A fifth-tier club knocking out a second-tier club with a free kick in the dying minutes of the game may sound like a fairy tale but it really did happen recently in Norway. When Craig Rogers stepped up in the 86th minute and struck a wonderful set piece in to the back of the net, he wrote his name into Norwegian Cup folklore. He had secured a 2-1 victory for his side Bergsøy IL over Aalesund who can name former Arsenal defender Jernade Meade as one of their stars. They were through to the second round of the cup.
Rogers is only 28-years-old but he has seen a lot in his football career so far. He’s playing in America, Iceland and Norway as well as in England and Wales but his free kick winner tops the lot.
I am very excited to share a guest article from Craig himself as he looks back at his football career so far; the highs, the lows, playing against US international Jordan Morris and his love for Italian football. Enjoy!
The early days
When I was young, I was fascinated by Italian football. From the late 90s I loved to watch Juventus; Del Piero, Zidane and Davids were players I loved. As I got older I knew I wanted to travel or even live in another country. I still dream of playing in Italy.
Anyway, at 18 I was playing semi-pro football and had gone through applying to university and was ready to begin studying in Liverpool. It was something I felt I had to do rather than wanted to do. After conversations with a team mate at the time (heading to America), my family and I decided to drop my university place and work on playing/studying in the US. The student athlete life in the US is challenging but really enjoyable. Football is the perfect tool for adapting to a new culture/life. It brings people together all over the world. I’ve met countless people who have positively influenced me and it has given me the opportunity to learn and grow throughout my life so far.
After college in America I had offers from two USL clubs. I went to Kitsap Pumas for my first professional season and after 2 months I broke my foot and missed the rest of the season. With the seasons in America being so short I was looking at months without football. Mentally it was a big challenge for me, at my lowest I thought football was over for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, but I knew I still loved football and wanted to play. I made the decision to focus on rehab and build myself back up.
Moving to Iceland and Norway
I was playing with a guy who had previously played in Iceland. He told me to call the people he had worked with. They were interested in working with me and that was the boost I needed to push myself. I was living in Florida at the time. Outside of my semi-pro schedule I trained alone, with amateur teams, anyone/anywhere I could. I went to a couple of trial events over 3-4 months to play in front of coaches/scouts and was lucky enough to be given a trial in Iceland. That didn’t work out initially, but I did sign with another Icelandic club almost immediately after.
After Iceland I went home and found a club in Wales. I didn’t want to stay at home for long and was exploring all my options to move abroad again. There were some possibilities but nothing had materialised into a contract. Once again I felt like my chances had come and gone and I was resigned to staying in England. I signed with a team in England and was preparing for the season when I got a call from one of my coaches in Iceland asking if I would be interested in playing in Norway. I had been at my new club for two weeks but I jumped at the chance to move and within a couple of days had arrived in Fosnavag (where Bergsøy are based) via several cars, planes and even a ferry.
Life abroad and my love of football
Adapting to new countries/cultures has never been a problem for me. I love to travel, to challenge myself and meet people who can share things I’ve never experienced before. It can be difficult but football exposes you to an entire community immediately when you move to a new club. Once you have signed, and then played a game, people are aware of you and conversation comes naturally. As a member at a new club/in a new town people are watching. You want to make a good impression of yourself. It’s a bigger challenge than playing with people who know you and it gives you extra motivation to perform. If you can make a good impression both as a person and a player everything else comes with time.
I’ve had a lot of different clubs and most of my moves involve a change of country. The transfer process can be as frustrating as anything else. In some cases it’s taken weeks and feels like it’s holding you back from settling into a team. In other places it’s taken a couple of days and you can place all your focus on performing. As a general rule, if the time zone has a big difference, America to England for example, you have to wait longer.
I’ve continued to play football during off-season periods through my career for the sole reason that I love the game. It does help with fitness, but also exploring new environments. I’m a naturally curious person, I want to experience and challenge myself as much as I can. Every club does things different, experiencing as many different environments as I can has taught me so much about football, people and life.
Who are Bergsøy IL and what I get paid
We are an exciting team. We like to play high tempo, attacking, pressing football. We are amongst the teams who are challenging to win the league.
The facilities here are worthy of a higher level of football, if I’m honest. We have over 1,000 seats in the stadium, a pitch that is better than some higher division clubs and will soon have an indoor hall for the winter. We also have an academy system to develop local players. The future is exciting at Bergsøy. That said, the club has struggled a little financially. It makes the result against Alesund that much bigger. To be able to repay the faith the club have put in me and improve the future of the club is a gift for everyone involved.
My personal situation may be surprising, but at the moment I don’t make money from playing football. I coach in the youth system at the club and have some part time work. I have a lot left to give and I continue to train and live as a professional with the future in mind. As in any career, you consider all your options when they are available to you.
The highlight of my career
As for the cup upset, the goal and the win are the highlight of my career so far. I practice free kicks after training a couple of times a week but that is the best one I’ve ever hit. Bergsøy is a community club and I have been treated as part of the community since I arrived. You want to give your best when you have that kind of support, it’s not always like that in football. Bergsøy haven’t been in the first round of the cup for a long time, on the other hand Alesund are fully professional and have an incredible record in first round games. The manager said in his team talk we had the chance to become heroes, to write ourselves in the history of the club and I’m immensely proud to have made my mark as part of the team that achieved it.
I didn’t get the chance to talk to Jernade Meade, unfortunately. I did want to but everything that happened after the game finished made it difficult to do anything. I managed a few handshakes but after that our younger players and fans had invaded the pitch and the celebrations had begun.
As for the next round, its another great opportunity to challenge both myself and the team to see how we compare to an Eliteserien team. Over the time I’ve spent at Bergsøy we have built a strong mentality and belief in ourselves. There were no nerves before the Alesund game, we had nothing to lose and as we prepare for another tough game against Kristansund we will have the same mentality: give everything we have and see where we are at the end of the game.
Life in Norway
Norway is a beautiful country. Just being outside is something interesting to do here, there are so many places to hike and explore. I recently went skiing for the first time, a painful experience I must add but a new thing I’m challenging myself to improve at in my time here. Apart from sampling Norwegian culture I love music and spending time with people close to me. Pretty normal things, I think.
The best players I’ve shared a pitch with
As a perennial underdog, I’ve played against a lot of guys who have gone on to bigger things. As a youngster, I played against Tom Ince and remember he was a class above everyone else. In the US, I played against Jordan Morris and Darren Mattocks who were incredible, and are now full internationals with America and Jamaica.
The best I have played with is probably unknown to most, Rijad Kobiljar. We played for a semi pro team in Jacksonville Florida together for about a month. He had so much raw talent then, and has since gone from strength to strength and currently plays for Ljubljana in Slovenia and Bosnia’s U21 team.
At Bergsøy right now there are some players breaking through with huge potential so maybe that will change in the future.
You can continue to follow Craig’s story on Twitter @Craig25Rogers