Thursday 27 May 2021, 05:50

Heavenly Henningsvær and its picture-perfect pitch

  • Henningsvær is a small fishing village in Norway’s Lofoten Islands

  • Its football pitch has earned global renown for its spectacular setting

  • Local youngsters are able to play on it 24-7 in the summer midnight sun

Henningsvær’s world-famous football pitch assaults the senses.

For those fortunate enough to play on it, there are the scents of the salt air - and the fish - that come from being surrounded by sea and row upon row of cod-drying racks. The sound of the ball being kicked, curses and shouts of encouragement also arrive accompanied by those of birds calling and waves crashing on the adjacent rocks.

For the rest of us, it is simply a feast for the eyes. The green, flat surface stands out against the surrounding stone, sea and majestic mountains, serving up an aesthetic masterpiece widely described as “the most beautiful football stadium in the world”.

Some do question, with some justification, whether it qualifies as a ‘stadium’, given there is neither seating nor terracing. But no-one disputes its beauty.

This photogenic football pitch has, in fact, become a tourist attraction in its own right - and the focal point of an already-picturesque fishing village.

Henningsvær, covering a meagre area of 0.3 square kilometres and with a population of just 510, is spread across several small islands in the Lofoten archipelago. Before the football pitch was created by levelling the bedrock of the southern part of the Hellandsøya island, the village church stood as it most prominent landmark.

Not anymore. These days, football has replaced fishing as the activity with which Henningsvær is most synonymous, and it is not only tourists, photographers and drone operators who are drawn to the area.

A major pre-UEFA Champions League final commercial was filmed there, while UEFA picked Henningsvær as one of unique 13 locations for a ‘#PlayAnywhere’ video campaign (incidentally, Scottish island Eriskay, previously featured in our ‘Global Game’ series, was among the others).

Lyon star Ada Hegerberg joined football freestyler Liv Cooke for filming in her native country, and even the Norwegian was taken aback by playing “amid such breathtaking scenery”.

But while corporations and continental bodies have now joined sightseers in gravitating towards Henningsvær’s picturesque pitch, it serves a more ordinary and uplifting daily purpose. Local youngsters – boys and girls – train and play there together, while the ground and nearby club house have become a hub for the entire community.

“It’s quite fun to see because the grown-ups meet at the pitch too, to drink coffee and watch the teams playing,” Ragnar Palsson, a local hotelier, said. “The pitch is used a lot - in the summer, almost 24 hours a day!”

And while floodlights have been installed to facilitate night matches and continued play during the cold, dark winter months, it is the summer phenomena of midnight sun that allows these impromptu kick-abouts in the small hours.

“It’s really beautiful because it’s light 24-7,” explained Sara Kaspersen, one of the local players. “That means us kids are able to stay up late, so sometimes we’ll go to the pitch at 2am to play football.”

Day or night, and whatever the season, few football settings offer a better opportunity to play the beautiful game in equally beautiful surroundings.