Valle Hovin – A Modern Day Norwegian Saga

In the Norwegian cities of Kristiansand and Stavanger, the time it took from initial plans being submitted to local government for the building of a new soccer stadium until the final planning approvals had been granted and building could commence was around the 12 month mark.

In February 2006, six years ago, Oslo’s Vålerengens Idrettsforening (Vålerenga Athletic Association) submitted the first paperwork for the building of a new stadium on the East Side of Oslo, and it's almost five years since it was established in a council hearing that the club had legally bought the land to build the new stadium on for the sum of one Norwegian Kroner (10p), but the sod at Valle Hovin remains untouched to this day.

Vålerenga has its Centenary Year in 2013 – and one of the main goals that was put in place back in 2004, was that the club would play its home fixtures in the 100th year in their own home arena. However it now looks certain that preparations to commence building one at all will not happen before the start of 2014.

Between 1961 and 1999 – Vålerenga used to call the Bislett Stadium on Oslo's West side its home. The stadium, best known for its athletic history thanks to hosting of Golden League International Meetings – was rapidly falling into disrepair, and after several incidents of the crumbling stands causing injury to spectators, it was decided that Bislett would be razed to the ground, rebuilt and modernised. This meant that Vålerenga had to find a new home. Therefore prior to the 2000 season, Vålerenga signed an initial 3-year contract with the Norwegian Football Federation to play in the Ullevaal Stadium, making the National Stadium their home.

After Vålerenga moved into Ullevaal, plans for construction of their own ground were once again considered, but several seasons of underperforming on the pitch coupled with severe financial difficulties kept such plans on ice. However, as a result of a substantial financial investment in the club by local businessman John Fredriksen in 2003, resulting in the club finishing the 2004 Premier Division in second place and winning the League Title the following season, talk of building a dedicated ground for Vålerenga resurfaced.

Originally plans were to build on a site at Bjørvika in the city centre, adjacent to the newly-built Opera House. This however won little political support from the Oslo City Council. Two other sites were considered for the new stadium – one over the tracks at Oslo Central Railway Station (which garnered little support inside of Council) and the other in the Eastern district of Ensjø – close to the spiritual home of the club and it’s training facilities at Valle Hovin.

It is this final proposal to include a 22,000 seat stadium (making it the second largest football stadium in the country after the Ullevaal itself) which is now the subject of protracted discussions between the club and local government.

Christian Kjellsen – spokesman for the Vålerenga Supporters Club, is disappointed with how the situation has unfolded since plans for moving to a new stadium were announced.

“As fans we are naturally frustrated this is taking so long – however we still hope to break ground at Valle Hovin as part of celebrations for the 100th anniversary”

Local Labour Party Politician Andreas Halse has also followed the project since the early days.

“I and many others thought the stadium would be completed in 2013. It was perhaps a little unrealistic looking back, but now I cannot see this happening for the foreseeable future at all.”

Oslo’s Urban Councillor Baard Folke Fredriksen outlines several issues that have materialised with the project in the past few months – resulting in a situation that, as it stands, makes it impossible to start construction.

“The club have announced recently that they are once again in some financial difficulties. Therefore, I have asked that we look at some new options regarding the make-up of the Ensjø site – one with increased residential and business uses. As a result, we are working with the local municipality on what is to be done about these revised rezoning and regulatory issues.

“As long as problems such as these remain, we are in no position to make any decision with final approval for the site. We thought they would be resolved after the municipal elections, and that is already some 15 months ago” Halse said. “I must also stress that it is not only the Council's fault that the whole process has been drawn out for this long”

Thanks to negotiations to date, Vålerengens Idrettsforening is now working to a total budget of around 600 million Norwegian Kroner (£65 million). The club announced that they will explore the possibility of building 300 apartments on the site to help finance the stadium.

A City Council meeting in 2007 passed plans to sell the land to the club for one Norwegian Kroner. Halse still cannot understand how the project cannot have progressed further in the intervening period.

“Many people connected with the club and the east of Oslo are frustrated that this project is taking so long. Iinitial targets were that the whole venue would be ready for use in 2013. However it now looks like the best we can hope for is that they approve commencement of work on the site in 2013”

Halse also states when an application is put forward for approval to the City Council, it would normally take around two months to pass through the various Council Processes before building work can commence. Christian Kjellsen, says the club is now no longer in a hurry to get started.

“We are starting to take a long term approach now that the prospect of having a finished stadium for 2013 is not possible. The final goal is to make this project and legacy as good as possible. New plans have been submitted for public consultation, so let's hope the City Council delivers us some extremely good news as we start our 2013 Centenary Season”

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About the Author: Chris Rock

Chris is a freelance journalist and football fan from the UK with a love of Norway. He works through his own business, Vertis Media House, currently reporting from the Norway Cup in Oslo.

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