Monday, 16 September 2013

Mike McCabe

1984 - 88 : Vard Haugesund (Norway)
1988 - 90 : Tromsø (Norway)
1991 - 93 : Viking FK (Norway)

Born in Waterford in 1964, Mike McCabe was an aggressive striker who played all of his professional football in Norway. At the age of 15 he moved to London to sign as a schoolboy with Tottenham Hotspur. 

While at the club he played for the Ireland Under-16 and Under-19 teams, but was refused a call-up yo the Under-21s due to a back injury he sustained.

Although at White Hart Lane for just over four years, he never made a senior appearance for Spurs, and was released just short of his 20th birthday.

In 1984 at the age of 20, he moved north to Norway and signed for Vard Haugesund. 

Founded in 1916 and based in the southern Norwegian city of Haugesund (a settlement of roughly 34000 people), Vard have played most of their seasons in Norway's 2nd tier. They reached the final of the Norwegian Cup in 1962 and 1975, but have no makor trophies to their name. Their home ground, the Haugesund Stadion has room for 8000 fans.

At the time of the Waterford man's arrival, Vard were languishing in Norway's 3rd tier, the 3. Divisjon. With his goals they finished in 1st place and earned promotion back to the 2. Divisjon. McCabe would spend another three seasons with the club, in which time they would never finished lower than 9th in the third tier. In 1988 he was snapped up by 1. divisjon side Tromsø.

One of the country's most famous clubs, Tromsø also hold the position of being the most northerly located top-flight club in the world. Tromsø is Norway's 7th largest city (with a population of 69000 people) and the 2nd largest city in the Arctic Circle (after Murmansk in Russia). The club was founded in 1920 and when McCabe arrived they had just moved into their new stadium, the 7000 capacity Alfheim Stadion. Nicknamed Gutan (the boys), Tromsø only had one Cup title to their name by the time the Irishman came.

His new coach was former Sweden international Tommy Svensson, who would later coach his country to 3rd place at the 1994 World Cup. 

Tromso's Alfheim Stadion
He made his debut on May 1st for the club, away to Djerv 1919, a match that ended 1-1. His first goal came later that month when he scored in a 2-2 draw with Vålerenga. He also received a yellow card in that game. His next goal came in mid-June to help Tromsø to a 4-2 win over Nor Narvik in the Cup.

At the end of the season, Tromsø finished in 5th, a good 14 points behind winners Rosenborg. In the Cup they fared no better than the last 16.

In his second season with the club, Tromsø finished in 3rd. The Irishman had scored 10 goals, just eight behind the league's top scorer. This made him the club's top scorer, a feat he would repeat the next season. In McCabe's last season at Tromsø, they finished a remarkable 2nd in the 1. divisjon with the Irishman netting 13 goals.

It had been an amazing turnaround for a club that just 7 years before; had been playing in the Third Division. In all he made 71 appearances and scored 35 goals in four years at the club.

In 1991 he made the final move of his career when he signed with Viking FK. 

This is one of Norway's most successful clubs with 8 League titles and 5 Cups to their name. They are also, alongside Rosenborg, one of the country's most prestigious name throughout Europe. The man that signed McCabe was ex-Fulham player Benny Lennartsson. The club are from Stavanger, Norway's third largest settlement in the south of the country. Founded in 1899, they play home matches at the 16000 capacity Viking Stadion, but in McCabe's time Viking played at the 18000 capacity Stavanger Stadion.

Although he managed to make 63 appearances for De mørkeblå (The Dark Blues) McCabe's time in Stavanger was riddled with back injuries that he had picked up while with Tromsø. This greatly affected his playing ability, and he only scored 9 goals in 2 years with the club before his back caught up to him, and he collapsed during a match. As a result he had to retire at the age of just 28. He did importantly however, play a key role in Viking's league title win in 1991, scoring some crucial goals at the tail-end of the season. This was his only major winners medal from his short but eventful career.

Today he still lives in the country, working as an English and P.E. teacher in Sandnes. He is still remembered in Norway for his technicality and speed, as well as his good attitude and good understanding of the other players' patterns and movements.

Although Mike McCabe is a name that will not be well known to Irish fans, he is one of those rare footballers who is better known in a foreign land. Bizzarely, McCabe's name still commands respect and admiration in Norway. Tromsø regularly describe him as a hero, and he retains a close relationship with the club today.

In 2008, McCabe was named as one of the 50 Best Foreigners to ever play in Norway. This is a huge honour, and places in him in a category with the likes of Magnus Svensson, Tobias Linderoth, Christian Wilhelmsson and Joachim Bjorklund. Players eligible for this list were those deemed to have "impacted importantly to their teams pursuit of success and played at a high and stable level over several seasons". For the Irishman's entry, it simply says :

"Important, loyal cog in the offensive part of Viking's last triumph"

Quite an honour for a man that many Irish soccer fans will never have heard of. 

To Mike McCabe, a respected Wild Goose...

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