This article first appeared on Harte & Soul
Who did you have on the back of your shirt growing up?
Black boots. Proper player.
Kewell? Viduka? Smith? Bowyer? Those were the names that dominated the back of my mates' shirts in the early 2000's. Number 9, number 10, number 11. Who wouldn't want to be like Mark Viduka, thumping 4 goals past Liverpool to win the game on his own? Or Harry Kewell, mazing his way through 5 defenders and sticking one in the top corner? Or Alan Smith! Who wouldn't want to be like Smithy? Coming through the youth team to cement yourself as a cult hero... Stepping onto the pitch in front of the crowd that you used to sit in yourself. That was the dream... for most.
I was number 19. Bakke. I f****ing loved Eirik Bakke.
He wasn't particularly flash, he didn't score many goals, and he was injured a lot, but there was something about the way he played that I couldn't get away from. Perhaps it was his determination and dedication to the cause. The way he seemed to leave every bit of himself on the pitch when he came off, and some bits of the opposition too on occasion. As a young, aspiring, defensive player, Bakke was who I wanted to be. One of the only positives I took from that crushing relegation in 2004, was that Eirik was staying with the club. While all those big name players were heading off to Liverpool, Man Utd and the like, my guy was staying. I loved him for that. That being said, I loved David Batty too, but it was never Batty on the back of my shirt, so obviously there was something else fueling my support.
Maybe, just maybe, part of it was because he was Norwegian.
He'd travelled hundreds of miles to see that East Stand.
You see, for some unknown reason, I've always felt a certain affinity with the numerous Scandinavians that have pulled on the white shirt. I want any player at our club to succeed, of course, but there's something about the blokes from way up North that seems to tick an extra box for me, and in return, we seem to have great ties with Scandinavia in terms of support. With that in mind, what better way to prepare for our preseason trip to Norway than to cast the spotlight on those Scandinavian* lads that have appeared at Elland Road over the years?
*For clarification - I'm defining Scandinavia as the traditional collection of three countries; Norway, Denmark & Sweden. Sorry Iceland. I was very fond of Gylfi Einarsson, but it wasn't meant to be.
Before Bakke arrived from Sogndal, around the time I first really started watching Leeds, there was another Norwegian sitting in our back four, Alf-Inge Håland. Håland is, of course, most know nowadays for being on the receiving end of one of the most cowardly, spineless acts of violence ever perpetrated on a football pitch, but before Roy Keane decided to listen to the little voices in his head, Alfie was another one of my Scandinavian heroes at Leeds. Much like Bakke, Håland wasn't an unquestionable first-choice player during his time at Elland Road, but his performances endeared him to the fans in a way that some higher profile players could never seem to figure out (which is, funnily, quite a common situation at Leeds. Show the right attitude and we'll love you regardless of how good you are).
Alongside Alfie in the team of the late 90s was fellow Norwegian Gunnar Halle, who was competing with Gary Kelly for the starting RB spot. Now, I liked Gunnar as much as the next man, and he was a very solid player, but when it comes to my support, Gary Kelly always takes precedence. Always. Besides Bakke, Kells was the only other player I had on the back of my shirt (on this kit, if you're interested). Nevertheless, I was never disappointed to see Halle's name on the teamsheet when I turned up at Elland Road. Interestingly enough, after retiring from playing, Gunnar ended up as an assistant coach to current Leeds boss Uwe Rosler at Lillestrom, Viking and Molde. I was holding out hope that we'd see him on the sidelines this season, but, unfortunately, it wasn't to be.
More recently, Dennis Wise decided to bring former Chelsea, Sunderland and Rangers striker Tore Andre Flo to Leeds in 2007. At 33 years old, Flo was no spring chicken, and only managed 4 league goals in a year and a half stretch. Nevertheless, he also proved popular with the fans, picking up personal sponsorship from the Kaiser Chiefs no less.
Moving West from Norway, we hit Sweden. Now, the first real memory of Leeds I have is from 1997. As such, I don't remember anything of Norwegian striker Frank Strandli, nor do I remember much of the first Swede to pull on a Leeds shirt; Tomas "Worst Signing of All Time" Brolin. However, like the tales of Revie's boys in the 60's and 70's, or the weird smell on the North Stand concourse, Brolin's story has transcended the years at Elland Road, and is often pointed to as an example of the dangers that transfer market can present. Namely, the risk that players who perform well at one club can often fall apart at others, and Brolin certainly fell apart at Leeds. Despite arriving in a whirlwind of excitement and potential from Parma, the Swedish forward never really found his feet, scoring only 4 goals in just 20 appearances throughout his time in West Yorkshire. A very public falling out with manager Howard Wilkinson and multiple injury lay-offs scuppered any chances of Brolin working his way back into the side, as did his significant increase in weight. He would later move to Crystal Palace after loan spells in Zurich and Parma, where he was similarly unimpressive.
