Scotland’s top football periodical Nutmeg recently included a fascinating article entitled – Stenhousemuir and Norway: the ties that bind.

They have kindly given us permission to reproduce that article on this website.  A big thanks to the team at Nutmeg, and also to the author of the article Mark Godfrey.


Stenhousemuir and Norway: the ties that bind

First published in Issue 10 of Nutmeg: The Scottish Football Periodical.
Nutmeg is a quarterly print only publication. You can buy subscriptions and back copies at:


Norwegian football fans generally follow the usual suspects: Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal. Not all. 
By Mark Godfrey

It’s funny the things you can retrieve from the dark recesses of your mind. I have a vague recollection of watching an unusual item on the BBC’s Football Focus either in the late 1990s or early 2000s about a club which probably hadn’t featured on the programme before, and likely haven’t since.

As an ignorant youth from England, I had little to no knowledge of Stenhousemuir. I certainly couldn’t point to it on a map; I could barely have told you where to find it on the pools coupon.

The report in question was about a bunch of Norwegian men that had taken the town’s football club to their hearts and formed their own supporters’ club, diligently making the trip across the North Sea to the Central Lowlands of Scotland. They were few in number and painted as eccentric, which is unsurprising really given the proclivity of Scandinavian football fans to gravitate towards the big English clubs, particularly Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United. So what exactly was it that attracted them to Stenhousemuir, a small club on the periphery of the Scottish league scene?

“It was the name,” explained Georg Mathisen, current chair of Stenhousemuir’s now well-established Norwegian supporters’ club. “The group’s founders – Rolf Wulff, Christian Wulff and Kjell Jarslett – were browsing through Teletext on New Year’s Eve 1992 and saw the name and thought it sounded unusual. It also bears great resemblance to the old Norse language and when you break the name down into its constituent parts it means Stone (Sten) house (house) muir – that last part is open to different interpretation. Many people agree that it means ‘wall’, but it could also come from the word ‘myr’ – which is pronounced similarly to muir – meaning bog or marsh. Either way, they thought that this would be a good team to follow.”

Initially, and unsurprisingly, their motives – and perhaps their sanity – were questioned. “The guys called the football club to enquire about setting up a Stenhousemuir supporter’s club in Norway and the person who answered the phone hung up on them. They assumed that it had been taken as some kind of bizarre New Year’s joke,” Mathisen continues. Terry Bulloch – club secretary at the time and the man who took that call – explains it slightly differently, insisting that Stenhousemuir were keen from the outset to extend a warm welcome to the guys from Norway. “They wanted to know more about the club, so I sent them various programmes and other literature about our history. The following Easter they organised their first ever trip to Ochilview. The chairman and I were initially a bit wary that this was just a fad and that their interest would soon pass. But we chatted to them extensively to gauge their integrity and here we are 25 years later going from strength to strength!”

Georg Mathisen spent a year in the ?mid-1990s working as a journalist in Essex. It was here that a friend told him about the recently-made connection between a small number of his compatriots and tiny Stenhousemuir FC. His curiosity was piqued, so he decided to investigate further by taking a trip to Scotland to see for himself what it was all about, writing a feature on the supporters’ club for a Norwegian daily paper. He returned south, having had such a good time, that he felt compelled to become a member of the Norwegian supporters’ club too. The game in question was the 1995 Scottish Challenge Cup final where the Warriors triumphed against the odds, beating a Dundee United side that featured Maurice Malpas and a handful of future Scotland internationals in a thrilling penalty shootout. It was the first piece of silverware in Stenhousemuir’s 111-year history and was celebrated as vigorously by the Norwegian contingent as any of the die-hard locals: “There was about a dozen of us there for the final at McDiarmid Park,” recalled Mathisen. “At the end of the game grown men were in tears running around in the stands waving a giant Norway flag.”

This was an early demonstration of the depth of feeling that these hardy out-of-towners had cultivated with Stenhousemuir and the local community that underpins it. It was also powerfully evident in the aftermath of the horrific attacks perpetrated by the far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik in 2011 when he murdered 77 people in one day in Oslo and Utøya. A minute’s silence was observed at Ochilview before Stenhousemuir’s first home game following those tragedies: “We had to show that support and solidarity at such a difficult time for our friends. That man was nothing like the Norwegian people we know,” said Bulloch. It was a gesture that was hugely appreciated by the Norwegian supporters, as Mathisen reflects: “We had absolutely not expected it and we were extremely grateful. While we stood quietly reflecting on the tragedy, all we could hear were some seagulls nearby. That really made me understand the phrase ‘thundering silence’.”

