Odd Frantzen

LONG FORGOTTEN: Legendary Norwegian footballer Odd Frantzen, pictured here in Bergen in the mid-30s, wearing the Hardy-jersey. The football club, which rose from the working class-parts of the city, ceased to exist in 2015.

Foto: Privat

The dockworker who humiliated Hitler

Eighty years ago, Norway won a sensational Olympic bronze medal in football. This is the story of the forgotten bronze medal-winning hero.

An early October morning in 1977, people in Bergen, the second largest city in Norway, read the following death announcement in the biggest local newspaper:

«Our dear Odd Frantzen was suddenly taken from us, Bergen 2. October 1977» .

A 64-year old man with a prosthetic leg had been kicked to death in a council house in the area popularly known as «the blood town». The perpetrator was a 25-year old man looking for alcohol.

Most people didn't take notice. Or didn't remember.

But the man who was found murdered was not just anybody:

Magdalon Monsen, Nils Eriksen og Odd Frantzen klare for avreise til OL i Berlin 1936

READY FOR GERMANY: Norwegian internationals Magdalon Monsen, Nils Eriksen and Odd Frantzen posing in front of the Norwegian Parliament in Oslo before travelling to Berlin.

Foto: Ukjend / Fotosamlinga etter Betty Frantzen

He was Odd Frantzen. Possibly Bergen’s greatest footballing son.

  • This story was originally published in Norwegian. The original version is available here

Grandmother’s album

Memories in black and white, gathered together with love and care. On the lounge table in the semi-detached house in Bergen, Joy Frantzen set out the photographs, newspaper cuttings and memories her grandmother Betty took such great care of.

The photograph shows a young man from Bergen travelling in what was then the big wide world. Big cities, cafés, railway stations and football stadiums.

Odd Frantzen is easily recognisable.

– It strikes me that he always looks so self-assured, says Joy Frantzen, as she looks through the album.

She was seven years old on that October night in 1977 when her grandfather was killed for two bottles of beer.

– I especially like this photograph, says Joy, pointing to a postcard with three lean-looking men in front of the Norwegian Parliament building in Oslo.

The photograph shows Odd Frantzen and two other men in their twenties. They are dressed in flared grey trousers with a press and dark blue blazers with the Norwegian flag on the left side of the chest.

They are ready to depart. Ready to take part in a big adventure.

Adolf Hitler på ærestribunen under kampen mellom Noreg og Tyskland i Berlin-OL, 1936

HITLER LEFT: Adolf Hitler watching the match between Germany and Norway in the Berlin-olympics in 1936. The Norwegians beat the host nation 2-0, and Hitler left the stands together with Rudolph Hess, Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbbels before the match was over.

Foto: Scherl / Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo

Two debutants

Berlin, August 7th 1936: On the pitch at the Poststadion stadium, eleven Norwegians are ready to face a superior force. The Olympics in Berlin. 55,000 spectators in the stands.

The opponent is none other than the host nation, Adolf Hitler's Germany.

On the far right is a 23-year old dockworker from Bergen. Odd Frantzen has never played in a full international match before.

Above the Olympic rings which frame the dignitaries’ stand, all the principal officials of the Third Reich are assembled. The man from Bergen is not the only debutant.

For the first time, Adolf Hitler is about to watch a football match. After Germany’s crushing 9-0 victory in the opening match, Hitler’s advisors persuaded him to watch the next demonstration of power.

Soon, Hitler will suffer one of the biggest ever upsets of the Olympic Games.

What happened at Poststadion in Berlin 80 years ago, remains one of the biggest ever heroic acts in Norwegian sport.

Norway humiliated Germany by beating the host nation 2-0 in what was exprected to be a display of power on home turf.

Adolf Hitler and the other Nazi leaders Rudolph Hess, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring left in anger before the match had finished.

Odd Frantzen (Hardy) og Nils Eriksen (Odd)

BUDDIES: Frantzen with Nils Eriksen (left) from Odd, Skien. The two were widely known for entertaining and amusing the rest of the national team.

Foto: Privat

«Destroyed the German defence»

The debutant from Bergen received much of the honour for the Norwegian team’s shock defeat of the German home favourites.

«Frantzen had the courage to pull off ball skills and feints which are normally reserved for superstars, but above all, he never allowed himself to be overawed by the imposing surroundings», wrote the national newspaper Aftenposten.

Together with Reidar Kvammen, Frantzen made up the Norwegian right side. The only two players on the team that did not come from Eastern Norway.

Jørgen Juve, the leading Norwegian international goal scorer of all time, believed that the manager of the national team pulled off a stroke of genius when he put on the two young men from Western Norway:

«They completely destroyed the German defence. The big defender Münzenberg was left flailing on the ground after being run ragged by the two men from Western Norway.»

His companion Reidar Kvammen believed Frantzen’s debut was unprecedented.

«I can safely say that his was one of the best debuts ever made by a Norwegian international», said Kvammen in an NRK interview in 1962.

Det norske landslaget som slo Tyskland i OL i Berlin i 1936.

