On the west coast of Norway, spread across the islands of Hessa, Aspøya, Nørvøya and Uksenøya, at the mouth of the Geirangerfjord, lies Ålesund. It is not a large town, or by in the native Norwegian, but it is a place brimming with appeal. Once razed to the ground at the turn of the 20th century by a devastating fire, it was rebuilt not in wood but stone by the finest Norwegian and German architects of the era.
From its colourful townhouses and their turrets and towers, to its harbourside promenades where the streets shake hands with the sea, Ålesund attracts thousands of visitors a year. Amidst its myriad of paved boulevards, one road in particular is home to a special peculiarity.
At the junction where Kaiser Wilhems Gate meets Harald Torviks Plass, you can find the Brooklyn Bar. With its glass front glimmering, there appears nothing untoward about this New York-themed establishment, but head inside and you can find, tucked away in a not-so-quiet corner festooned in red and white, Norway’s only supporter group dedicated to English National League North side, Kidderminster Harriers.
In order to find out how a town nearly 800 miles from Worcestershire became home to The Harriers of Norway, These Football Times spoke to the group’s founder, Lars Andreas Vegsund. “It started off as a funny thing when our old boys team needed a English club that didn’t have a supporter club in Scandinavia because we wanted to attend the yearly supporter cup in 2019.”
Given the popularity of English football in Norway, the Supporters Cup is an important fixture in the calendar. Organised by Supporterunionen for Britisk Fotball (the Supporters Union of British Football), the knockout tournament takes place every year in Oslo and is contested by the various supporter groups of British football teams. Thousands of players and dozens of fan groups are involved, with the 2022 edition seeing Ipswich take the title for the third occasion.
Lars explains, “We just started going down the different leagues on our phones and looked for a team that would stand out. When my mate called out ‘Kidderminster’, I shouted ‘Harriers’ and that was it. I’d played with the Harriers on different football management games through the years and it just seemed right.”
This Saturday night decision between two mates began as a lonely affair but gathered momentum quickly. By the following week, the pair had found five other Norwegians interested in beginning the Harriers of Norway supporters club and subsequently held their first board meeting in the familiar surrounds of the Brooklyn Bar.
Three years later and the Harriers of Norway can boast 191 members throughout the country in locations as diverse as Bergen, Trondheim, Halden, Mo i Rana and, of course, the capital Oslo. And the common thread unites them all: their affection for an English football club that was last in the Football League in 2005.
But, as Lars is keen to impress, supporting the Harriers is part of a larger agenda. “It has become this rebellion against global football. We enjoy getting back to the roots of English football and getting in touch with proper English football fans, which has been an absolutely mind-blowing experience for us so far. It has surpassed all our expectations.”
As the Harriers of Norway grew in size, so too did they grow in ambition. With Kidderminster struggling to escape the clutches of the National League North, opportunities for their Norwegian fans to watch live matches are scarce. Therefore, they rely primarily on BBC Hereford and Worcestershire radio commentary to catch the 3pm kick-off before later projecting the YouTube highlights onto the basement wall of an old factory within which they have constructed a replica of the terraces of Aggborough Stadium.
Lars proudly shows off photographs of what they have dubbed the “Ålesund Aggborough” and even supplies us with a video. In it, the camera takes you on a tour down a short corridor festooned with Harriers memorabilia before opening out into an area that is a near-identical imitation of the North Stand (save for the welcome addition of well-stocked bar positioned in one corner, of course). Members lean against the red railings, pints in hand, bedecked in replica shirts of years gone by, as they watch an enormous projection of the latest match on the whitewashed wall.
It is more than a worthy substitute, but it doesn’t quite hold the same allure as the real experience – one which many of the club’s members have sampled for themselves over the preceding years. “We have been [to England] four times so far, but it would of course have been more if there hadn’t been any COVID,” says Lars. “We are looking to get back two more times this season [2022/2023]. We really want to get an away game, and were really gutted when the Scarborough match was called off, but hopefully soon we can get on that away game coach.”
As for the club itself, they have been extraordinarily accommodating of their Norwegian fans, even going so far as to arrange a Q&A session with their manager Russell Penn, which he hosted from his own kitchen, no less. Then, during a September 2022 tour, the Norwegian supporters were invited to watch first-team training where club captain Shane Byrne presented them with a kit signed by the entire squad.
And the kindness didn’t stop with the club itself; local supporters took the Norwegians to a cricket match after the postponement of Kidderminster’s weekend fixture following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Because of their steadfast devotion to Kiddy, the Harriers of Norway have been the subject of a TV special by Norwegian broadcaster Viaplay, who travelled to Norway’s west coast to witness the Ålesund Aggborough and interview several supporters, with their segment airing ahead of the third round FA cup tie against West Ham – the Harriers’ most high-profile match since their cup run of 2013/14 which culminated in a 1-0 fourth-round loss to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
But when it comes to a hypothetical fixture between Kiddy and his local Norwegian club, Lars is in no doubt as to where his loyalties lie. “Without a doubt, the Harriers. No question. This club and their fans have shown us the true meaning of support and brought us back to our childhood feelings of supporting our ‘own’ team. It has truly been an absolutely amazing experience so far, and I can`t wait to see how far this will take us all.”
Perhaps one day, they will get to witness their beloved English club in the Football League once more, evoking memories of yesteryear when the deep pockets of retail magnate Lionel Newton finally lifted Kidderminster out of non-league for the first time in their history.
The Harriers had won the Conference before in 1993/94 but had been denied entry to Division Three because of stringent fire safety laws implemented in the wake of the fire at Valley Parade that had claimed 56 lives. At the time, Aggborough’s main stand was constructed mostly out of timber, and despite the construction of a new cantilever stand in time for the new season, the Football League rejected the club’s application.
Kidderminster eventually achieved promotion, winning the Conference by nine points in 1999/2000, whereupon they embarked on a four-year stay in the Football League. These were the halcyon days of the Danes, when Jan Mølby held court in Aggborough, ably assisted by star striker “Bomber” Bo Henriksen along with winger Thomas Skovbjerg.
It is a fact not lost on the Scandinavian admirers of today. “I think there has been three playing Danes,” Lars says. “But to have a Norwegian play for Harriers would be a dream come true for us. We can definitely be Harriers’ eyes and ears here in Norway if the right talent shows up!”
As of writing, Kidderminster have no Scandinavians, let alone Norwegians, on their books, and are firmly ensconced in the middle order of the National League North, with promotion or relegation seemingly as unlikely as the other. Despite this, that won’t stop the Harriers of Norway from filling the stands of the Ålesund Aggborough each weekend or taking the short flight across the North Sea to the West Midlands when the opportunity arises.
And who knows, maybe one day Kidderminster Harriers won’t just find success on the pitches of the National League but on the artificial turf in Oslo’s Supporters Cup, too.
By Josh Butler @joshisbutler90
Photo: Express & Star