Many lifelong friendships have been formed since the supporters’ club was born back in early 1993; Mathisen himself has fallen in love with Scotland and, along the way, even found romance in the form of his partner of three-and-a-half years, Mairi. Added to that, his daughter spent several years studying in Stirling – as did the two sons of supporters’ club founder Rolf Wulff – before working in Edinburgh.

As membership numbers grew, so did the bond between them and Stenhousemuir. At its height there were more than 100 members, although that has subsequently shrunk to around half that number: “At one time there was a Norwegian supporter for every year of the football club’s existence,” says Bulloch, proudly adding: “It was a very prestigious club to be a part of. Many of the members were professionals and businessmen and women; the head of Norway’s equivalent of the British Girobank and a 25-times capped Norway international included. These were people well equipped with ideas to raise funds to maintain the supporters’ club which in turn helped us greatly here at Stenhousemuir. Whatever they get from following the club they’ve more than given back over the years in support and funding.”

Probably the most obvious example of that financial backing comes in the form of the long-term sponsorship of Ochilview’s main stand, which is now simply known as the Norway Stand. Amounting to around £5,000 per year, this and many other operations at Stenhousemuir – particularly the club’s award-winning community and youth programmes – are helped by the various events organised by and attended by the Norwegians back on home soil in order to raise money, such as parties, nights out and lotteries. Those social activities are replicated when the members return on their regular visits to Scotland.

The Norwegian supporters’ club investment in Stenhousemuir is far from just one of pounds and krone, however, although they have all spent their fair share over the last quarter of a century taking planes, trains and automobiles on circuitous routes towards the town. “Most members are based in and around Oslo so flying directly to Edinburgh is pretty convenient these days and when we arrive at the airport, if there’s a big enough group of us we like to call a taxi company from Stenhousemuir to pick us up and take us to Ochilview. This way we’re keeping up our investment in the town’s economy. Once upon a time, travel from our capital city to this small town in the centre of Scotland was not always so easy,” explains Mathisen. “We’ve been through plenty of UK airports on our way to Stenhousemuir and, incredibly, bumped into some fellow Norwegian supporters’ clubs on similarly tricky journeys to follow teams such as Hartlepool United and Billericay Town.”

This year – while a successful one on the pitch thanks to promotion back to League One – has been overshadowed by the death, in April, of a man who had a foot in both camps. Terje Eriksen was recruited into the Norwegian supporters’ club by the founders early in its existence. He was a regular visitor to Stenhousemuir for 20 years and became such a popular figure that it led to his being named as honorary president of the football club. Terry Bulloch – who himself is an honorary president and has filled just about every other role on the board of Stenhousemuir – remembers him fondly. “He was a friend rather than a colleague at the club. We got on so well. Terje was a huge character; always smiling. Everyone here was deeply saddened to hear of his passing. He’d not been well for some time, but we thought he’d recovered and that he’d be able to resume his visits to Ochilview as he hadn’t been for a couple of years. Terje – pronounced Terry, like me – was key to the success of our youth programme when it was in its infancy by organising – with his brother who was the chairman of the Oslo-based club Skeid – a trip for our kids to go over to Norway to play in the Norwegian Cup.”

Fittingly, Eriksen’s legacy to Stenhousemuir won’t end there. A trust is being set up in his name by his brother Ivar – who donated a kidney to Terje – and his nephew that will donate £10,000 to further benefit the football club’s young players well into the future. In October, the club honoured him by renaming one of their hospitality suites after him. A significant number of Norwegians travelled specially to Scotland to attend the event, including his partner, Tone.

So, what does the future hold for Stenhousemuir’s Norwegian supporters branch given that membership numbers have declined to around 50 – half what they used to be in the group’s heyday? While there are some youngsters already involved – the youngest being 11 – the average age is 53 and by Georg Mathisen’s own admission they don’t promote themselves well enough via social media. However, he gives the impression that this by no means represents an imminent threat to its existence, or the continued close relationship with Stenhousemuir FC and its local supporters.

