Date Published: Monday, 30th March, 2020 - 11:00am by Nik Mesney
In the second instalment of our Euro Focus feature, we take a look at an historic night in Norway as we overcame Stabæk.
This was by no means ideal preparation for the biggest game in our club's history at that point! To get to Norway, we had to drive to London Gatwick on a Tuesday night before flying into Oslo in the early hours of Wednesday morning which meant our players, who were then all part time were finishing work before starting a 4-5 hour drive south. On the morning of the flight, we checked in, only to find that six names (including two of the starting eleven) on the group booking weren't on the flight manifest! A mad scramble ensued as we had around 45 minutes to make sure that the names got added to the booking before we needed to be on the plane. Backup plans were being formulated with the potential of getting a later flight to Sweden and renting a car to drive across Scandanavia to make sure but luckily with about 10 minutes to go we got confirmation that the names had been added to the booking and we all made it on to the plane just in time.
Norway is a stunning country! We landed in Oslo before a two hour bus ride to Fredrikstad which led us south along some spectacular scenery including some of the Norwegian Fjords before arriving in the picturesque southern city of Fredrikstad where we found that our hotel was a two minute walk from the nearby river and a 10 minute walk to the stadium.
The day before the match was a relaxed one with players and staff taking in the local scenery before training on the pitch at the stadium. Whilst arriving at the stadium we were greeted by Stabæk officials as our players took in their surroundings and Andy Morrison dropped a bombshell on the Norwegian staff of; "Could you imagine if you guys got beat by a load of part-time sheep farmers from Wales!?" before walking off, leaving the Stabæk officials looking somewhat worried at the possibility... little did they know!
After the training session was finished, the players headed back to the hotel while some staff members went to a local bar to take in Wales' Euro 2016 Semi Final against Portugal which unfortunately ended in a 2-0 defeat for Chris Coleman's team to end their fantastic run in the competition.
The day of the match saw the UEFA matchday meeting take place at Fredrikstadion - not Stabæk's home stadium as they were in a similar situation to ourselves whereby their usual stadium didn't meet UEFA requirements so needed to play almost 90 minutes drive from their usual home. Following the meeting, our staff were invited to a quaint restaurant in the old town which required a short boat journey to get to. The players made use of the local park areas for a stretch before it was game time.
A good following of vocal Stabæk fans had made the journey to Fredrikstad with flags and banners creating a good atmosphere behind the dugouts inside the Fredrikstadion, with the home fans, staff and seemingly everyone expecting the Norwegian side to comfortably take the win with odds of 33/1 available for a Nomads win ahead of kick off.
The game couldn't have started any better for The Nomads - taking the lead after just 15 minutes through Callum Morris. A long John Danby free kick was sent forwards and flicked on by first Ian Kearney and then George Horan to Morris who collected he ball just outside the six yard box and despited being tightly marked, Morris managed to find enough space to send a left-footed strike beyond Stabæk's Ivorian International goalkeeper, Mande Sayouba.
While Stabæk looked to get back into the game, having a lot of good posession, they struggled to create any clear cut opportunities with The Nomads defending solidly and later in the half The Nomads continued to creat chances. Nathan Woolfe darted into the box and looked to quite clearly be brought down, only for the referee to book Woolfe for diving ad minutes later Woolfe turned provider as his cleverly worked free-kick saw Ian Kearney head against the post from just outside the six yard box.
As Stabæk continued to be frustrated in the second half, those frustrations boiled over in the 50th minute with Kamaal Issah shown a straight red card by referee Jonny Casanova after clashing with Mike Wilde off the ball.
Stabæk began taking pot-shots from distance, but none of them troubled Danby as our defence stood resolute but in a bizarre turn of events, having been replaced by Matty Owen, John Disney was sent off for cooling down behind the assistant referee - we still had eleven on the pitch though!
Time ticked away and when the referee blew for full time, we realised that we had achieved something monumental - not only had we won away, against a full time team, who were in the middle of their domestic campaign - we had kept clean sheets in both legs - the first time a Welsh team had ever achieved this feat in European competition.
Needless to say, my phone as Media Officer went mad for the next few hours - BBC, Sky Sports, anybody you could think of wanted to talk to the manager and players and while a few quick interviews were given, it was time to celebrate. We headed back to the same bar the staff had visited the night before and took over for the remainder of the night including some great sing alongs with the guitarist who was on the open mic night.
The excitement of what we had achieved was unbelievable and the morning after, Andy Morrison, Danny Harrison, Gemma Bamford and myself were on the early flight home so had to catch an early minibus back to Oslo airport and I'll never forget the fact that despite everything that had just gone on, Andy was immediately focused on the next match, away against Serbian side FK Vojvodina. For the duration of the journey to the airport, he was watching Vojvodina's last game on his phone to research them!
The result was not well received in Norway with a headline of "Europa-fiasko for Stabæk" spotted on the hotel bar TV and the day after saw Billy McKinlay sacked at Stabæk's manager.
Since then, the Norwegian side's luck hasn't seen them back in European competition and they only managed to stay in the Norwegian Eliteserien thanks to a play-off victory in 2018, and finished 8th last season. The 2020 season was scheduled to start in Norway on 4th April but due to the Coronavirus pandemic were delayed until at least May 23rd.