Far-Flung Adventures: Managing in the Norwegian third tier

Gary Hogan and Tom Dent are manager and assistant manager of Stjordals-Blink in the Norwegian third tier. Gary, who’s 33 and from Dublin, was a goalkeeper in Ireland, England, Estonia, and Norway. Tom, who’s 24 and from Dorset, never played professionally. Here, they explain their coaching backgrounds, their ambition for Stjordals-Blink, and the problems of Norwegian dialect…

GH: I was 19 when I made my debut in the League of Ireland with Dublin City. I played for a couple of years then got injured. I did my cruciate, and when I came back, I ruptured a stomach muscle. I didn’t play for two years. I was about to go and play in America when I met one of Fulham’s goalkeeping coaches, Vic Bettinelli. He talked me out of moving to America, and said he’d help me.

I spent a few months training with Fulham. A few sessions with the first team, but mainly the reserves. I also played for Sutton United in the Conference South. It went reasonably well and I came very close to signing for Torquay United under Keith Curle and Colin Lee. Just I was sorting things out, an agent contacted me and said an English coach in Norway was looking for a goalkeeper.

Like most people , I’d never really considered moving to Norway. I came out to have a look. The club (Steinkjer) was second division (third tier) but I was blown away by the facilities and the professionalism. I decided to give it a crack and I’ve been here ever since, more or less.

TD: I don’t have the playing background Gary has. When I was 15 or 16, I had a trial with Southampton as a goalkeeper. I got absolutely pummelled. I came away thinking: “I’m not going to be a player, but I do want to work in football.” I did my level one coaching, and when I moved to London to study at Brunel, I was lucky enough to get a job as a community coach for Fulham.

I worked with kids, women, disabled players. It was almost full-time alongside my studies. In my first year, a Norwegian guy came over with his son and his friend during the summer holidays. They were meeting the Riise brothers, John Arne and Bjorn Helge. The boys spent a week in our football school, before doing tourist stuff in the afternoon. The following summer, 2011, the dad organised a study trip to Norway for me and a friend. We visited a number of clubs, ending at Follo FK.

Follo were the first club who took an interest. Other clubs were welcoming, but it was one-way – we asked questions and they gave answers. At Follo (who reached the Norwegian cup final in 2010) they wanted to know about us, and our ambitions. In 2012 I went to Norway to run a football camp, and when I graduated I came out to say hello and run another camp. Follo said they were setting up two or three youth teams and hiring full-time coaches. For me, it was a no-brainer.

GH: After my first year with Steinkjer, I signed for a first division club in Oslo (Skeid). I signed a three-year contract and got injured in my first week. I bounced around the first and second divisions before, in 2012, being offered a contract in Estonia (with top flight club Tallinna Kalev). To be honest, it was an absolute disaster. Over there, they decide not to pay you and it seems acceptable.

I’d already begun coaching. I did some in Norway and I coached the women’s team in Tallinn. I came back and took a job as assistant manager in the Norwegian second division, with a team Nybergsund. I really enjoyed it. Last year I was offered the job at Stjordals. Jobs at this level don’t come up often, especially this close to home. I knew the team, I knew the players. It’s a well-run club. I went to meet them, and liked what they had to say. But I said I’d only take the job if I could bring Tom with me.

TD: We first met as opposing managers in a cup game, when we were youth coaches. Gary’s team won 3-1 – I’m still a bit raw about that. But there was an instant respect. Gary contacted me afterwards to say he’d been impressed with my team. From there it grew. As time went on we did some work together. Last year, I planned to leave my club, Follo. I’d booked a ticket to Australia to do six weeks travelling, before doing a two-week study visit in Holland. Then Gary phoned and said he wouldn’t take the Stjordals job without me. Luckily I got most of my money back on the flights!

GH: Tom likes to say he does all the work. Truth is, we’re very different. He is a real planner. I’m not. Tom is a real player developer, whereas I like putting teams out. Tom jokes that I only get involved when it’s 11 versus 11.

TD: It’s easy to be 24 or 25, have the title assistant manager, and not actually do a lot. But to be fair to Gary, he set the programme, and he let me get on with it. That’s ballsy.

GH: We’re full-time, and the players are part-time. But they train like they’re full-time. At home, part time is training in Tuesday and Thursday, game Saturday? Here, we’ll have four sessions a week, and a game. The only difference is, they do it after work. In terms of language, my Norwegian is fine. The players will often speak in Norwegian, and I reply in English. If I speak to older people, I use Norwegian. But over here, you have kids of 10 and 11 who speak better English than I do.

TD: I took Norwegian lessons in the past two years. I can get by quite well, but I’m not fluent by any means. And the dialect here (in Stjørdalshalsen) is so different. It’s almost like learning a separate language.

GH: We signed two-year contracts, so it’s not a short-term thing. The aim this year is maybe top five (out of 14). There are two teams who’ve recently been in the Tippeligaen, HamKam and Honefoss, so it’s not an easy league. And only one team goes up. They’re thinking of changing the structure, so next year two teams might have a chance. Hopefully we can push on.

TD: When I first came to Norway, I wasn’t apprehensive in the slightest. If I’d stayed in England, I would probably have done a year out, done a PGCE, become a teacher, then tried to get into football. To bypass that and get a football career was a no-brainer.

You can follow Owen Amos on Twitter, where you’ll also find Tom and Gary.

Far-Flung Adventures: Managing in the Norwegian third tier
5 (100%) 15 votes