The Norwegian TV series entitled Home Ground created by Johan Fasting and starring Ane Dahl Torp sometimes swims in clichés but the diversity of the Norwegian population is finally recognised.
The arrival of Helena Mikkelsen to coach Varg IL, a men’s football team playing in the Norwegian professional league called Eliteserien, raises many eyebrows. She is the first female coach to hold a position like this, and both the sponsors, the team and the fans show concerns about this. Using the word misogyny would be probably a bit too harsh, but a large amount of prejudices is definitely expressed towards her and her competency is also questioned. In other words, just because she is a woman, who has actually led a female team close to the top, can’t be a great trainer for a male team. With a great support coming from Espen, the team’s manager, Helena manages to get respected by both the team and the fans. The focus is on Helena’s professional life and the team’s ascent from ashes, but viewers can get a glimpse into her private life as well. Towards the end of the season, the latter gradually becomes more and more important and the real catharsis happens in the very last moment in the darkness of her home.
The season comprised of ten episodes has it ups and downs, and there are moments when the viewers have to fight with an armada of clichés. But despite all the flaws, it is truly fantastic to see different ethnic groups being represented on screen – although this might be the consequence of producing a television series about football in which talent comes before ethnicity. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that football is free from racism, it’s just the money that usually speaks. Racism per se is not discussed in the series, but prejudices and hostility (e.g. on the football field or in the hospitality industry), everyday struggles (of adults and teenagers) and the clash between private and professional life are. The series hits rock bottom when Michael, played by former professional football player John Carew, cheats on his wife with a 17-year-old. He doesn’t go through a typical mid-life crisis presented in motion pictures so many times, the circumstances are somewhat different in his case. Nonetheless, the scenes leading to the actual moments of cheating are rather clumsy and no real tension is produced. There are several episodes incorporated in the plot like this, which usually don’t give so much space for surprises; the viewers can easily guess what comes next.
The premise of the series is that Helena, as a single mum, can’t be a successful mother and professional coach at the same time. Therefore, her daughter Camilla needs to take care of her, which is also explained by Camilla several times. This certain characteristic is not new to Nordic dramas or TV shows in general, as the main character in the Danish The Killing (or the American one) also prioritises her professional life and loses touch with her child. But we could also name The Bridge’s Saga Norén or Carl Mørck from the Department Q films as examples. Helena undeniably seems a tough character from the outside, but she is rather vulnerable from the inside. She is even deemed to be a cocky and arrogant by one of the main sponsors of the football team. His view of her is possibly fuelled by the fact that Helena is a strong and determined woman who doesn’t care about what others think of her. Whenever it is possible, she tries to avoid being seen as a woman actually. While the other football coaches are wearing suits, Helena is always in her tracksuit and has no make-up on. She only dresses up for an important meeting, but it’s clear that it is an unexplored territory for her. She doesn’t even want to report that one of the coaches grabbed her private parts. In addition to that, she barely spends time in the kitchen cooking or baking, and her daughter takes care of everything. So Helena undoubtedly gets rid of all her femininity, as that would prevent her from being taken seriously for her merits as a football coach.
Without question, Ane Dahl Torp gives an excellent performance as Helena, she is truly the heart of Home Ground even if her character is cold and unlikable at first sight. She plays with a wide range of gestures, some of which become her trademark also noticed by the fans who play key roles in the plot. The depiction of the dynamics between the team and its loyal fans are worth mentioning as it contributes to the strength of the series. No football hooligans are seen, only passionate, sometimes prejudicial, people who would do anything for their beloved team. One of the most beautiful and moving scenes occurs when they start singing the team’s song, which happens to be the theme song of the series, to support the players. That moment the viewers, the fans and the players are breathing together, and their souls become one. So the music and the opening title deserve some praise, too.
Even though Home Ground often plays safely by including way too familiar plot elements and the season finale is quite predictable, it makes its viewers want even more of it. It would be interesting to see how Helena’s and the other characters develop and what challenges they have in the future. Based on the season finale, one possible plotline is to focus on Helena and her daughter relationship. In a way, they exchange places: Camilla is following a path from the joyful to the miserable and Helena the other way around as the last episode is about a huge victory for her and a kind of loss for Camilla.