Sunderland’s preseason trip to Norway 28 years ago was no jolly up.
Staying in the small village of Hell, the location was chosen primarily for its proximity to several hills and cross country tracks – and it soon became apparent that there would be little to do in the area once training had ended.
The lack of amenities was no mistake, as Chief Coach Trevor Hartley later told the Roker Review:
The idea of going abroad is to enable the lads to work on strengthening their endurance. It also helps to get players away to a different environment where there are no distractions, so you can zone your mind in for the season.
This was in stark contrast to a trip to Florida earlier in the summer, where the team had enjoyed sea fishing and visits to local restaurants.
There had admittedly been a 4-0 win over a West Coast select side whilst in the United States, but whilst that work out seemed to be of secondary importance to the business of team bonding the tables the tables were turned upon arrival in Norway.
Manager Mick Buxton’s focus had shifted towards getting his squad into shape – but not everybody was enthused by his methods.
Several players later spoke ‘off the record’ about how they struggled during the Norway tour, feeling cooped up and overworked.
The only thing to break the boredom of their relentless running schedule was a series of low-key friendly matches dotted around the country but even then there was no real guarantee of entertainment, as a drab game played on this day in 1994 proved.
Having seen off both Team Gauldal and then Averoykameratene in the first two fixtures Sunderland then took on Langevag – a Norwegian third-tier club based in the picturesque Sula region of the country.
Buxton may have expected another victory given the standard of opposition, but with the hosts midway through their domestic season already they put up a good fight and battled to a goalless draw.
With little goalmouth action to speak of, the main talking points were cautions for Derek Ferguson and Dickie Ord, these coming at a time where cards picked up in pre-season could still count towards suspensions in league competition.
It was Ferguson’s second yellow of the tour, whilst in the following fixture against a scratch XI made up of representatives of Fosen and Vikingan, Don Goodman became the next man in the book. That match also saw Sunderland concede a goal for the first time on the trip, during a 2-2 draw.
Just a day after that one the Lads signed off on a high with a resounding 9-0 beating of Surnadal. Given the emphasis on fitness, it was no surprise that skipper Kevin Ball lead from the front and started the game, making him the only player to begin every match in Norway.
Phil Gray then grabbed four goals in the final game, finishing the tour as top scorer with six.
The striker would repeat the feat and end the upcoming season as top scorer too, although it was the result on this day in 1994 that perhaps gave the clearest indication of what was about to happen – Sunderland went on to draw more games than any other club in Division One during 1994-95.
Langevag meanwhile finished their own campaign by being relegated – perhaps they should have gone to Hell and back for a bit of training as well…
Sunday 24 July 1994
Sunderland: Chamberlain; Kubicki, Bennett, Ball (Melville 64), Ord; Owers (Ma Gray 64), Ferguson, Cunnington (Owers 71*), Mi Gray (Atkinson 64); Goodman (Pi Gray 64), Russell. Unused: Norman
*Owers was brought back on, having been substituted off earlier in the game
Langevag, attendance c. 300