ALTRINCHAM FC, the Greater Manchester side who play their football in the sixth tier, attracted a home crowd of 1,074 supporters on Saturday, but arguably Altrincham’s biggest fan from outside the UK, Odd Sindre Tonning, was at home 1500 miles away across the continent in Norway.
Tonning’s route to becoming a Robins fan has been far from conventional growing up in Scandinavia though, and his support sparked from the help of the infamous computer game Football Manager.
He said: “I decided to start on the bottom of the English league system to see where that would bring me.
“Altrincham had just been relegated from the National League, and it seemed like a great club to start with. That was the start of me falling in love with the club.”
After following the club for five years, keeping track of games through a combination of Altrincham’s Twitter account and live coverage of matches on Radio Robins, Tonning took his support to the next level by creating his own Norwegian supporter’s account titled Altrincham FC Norway.
“The fans of this club are incredible and only made me fall even more in love. There is something beautiful about non-league football that you just don’t get in the Premier League”
“I decided to create a Twitter account to show that the club were recognized across the world.”
Since his Twitter page began in September 2015, Tonning has managed to find three fellow Norwegians that support the club and share their love for Jim Harvey’s side.
Speaking about them, he said: “They had started a Facebook page a couple of years earlier, and there had been some more Norwegians sharing their experience. I think there are between five and ten Norwegians that has been active on the Facebook-page and Twitter.”
The creation of these pages only increased Tonning’s affection for the club, and he soon took the decision to buy his first full Altrincham kit to show off to the whole of Norway.
“I got in touch with the club and their kit-supplier and goalkeeping-coach, Ian Senior. He was wonderful and helped me with buying my first ever non-league kit.
“I was (and still am) probably the proudest Norwegian, wearing a kit from a team that almost no other Norwegian has ever heard of – I love it. I am incredibly proud to be able to show the Altrincham colours to everyone.”
— Altrincham FC Ladies (@AltrinchamFCL) September 18, 2016
Tonning’s affiliation with the club extends further than just the men’s first team, as he supports Altrincham’s Ladies’ Football Team in equal measures; ahead of their first home game this season, a Norwegian supporter’s flag was unveiled and put up at Mersey Valley Sports Club.
“The flag was Keith Edleston’s idea, the manager of the ladies’ team”, said Tonning.
“He reached out to me and asked if we wanted to show our love even more, and it was a no-brainer to say yes. I love what he has done to the flag, and I love to show the club that they have our support; juniors or seniors, ladies or men, it does not matter. We are a part of one big family.”
— Altrincham FC Ladies (@AltrinchamFCL) July 24, 2016
Despite his ongoing support for the Robins, living in Norway does mean that going to watch a home game at Moss Lane becomes an improbable challenge, and up to this point the distance and cost has proved too much for Tonning – yet he is hopeful of making his Altrincham debut in the near future.
“This is one of my main goals in the next year, to clear my schedule and travel over the sea to watch my favourite team play live.
“I have, however, seen two games on my computer. The first one was the wonderful Barnsley game in the FA Cup – that was shown through one of the main broadcasters in Norway. My whole family was watching this game, and when Damian Reeves netted and sent us through to the second round [it was]probably one of the greatest moments I have ever experienced as an Altrincham fan.
“I also got to watch the last game of last season, when BT Sport streamed it live. Unfortunately, we were relegated, but I hope and believe that we will be back in the National League soon, with me on the stands at Moss Lane.”
Altrincham have had a rough start to life back in National League North this season, currently sitting six points from safety in the relegation places after 14 games but facing bottom side Bradford Park Avenue in a vital game on Tuesday night.
“The Bradford game is definitely a must win – our results have been unfortunate, but that has been the way this season has been so far.”
Jim Harvey’s side will be hoping that their success of making the FA Cup first round proper for the second consecutive year will lift spirits in their fight to escape from the relegation places.
When asked about his support of Altrincham instead of big Norwegian sides such as Rosenborg and Molde, Tonning’s response was short and sweet – the close-knit nature of the club feels like a family.
“The fans of this club are incredible and only made me fall even more in love. There is something beautiful about non-league football that you just don’t get in the Premier League”, he said.
Tonning’s story is an impressive one, and one that shows that there is still a love and appreciation of non-league football across the globe – if anything, it shows that English football does indeed stretch further than the Premier League, and the smallest of clubs can have a huge impact across nations.