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The Corporation

Posted: 07/07/23

Aspiring footballers enjoy Norwegian tour to remember

Sport students from West Nottinghamshire College have been on a “once-in-a-lifetime” educational trip to Norway.

  • WNC MTFC players and Molde SK academy after their fixture.
  • The group departs from Gatwick Airport to Oslo.
  • The students arrive in Molde.
  • Coming out to the crowd in their first fixture against Stange SK.
  • The group played their second fixture against Brumunddal.
  • The group take part in the Captain’s Run – a pre-match jog – before taking on Molde.
  • Pre-match team talk against the formidable Molde.
  • Hearing all about Norway and culture from football agent Gard Eskil Fraser.
  • Watching Hamkam v Odds SK.
  • Outside the King's palace in Oslo.
  • Taking in the sights at Vigeland Park in Oslo.
  • Taking in the views from Andalsnes Mountain.
  • The group with football agent Gard Eskil Fraser prior to the match against Molde.

The visit, funded by the Erasmus+ student exchange programme, saw 15 students on the Mansfield Town FC (WNC MTFC) Education programme play competitive football matches, lay-on coaching sessions for children, experience Norwegian culture, and take a cross-country journey through awe-inspiring scenery.

It was organised and led by programme area leaders Chris Fraser and Wayne Loseby for learners who study the Level 3 Extended Diploma in Sport – Mansfield Town Performance Football Programme. The coveted programme enables students to continue with their football development while gaining industry-recognised qualifications through the college. It sees talented students receive professional football coaching from Mansfield Town FC – who also support them to play in local and national competitive college leagues – while studying qualifications to prepare them for careers in sport and fitness.

The group hit the ground running on day one, after a post-midnight check-in at the serene and modern Scandic Hamar hotel. Upon settling in, they were back on the road heading to their host club, Stange SK, where staff – including club director Cecile Sandberg – welcomed them with open arms. After a training session with Dan Hatfield, football agent for Fraser Sport Management, they returned to the Hamar for a guided tour and to relax on the stunning Hamar beach.

Tour kicks-off with convincing victory

Day two involved the first of four fixtures. First up was a match against Stange SK in sweltering 31 degree heat. The host club fielded a combination of first team and youth team players, displaying some talented individuals among the squad. WNC MTFC’s Joe Frost claimed the first goal of the tour – his first of four – with Nathan Whitehead, Josh Manifold and Vlad Nitiss scoring one apiece soon after. Rio Allen bagged a brace, sending him to the top goal-scorer list after the first fixture, which saw a convincing 6-1 win for WNC MTFC and plenty of positives to carry in to the rest of the tour.

The third day was intended to be a relaxing one with some active recovery planned – but the activities were far from relaxing, thanks to the competitive nature of everyone on the trip. Stange SK staff and pivotal person among the tour, Tommy Hagen, booked exclusive use of a Padel tennis facility for the group to enjoy. Padel tennis is a growing sport in Norway and the group certainly built up a sweat whilst getting to grips with it. The next activity certainly cooled everyone down, as the players took turns wakeboarding on Lake Mjosa – the largest lake in Norway.

Once everyone had dried out, had dinner at the hotel and welcomed in the evening, Gard Eskil provided an insightful and intimate lesson about Norway, his sport agency and a set of social codes known as Janteloven. The entire group hung on his every word as they learned about the culture, language and opportunities in Norway. 

Momentum maintained with hard-fought win

Just as everyone’s limbs were recovering from the first fixture and a day of Norwegian sports, it was already time for the second fixture. This time, an athletic and well-coached Brumunddal SK were the opponents – a strong test for the group. But before this new challenge, the players put their communication skills and creativity to the test, coaching 180 local children as part of the Stange SK Summer Soccer Schools. This clearly took its toll as the second fixture displayed a performance far from the ability of the group. Despite this, WNC MTFC secured their second win, with goals from Joseph Frost and Reece Jefferson resulting in a hard-fought 2-1 victory. 

