A rivalry that has been simmering gently for the past few years has come to the boil this Winter. Levanger and Ranheim have always held a relatively good relationship, but the events of last season and Robert Stene’s big move between the clubs has caused a fair amount of friction between the two sides. Next year could well see the birth of a new fiery derby in Norwegian football.
Having overachieved under manager Ola By Rise in 2015, the year 2016 saw the club take steps backwards in their growth. Svein Maalen oversaw a season punctuated with financial issues off the field, and injury issues on it as the side struggled to maintain their status as an OBOS Ligaen outfit.
Levanger, on the other hand, had an electric start to the season as they saw themselves lead the table for almost a third of the season. A poor second half of the campaign saw them finish just 6 points and 1 place above rivals Ranheim.
A key point to note is that despite their on and off the pitch struggles, Ranheim did manage to win both of their league games against Levanger. The first win, early on in the season, did more damage to Levanger than anyone at the club would care to admit. Levanger did not win for 5 games after the Ranheim defeat.
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Benjamin Stokke og Bendik Bye sto for det mest av den offensive moroa til Levanger i fjorårets sesong. I år er det Jo Sondre Aas(bildet) og nysignerte Robert Stene som må levere foran motstanderens mål
I spoke to Ranheim midfielder Kristoffer Løkberg about the past season, as well as the simmering rivalry with neighbours Levanger;
“We started OK and until the summer break we were aiming for the playoffs. But after the break we had a horrible period that made us fight against relegation. That was a new experience for the boys and the whole club but was probably the best thing that could happen to us in the long run as it gave us that new experience. Both the players and staff learnt a lot from that, and I think we will see a more mature group of players next season because of it.
It has come to a point now where some of the more experienced players are leaving the for one reason or another, but the club will have faith in a younger group next season.
We would like to be a club known for developing young players from our region. But, you can not underestimate how important experience is in a group, and so both the signing of Oyvind Storflor and the re-signing of Eek are therefore really important to us.”
On the subject of money, it is clear that right now Ranheim are second to Levanger in the finances department. After a season in which the club were mere days away from being sanctioned by the NFF, Ranheim are now much more frugal with their money, as shown in recent transfer dealings.
The transfer of Ranheim player Robert Stene to Levanger summed up the club’s issue. Stene had come off the back of two brilliant seasons for Ranheim where he was close to becoming almost a club icon. Four goals against Fredrikstad near the end of the 2016 season did him no harm either. But his transfer to Levanger has soured his memory as a Ranheim player for many, Kristoffer Lokberg and lifelong fan Inge Grytbak told me how it affected the club;
“I think that the rivalry will grow for every year that we are in the same league. The transfer of Robert will certainly make it a more fiery occasion.
If money is your motivation for playing football, Ranheim is not the club for you. Then you can go to Levanger or elsewhere, we do not care.” Said Lokberg.
Lifelong Ranheim fan Inge Grytbak said;
“Without a doubt, money talks. His personal terms are much better in Levanger, and I know that to be true. Now he has to drive two times a day in his car, with bigger expectations on his shoulders. I am not sure he will manage that well. I don’t expect him to even score 10 goals next season, to be honest.”
Inge is a man who follows Ranheim closer than any other fan whom I have encountered. He gave me a great idea of what the rivalry between Ranheim and Levanger meant to the fans;
“Of course, it means a lot. It feels better beating Levanger than other teams. We have good wins against them over the past years, with three victories out of three in 2016. The win at Moan on the 16th of May was the best, and the home win in September meant we took a big step towards avoiding relegation.
But for sure, this rivalry is not as big as others in the country, so I still feel safe travelling to Moan. Players like Jo Sondre Aas, Bendik Bye and Vegard Voll have switched between the teams in recent years without any problems, but Robert Stene’s transfer was a bit more of a blow. Everyone close to the two clubs knows that very well.”
Kristoffer Lokberg has played against Levanger many times and told me what the rivalry means to the club from a players’ perspective;
“The rivalry has has grown during the last seasons because we are know competing at the same level. They have become more of a noisy neighbor since they got promoted to the OBOS Ligaen.”
With finances very tight right now, Ranheim are having to be smart with their dealings in the transfer market. This season, they lost many key players. Are Tronseth, Robert Stene, Even Barli and maybe even Mads Reginiussen, have all left the club since the curtains closed on the 2016 OBOS Ligaen season.
To replace them, Ranheim have so far mostly looked down the divisions rather than up with players such as Joakim Solum coming in from Nardo and Andreas Rye joining from Strindheim. It is looking like 2017 will be a tough year for Ranheim, and Lokberg told me about what the club will be planning to achieve;
“The most important thing for the club will be to keep Ranheim in the division. All the players know the the league is so tight that anything can happen, and will also have ambitions of fighting for a top 6 spot.”
An interesting and important year for Ranheim awaits. Whilst the finances are still tight, the club is now in an acceptable financial position moving forward into 2017. The contract extensions of Karl Morten Eek and Aslak Witry are arguably more important to the side than signing a new player.
Whilst beating Levanger in the league may not be a major goal for Ranheim, it will surely always be in the back of their minds. With Robert Stene ‘crossing the tracks’ to join their rivals having left in ignominious fashion, there will now be that extra dimension to every encounter between the two sides.