• Ane Dahl Torp stars as football coach, Helena Mikkelsen, in 'Home Ground'. (SBS)Source: SBS
The excitement of battles on and off the field along with the friendship and futures at stake make 'Home Ground' about so much more than football.
Tanya Modini

29 Nov 2018 - 11:04 AM  UPDATED 11 Jun 2019 - 4:25 PM

Home Ground brings many contemporary issues like gender equality and inclusion to the screen along with the skill and excitement of football – it will make you want to stand up from your lounge chair and cheer, not only for the game of football but for the magic that can happen when people embrace difference and diversity. 

Home Ground tells the story of Helena Mikkelsen (Ane Dahl Torp, Occupied), a successful women’s football coach who is offered the role of assistant coach for the Norwegian Premier League men’s team, Varg IL. Not satisfied with being an assistant, Helena orchestrates the ultimate attacking move and manoeuvres herself into the job of head coach.

Helena is more than qualified for the top job, passionate and fearless, so there shouldn’t be any issues with her appointment, right?

Well, maybe just a few. There are problems navigating the high-risk path of combatting vicious sexism in male-dominated sport, problems with a menacing, small-minded community who will stop at nothing to resist change, personal problems for both Helena and her teenage daughter Camilla (Emma Bones), financial problems for the Varg IL club and dramas in the off-field lives of the players.

This community is not for changing

Local football hero Michael Ellingson, played by retired Norwegian national football player John Carew, is also a keen contender for the top job. He may not have the coaching experience of Helena, but he sure has the support of the community.

But Helena has the backing of the team’s manager, Espen Eide (Morten Svartveit, Occupied) who has a modern vision for the club that includes change, diversity and the 15 years of expertise that Helena will bring. And he’s not one for backing down. 

Helena’s plan is to introduce some new, younger and more diverse players into what she sees as a tired team, along with a new attacking strategy into the game play – the technical side of which will interest football fans. But the town doesn’t want a bar of anything different, whether it be game tactics or someone from another town coaching their team, particularly when that someone is a woman.

No worries. Helena just needs to consult other female coaches of male first-division football teams for some guidance around these tricky male-dominated sport-type issues. But hang on, there are no other females coaching men at Premier League level in Norway in this series (or in reality for that matter).

As the town’s rejection of Helena rises to the threatening level of ‘Scandi dangerous’, the risk to her safety and her struggles with knowing how best to react and act in this role take their toll both professionally and privately. Does she show emotion or will that be seen as being too emotional and feminine?

Does she drop all emotion apart from aggression, or will that be seen as too blokey? Is there a strategy that can keep Helena safe and salvage her reputation?

Emotions run high

Among all the division, the show develops a unifying element – the power of sport to bind a community, to make people feel like they are part of and belong to something. The Varg IL team song is also the rousing theme song of the series and is used to great effect more than once as it becomes more familiar, and in turn, more emotionally charged with each episode.

There is a pivotal moment during a match where the Varg supporters rise in unison from their grandstand seats and sing a stirring rendition of the team song to rally the spirits of their beloved team. The pride and strength of the small community are transferred to the players in this hauntingly Viking-esque moment.

Home Ground was filmed in part on the Norwegian island of Hareidlandet in the small town of Ulsteinvik, which was chosen for both its stunning landscape and football-obsessed community. The town’s football stadium, Hoddvoll Stadion, where the football matches were shot, is only a short distance from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and one of the gateways to the Norwegian fjord system, which makes for some visually stunning background shots right from the opening scene.

Real-life issues explored

The overt and deliberately frustrating sexism depicted in Home Ground hits the ground running within the first ten minutes of the series. We find Ellingson’s young son playing a football console game and refusing to let his sister play with him because “she will throw the whole game”. We hear a male football expert tell Helena in a television interview that girls play football as “a hobby, a way to occupy their time”, certainly not as a profession.

The #metoo debate is given a particularly definitive and strong nod in one episode. When a male coach from another team sexually assaults Helena on the field, she cops a punishment for retaliating, but initially decides not to make a complaint against him.

“There are many reasons why we would write about this, but some of the main points were to grasp how difficult it may be for women to report on that kind of issue and why it can often be easier not to say anything”, Home Ground writer and creator Johan Fasting said.

After initial feedback on the series, which included pushback on the character of Helena, the producers decided to rewrite her character so she would be “more likeable” and “more deferential in the way she spoke”. This was a move that did not impress Torp who, on discovering the changes that had been made to the character, withdrew from further consideration for the role of Helena. Consequently, the producers reversed the rewrite and Torp accepted the part.

Home Ground took out three of the major awards at the 2018 Gullruten awards (the equivalent of the Emmy’s in Norway) including best drama series. Torp won best actress for her accomplished portrayal of Helena, and Axel Bøyum’s (Eyewitness) exceptional performance as Adrian Austnes, the young, super talented but troubled new recruit to Varg IL, earned him the best actor award.


Home Ground is streaming now at SBS On Demand:

Coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ kicks off with France v Korea on Saturday, 8 June live at 4.00am, then repeated at 9.00am on SBS. You can catch the highlights of each day at 6.00pm on SBS.

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Saturday 8 June from 4am*   France v Korea Republic LIVE  5am
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Every match live and free, in multiple languages

SBS Radio will broadcast commentary of all 52 matches of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup™, live and free via the SBS Radio mobile app. In addition to the English commentary available on all matches, selected matches will also be offered simultaneously in multiple languages.

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