The glorious Norwegian sun was in short supply on day five, as the heavens opened up on an arranged visit to Oslo on what was meant to be day of culture and sight-seeing. However, despite being drenched, the rain failed to dampen the spirits of the group, who enjoyed their time in the streets of the capital. The rain disappeared just after midday, allowing the group to dry out on a steady walk whilst visiting the famous Vigeland Park.

Day six involved a 500 km journey to Molde, which included travelling on two trains, a bus and a fjord transport boat. Nobody was truly prepared for quite how incredible the journey would be, with mountains, lakes, fjords and waterfalls decorating the view out of the windows, making a seven-hour journey pass by in no time. Mobile phones filled with pictures and videos from the journey, the group checked in to one of Norway’s most aesthetic-looking hotels, Scandic Seilet. Views from every room overlooked a vast fjord and a backdrop of snow-topped mountains.

Sharing the same car park as the hotel was the impressive stadium of one of Norway’s most famous clubs, Molde FK. The 18-19 hours of daylight in June, coupled with the beautiful landscape and impressive stadium, made getting to sleep a challenge.

Not willing to submit to the fatigue of the tour’s busy itinerary, Jacob Tuft, tour captain, arranged a team run in the morning of day seven. Seeing the tight-knit group jogging through Molde as locals were making their morning commute filled Chris and Wayne with immense pride, who took a moment to admire this special group while accompanying them on the tour.

The group had truly earned some relaxation by this point, so a visit to the local indoor swimming pool was welcomed by all. With diving boards, slides, jacuzzis, saunas and relaxation pools, every member of the group shared a laugh as part of their recovery, with some even braving a quick dive into the freezing Norwegian fjord. Come the evening, the group headed to Aker Stadium to watch Molde academy train; analysing their opponents ahead of their third fixture.

Compliments from Molde SK coaching staff, despite first defeat

Having witnessed the talent Molde FK Academy had on show during their training session, breakfast the next day was met with a sense of trepidation and excitement. The last English team to play in their stadium was Arsenal as part of a Europa League fixture in 2020. The expectations to perform were felt by everyone as the group took a gentle walk around Molde after breakfast. A combination of composure, anxiety and motivation filled the air on their walk to the stadium, although their nerves gradually settled as the warm-up commenced and stands filled with spectators.

From kick-off, Molde FK dominated possession, patiently holding on to the ball, but the WNC MTFC players in yellow maintained immense discipline, leaving the Norwegian club out of ideas. Josh Manifold threatened the Molde defence a handful of times with his speed and strength, while Ben Denton ran with ferocity on the ball at every opportunity. However, it was Molde who took the lead after 30-minutes, thanks to some excellent skill on display by their Icelandic trialist and a well-deserved goal. An opportunistic second followed soon after for Molde, as a powerful clearance saw the ball ricochet off the head of an opposition players and land directly at the feet of their striker deep inside the box, for a simple tap-it from close range. A third goal followed, with another fortunate bounce beyond the defensive line and a rebound into the net.

Despite the scoreline, WNC MTFC held their own, refusing to submit to the well-organised Norwegian talent on display. Just before half-time, Jacob Tuft floated an intricate long-range pass to Joseph Frost, who showed immense skill, balance and strength to hold up the ball before releasing it to Josh Manifold, who calmly laid it on to Matty Hague, resulting in an unforgettable goal to make it 3-1 at half-time.

The second half was met with more pressure from Molde FK, but with more chances for WNC MTFC. Jake Martin out-paced the defensive line and narrowly missed with a long-range lob over the goalkeeper. Soon after, a brave bicycle kick from Kieran Deller inside the box met the crossbar. However, one more goal for Molde in the second half resulted in a 4-1 win for the impressive hosts. Despite the outcome, the fixture was always going to be the toughest of the tour for WNC MTFC, and it was time to celebrate their efforts in the changing room. Compliments from Molde FK coaching staff and agents came thick and fast – all impressed with the talent, professionalism and composure from the visitors.

