STEFAN Johansen has become the fourth Norwegian to sign for Celtic but Neil Lennon will hope that the new £1.9 million buy lasts a lot longer than their first experiment with Viking imports.
As Johansen was paraded yesterday at Celtic Park, following in the footsteps of Harald Brattbaak, Vidar Riseth and Thomas Rogne, few people know of the Norwegian pioneer who blazed a trail – but was never signed by Celtic
Geir Karlsen, a 6ft 4in goalkeeper, was offered the chance to make his name as part of Jock Stein’s legendary nine-in-a-row side. However, Karlsen was so homesick he only stayed in Glasgow for eight weeks before packing his bags and heading home.
The Celtic manager was impressed with the ’keeper when he played against the Scottish champions for Rosenborg in the European Cup first round in September 1972. It was Celtic’s first European tie against Norwegian opposition and Karlsen, who had 29 caps at the time, played well in the 2-1 first leg defeat at Hampden – even though he went off injured on a stretcher when it was just 1-0 following a collision with Lou Macari.
Karlsen did not feature in the second leg 3-1 loss to Celtic but Stein still made the offer.
“I had a short spell in 1972 with Celtic because I played against them in the European Cup for Rosenborg,” recalled Karlsen.
“Jock Stein was impressed with me at the time and he wanted me to come to Glasgow for a trial. My wife Rognhild came too and I spent eight weeks with Celtic but he never offered me anything. My wife was homesick and on the day before Christmas we returned to Norway.”
However, Karlsen was determined he would find his way back to Scotland and he joined Dunfermline in October 1973.
“Dunfermline and Trondheim are twin towns so Dunfermline came to play Rosenborg on our national day, 17 May 1973,” explained Karlsen.
“I must have made an impression on George Miller, the manager at the time, as he came up with an offer, so when the Norwegian season finished I went over in October.”
The towering ’keeper made his debut in a defeat against Hibs and although he continued to do well enough to be first choice as Norway’s international ’keeper, the Pars were hitting the skids after the glory days of the 1960s and were relegated due to league reconstruction in the summer of 1975.
“We survived the first season but in 1974-75 the SFA decided to shorten the number of teams in the Premier League from 18 to ten teams,” said Geir. “We were 14th or 15th and went down.
“There was no more money so I went back home to play with Valerenga in Oslo before returning home to Skien.”
Geir went on to university and gained a degree in social work before working with youngsters and drug addicts and becoming a probation officer. He returned to East End Park in 2007 as a guest of the club and was paraded in front of the fans.