Exploring Scandinavia’s love affair with Liverpool Football Club

Scouse. The universal term to describe a person, style of music, or particular attitude distinct to the city of Liverpool. More specifically, it pertains to a meat and potato stew renowned in the region. Yet the dish itself was not invented in Liverpool, but imported by Norwegian sailors during the 18th century. Lapskaus is where the term ‘Scouse’ originates from and this culinary link is one of the many deep-rooted connections between Liverpool and Scandinavia – a special relationship encapsulated by the Nordic countries’ love affair with Liverpool Football Club.

On Park Lane, in Liverpool’s bustling Baltic Triangle, one can find the impressive Gustav Adolf Church, originally built for Nordic sailors on their voyage to the New World between 1883 and 1884. It’s a potent architectural symbol of the long-standing ties between Liverpool and Scandinavia which endure to this day.

There are no precise figures available, but it’s fair to say Liverpool’s Nordic fan base has exploded over the past 50 years. By 2014, a survey of 13,000 Premier League fans in Sweden found that 34.1% supported the Reds, making them by far the most popular English club at the time – although the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Manchester United in 2016 is likely to have shifted the balance somewhat.

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Nonetheless, Norway, Sweden and Denmark represent hot spots of the Liverpool diaspora, while the fondness for the club also extends beyond Scandinavia and into nearby Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

The primary reason for such an agglomeration of Liverpool supporters throughout these countries is the broadcasting of English football by state-owned television companies throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the richest period of success in the club’s history.

It was during this era that the Norwegian state television company, Tippekampen, along with its Swedish (Tipsextra) and Danish (Tips Lørdag) counterparts, began showing one English top-flight game per week, while a similar scheme operated in Finland. Liverpool’s exciting brand of football and ensuing success made them a regular pick for the broadcast slot, and tuning in for matches became a ritual for many.

“It became a huge success,” explains Norwegian supporter Marius Sletten. “People were stuck to their TV screens every Saturday when the football was on. Since Liverpool had their success in this era, a lot of people fell in love with the club. From then on, LFC has been super popular.”

By the early 1990s, the countries’ respective governments began to sell their football coverage to new commercial channels, but by this point the Scandinavian fascination with Liverpool had become deeply ingrained. For many young adult supporters today, their affiliation is credited to their fathers who inspired their offspring to follow the club having witnessed the glory days themselves, keen to pass the connection on to the next generation.

While family tradition can therefore be seen as the catalyst for today’s wave of Scandinavian Liverpool supporters, the legacies of multiple players from the region also helped to pique the interest of younger fans. Håvard Øien, from Oslo, cites one figure in particular for inspiring his passion for Liverpool.

“As a Norwegian, it was huge when John Arne Riise signed for the club in 2001,” he explains. “I remember that Liverpool got a lot more media attention over here when Riise joined. That made it easier for a young lad to follow the club. As a fellow Scandinavian, I also felt proud when Daniel Agger signed for the club.”

“Liverpool have had some really talented players from Scandinavia over the years,” says Swedish supporter Adam Petersson, making a similar case. “Sweden is not the biggest football country, so we’re really proud of Glenn Hysén, for example.”

Likewise, Danish fan Theis Tolkamp considers Jan Mølby and Agger to be figures of national pride, while he also acknowledges how Christian Eriksen and Kasper Schmeichel have fostered a growing interest in Tottenham and Leicester across the country.

Perhaps the most interesting case study, however, is Finland, a country which historically bridged the geographical and cultural divide between Scandinavia and the Soviet Union.

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Mika Suonsyrjä, who has supported the club for 27 years, explains why the Reds are so popular among his countrymen and women: “Following Istanbul in 2005, a generation of younger Finnish Liverpool supporters became known as ‘SamiPool’ supporters – inspired by Sami Hyypiä, along with Jari Litmanen in the early 2000s. From that point, Liverpool games were always chosen for coverage in Finland.”

Litmanen arrived at Liverpool as a bona fide superstar following his previous exploits at Ajax and Barcelona, but he never quite lived up to expectations at Anfield. He and Hyypia – who goes down in history as one of the club’s greatest ever signings – won 12 consecutive Finnish Footballer of the Year awards between 1992 and 2003, with the latter winning another four before his retirement. Nations like Finland don’t boast a glut of footballing icons, so the fact that two of their highest profile players spent time at Liverpool naturally drew many of its citizens to the Merseyside outfit.

Riise, Agger and Hyypiä all won major trophies at Anfield, which helped cement the interest which originally emerged in the 1970s and ’80s – particularly after the Reds claimed their fifth European Cup with victory over Milan in 2005.

There is a tendency among some to consider foreign supporters intrinsically inferior; their support less authentic than the core of locals who live in the city and attend games at Anfield on a weekly basis. Recent protests over ticket costs and the consequent pricing out of some fans has coincided with debates about the apparent dissipation of Anfield’s famous atmosphere, all of which have produced a backlash against ‘tourists’ and ‘day-trippers’.