The Molde leg of the tour was now over, and a 12-hour commute back to Hamar was on the itinerary for day nine, with a four-hour stop in the beautiful town of Andalsnes. Most of the group took the opportunity to enjoy a cable car ride to the top of the Norwegian mountains, resulting in a memory to last a life-time. The snow-capped mountains, views of fjords, valleys, villages and forests were met with reflective conversations about the unforgettable experiences of the tour so far. All that was left of the day was a cable car back to land, followed by trips by coach, boat, two trains and one final public bus to their hotel in Ringsaker on the outskirts of Hamar.

After being reunited with their suitcases, it was time for students to unwind during a visit to Hamar beach and take a dip in the lake under the glorious Norwegian sun. Come the afternoon, the group headed to watch a promising fixture between two of Norway’s Eliteserien teams – HamKam and Odds BK – and a chance to see some top-flight Norwegian football. Despite it being a disappointing game, with few chances between the two sides, it was yet another ‘bucket list’ experience to take away from the tour as they headed towards the finish line.

Day 11 took a deviation from the original plan when, after a light training session, the group accepted an invitation from Stange residents to join them on a beautiful private beach, where they enjoyed a BBQ and food provided by Tommy Hagen of Stange SK, along with a kick-about with the locals. By now, the group were made to feel at home by everyone from Stange and the community, as they relaxed ahead of their fourth and final game.

Tour ends in penalty shoot-out triumph

Unfortunately, the opposing team cancelled the fixture on the day, so members of Stange SK along with Fraser Sport Management fielded a team, giving the lads from WNC MTFC one last opportunity to play together. Although the fixture was very much a friendly, it still had a competitive edge, as Stange scored two first-half goals. Despite being exhausted from the tour’s packed itinerary, travel and prior fixtures, WNC MTFC pulled back two goals from Jake Martin and Joseph Frost, to end the game 2-2. Unwilling to complete the tour on a draw, both teams agreed to decide the fixture with a penalty shoot-out. Jacob Tuft pulled out three saves and Cole Jarvis scored the final goal, securing a 4-3 win on penalties, and culminating in three wins and one loss on the spectacular tour of Norway.

On the final full day, the group paid thanks and bid farewell to all who made their time so memorable. A relaxing day was welcomed by all, as they played football with local children, enjoyed FIFA video game competitions and chatted with residents.

After one final dinner prepared by Tommy Hagen, speeches were made, where Wayne Loseby emotionally thanked each and every student who attended the trip for their impeccable and good-natured behaviour throughout. Chris Fraser and Jacob Tuft presented Mansfield Town FC flags signed by both the first team and all of the players on the tour to both Stange SK and Fraser Sport Management. This was reciprocated by Stange SK, with club merchandise and memorabilia handed to each of the 15 students who attended. Emotions were reflective and sentimental as hugs, handshakes and fist-bumps were shared between everyone. Staff could not have been more complimentary about every student on the trip, paying special compliments to Nathan Whitehead and Kieran Deller for their character and footballing performances respectively.

Sports agency chief "filled with pride and admiration for the players' achievements"

Gard Eskil Fraser, owner of Fraser Sport Management in Norway, sent a heart-filled letter on the group’s arrival back at college, stating ‘As I reflect on this remarkable football tour, I am filled with pride and admiration for the players' achievements, both on and off the pitch, but even more so, I am left in admiration because of how fantastic they are as human beings.

‘I genuinely believe that their exceptional behaviour and abilities will continue to pave the way for future successes, both in their football careers and in life.’

Chris Fraser, from the college, said: “Although expectations of the tour were very high before leaving, and the preparations were meticulous, nobody was quite prepared for just how magical it would be. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students.

“The players were a credit to themselves and the college, and have taken away experiences that will stand them in great stead for their future careers and will stay with them forever.”