Blast from the Past no.16: Jostein Flo
Flo Flo Flo Flo Flo Flo Flo Flo Flo Flo Flo Flo might sound like a deeply unimaginative and downright silly introduction to an article about a footballer called Flo. But to music fans, particularly 90s music fans, and even more particularly to fans of the pop group 2 Unlimited, it is more than a carelessly repeated syllable. Rather it is a modern sonnet which forms into an aggressively catchy Europop melody, adapted into a football chant and roared from the terraces with affection, belief and passion.
“Flo, Flo! Flo Flo Flo Flo! Flo Flo Flo Flo! Flo, Flo who needs Deano?” was the cry of Sheffield United fans hailing their new Norwegian striker to the tune of 2 Unlimited’s No Limit in August 1993, the zenith of the Dutch techno scene. A £400,000 summer signing from Sogndal, Jostein Flo was the man chosen to replace club legend Brian Deane, who had just moved to Leeds in a record-breaking £2.9m transfer. A tall, combative target man in the same mould as his predecessor, Flo’s goalscoring home debut against Wimbledon gave Blades fans every reason to belt out optimistic dance anthems in his honour.
“He scored with a classic centre-forward’s header - I remember thinking that we might not miss Deano after all,” recalled one Sheffield United fan on the S24SU website.
It wasn’t just 2 Unlimited who enjoyed 1993 - it was also a vintage year for Norwegian football. Flo’s physicality caused Des Walker and Gary Pallister all sorts of problems as the Scandinavians sealed a famous World Cup qualification victory against Graham Taylor’s England team in October, propelling Egil Olsen’s unfashionable side to an all-time high FIFA ranking of No.2 in the world.
The following month, Blades manager Dave Bassett added a second Norway player to his ranks with the £500,000 signing of talented left-back Roger Nilsen. Fans began to turn up at Bramall Lane wearing Viking helmets in honour of their Nordic recruits, while Flo was the most popular name chosen by fans on the back of their replica shirts, although this was partly because they were charged by the letter. It was Yorkshire, after all.
Persistently pronounced “Jostein Flu” by commentator John Motson, Flo was the elder brother of future Chelsea star Tore Andre. But despite the striker’s international pedigree and exoticness, it quickly became apparent that United would miss Deane a bit.
“He arrived after Deano had broken the long-held perception that being really tall meant you were pretty rubbish as everything but heading. We soon realised that Deano was the exception and Jostein was the rule,” said another Blades fan.
“Was a brilliant player for Norway but not for us. Tried hard but achieved little,” added another, while a fellow Blade described Flo as “the only man who became smaller when he jumped up for a header”.
After scoring three in three games at the start of his Blades career, followed by two goals in the last 10 minutes of a thrilling 3-3 draw at Southampton, Flo’s plummeting form mirrored that of the club. By the early spring, Bassett’s side were in deep relegation trouble and Flo’s stock was so low that anything good he did was a surprise.
“He scored an acrobatic volley against Leeds and there was no instant cheer from the crowd because no-one could believe he had done it,” remembered one United fan of a 2-2 home draw against the club’s Yorkshire rivals.
That wonderstrike was a rare chink of light in an unhappy spell that mainly involved Flo charging aimlessly around the field like a “man in treacle” while donning a mysterious wrist bandage that he wore at all times without explanation, an uncanny similarity he shares with the Yorkshire comedy character Keith Lemon.
“We tried to use him as a like-for-like replacement for Brian Deane, but Flo was quite different. Our tactics of just aiming for his head every time didn’t really help,” said another Blade.
But just as United and Flo looked doomed to failure, they launched a revival. In early April, Flo scored two second-half goals against Liverpool as the Blades clinched a memorable 2-1 win at Anfield. A run of one defeat in 12 games sent the Blades into the final match of the season needing just a draw at Chelsea to survive. Flo’s strike gave them a half-time lead at Stamford Bridge, but an injury-time winner from Mark Stein sent the Blades down in the most agonising of circumstances. It would be 12 years until they returned to the top flight.
Flo’s tally of nine Premiership goals in a relegated team was far from shabby - “that’s around the £7 million mark in today’s market”, pointed out one Blade - and that summer he became the first Sheffield United player in history to play at a World Cup.
But on returning to England’s second tier he “was overshadowed by Nathan Blake”, which tells you all you need to know. Flo managed six league goals in 32 games that season, and when it was discovered the following campaign that an extra payment to his former club would be triggered if he played one more match, he was swiftly shipped off to Stromsgodset (where he is now director of football).
Blades fans continued their scratch their heads at Flo’s international exploits following his departure, as he starred in a famous Norway victory against Brazil in the France 98 World Cup. Perhaps it was the pressure of replacing Deane that held Flo back, but in South Yorkshire he is considered a disappointment, as one fan who met him recalled.
“Player of the year dinner 1994, we were just hovering above the relegation line. He told me, ‘Trust me, we will not go down.’ We did!”
And that just about summed up the English career of Flo - a player who failed to deliver on his promise.
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