Far from diluting local traditions and polluting Liverpool’s rich socio-cultural heritage, however, Scandinavian supporters recognise and celebrate the history and values of the club. There are several cultural similarities between Liverpool and the Nordic countries which further enhance their relationship, most notably the prominence of socialist ideologies.

“I started visiting Liverpool for the first time and I felt like these people were like Icelandic people, only from a different country,” Icelander Oli Juliusson confirms. “The people of Liverpool were my people: working class, proud of their heritage and, at the same time, citizens of the world. We are people moulded by hard work and hard weather.”

Clark James, founder of the ‘LFC Denmark Family’ Facebook page, which boasts over 30,000 followers, insists supporting Liverpool is about far more than simply following a football team for 90 minutes every week.

“I think it’s very important to understand the history of the club and the culture of the city to really get what the club is all about,” he says.

“After what the city went through during the Thatcher regime in the ’70s and ’80s, it fought long and hard and stood together. This unity was only made stronger after Hillsborough. In Denmark we can really relate to this ‘us against everyone else’ mentality that Liverpool has. We have a history of standing up for each other and caring about our values. I think it’s very similar to the Scouse mentality.”

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“Derbies against Manchester United are so much more than just a game of football between the two most successful English teams,” says Jonathan Lautmann from Stockholm. “It’s effectively a derby between two cities competing with each other since the industrial revolution.”

The depth of appreciation for the wider aspects of the club and the city is clear to see, with Scandinavian supporters believing they have a certain obligation to respect Liverpool’s local core.

“I would never want the club to make any initiatives to make it easier for me and harder for Liverpudlians to see the games,” explains Niklas Kiær, a Reds follower from Denmark. “I’m very aware that it isn’t my city.”

Likewise, Norwegian fan Kristoffer Amundsen insists: “I care a lot about our history, and I have enormous respect for the local fans. Ultimately, they are what make our club great.”

While the Scandinavian supporters are attuned to the particularities of the club and the city, they are also proponents of their own unique Liverpool supporter culture, which fosters a social rapport between people who otherwise wouldn’t come into contact.

Eyðun Trúgvasonn, from the Faroe Islands, described a Facebook group, Liverpool Føroyar, which contains 3000 Faroese Liverpool fans – which amounts to a remarkable 6% of the country’s entire population. A sizeable group gather in the capital, Torshavn, every matchday to watch games together. Trúgvasonn suggests Liverpool’s popular rock and roll scene of the 1960s may be one of the key factors behind the extraordinary degree of devotion.

“There are a few explanations for why Liverpool are so popular on the Faroe Islands,” he says. “I think The Beatles, certainly, have played a big part in that. There are many older fans here who loved The Beatles and became interested in Liverpool as a result.”

Meanwhile, Gothenburg-based Arvid Gustafsson describes the thriving matchday culture of watching games in pubs exclusively filled by fervent Liverpool supporters.

“The recent game versus Man City at Anfield had such a special feeling about it. When [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain scored, the whole place erupted and people who were complete strangers hugged each other. You are united because of LFC, and it’s the best feeling in the world.”

In Copenhagen, Clark James also speaks glowingly of being part of a Scandinavian Liverpool community, which has been responsible for the formation of countless friendships over the years.

“I personally really enjoy the social aspects of being a Liverpool supporter in Denmark,” he says. “I’ve met many fantastic people in association with watching my beloved club play.”

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Several ex-professionals have travelled to Scandinavia to sample such experiences, with the likes of Ian Rush, John Aldridge and John Barnes having attended supporter events in Malmö.

A love for Liverpool doesn’t preclude Scandinavians from embracing local sides; for many, following the Reds from afar supplements their support for a club based in their own country. In this context, the emergence of social media has become a crucial tool which helps thousands of Liverpool fans across the world to keep up to date with the latest news and opinion around the Reds.

“With social media I have been able to find many more LFC fans from all around the world, and they all seem to be like-minded,” confirms Anssi Hiitiö, a Finnish supporter from a relatively remote municipality 50 kilometres north of Helsinki.

Despite being geographically disconnected from Liverpool, the plethora of historical factors and cultural similarities has cultivated a rich and dedicated supporter community in Scandinavia. While the pressures of globalisation and commercialisation bring multiple challenges in terms of preserving local identity in the modern football landscape, Scandinavian supporters’ spatial separation is no barrier to the powerful bond they’ve built and upheld with Liverpool. As Norwegian supporter Ole Sandsmark proclaims: “The way football has developed and grown, there is no reason why I cannot identify as a massive LFC fan, just because I lack geographical affiliation.”

Liverpool are a global institution, and while the club shouldn’t compromise its local traditions as a result, its ever-expanding fan base is an essential part of its existence as a multinational sporting entity. The Reds’ dedicated Scandinavian following is proof of that.

Exploring Scandinavia’s love affair with Liverpool Football Club
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