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Official Review by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Love it. Hate it. Love it and hate it. Oslo’s Jordal Amfi elicits strong opinions, and they’re all justified. Possibly the only thing that isn’t up for debate about the home of Vålerenga is the arena’s individuality. From the arena’s asymmetric layout to its frighteningly steep angles, nothing found at Jordal Amfi is common.
The 1950s-vintage Jordal Amfi is part of the old guard of European arenas that began their lives as outdoor rinks. Indeed, the 1952 Olympic ice hockey tournament was played here, on this ice, but not under this roof. That roof didn’t come until the 1970s, and a further renovation in 1999 enabled Jordal Amfi to host that year’s IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships.
Nowadays, it’s easier to imagine a big event being held here a half-century ago than it is to imagine one in 1999. Even with a recent-ish renovation, little about Jordal Amfi is modern. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you. The fan looking for modern comfort and conformity should stay far away. The hockey fan looking for something a little out of the ordinary might want to put Jordal Amfi on the bucket list.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
On entry to our sole visit to Jordal Amfi, a security guard made us throw away the small plastic water bottle that we had been smuggling into arenas across Northern Europe. Fair enough; we were planning to try the local offerings anyway.
The cold, dark Nordic winters make coffee (NOK 15) the go-to item at Jordal Amfi's temporary-feeling snack bars. Coffee is par for the course at games in Scandinavia, but Vålerenga goes far enough beyond this staple to satisfy most fans. Hot dogs (NOK 25), packaged sandwiches (45 NOK), chips, cookies, and candies aren't particularly cheap, but also aren't particularly expensive for one of Europe's most expensive cities.
Coca-Cola products are available for NOK 25 (USD 3.10, or EUR 2.88, as of April 2015). It's the Norwegian waffles (NOK 25), though, that you'll want to save your kroner for. Unlike in Hamar, the local staff here does an excellent job of keeping the waffles hot. Add some jelly and sugar and enjoy, until you come to the sad realization that you might never again have another snack this good at a hockey game. Menus are posted in Norwegian, but most workers speak excellent English.
Though the food options don't compete with the gourmet selections found at many North American arenas and a few newer European ones, the range of offerings is slightly above average. And besides, the waffles are all you really need.
Jordal Amfi is asymmetric in every direction. No matter where you're seated, you're looking at a part of the arena that is different from where you are. One of the only constants throughout the seating bowl is the steep pitch of the seats. Combined, these elements mean that Jordal Amfi hides empty seats well and exaggerates the size of the crowd. Even at half-capacity, Jordal Amfi doesn't feel empty. In fact, it feels like everyone is right on top of the ice.
The odd layout also means that fans have an usually wide variety of vantage points available to check out the game. Stand at the top of the concourse and get the sort of birds-eye view normally only available at large arenas. Or take a seat. At center ice, you can blend into the crowd. Or find a seat in the far corner, where the first rows and last rows are one in the same. Towards the top of the seating bowl, roof supports provide minor obstructions to the view, but nothing major.
A basic scoreboard hangs over center ice, but there is no video. The low-backed plastic bucket seats are neither particularly comfortable nor uncomfortable. A few private boxes are available on the less-tall side of the arena, which is cordoned off from where most fans sit.
Though Norway isn't currently known as a hockey power, the country has a strong hockey history. The GET-Ligaen is a bit uneven and top-heavy, but the better teams can hold their own against some of Europe's better known clubs, to the point where there has even been talk of Vålerenga possibly joining the Russian-run KHL. Wherever you sit, there is often surprisingly good hockey on display. Even if you're unlucky enough to catch a snoozer of a game, the building's quirks should be enough to hold your interest.
Jordal Amfi takes its name from its location in Oslo's Jordal neighborhood. The Vålerenga neighborhood is nearby. Both Vålerenga and Jordal are part of Gamle Oslo, or "Old Oslo," which hosts tourist sites like the Edvard Munch museum. The area immediately surrounding Jordal Amfi, though, is mostly residential. An American football field is a surprising site next door, but aside from this and a few small shops, Jordal Amfi's immediate neighbors aren't particularly noteworthy. The area is perfectly safe, and plenty more attractions can be found within a 30 minute walk or a short ride on the Oslo T-bane metro train.
Security had to break up a fight in the visiting fans section of Jordal Amfi during our only visit there, but we'll call that a freak occurrence. Otherwise, Vålerenga fans seem to be a good, but unremarkable bunch. Royal Blue Oslo, Vålerenga supporters club, stands and supports the home team loudly, but perhaps a bit less passionately than you'd find in more traditional hockey countries, like Switzerland. Still, the average fan and the Royal Blues alike focus on the game and cheer at exactly the right times, without needing a scoreboard to prompt them. Team colors are a popular wardrobe choice.
Getting to Jordal Amfi is easy. Once inside, though, the arena feels vaguely like a death trap. We'll start with the "getting there" part.
Oslo's Gardermoen airport is growing as a hub for low-cost airlines. Thanks to the like of Norwegian Air Shuttle, getting to this expensive city can actually be a bargain. 2015 has seen the occasional sub-$300 round trip fare from the United States, and $450 transatlantics to Oslo are no longer particularly rare.
Once in Oslo, take the Metro to Ensjø station on line 1, 2, 3, or 4. The arena is a 7-10 minute walk through a residential neighborhood. You can't see the arena from the station, and it isn't particularly well-signed, so don't be afraid to consult a map or ask for directions.
Good luck moving around the arena. There is no true concourse here. A walkway at the top of the seating bowl is the main way of moving around the arena, and a security gate here prevents fans from moving between two halves of the arena. The walkway is also not level, with steps every few feet to compensate for the arena's curved roofline. Metal roof supports jut out from the walkway every few feet. Watch your step.
The descent to the seats is precarious. Stairs are unusually steep, and perhaps a bit more narrow than usual. When we grabbed a seat back for safety, an entire row of seats tilted forward.
For the fan with special needs, the saving grace is the fact that a wheelchair seating area provides a good view very close to an entrance.
Younger fans and fans who enjoy quirky stadiums might get a kick out of Jordal Amfi's eccentricities. But even fans who don't normally struggle attending events might have some physical challenges here.
160 NOK (USD 19.85, EUR 18.42 as of April 2015) gets you in the arena for a night out in Oslo. What does that money get you?
a) A low-tech, minimally-produced evening of poorly-regarded hockey in an archaic arena.
b) Two hours of surprisingly good hockey in a historic rink that also happens to be one of the world's most unique.
The answer depends on your perspective.
Beyond the admission, food and drink prices are reasonable. We would have liked to have done some shopping, but Jordal Amfi's lone souvenir stand was closed when we attended.
Overall, five stars is just as justifiable as one star. So we'll split the difference and round up, since we really liked it here.
Having visited dozens of pro hockey arenas, we can't think of another rink that sticks out as being so unusual. Combining this level of individuality with the type of history that only Olympic venues have, and we can't help but award bonus points, especially in an era when quirky, old arenas are being rapidly replaced. Additional bonus points for a free lineup card, prices that are very reasonable for one of the world's most expensive cities, and finally, incredibly good waffles.
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