SENSATION: Norway shocked Adolf Hitler when they sensationally beat Germany in the Berlin-olympics in 1936. The team went on to win the bronze medal.


Talked his way onto the team

It was not at all inevitable that Odd Frantzen was going to play in the match against Germany, or even be in the Olympic squad at all. He worked as a dockworker in Bergen. He played for a small club, the working class club Hardy from Bergen.

Without playing a single full international match, he was selected for the Olympic squad as a substitute.

The debutant was soon to make his mark in the Norwegian Olympic squad.

Repartee, tall tales and humour were Frantzen’s trademarks.

«Frantzen is not one of the quickest. Maybe with his jaw, but not with his legs», said Reidar Kvammen.

The newcomer made a particular impression with one of the more experienced members of the squad, Nils Eriksen from Odd.

On one occasion, the two were caught red-handed by none other than national team manager Asbjørn Halvorsen, as they drank beer in their room in the Olympic village.

Alcohol and tobacco were not accepted. Nevertheless, the episode did not seem to have any consequences for the two men.

The teammates were truly impressed by the social skills of the man from Bergen, even though the dockworker from Nygård had travelled less and spent less time in school than many of his teammates.

«He was in incredible form during the training sessions, and he wouldn’t have been Bergenese if he hadn’t claimed that he had to be in the team», said Reidar Kvammen.

Perhaps it was the self-assured attitude that led to Frantzen being selected for the encounter with home nation Germany. On the pitch, at least, he had a rare nonchalance about him.

Securing the historic medal

After the victory against Germany, Italy were the next opponents in the Olympic football tournament. Frantzen was again given a place in the starting line-up on the team following his impressive debut.

Postkort med bronselaget
Foto: Ukjend / Fotosamlinga etter Betty Frantzen

The match ended 1-1 after normal time, but the Italians were too strong and snatched a second goal during extra time. Italy got to play in the final, the Norwegian boys had to fight for third place.

The bronze final was tough and even for Frantzen and the Norwegian team in front of the 95,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. But after three goals by Arne Brustad, against Poland’s two, the team wrote itself into the history books: The bronze medal-winning team.

For the first, and until now at least, only time, a Norwegian men’s football team won a medal at a major international tournament.

Postkort til Betty Blindheim frå Odd Frantzen

GREETINGS FROM BERLIN: This is the postcard Odd Frantzen sent from the Olympics to the love of his life, Betty Blindheim.

Three days after the Olympic bronze medal had been secured, a postcard with a photograph of the bronze medal-winning team was stamped at a post office in the German capital.

The postcard was addressed to a dressmaker from Sunnmøre who worked in Bergen, Betty Blindheim.

The message is brief and concise: «Greetings from Berlin. Regards Odd.»

The Hardy boys who came from nothing

Before the 1930s, football in Bergen had much in common with the present situation: It was mostly about SK Brann, internationally also known as Brann Bergen. The team which had been by far the most successful club in the city ever since football became popular. The upper class-boys in red had already played in four cup finals, winning two of them.

Nevertheless, the reds had not succeeded in being a club for the whole city. The class divide was wide, and Brann was seen as a wealthy man’s club.

SK Hardy, which was founded by a group of boys in the port area of Nygårdstangen in 1915, was at the other end of the class hierarchy. Nygård was a typical working class district. Most people who lived there had moved to the city in search of work.

On the team that won bronze at the Olympics, there were two players from the little working man’s club. In addition to Frantzen, teammate Magdalon Monsen was also part of the team.

Odd Frantzen remained with Hardy throughout his career. The club is no longer in existence today.

Hardybanen på Nygård

GONE: This is the football field originally used by SK Hardy in Bergen. Pictured here in 1936, this place is now a city street with heavy traffic.

Foto: Ukjend

World Cup in France

After the Olympic tournament in Berlin, Odd Frantzen continued to make his mark on the national side. In the autumn of 1937, the Norwegian team qualified for the World Cup following a home victory and an away draw against Ireland.

Yet the World Cup adventure was brief for the Norwegian team. Norway faced Italy in Marseille in the first round.

Italia sitt lag under VM i Frankrike i 1936

CONTROVERSIAL: Italy's nazi salute before facing Norway in the 1938 World Cup was not well-received by the French audience.

Foto: Anonymous / Ap

The match was controversial. The nazi salutes of the Italian team stirred emotions. The referee, who was actually from Austria, but had become German following annexation, overruled what would have been the winning goal from Norway just before the final whistle.

The match ended 1-1 after normal time. Italy scored the winning goal in extra time, and the World Cup was over for Frantzen and Norway.

Nevertheless, the World Cup match remained the best match that any Norwegian national team had ever played.

Here is Frantzen shown on the pitch after 90 minutes, right before extra time.

At 25 years old, Odd Frantzen was at the peak of his career. But when Germany occupied Norway two years later, it meant the end of his international career which had started so promisingly. Four seasons. Twenty matches. Five goals.

Hitler was standing humiliated in the stands when it all started. Less than four years later, he took revenge.