The only other Swede to don our famous white shirt is one Teddy Lucic, loaned over a single season from Swedish club AIK. Centre Back Lucic featured in a side rapidly falling apart, overseen by three managers in one season (sound familiar?), as David O'Leary, Terry Venables and Peter Reid could only watch as key players like Jonathan Woodgate, Lee Bowyer, and Robbie Keane were sold to ease the debts accrued by Peter Ridsdale's "dream". He made 17 appearances altogether, scoring once in a loss to Chelsea, but wasn't kept on despite an offer from AIK.
Dropping down over the Øresund Bridge leads us to Denmark, a lovely country which has only recently begun to produce players for Leeds. Two of the three Danes who have featured for the club are Goalkeepers, and the first of these joined us at what was probably our lowest ebb as a club. Casper Ankergren signed, on loan, in January 2007 from Brondy, a few months before Leeds were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in our existence. Despite the morbid air around the club at the time of his arrival, Ankergren's performances assured that he was extremely popular with the fans, and his switch was made permanent over the following summer. He would go on to make over 100 appearances for the club in League One, including the ill-fated play-off final loss to Doncaster Rovers in 2008, and the victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. He was also part of the team that won promotion to the Championship in 2010, but only as a substitute. It was Shane Higgs that played in that memorable game at Elland Road. Casper would then move on to Brighton, where he still plays now.
His replacement, coincidentally, was another Dane, and another Casper... kind of.
Kasper Schmeichel, son of that other Schmeichel, signed for Leeds in the summer of 2010, despite interest from Premier League and Bundesliga clubs. The Dane proved fairly popular, despite his genealogy, putting in a series of impressive goalkeeping displays in a season which saw the club finish just outside the play-off positions. However, as is so often the way with Leeds, the optimism that came with a solid first season back in the Championship was quickly dashed, as Schmeichel (amongst others) was sold, out of the blue, to Leicester City, despite his protestations. Leicester now sit, of course, in the Premier League, where Kasper still regularly impresses between their sticks. Unfortunately, he is one of many players that we can look back on as Leeds fans with an unshakable air of "what could have been".
Finally, we come to the only Scandinavian currently at the club; Casper Sloth. Yes, the third Casper (if you count Kasper, which I do) from Denmark to play for Leeds, and the only outfielder of the trio, Sloth signed from domestic club Aarhus in 2014 for a fee believed to be in the region of £600,000. Having featured for the Danish national team 8 times by the age of 23, Sloth was lauded as a potential midfield diamond by many (myself included), but struggled to impose himself in the first team thanks to a mixture of limited chances and the form of players like Luke Murphy and Alex Mowatt.
"Sloth" is apparently pronounced "Slut" in Danish. Who's giggling in the back?!
There were rumours circulating around the new year that the young Dane had become unsettled by his tough introduction to life at Leeds, but a place on the bench became a fairly permanent fixture by the end of the season, which most would argue is better than nothing. Sloth's chances seem a tad more optimistic under new boss Uwe Rosler, who appears to see his potential future on the left side of a 3-man attack, most likely playing opposite Sam Byram, with Chris Wood in the centre. Usually preferred in a central role, it will be interesting to see how Sloth adapts to this new position, but Rosler seems confident enough in his abilities to put him to the test in preseason, although his performance in the Frankfurt game was described as "anonymous" by many.
It remains to be seen whether Rosler will persist with Sloth in this new position, though one game can't be used as a fair illustration of a player's true abilities, especially when the opponents are as strong as Frankfurt. Hoffenheim will no doubt provide a similar test, however, and it will be up to Casper to prove that he deserves a place in the side come August 8th, if Uwe does keep him in the starting XI. There's no doubt in my mind that he possesses the talent required, perhaps now he needs to show the determination and drive to succeed that made Eirik Bakke my favourite player.
For more information about the Leeds United Supporters Club of Scandinavia, visit their website here.