The houses of Bergen’s Bryggen remind me of home in Providence, Rhode Island, except the houses are a little bit (!) older—Bergen was established before 1070! The quay and fish market are picturesque and I imagine how difficult it must have been for my great grandmother to have left the city for the New World so many years ago. The girl working at tourist information is as helpful as her smile is bright as I listen to her give directions to the Brann Stadion. My options are tram, or to walk along the tram line for 45 minutes. I go for the latter—after all, walking is the only true way to understand a city.
I head out of the city center, passing the train station and the bus station, and eventually find myself on the side of a small highway. Hairdressers, pizza parlours, and grocery stores selling six dollar bottles of water are what dot the landscape as the urban commercial districts give way to residential sections of the town. This is where the tram stop “Brann Stadion” is located, but there is no stadium in sight. Just toy-like wooden houses built in the European manner. That’s what happens when a team is as old as Brann. The team soon becomes one with the community, entrenched and camouflaged between the homes. I hope it never changes, and from the looks of it things seem to be going well. Brann were founded in 1908 and they have called the 17,686 capacity Brann Stadion home since 1919. The fact that the stadium itself is the brainchild of a single man and was completed with funds donated by supporters goes to show the awesome results possible when an individual’s vision combines with community support.
The directions from a local grocery store send me down a residential street, denizens staring at me like an alien—but by now I’m used to being stared at, its just part of the jersey adventure. Once I find the stadium I make my way to the store by instinct (its usually around the next curve).
Inside the store I ask for prices—Its 700 Norwegian Kroner for this year’s shirt but 350 for last years. At 60 US dollars, its almost a bargain. Almost, but I’m trying to save some money where I can. In trying on the long-sleeved shirt and trying to decide between a European Large and US Large (I never knew they were different sizes) I end up falling in conversation with Tonje, the proprietor. She assures me that the European large fits best by saying “I know a lot about football shirt sizes”. I can’t help but tell her that I know a lot myself. It comes with the territory, after all.
“What do you do with 400 shirts?” she asks me with an incredulous look on her face after I finish explaining.
“I wear them. I suppose its kind of like Gatsby,” I say laughing as the conversation flows to the countries I’ve visited, the stadiums I’ve seen, and the jerseys I’ve worn. In turn Tonje tells me how she’s become like a mother to the players after working at the team so long—they call her about starting and not starting and all the other tribulations that come with being a professional footballer.
Since I’m so interested in shirts I get a small history lesson: The anthem of the city of Bergen is written inside the collar below a design of the seven hills of Bergen; it is written in an old form of Norwegian—a hybrid of modern Norwegian and Danish. She tells me that the fans sing this anthem in unison at every home match, and that I need to come to see it—the atmosphere is like a Latin match.
I explain that I know a bit about “atmosphere”—I talk about Turkey and last year’s Scandinavian derby in Stockholm. We walk to the front of the store and she shows me something that is admittedly cute. It’s an infant jersey, made by Hummel and it looks just like the real thing—except it’s a onesie, complete with buttons. Apparently the bond between Brann and their fans is so strong in Bergen that people will stop by the shop immediately after leaving the nearby hospital so as to cement their newborns in Brann’s culture of fandom. I feel like this is what football is all about, its ability to transcend sport and become a culture in and of itself. My need to support this grassroots culture makes me grab a two pack of pacifiers from the rack as a present for my friends who just had their first child last November. Life goes on as Tonje and I continue our talk about life.
She assures me that she can find me a matchworn shirt signed by the players, so I ask for her business card in the event that I ever return to my ancestral homeland.
“Ahh, there are no business cards—the economy is so bad, that no one is buying anything”, she says as she rearranges items on her desk.
“Well, if a water costs a small fortune its normal for no one to be buying anything!” I say laughing, raising my empty bottle (I haven’t been able to part with it). She then writes her email and name on someone else’s business card and gives it to me. I feel like the hangman at the gallows as I take the card, and hesitantly take out my wallet—after an hour of scintillating conversation I’m looking at a bill over one hundred dollars. As I take out my wallet she stops me.
“No—I cannot take money from you. It is my present.”
“What?” Im genuinely surprised. “No, no that’s not possible. Please”. I feel like a Turk at the end of a long night, haggling with friends over the bill.
“No, you are one of the crazy people. I like that. Every year we have one or two like you who come by, people who either collect shirts or visit stadiums.”
It isn’t the first time I’ve been called crazy and it certainly won’t be the last but I’m not sure how to react and I suppose my face exudes confusion. Tonje elaborates.
“Don’t be offended—crazy is not a bad thing. If you’re not a little crazy it means you’re dumb.”
Now these are the sanest words I’ve heard in a long time.
“I’ll try to come back for a match,” I say, still numb from the generosity and true feelings I have encountered in Norway.
“Inşallah,” says Tonje.
“Inşallah is right! You know Turkish?”
“Az Türkçe biliyorum,” she says and my mind only gets number.
“Now please go, or I will talk to you all day and won’t be able to do my job!” she says laughing as the phone rings. “That’s the team, they’re calling from Oslo.”
“Ok, go for it. Thank you again!” I say it simply, waving my hand, since I have no words left. Then I turn and stagger out into the bright summer sun, my head spinning but jersey–and a true love for Norway and its people–acquired.
My unending thanks to Tonje for her generosity since this is indeed a beautiful piece. Hummel are known for their unique designs, and this is no different. The denim-like grey is stunning, and the chevrons down the arms made the long sleeve version the obvious choice. Another interesting detail is that the shirt was actually designed by a football shirt designer who is a member of Football Fashion. Haute couture in a way I suppose.