Wiggo Bremner-Karlsen - the teenager who made first Norwegian Leeds United pilgrimage and went on to play in UEFA Cup

Before the world was struck by a pandemic, the route to Elland Road was a pilgrimage for thousands of Scandanavian Leeds United devotees.

Friday, 22nd January 2021, 5:41 am
TREND SETTER - Norwegian Leeds United fan Wiggo Karlsen made his first Elland Road trip at the age of 14, without his parents. Pic: Svend Anders Karlsen-Moum

Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites revolution only increased the flow of Nordic fans into Yorkshire on match days but the path is a well-beaten one.

For years the 7,000-plus strong Leeds United Supporters Club of Scandinavia have kept a list of the first visitors to make the trip and Wiggo Karlsen lays claim to the most prized position, along with brother Widar.

He was 14 in 1968 when he and his 12-year-old sibling, set out by ferry from Oslo to Newcastle and caught a train to Leeds.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It was their Easter break from school and, remarkably, they travelled alone, saying goodbye to their parents and not making contact again until they returned to Rolvsøy in the city of Fredrikstad almost a week later.

Leeds United were playing Glasgow Rangers at Elland Road but, even more remarkably, the boys weren’t aware. Their plan was simply to hang around the stadium and hope to meet some of their heroes in order to get pictures with them.

“We probably did not know it was a match being played, we were just going to meet players and visit the city,” said Wiggo, his words translated by LUSCOS board member Svend Anders Karlsen-Moum who first unearthed the story for their magazine, The Peacock News..

Leeds became a firm favourite with Norwegian football lovers thanks chiefly to a weekly English top-flight ‘Match of the Day’, televised live by state broadcaster NRK, in black and white.

TREASURED MEMORY - Wiggo Karlsen and his brother Widar took photos of the Leeds United players training in 1968, including this snap of Allan Clarke and Peter Lorimer.

But Wiggo’s trip predated the first episode, which featured Wolves’ November 1969 clash with Sunderland.

“I sat with the newspaper as a 10-year-old and read the results and tables from football leagues from abroad,” he said.

“I came to the Second Division in England, and saw names such as Bury, skipped them - and then there was this name. I asked Mom how to pronounce it, ‘there are two ees, will it be Leds?’.

“Mother, on the other hand, knew that in England that makes the sound different.

“‘Leeds?’ I said aloud, ‘it sounds awesome!’.”

And that was that.

The boys’ father, a sailor, had travelled around the world and sponsored their trip to Leeds, booking the ferry and train tickets and finding a hotel in the city centre for them to check into.

From there, they walked it to LS11 to watch training through a fence and approach the players at every given opportunity.

“The biggest thing was to meet the boys before and after training,” said Wiggo. “It was so cool. I remember I was shaking when we met them and got autographs and pictures with the boys. They were big, big stars. That was why we left home.

“And I guess I just stammered in English, ‘Picture? We are from Nårway’ and such.

“Outside the training field, we met the pitch manager, and told him that we came from Norway, so he opened the gate and let us in so we got to see the inside of Elland Road.”

Widar likes to believe they were the first from ‘the north’ who walked out onto the hallowed turf. His abiding memory, though, is meeting their heroes.

“Bremner was great, but they all were actually,” he said. “I remember Reaney was benched at the Leeds team for a while, but he was still an England player - they were so good.”

Mission complete, they boarded a train to Immingham, then a ferry to Gothenburg and the night train to Fredrikstad. They walked through the door of their home at 7am, bleary-eyed and were promptly packed off to school. But they had been bitten by a bug that would send them scurrying back to Leeds.

Five years later Wiggo and pal, Ole Johnny Martinsen, watched Leeds lose to Manchester United in front of 45,450. It is the first recorded attendance at a Whites game by any Norwegian fans known to LUSCOS.

But Wiggo’s jaunts across the North Sea were halted, by his own footballing ability. He played in midfield for Fredrikstad Football Club, where his style of play earned him the nickname ‘Bremner-Karlsen’ and took on a Dynamo Kiev side that included Soviet Union hot shot Oleg Blokhin, in the UEFA Cup.

After a stint with FK Bodø/Glimt, injury forced him into coaching and involvement with Moss FK, Fredrikstad and Råde.

His passion for Leeds has remained strong, however. He holds membership number 235 of LUSCOS, joining not long after its 1980 formation and over 40 years later still looks forward to the club magazine dropping into his mailbox at Saltnes, outside Fredrikstad. Like any White, his weekends are made or broken by results. Like every White he dreams of making the trip ‘home’ to watch them play again.

“To lose out against Derby in the play-offs was perhaps one of the biggest in the scale of disappointments,” he said.

“It hurt then, but the heart beats just as hard regardless of our division. Losses still ruin Saturday nights, though.

“The promotion season had many televised matches and they play very good football. I have a great respect for Bielsa and what he has achieved.

“It would have been fun to take a trip over again.”