SK Træff is relying heavily on student players for their 4th tier football team, a situation that causes some challenges.
By MAXENCE GUERITOT (text & photo)
Founded in 1924, Sportsklubben Træff appears to be a community sporting club like many others in Norway. The organization operates mainly on the voluntary work of locals and it’s football and handball teams aim to offer an opportunity to the young population of Molde by developing their sport-related abilities while also building memories of enjoyable moments with their teammates.
The context surrounding Træff and particularly its football team is, however, an interesting case of study due to the rich environment in which it evolves. Despite a population of around 27,000 inhabitants, Molde is home of a top division football club, Molde FK, and its University hosts more than two thousand students every year. A particularity which creates challenges and opportunities that are not so common for your average local sports club.
The best example of that is Bjørnar Eltervåg. Originally from Randaberg, he arrived in Molde in 2013 to study sport management at the University of Molde. Involved in the football activity of his hometown, he was naturally seeking a way to pursue his passion for the game in his new environment and found in Træff the solution to mix his student life with football which today, having completed his Bachelor’s degree, allows him to be involved on a professional level for the club : «I am working every day now. Previously, I had to manage my time if, for example I had to go to school during the day, then I would try to do things during the night. If I had time I would be here and because of the “after-school football sessions” that I had last year with the school, I was there every Monday and I would coach kids.»
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Bjørnar has recently been appointed as the daily leader of SK Tæff, allowing him to develop professional skills in the field he is interested in, while also being the captain of SK Træff’s football team. A new position that requires some adaption on his side due to the wide range of activities he’s now involved in : «In the very beginning, there is a lot to take in. I have a lot of different assignments written on a daily note with things that I’m supposed to complete, which is not so easy to do in one day, having the overview on everything.»
Lars Saga, chairman of the sports club for the last 5 years, also agrees on the complexity of running a community organization because of the resources it requires : « We are all volunteers here. Bjørnar is the only paid employee, so we rely heavily on volunteers for many aspects of the club. […] It is one of the reasons why there is no comparison possible with Molde (FK), they have a budget of 100 million kroner, with us only having around 6 million for the entire season.»
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Financial matters do not only concern elite sports clubs nowadays, it is also a big component of community organizations, even though the objectives are naturally often not the same. A few years ago, the financial situation of SK Træff had deteriorated significantly, necessitating an overhaul on the organization’s activity. The debt has been reduced since and offers more flexibility to operate.
Revenues stream mainly through the contribution of local sponsors without whom the football team would have difficulties to handle its imperatives, such as the necessary frequent moves of the squad to Oslo which allow it to compete against the teams of Norway’s capital that are also engaged in the 4th tier of the country’s football scene with Træff.
The club also must share it’s home-field with other institutions of Molde, since it is the municipality’s property. Therefore, local schools and the youth teams of MFK train regularly next to Bjørnar’s office, but it doesn’t necessarily imply strong links between the two football clubs, as highlighted by the team’s captain : «There is no relationship as far as I know. I am not sure if there has been one in the past, or if the teams are simply rivals.»
A possible rivalry which seems to be traced back to the previous century. On the stands at the match between SK Træff and KFUM II on Sunday September 16th, we met some of the “Old Boys” Træff players of the late 20th century, who still are involved in the club to this day.
One of them, Johannes, explained a simple pattern : «I played for the team in the past like many of the ‘Old Boys’ here today, and it is the only team I support. »
Despite not being a big fan of the team’s playing style, which is similar in a way to “english football in the seventies”, he believes that Træff should be considered as a serious option for young players to progress, rather than what seems to be the general opinion of trying to join MFK at a young age : «They go to Molde and end up sitting on the bench or not playing at all, so they either try to come back to Træff, or they simply quit .»
On the other hand, Tobias, a Master’s student at the University of Molde and coach of an under-16 team at Molde FK, confirmed a level of rivalry between the young teams and acknowledged the result-oriented policy of MFK compared to Træff’s : «They always want to beat each other, even if we only meet them during friendly games because we don’t play in the same division. […] Eventually, if the players want to stay in Molde, they need to have a certain level, or otherwise they will have to go.»
Bjørnar also agreed about the existence of some kind of a rivalry, and explained that the particularity of Molde’s football scene is that the real competition in town is not for the number one spot.
When asked to establish a ranking of the local clubs, he said : «By the airport, you have Rival, then, when you come in the middle of town you have Molde and from the college you have Træff. […] When we are playing against Molde II, in the newspapers they’re mentioning “Who is the second-best team in Molde ? Is it Molde’s second team or is it Træff ?”»
The answer to this question could very well be found on October 27th, when the two sides meet at Aker stadium for the final 3rd division game in a possible battle for promotion: « Right now, they are four points ahead of us, and it will be the last match of the season, so if we can manage to be a single point behind them, or in front, then it could be a nice one.»
Træff’s chairman, when talking about this issue of obtaining results, explained the club’s general philsophy : «The football team is the only one in Træff to play at such a high level. With the youth teams, we’re trying to develop not only the players, but also the individuals, so the result is not the most important.»
Another key aspect of Træff’s football performancesm is the club’s relationship with the local university. The sport being highly popular and very demanding in terms of time commitment – regarding the training sessions during the week and Sunday games – it goes along well with students’ timetables. For that reason, and for others, SK Træff has been relying significantly on HiMolde for it’s recruitment : «It is mainly Norwegians, but sometimes there are some international Master’s students coming to play. Last year, we had a Finnish guy who played a little bit professionally in Estonia, and we also had a German, Thomas Rekus, but that was maybe three years ago, and they’re the last foreign players we’ve had. […] At one point, we were like eight, or so (students playing for the team), but then people are leaving because either they are finished, or they go to another college,» said Bjørnar.
This situation often adds difficulty to the achievement of the squad’s objectives, specially for the end of the season, as Lars Saga explained: «It is difficult for students to stay here throughout the season, because in the summer they move to bigger cities and try to find a job for that period because there are not many possibilities in town. And it is one of the main problems that we face, because we need those players to compete at this level, but it creates a lot of movement.»
A point on which Træff’s head coach couldn’t agree more. Asked at the end of the 2-0 victory against KFUM II if he and his assistants had found a way to manage this challenging situation, he briefly stated : «We started the season with twenty-four players and now we’re eighteen. That’s how we manage ! […] If you come to play here, you need to have the time to play the whole season.»
For the final games of the season, Træff will most likely have to pick some players from its under-19 squad to complete the roster and find a solution to this recurring problem. And even if this will possibly bring the level down, the team’s mentality will surely not change, as Bjørnar replied to the final question regarding his definition of the club : «Træff means hard work! There’s a poster downstairs which says: “100% Træff. Every single time!”»