A Catch Up With: Bard Haland on the ‘Norway Gulls’

In a small Norwegian City called Stavanger, a group of men got together to look for a team to support after getting tired of the big money teams of the English top flight. After a long and rigorous process they chose Torquay United as the object of their affection, and the rest, as they say, is history. We caught up with co-founder Bard Haland to understand a bit more about Norway’s Premier Torquay United Supporters Club.

TUNorwayFB

So, how on earth did a group of people from Norway start supporting Torquay United?!

Long story. Myself and the late SveinHandeland established Norway Gulls back in 1999. We were sick and tired of the big money in the Premier League, and decided to find a “proper” football club we could support. A rather bizarre set of criteria was set up (lack of success, shabby ground, nice shirts etc), and after a thorough research Torquay United was the only club to fit!

We contacted Mike Bateson, and within two minutes he replied and declared us the Official Torquay United Supporters Club of Norway!

The idea went down really well with a lot of Norwegians, and soon we had around 400 members, and brought from 10 to 25 supporters over from Norway for a few seasons back in the 2000’s.

It’s a cruel twist of fate that the team I quit following back in the 90’s, “as they’re shite, full of overpaid foreigners, and will still never, ever win anything” was Leicester City! Svein used to be an Arsenal supporter, so he was happy, though….

Do you follow any local Norwegian teams and do your fellow countrymen think your love for TUFC is strange?! (we don’t of course…)

Only half-hearted. My local team Viking Stavanger used to be the biggest club in Norway pre-Rosenborg, and fostered players like Erik Thorstvedt, Egil Ostenstad and Brede Hangeland, but has been in decline for the last 25 years, and was relegated this season.

And yes, people think we are a bit odd, supporting a team in the 5th tier, but we still get a lot of respect, and a common reply is that they wish they supported a “real” team, rather than a Premier League team.

What year did the group form and how many members are there?

See above – November 11 1999. At one stage we had more than 430 members, but numbers have gone down the last few seasons, so we’re about 250 now.

How often do you make it to Torquay games?

We try to organise a trip to Plainmoor once a year, and I try to come over for a match or two more, plus a few away matches when I can. Last season a few of us went to Macclesfield on a rainy Tuesday, and this month I’m off to Sutton.

What have been your best moments since you started following the club?

Wembley, both the playoffs and the FA Trophy was good. And also winning at Barnet away a couple of seasons ago – great result and £440 from William Hill!

Obviously meeting a lot of nice people along the way, including some great managers and players. And Mike Bateson, wonderful character – what I would give to have that old bugger back in charge now…

Which players and managers have been your favourite over the years, and have you met any of them?

We sponsored Kevin Hill for years, and I have to say he’s one of the nicest blokes I’ve ever come across, and a great player as well.

There was a few times when we went into training and met the players and managers, and we used to have our own POTY award, with presentation and all.

For managers Leroy was great with us, he always took time to have a chat. Roy McFarland also was a gentleman, we spent an entire evening in the boardroom with him and Mike Bateson once, that was entertaining! It has been more difficult to get so close to the club in the last few years, it has in a way become more professional, in a wrong way. The distance between club and fans has grown.

What is Norway like (for those of us who haven’t been)?

Norway is a big country, with much variation in nature and people. In general, think Scotland, only more expensive and with nicer people who speak better English…

What do you think of the current players and management team and how do you think we’ll finish the season?

I’ve not had the chance to see any matches so far this season, but from what I read I’m not impressed. There seems to be no balance in the side, and the lack of a goalscorer appears to cost us points. In all fairness it made sense to change manager, although Nicho is a great person – in the end he didn’t deliver as a manager. I will give Owers & Kuhl more time, but I hope they are able to bring in a couple of strong, proven players to strengthen the side this winter. I still believe that we will stay in the National League, but I fear that our days as a Football League club are gone.

Unless we get a well-run academy up and going, we will struggle to recruit players to Plainmoor, and that will be costly in the end, we won’t survive on loan players and vagabonds over time.

And finally, any memorable stories to tell TT about supporting the Gulls from overseas?

Lots! From being part of a TV series, or sending home live reports to national radio in Norway three times a day on our travels, to the time when Mike and Sue Bateson visited us in Norway. We once brought our own goalkeeper with us, and he trained with the team but didn’t get a contract. Could have something to do with him being 5’4” tall… And we also brought a physio with us, and he cured Martin Gritton’s “4 weeks out”-knee with acupuncture – Gritton played the next match!

And there’s a lot of memories that are somewhat blurry…

Sam Jones/Dominic Roman TT

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I simply live and breathe Football and have supported Torquay United since 1989. I am a season ticket holder on Bristows and a Trust member. I set up TorquayTalk in 2017 to give true supporters a voice and honest opinions on their club.

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