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From minnows to magic

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What is common between Haugesund, Aalesunds, Odd- teams from the Norwegian top-flight and AS Roma in Serie A? All four teams have been spanked/thumped/smashed/ 6-1 by FK Bodo/Glimt over the past year-and-a-half. The side whose fans carry giant yellow toothbrushes to game since the 1970s.

 

The last one seems a bit of an anomaly, doesn’t it? That is because it happened to the eventual tournament winner, with Jose Mourinho as manager of the Italians. The municipality of Bodo where the team is based has a population of just over 52,000. Stadio Olimpico, the home ground of Roma, can hold more than 70,000.

 

They have gone a step further this season. The former minnows stand on the cusp of UCL qualification, while Roma look forward to Europa League football this season.

FK Bodo/Glimt history

The most striking thing about Bodo/Glimt in terms of the Norwegian footballing landscape is how ordinary they had been before 2019. Founded in 1916, they won their first piece of silverware three years later, being crowned the County Champions of Nordland (the county where Bodo is based).

Bodo/Glimt
Bodo/Glimt, 1963. Image credits: gammel.nfk.no

The next few decades were harsher for the side, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that Bodo/Glimt were one of the most northern teams in the country and thereby close to the Arctic Circle. They won nine North-Norwegian Championships, the last of them coming in 1969 and it was from the ‘70s that they really started making their mark.

Bodo/Glimt and Hitachi
Harald Berg, captain of Bodo/Glimt in 1976. Berg’s grandson, Patrick, is now the vice-captain at the club. Image credits: snl.no

Bodo/Glimt won their first major trophy in 1975- the Norwegian Cup and gained promotion to the top flight in 1976. They immediately proved that they were no outsiders to the game, finishing runners-up in both the league and cup the next year. However, the good times came to an end in 1980 with relegation back to the second division, where they would stay for more than a decade.

 

It took a novice manager in his first coaching role to get Bodo/Glimt out of the doldrums. Trond Sollied was appointed player/manager of the side, leading them to promotion after winning the second division. Once again, on their Tippeligaen debut, Bodo/Glimt finished second but won the Norwegian Cup for the second time in their history.

Bodo/Glimt
Bodo/Glimt players celebrate after winning the 1993 Norwegian Cup. Image credits: aftenposten.no

Their seesaw journey continued with extreme results over the next decade, as they would perform supremely well in one season and dismally the next. Bodo/Glimt finished second in league and cup again in 2003, before getting relegated in 2005. Their fate of yo-yo-ing between the two divisions continued sporadically, with their final promotion win coming in 2017 and since then the results have only gone up with no signs of slowing down as has been their history.

Hardened through discrimination

Before moving on to their spectacular performances over the past two years, it is important to understand how Bodo/Glimt were perceived in Norway for a long time. Teams from the north were not allowed to play in the Norwegian Cup till 1963, and in their maiden campaign, Bodo/Glimt defeated the mighty Rosenborg in the third round.

 

It took nine more years for northern teams to be able to gain promotion to the top flight due to the inane belief that they would not be able to play at the same level as southern teams. However, the rules for the promotion caused even more angst. There were three second divisions, out of which one was for the northern teams.

 

While the winners of the southern divisions gained direct promotion, it was different for the north. The winner from there would not directly qualify for the first division, they would have to compete with the runners-up in the other two divisions before one team goes through. This delayed Bodo/Glimt’s promotion by three years in the mid-’70s, despite winning the cup competition in 1975. From all of this, one can understand how aggrieved they must have felt and why the team is hellbent on making up for the lost years now when they genuinely could have won more.

Breaking through

After finishing 11th in 2018, Bodo/Glimt would suffer a heartbreak the team has grown all too familiar with. They ended up second best to powerhouse Molde in 2019, but the core of the team was already set which reaped rewards later.

 

Bodo/Glimt promoted Kjetil Knutsen to head coach four years ago, who is a spectacular man-manager, revered by everyone in the squad for his attention to the players and prioritizing the overall growth of the team. His expansive style of play is coupled with a high pressing, high possession and consistent game where every player knew his job very well.

Most of their players are homegrown and young- the average age of the league-winning team was 24. Names like Jens Petter Hauge, Kasper Junker, Philip Zinckernagel were the backbone of the side, all three having since left. The 2020 season was historic by all sorts of metrics. Bodo/Glimt scored 103 goals, conceded 32 (giving a positive goal difference of +71) and lost only once in 30 games.

 

They had four players in the top-scorers charts, with Junker netting a league-high 27. The fact that they had done it on a shoestring budget and with the usage of sound tactics on the field made it even more impressive. Moreover, there was the appointment of Bjorn Mannsverk in 2017. The former fighter pilot became the first ‘mental coach’ of a football club in Norway, whose influence has steadily grown with the team.

Bjorn Mannsverk
Bjorn Mannsverk serves as the first mental coach in Norwegian league football. Image credits: altenposten.no

The sessions he conducts are intense and personal, with each player while the squad as a whole meditates before training and discusses their emotions in a very open manner. It can be seen when Bodo/Glimt concedes a goal- the players may sometimes come together to discuss what went wrong before going back to start anew.

 

These are the kind of differentiators that has helped the minnows become an overnight sensation in Europe, though the blueprints had been in place for a long time.

No looking back

Having been gutted by bigger fish, Bodo still managed to exceed expectations. They retained the league title last year and with that, got another crack at UCL this year.

Although the last season wasn’t as groundbreaking as the one before, it showed that the club also has the mental fortitude to get the job done when they’re not at their best. They scored just 59 goals in 30 games as they won the league title by finishing three points ahead of Molde. Having beaten Dinamo Zagreb 1-0 in the first leg of the UCL playoff, a historic place in the competition awaits the upstarts.

 

The remarkable consistency in team selection helps Bodo/Glimt play their natural game no matter the opponents in front of them. The team that had to go through all kinds of obstacles to get here is showing no signs of letting go without a proper fight, and though they are resigned to the fact that their top players will eventually leave once again- the spirit of this new age team will not.

Ratul Ghosh
His name means Red and a fan of devilish food, which equals to his favourite team being Manchester United. Can be found sleeping or in front of the TV otherwise. Hates waking up early but loves staying up late for football.

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