Allied to this, many of the Norwegians happen to be shareholders in the club which – according to Terry Bulloch – defines them as ‘benefactors’ in what is now a Community Interest Company, meaning that no dividends are paid and no single owner can ever get their hands on the club and its facilities and potentially expose it to financial mismanagement, or worse, try and exploit it to turn a quick, unscrupulous buck.

That word ‘community’ is important to the people of Stenhousemuir, though they are also rightly proud of their international aspect. The 50 or so Norwegian fans make up the largest entity within a wider group the club has dubbed the ‘Warriors Abroad’ which has pockets of support dotted around the world – particularly in England, Australia, Canada and the US. “If we could get all our overseas supporters to the same game, Ochilview would be filled three times over,” Terry adds, wistfully.

They even have the odd celebrity fan, most notably Michael Palin. He has taken in home matches on several occasions and a photograph of him wearing the Stenhousemuir jersey sits proudly in the club’s trophy cabinet.

In the town’s hostelries, just as the football club, the Norwegians’ presence has been welcomed, from the Station Hotel in Larbert (where Mathisen says the owners “tend to add black pudding and haggis to breakfast when they know we are coming”) to the Scotia, the Wellington and the Tollbooth Tavern; the latter, for Mathisen, representing the highlight of any visit: “It is the time when we sit together, just enjoying life, and have expectations that the best is still to come at Ochilview.”

There’s no denying the Norwegians’ fierce dedication to the cause, particularly given the lack of success on the pitch in the 25 years since they formed their club. In terms of silverware they still only have that Challenge Cup victory to hark back on, and in the same time period, Stenhousemuir have celebrated just three promotions, all of which have only served to cancel out relegations to the bottom tier. One thing you certainly cannot accuse them of being is gloryhunters.

We are not unique in this country in accepting that supporting a football club is about more than simply winning matches and lifting trophies. Mathisen is hopeful but realistic about Stenhousemuir’s future prospects: “The dream is to get into the Championship, but we would need the finances and administration to match the bigger clubs to make that achievable. And a large slice of luck too, of course!

“There are some fantastic people involved at Stenhousemuir who are working in a sensible and sustainable way to move the club forward in the face of stiff competition from all across the central belt. After last season’s promotion, stabilisation this season is key.”

Scottish football has been doing a great deal of soul searching in recent years with regards to its status in the world, at both club and international level. Mathisen and his fellow Norwegian supporters’ club members are in a handy position to be able to draw comparisons between two countries with very similar profiles in terms of population size and FIFA world rankings. “There are lots of parallels,” says Mathisen. “Celtic have beaten the Norwegian champions Rosenborg in Champions League qualifying for the past two seasons without being greatly superior in terms of the final result, so at that elite level there is not much to choose between them. But in the lower leagues – particularly when it comes to numbers of supporters and the atmosphere generated at games – there is no contest. There’s no way you’d get the same amount of interest in the smaller Norwegian clubs as you do at their equivalents in Scotland. But there certainly are things that Scotland could learn from Norway. Better care is taken of the 10-15 year olds during their development there with superior facilities and organisation for players looking to graduate to pro or semi-pro level.”

I ask both Terry and Georg to sum up their feelings about this special relationship and whether – in another 25 years – younger, equally committed Norwegians will make that same pilgrimage across the North Sea to Ochilview to share a pint (or two) with their Scottish comrades in the Terje Eriksen Suite and toast the 50th anniversary of one of football’s more curious supporter/club connections. “The people at Stenhousemuir are a friendly, positive lot and we are honoured to have such good relations with them. I sure hope we can keep the supporters’ club going; it’s a challenge we need to handle better,” says Mathisen with some degree of uncertainty. Bulloch strikes a more optimistic note: “It’s difficult to speculate what the next 25 years will bring, but I wouldn’t bet against it.”

Mark Godfrey, a long suffering Evertonian but season ticket holder at Blyth Spartans, is the editor of
The Football Pink fanzine @TheFootballPink

First published in Issue 10 of Nutmeg: The Scottish Football Periodical.
Nutmeg is a quarterly print only publication. You can buy subscriptions and back copies at: