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63 DEGREES NORTH

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I’ve always been fascinated by the far north. I spend most of my holidays in north- west Sutherland and Shetland so when the draw for the UEFA Champions League Qualifier paired the Hoops with Rosenborg BK of Trondheim (a city sitting at a latitude to the north of the Faroes and just a hair south of Iceland), I didn’t take long to decide that I fancied the trip. The likely absence of any headbangers amongst the locals and the feeling I had that the tie would be an extremely tight affair sealed the deal.

As I mulled over the logistics, into my in-box fell an email from CP inviting premium season ticket holders to fly out on the team charter. Kind of pricey but what the heck … fifteen minutes later I had booked myself a seat on the same plane as Broony & Co.

The flight from Glasgow took a couple of hours but seemed much less as I luxuriated in my leather seat whilst tackling a tray of quinoa, salmon and fresh fruit – decent scran, and no doubt all part of Brendan’s drive for “24 hour athletes”. Good to see that this extends to the support as well!

As we left Trondheim Airport, we passed four large white letters on a nearby hillside. The letters and their setting were reminiscent of the sign that spells out the word Hollywood in the Santa Monica mountains overlooking Los Angeles. The letters on the hillside above Trondheim Airport also spelled out a word beginning with H but this time it was H-E-L-L. Turns out that Hell is a small village near the airport but this was not an auspicious start to a trip where the team had no sort of lead to defend.

I was handed my hotel room key on the bus (a nice touch, eliminating the aggravation of check in) and made my way to my room at the Scandic Nidelven hotel, overlooking the Nidelva river in the centre of Trondheim. I wandered out into the town and was struck by three things: the cleanliness and pleasing aesthetics of Trondheim, the unfailing politeness and impeccable English of the locals and … a total absence of Celtic fans the night before a game! There were only half a dozen of us on the team flight. Surely reinforcements would arrive …

Game day dawned and any concerns I might have had regarding support for the Bhoys were swiftly allayed: the East Kilbride Shamrock had made an early start at Café Dublin on Kongens Gate whilst the Starry Plough and others had taken up residence in some of the trendy bars and cafes lining the waterfront outside the up-market Solsiden Shopping Centre.

But I was determined not to spend the entire day imbibing Murphy’s so I headed to the Nidaros Cathedral for a dose of culture. Built from 1070 to 1300, it is the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world and is the burial site of Saint Olav, the Viking king of Norway in the 11th century and now the country’s patron saint.

It is truly impressive and, having ascended the 172 steps to the top of the cathedral tower, I was rewarded with some stunning views over Trondheim and the adjoining fjord.
In the distance, the Lerkandal Stadion beckoned and soon it was time to head for the ground. The high stands generate an intimidating atmosphere … a crowd of 21000 making a din worthy of at least twice that number.

 Rosenborg’s ultras occupied the top tier of the Adressa Stand at the eastern end of the ground. They were noisy all right and in full voice an hour before kick-off. The place was bouncing.
I felt uneasy as a giant screen flashed the word “NEMESIS” (part of an Adidas advertisement) before kick-off but this was to be a highly satisfactory evening for the Hoops and the 300 or so who had made their way across the North Sea. When Forrest fired past Hansen with twenty minutes to go, there was momentary disbelief amongst those around me as we watched the ball carom into the roof of the net. Jamesie’s first touch had taken him wide and it seemed almost impossible to score from the position in which he found himself.

No problems outside the ground as we walked straight through the home support in order to get back to the bus. And no problems at the airport either as we were dropped off right at the steps of the plane. If only travel was always this easy! Touch down in Glasgow at 3am and into the office six hours later. What a trip! A quick glance at the Herald’s sport section reassured me that I hadn’t imagined it all. And as Brendan said to us on the way home: “It’s now two down, one to go”.

Written for CQN by David Sleight.

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