This is a group organised by Norsk Tipping, the state controlled pools and gambling organisation for Norway.
The usual number turned up – around 35-40.
The groups come twice a year in spring and autumn. They are made up of officials from Norsk Tipping and the Norwegian FA, and the punters themselves, good customers of the gambling agency being rewarded with a trip to English Premier League games. There are usually a couple of media representatives there.
The group were staying in Liverpool Marriott, which is just behind St George’s Hall, and they were a decent group right from the beginning; the usual mix of good humour, politeness and lots of drink.
Ah drink and the Northern Europeans and of course I include the British in this.
On one occasion a couple of years ago we had a world drink record holder – or something like that. This was a man in his late fifties from a village way beyond the Arctic Circle who got so drunk he lost himself.
Really lost himself.
I think he was some sort of farmer. Maybe a beer farmer, given that seemed to be his specialisation. He'd certainly never been to cities as large as Manchester and Liverpool before, so was probably a little over-whelmed and a bit too keen to enjoy himself.
He’d been drunk on the flight over and that started at five am. He’d been drunk through the first day and at lunch and all through the first evening. When he was really drunk he’d sing, “I love you baby...” in English, but forget all the other words. There was no prelude or sequel lines of, ‘Can’t take my eyes off you’, ‘You’re too good to be true,’ and so on.
Our friend always wore a multi-coloured woollen hat that looked like Dr Seuss’ ‘Cat in the Hat’ headgear. Every time he saw me, he’d bellow, in a swaying, exaggeratedly drunk manner, as though he were over-acting a stage part, “Good morning, Mr Jonathan, how are you?” He'd say this even though it were 10pm.
Then he’d wave whatever bottle of lager he was carrying and chime, “I love you baby...”
During a game between Bolton and Blackburn on a freezing second day of a visit deep into November (Blackburn won the match by the way 2-0 including a ridiculous own goal from Bolton), our man lost himself.
He was last seen trying to buy more beer in one of the concourse bars at the Reebok Stadium.
Then he disappeared.
When he didn’t get back on the coach we waited.
I even asked at the police station close to the ground whether they’d happened upon a 6ft 4" heavy-set Viking who couldn’t speak much English and was probably the worse for wear, probably singing, and was wearing a Dr Seuss’ ‘Cat in the Hat’ headgear.
They hadn’t. Eventually we had to make our way back to the hotel in Liverpool, with the organisers frantically calling our lost boy's phone.
The following day I found out what had happened to our roving Nordic.
Apparently the Norsk Tipping people had kept on calling and had got more and more worried.
Eventually some hope.
The man’s mobile phone was answered. But not by him.
“Hello,” said the organisers in their excellent if accented English. “Is there a Norwegian man with you?”
“Not sure where he’s from, but his phones been ringing,” said an English voice on the other end of the phone.
There were pub sounds in the background, chatter heightened by alcohol, the clink of glasses.
“Can we speak to him please?” asked Kjetil, the Norsk Tipping representative
“Not really. I think he’s dead,” said the voice at the end of the phone.
Uproar with the Norwegians.
“Oh my God, what happened?” they exclaimed.
“I’m only joking,” said the man with a laugh in his voice now, no doubt pleased that his deadpan Mancunian humour had been properly misinterpreted.
“He’s not dead, just dead drunk. Unconscious. Pissed. Sleeping it off.”
Turns out our guest had walked out of Bolton’s Reebok Stadium, found a taxi and asked the taxi to take him to ‘the city’ and ‘a pub’. Eventually he’d wound up at the Old Monkey boozer in Chinatown in Manchester – not in Liverpool where he was staying.
After more beer he’d crashed out on a bench seat.
That's not the end of the story.
What happened after the Norwegians located their missing group member was in some ways remarkable given the late hour and the state of inebriation the whole pub appeared to be in.
The Norsk Tipping representatives persuaded the man who’d answered the phone to get some mates and carry ‘Cat in the Hat’ into a taxi and then persuade the driver to take this drunk and unconscious man to Liverpool.
Apparently the driver wasn’t mad about the idea of a 35 mile journey with no guarantee the man would wake up, but was persuaded when the Norwegians talked to him on the phone and promised him a hefty bonus when he arrived at the Liverpool Hilton.
The man and his friends from the pub then disappeared back into the Old Monkey having performed their charitable deed for that Saturday evening and for many more to come. That was the last the Norwegians heard from them. The 'He's dead' man probably still tells the story to this day.
The Norwegians are capable of generosity as well.
And when they have spare tickets they allow my son Oliver – the maverick Manchester City fan – to attend matches.
On one occasion – aged 14 - he came across from Manchester alone with two friends, Danny and Dominic, to watch the Liverpool v City match (2-2 - I think). They had to get the train and make their way to Anfield Stadium and after the tour make their way back.
Again people were helpful the whole way, whatever team they supported, and made sure the lads got back to Lime Street Station and then back to Manchester without incident. The boys loved their little bold step for independence in an over-cosseted Western world for kids.
On the most recent visit in February this year, Oliver got a spare ticket to come along to the Manchester City v Chelsea match. City won 2-0.
As stated above, the Norwegians were again staying in Liverpool city centre next to Gentings casino at the Liverpool Marriott. Gentings must be the world’s worst casino, the one that doesn’t understand the principles of their profitability.
Around twelve of the Norwegians went gambling there night. Seven won substantial sums of money. One guy won £1,000.
Bill Evans (Norwegian despite the British name), the main Oslo-based tour operator, walked in one night sat at the roulette table and put money on red. He immediately won £600.
He got up and walked straight out the door.
“Would sir, like to try again?” a croupier desperately called after him.
“No, sir is going to have a nice meal, now, really enjoy the night. Thank you.” said Bill.