Norway's family affair
The game is buoyant in this part of Scandinavia, and is being enjoyed by the whole family.
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Football in Norway can be traced back to 1902 when representatives from the clubs Grane Nordstrand, FC Lyn Oslo and Spring founded the Norwegian Football Association (Norges Fotballforbund – NFF). From these humble beginnings the game has grown massively in popularity over the last century.
Norway's international debut came in 1908 against neighbours Sweden. Despite the huge fillip of scoring within a minute, they were brought down to earth with a bump as Sweden ran out 11-3 winners. It would take the Norwegians ten years to break their duck: beating Denmark in 1918.
If that 3-1 victory over the Danes brought relief, Norway's first major highlight came at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Here they defeated the German hosts and favourites 2-0, before overcoming Poland 3-2 in a third-place play-off. That side is still remembered as the famous 'bronze team'.
Over the next 50 years Norway had only limited international success, registering a handful of notable results. A 3-1 triumph against Sweden in 1960, a 4-3 win over Scotland in 1963 and a memorable 2-1 scalp of England in FIFA World Cup qualifying in 1981, stand out, yet more consistent performances were needed.
The 1990s saw progress in this area. The national team qualified for the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cups, and in the latter tournament in France sensationally beat holders Brazil 2-1 to reach the last 16. They also made their UEFA European Championship final tournament bow in 2000. Sadly, qualification for the 2002 World Cup and UEFA EURO 2004 eluded them, though they have shown themselves capable of getting results.
Women's football has also soared in popularity during the last 30 years. It is now Norway's No1 female sport with 80,000 active players. The achievements of the national side merely reflect the elevated status that the game enjoys. They took gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the FIFA Women's World Cup in 1995 and the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO in both 1987 and 1993. Not content with boosting adult participation, however, the NFF has also expended much energy over the last 25 years in promoting soccer among children.
Using scientific studies to analyse and assess children's attitudes towards football, the NFF introduced changes that encouraged youngsters to persevere with the game. For example, team sizes were reduced from 11 players to seven which had a positive effect, and now the NFF has the highest membership figures among adults and children of either sex of any organisation in Norway. Its motto is 'Football for all': an all-inclusive football family open to everybody, irrespective of race, gender, colour or background.
With such solid foundations, the goal of the NFF is to increase further the number of people practising the sport. There are currently 325,000 players, a figure which makes Norway one of Europe's top footballing countries per head of population. Moreover, 60,000 volunteers and 20,000 coaches help run the game. These players constitute 20,000 teams from 1,800 clubs in 18 district associations, and each year approximately 20,000 people attend one of the association's many courses. This all adds up to a sport in good health, and with a bright future.