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Erik Thorstvedt

Thu 15 November 2001, 12:00|Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

The arrival of Erik Thorstvedt gave Spurs fans genuine hope that a replacement for Ray Clemence had finally been acquired. A dismal debut seemed to confound those hopes but as the Norwegian slowly settled to life in the English first division so did Erik 'The Viking' gradually enter the hearts and minds of fans at The Lane. NEALE HARVEY visited Norway and tracked down the big man . . .

Erik Thorstvedt was remarried this summer and during his wedding reception his brother read out a series of replies from people of whom he had asked: 'How can Erik make love last this time?'

Terry Venables and Rod Stewart were among those who offered advice but the most poignant words came from Nigel Clough, who simply said: 'Don't let love slip through your hands this time!'

In December 1988 Erik had been drafted in by Venables from IFK Gothenburg for £400,000 to replace the troubled Bobby Mimms. Ironically, the arrival of the 6ft 4in Norwegian immediately inspired the previously hapless Mimms to record five consecutive clean sheets but a 2-0 defeat by Arsenal, followed by a 1-0 FA Cup loss at Bradford, presented Erik with his big chance at home to Nottingham Forest, a match beamed live to a huge television audience.

The 2-1 defeat that followed was bad enough but, for Erik, his long awaited entry into English football became a personal nightmare as an uneasy performance was capped when he allowed the tamest of shots by Clough to squirm into the net for the winning goal.

"The first match was an absolute horror," recalled Erik, as we spoke in Oslo where he now combines his role as goalkeeping coach to Norway's national team with summarising on Premiership matches for TV company Canal-plus.

"Bobby suddenly started to have lots of clean sheets after I arrived and I had to wait for my chance. But eventually I was thrown in and it was a big day for Terry, with buying a new goalie and it being live on telly against Brian Clough, who he wasn't on friendly terms with.

"After my error it must have been disappointing for him but it was worse for me because it was horrendous. I just held my hands up and said: 'Sorry, I let people down'. It was no use coming up with excuses.

"English football didn't shock me but I struggled early on and people were asking: 'Who is this guy?'. It was hanging in the balance for a few matches but then we started to win and everything was fine."

Born in Stavanger, on Norway's beautiful west coast, Erik established himself with local first division club Viking and enjoyed a short spell at Borussia Moenchen-gladbach before joining Gothenburg. But he might have achieved his dream of playing in England sooner had red-tape not prevented a move to The Lane ahead of our UEFA Cup win in 1984.

"I'd been on trial at QPR when Spurs invited me along and I travelled with them for an away game in Europe. I roomed with Ossie Ardiles when we went to play Hajduk Split and it was brilliant. Spurs wanted to sign me and I was pretty sure I would get a work permit but the PFA was really strong and you didn't have the EU thing then, so they said no.

"It was a major disappointment as a Norwegian because we grew up with English football on telly and it was massive to us. I used to have all the first division team photos on my wall that I collected from Shoot!, Goal and Match Magazine and I was so proud of that. In 1987 I nearly joined another North-London team - one known to be boring, very boring - but, again, I couldn't get a permit. That was really lucky!

"A year later Spurs came in again and I didn't think it would happen because I'd been turned down twice. It was all about connections and when I signed I was so happy but I didn't believe it until it was 100% okay with the work permit."

Having overcome his initial trauma and settled down to life at The Lane Erik quickly formed a rapport with the fans by throwing his gloves to the crowd following his first clean sheet at Southampton in February 1989, an act that became customary thereafter.
He also established a rapport with a few of his more effervescent new team-mates, although he suggests Venables might have adopted a more disciplined approach with a few on occasions.

"I went to stay with Gazza and the bunch in the hotel, which quickly taught me a thing or two about how things worked in England. That was their second hotel because they'd already been thrown out of one!

"But it's very easy to be a newcomer in England because everyone is generally friendly and there's nothing like the hierarchy in Germany, where you have different factions within clubs.