The dockworker

The Second World War left a trail of destruction in its wake, but it was not until the occupation that the man from Bergen won gold. On 26 July 1941, Odd Frantzen (28) was standing on the steps outside Bergen Cathedral. He had finally got his Betty (33).

The success on the football pitch meant that many people wanted a piece of the couple. They were invited to arch-Bergenese bowling clubs, parties and yacht excursions. Many people believe that the couple were almost used as a trophy by the city’s elite.

– Grandma thought it was strange. That they had so quickly become involved in things that they could previously only have dreamt about, says Joy Frantzen.

Her grandfather was a dockworker, a secondman on lorries and a construction worker. In a tough environment. Those who worked at the port in Bergen during the decades after the war often talk about many sad fates, usually involving a lot of alcohol.

Wives stood waiting at the wages office on the day the wages were paid to make sure that there was money left over to pay the rent and buy food and clothing for the children.

Those who remember Odd Frantzen make no secret of the fact that he was also fond of the bottle.

Arbeidsulukka på Laksevåg

THE TRUCK: Frantzen lost his leg after this terrible accident on May 10th 1961. The former Norwegian international tried to move the truck, but lost control over the vehicle and fell with it 13 feet to the ground. The 48 year old was severely injured and spent weeks in hospital.

Foto: Dokumentfoto: Sølve Rydland / Statsarkivet i Bergen

The fork-lift truck that was in the way

May 10th 1961: It’s one of those typical periods of fine weather that one often experiences in Bergen in May. Together with a colleague, Odd Frantzen is on the way to a marmalade factory in Laksevåg.

On the lorry are stacks of sugar sacks. Odd’s colleague is driving. Frantzen is riding shotgun.

It's early in the morning. Nevertheless, the two workmates carry in the first sacks of sugar before they take a break for breakfast. By the time they are ready to start work again, someone has parked a fork-lift truck beside the lorry, making it difficult to unload the sacks of sugar.

There’s no one around outside the factory building, so Odd Frantzen decides to take matters into his own hands.

He climbs up onto the truck, which could be started without an ignition key. The 48-year old then puts the truck into reverse, but loses control. After crashing through a metal fence, Frantzen and the truck topple over a four-metre high edge.

Two days later, the Bergen newspaper Bergens Tidende writes about the accident. In an announcement, it says that a 48-year old man is lying seriously injured at Haukeland Hospital.

At the hospital, Odd Frantzen is given the horrible news: The leg and foot that humiliated Hitler in Berlin has to be amputated.

The accident left a deep scar on Odd Frantzen and his family. He started drinking more.

It eventually tore the couple apart. In spring 1965, wife Betty asked for a separation.

The success had been heavenly. The adversity looked like being bottomless.

Over the following years, Odd Frantzen disappeared into a black hole. In the Norwegian National Registry, he was registered without any fixed address for almost four years.

Landslagsspelarar frå Bergen

LOCAL HERO: Odd Frantzen, in a wheelchair, pictured here in Bergen in 1961 along with other former and current local national players from the city. SK Brann- and Hearts-legend Roald «Kniksen» Jensen, only 18 here, on far right.

Foto: Ukjend

A gravestone with two names

Odd Frantzen was 64 years old that night in October 1977, when the most successful international that Bergen has ever nurtured was the victim of a 25-year old looking for alcohol. Joy Frantzen was seven. Old enough to be affected by the horrible and unnecessary tragedy.

Ei eldre utgåve av Odd Frantzen

OLDER: This is how Odd Frantzen is remembered by his granddaughter. Older, quiet and kind. But also heavily troubled by alcoholism.

Foto: Ukjend / Fotosamlinga etter Betty Frantzen

– I remember it as being absolutely dreadful, she says, as she smiles at a photograph of the Odd Frantzen that she remembers.

The man who kicked Odd Frantzen to death was sentenced to five years in prison. The woman who held the helpless man down in the chair had to serve one year.

– The way in which he was killed, the alcohol and the environment he moved around in, has probably made the legacy of Odd Frantzen into something of a taboo. But I think Odd Frantzen deserves to be remembered by Bergen. There should be streets and places called after him. He not only means a lot for football, but also for Bergen as a city, says local historian Rolf Eriksen.

– He enabled other people who came from a simple background to believe it was possible to achieve something big.

Reidar Kvammen, considered by many to be the best Norwegian football player of all time, never forgot Odd Frantzen. In his memoires, Kvammen claimed that Frantzen was the best player he ever played with.

«First, I would choose Odd Frantzen. He was the perfect teammate for me», wrote his friend from the bronze-winning team.

Wife Betty never forgot the man who wrote that brief postcard from Berlin in 1936 either.

In the churchyard at Solheim in Bergen, it is forever engraved in stone. Odd and Betty shae the same gravestone. Together for eternity.

Joy Frantzen med OL-diplomen til farfaren

PROUD: Granddaughter Joy Frantzen have few, but fond memories of Odd Frantzen, who died when she was only seven. Here she is with Frantzen's Olympic diploma from Berlin 1936.

Foto: Sølve Rydland / NRK