Norwegian Leeds United superfan explains why Whites have a massive Scandinavian following

Leeds United have an extremely passionate fanbase - with Elland Road at the beating heart of the city.

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 10:11 am
Updated Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 11:10 am
Are Mathisen at a pre-season game in Sandefjord, Norway.

When Leeds United gained promotion and returned to the Premier League for the first time since the 2003/04 season, the people of Leeds were like proud parents.

While the pandemic prevents supporters from attending matches for now, the prospect of watching their beloved Leeds take on the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United was nothing short of thrilling for the fans living across the country.

But the excitement was never limited to England. The love for Marcelo Bielsa's side extends across the world.

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When I asked readers where they would be watching the Whites' fixture (and subsequent victory) against Crystal Palace, I received plenty of responses from northerners watching the game from their living room in Kirkstall or Seacroft - but what stood out was the flurry of replies from Norway and Denmark.

This made me curious - what was it about this Leeds United team that brought so much support from Scandinavia?

To find out more, I chatted to 35-year-old Are Mathisen.

From playing for his local team, Larvik Turn, as a 6-year-old - Are soon bought in to the thrill of cheering on Howard Wilkinson's Leeds United side.

"I had an older cousin from whom I inherited loads of magazines and among them was a Norwegian football comic called Boing," Are said.

"In one of the magazines was a loose poster of a Leeds player. I put it up on my wall and my heart and mind were sold. And the player? Gordon Strachan."

Thirty years later and Are Mathisen spends matchdays with the Larvik Whites - a Leeds United supporters group in Norway - gathering in a pub called Mikrobryggeriet to watch the mighty Leeds.

While I'm sure Are wishes he could - prior to lockdown - attend matches week in week out, it won't stop the feeling of nervousness and excitement engulfing his body on a weekend.

"I get really nervous the same morning," Are admitted.

"I don't have any rituals or superstitions, but as often as possible I will wear shorts to show my not-so-up-to-date-but-still-proud Leeds tattoo."

Of course, Are hasn't spent the last 30 years without a few trips to the almighty Elland Road. Beginning with visits to the Whites' pre-season matches, Are also recalls a beauty from Harry Kewell, as well as a Champions League viewing at Camp Nou.

Are said: "My best memory was Harry Kewell's stunner at Elland Road.

"I can't believe that the stadium didn't collapse under the sheer noise! Amazing feeling."

Despite living in Norway, it was clear speaking to Are that he felt the same love and passion for Leeds United as the faithful supporters living in the city itself.

When I asked Are if he thought being Norwegian meant he couldn't be as 'big of a fan' as those in Yorkshire, he described it perfectly - "Being a fan is a matter of the heart, not the location."

So, after years of Are Mathisen's heart belonging at Elland Road, why did he think that there were so many Leeds United fans in Norway?

"English football became a part of the weekend routine from after WW2, as we had the possibility to bet on English games on 'tippekupongen'," He explained.

"We saw English football on the telly from the late 1960s and the stronghold that was built up there is still very much alive in the general population - especially with the great Revie era coming together at the same time as the televised games in Norway."

Are is one of many people all over the world who, one day, took an interest in Leeds United and then never stopped.

The miles between a fan and Leeds means nothing when you support this club, and like Are said... it's not about the location, it's a matter of the heart.