the 1970s. Norwegian TV had only one channel and they would broadcast English football at 4pm every Saturday afternoon.
‘That’s how English football was introduced into our country. Our family would sit together and watch one match a week, which meant the most popular clubs in Norway were the biggest in England.
‘Over the years they have been Manchester United, because of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Liverpool, while Leeds had a good team when they started broadcasting in the 1970s. These days you also have Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City too.
‘Not me, though. I didn’t want to be mainstream. Pompey were quite good at the end of the 90s and Alan Ball was the manager. It started like a protest against the big teams – and was a bonus when we became good.
‘Milan Mandaric came in, so it was a period in which there was much happening. It was a lot of fun.
‘There’s not many Pompey fans in Norway, to be honest, but I joined the supporters’ club a long time ago. We are part of the Blue Army.
‘I appreciate good football as well, so I would watch Arsenal games on TV when they were going strong, as well as United at their best and City and Liverpool these days. Well, I like football.
‘Pompey were like that too around 2008 and after. You could watch Harry Redknapp’s team on television and they were winning many matches, including the FA Cup. Unfortunately in later years it has been a team in the Valley of the Shadows.
‘But I will always support Pompey, that’s my club. It’s a down-to-earth club and I can relate to it, especially being at Haugesund, which is similar.
‘Pompey represent those who work hard, which is the soul of the game. It’s my club.’
Haugesund drew 1-1 against Eliteserien rivals Viking Stravanger on Wednesday, signifying their final summer friendly.
The Norwegian season ended in December with a seven-placed finish, while were runners-up in the Norwegian Cup. However, the new campaign’s traditional March/April start was put back following the coronavirus pandemic.
The country reported 8,588 cases and just 239 deaths, ensuring the season now begins on June 17, with a home game at Haugesund Stadion against SK Brann.
Incidentally, the whole of Norway registered 10 more deaths than the 229 so far recorded at Portsmouth’s QA Hospital.
Now in his second spell as Haugesund boss, Grindhaug oversaw progress to the third round of the Europa League last season, before eliminated 1-0 on aggregate by PSV Eindhoven in August.
Ahead of that prestigious fixture, he famously wore a Pompey shirt while interviewed on Norwegian television.
It was a cherished gift from Blues followers Jake Payne, Steve O’Shea and Chris Paige, following a 2018 visit to Haugesund – when a stadium tour was conducted by the manager himself.
Grindhaug added: ‘Why shouldn’t I wear it in front of the media? I am proud to be seen in that shirt. It’s the nicest shirt I have!
‘For that interview, I almost got fined by the club because I didn’t wear the right clothes. No, I’m joking, I wear my Pompey shirt whenever I want to.
‘I am proud of it, I wear it around the club. I’m a Pompey fan.
‘Some supporters came over from England and I gave them a tour of our ground. They also watched us train - and handed me this shirt. I really appreciated it, I am proud of it. I gave them each a Haugesund scarf to show my thanks.
‘Do you know what, I recently went away for two days with my coaching staff for a strategy meeting and took my Pompey shirt with me.
‘Of course they know who Pompey are!’
Grindhaug lists Robert Prosinecki, David James and Sol Campbell as his favourite Pompey players through the years, while Redknapp stands out among those to have managed the club.
As Haugesund’s sporting director, he signed Erik Huseklepp in 2017 for a season-long spell. Inevitably talk turned to the former Norwegian international’s Blues career, which consisted of 28 appearances and six goals.
Grindhaug has his own Fratton Park memories, namely a 3-2 defeat to Accrington Stanley in December 2013 upon his first and – to date – only visit to watch a Pompey home fixture.
He added: ‘On TV in Norway, they now show lots of English football, but it’s a bit more difficult now we’re in League One or League Two.
‘I rarely see Pompey these days, but I did watch the FA Cup match with Arsenal and always follow the scores on a Norwegian phone app, which is very good.
‘The only time I’ve visited Fratton Park was in 2013. A friend of mine at Haugesund knew Steve Coppell, who was Pompey’s director of football at the time. So when my friend went over to visit Mr Coppell, I joined him.
‘The match was against Accrington. I was introduced to Richie Barker and the players and we had dinner at the club before the game. I also sat in the directors’ box.
‘Unfortunately we lost, which is not what I had hoped. The atmosphere was fantastic, though, which is what I expected. To get a noise like that in League Two most be unheard of.
‘Then after the game I went down and had a pint with the two managers, which was Richie and James Beattie. It’s very different to Norway!
‘I have stayed in contact with Mr Coppell even when he was working in India for a few years. We email sometimes.
‘I will definitely go back to Pompey. I have been to many games in England over the years, but Fratton Park has what I search for – an atmosphere.
‘I went with my children some months ago to watch Liverpool, my whole family are Liverpool apart from me. I’ve also been to Manchester United, but they are more tourist stadiums. You don’t have that feeling they are real supporters.
‘Real fans are those you meet at Fratton Park. All credit to the Blue Army – you have to give them my regards and tell them to keep up the good work.’
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