"Gazza was crazy and what can I say? How can I put this nicely? He was just a guy - a boy from Newcastle - who really, really enjoyed playing football and he wasn't prepared, or didn't have the background, to tackle enormous fame. That's not a crime.

"Gary Lineker was clever and always knew when to say the right thing but Gazza didn't put up a front or anything. He was just himself and was enormously popular because of that. But the fame followed and it was too much for him to take. Gazza got involved with the wrong people and was crazy from day one. Maybe, discipline wise, things could have been more strict.

"Terry allowed everyone a bit of slack because he wanted everything to gel and the players to find themselves on the pitch. He managed to get an atmosphere into the team in which everyone felt free to express themselves. But although Terry was a really friendly guy and a players' man who was good to me, they were a crazy bunch - Gazza, Paul Walsh, Paul Stewart and Mitchell Thomas - and he could have been stricter on certain occasions."

Second to playing in English football, most Scandinavians dream of playing in an FA Cup final at Wembley and Erik was no different. After enjoying a consistent first full season between the sticks when we finished third in 1989-90, he cherishes memories of the 1991 FA Cup triumph and, of course, the part played by the mercurial Gascoigne before he self-destructed in the final. But Erik has some harsh words for critics who now demean the competition.

"Gazza was tremendous during that run to the final and I remember telling him in hospital afterwards, when he was really down, that we wouldn't have been there without him. He pulled something out of the hat in virtually every match. He was just as hyped before the semi-final but he scored that fantastic freekick and used so much energy, so he was calmer after it.

"The final was everything I'd dreamed of but you're so focussed and nervous you don't really enjoy the match itself. After going in 1-0 down at half-time and missing a penalty I was downhearted but one of the biggest talking points was when we went into extra-time and Brian Clough sat on the bench, not talking, while Terry got us all going.

"I was so proud at having won that thing and at the banquet I could have sat in the corner with my medal and not spoken to anyone because I was so happy it was in the record books. The FA Cup is such a big part of English football but now all they talk of is how it doesn't matter much anymore and that's a shame.

"I can't understand Liverpool saying they'd have swapped their three trophies for a place in the Champions' League last year. When the players read about their careers in a few years it will say what trophies they won, not that they played in the Champions' League that year. The players have medals they can look at and while it's a big thing to play in the Champions' League it shouldn't overshadow everything else."

Cup success was soon forgotten that summer as Alan Sugar wrested control of the club from Irving Scholar and Venables moved upstairs to become chief executive, leaving the coaching duties to Peter Shreeves. As performances slumped and we finished a disappointing 15th in 1991-92, Erik admits an opportunity to progress was badly spurned.

"There was always a bit of turbulence off the pitch. Something was always going on and sometimes we used that as an excuse for not performing well. When they had money trouble in 1991 there were always people coming round to look at the facilities and we didn't know what was happening.

"Then Sugar came in but, having won the Cup, we should have used that as a base to build on. Instead, information was lacking and we only heard Peter Shreeves was the new coach through the television. Morale was really low, which it shouldn't have been, and we got slaughtered 4-0 by Bryne on a pre-season tour to Norway, which was embarrassing for me.

"With any company, the workers need to feel part of things, to have info. That didn't happen and it was very disruptive. We definitely struggled the following year."

Erik was also struggling with injury, the legacy of an earlier condition known as 'Jumpers Knee' that began to seriously hamper his career. From 1991 to when he left the club in 1995 he underwent no fewer than 13 operations as Ian Walker gradually usurped his number one status.

Despite the offer of a new contract by Gerry Francis, Erik was relieved to call it a day in 1995 and further operations have ensured that, although he can no longer run, he can cycle and should have no problems walking later in life. At 38, as he looks forward to helping steer Norway to international glory, he harbours fond memories of his time at The Lane.

"I look back at my time at Spurs as something I can always carry with me. Tottenham was a good club for me and there were so many nice people - from Roy, the kit man, to the people doing the laundry. I hope the fans remember me as an okay goalkeeper."

By Neale Harvey - Spurs Monthly