Famed for his arms-outstretched "aeroplane" goal celebration, the Norwegian striker was a popular figure at all four of his English clubs in the mid-1990s
3 September ~ Norwegian striker Jan Age Fjortoft has been inducted into the Swindon Town Hall of Fame and regularly partners Don Rogers, scorer of the decisive extra-time goals in the 1969 League Cup final, up front in Robins fans’ all-time favourite players lists. Fjortoft was a popular figure at all four of the English clubs he played for over a five-year period. This had also been the case in his four years at Rapid Vienna, where he was voted Austrian league player of the year in his first season.
Having signed for the promoted Robins in the summer of 1993, his spell at the County Ground didn’t start well. Often used as a substitute, he failed to score in his first 20 league appearances for a team rooted to the bottom. One incident at home to Aston Villa summed up his struggles. Swindon were trailing 2-1 with minutes left to play when John Moncur’s near-certain equaliser was intercepted by Fjortoft, who diverted the ball out of play from underneath the crossbar. But after he finally scored in a win over Spurs – one of only five victories Swindon managed all season – the goals suddenly flowed. He got another 11 in the remaining 15 matches, each accompanied by his “aeroplane” celebration, and would start two games for Norway in the World Cup that summer.
Fjortoft returned from the US to a Swindon team that continued to struggle the following season, but did at least reach the semi-finals of the League Cup. That run included a spectacular goal by Fjortoft in a fifth-round win against Millwall. With his back to goal at the edge of the penalty area, he spun and looped the ball into the top right corner. In April 1995, he became Middlesbrough’s record signing as the club looked to ensure promotion ahead of moving to the Riverside Stadium. He scored three in the final four games, including a sublime curling effort in the rain at Oakwell, as Boro went up.
Fjortoft was to be an important player in 1995-96 in a three-pronged attack featuring Nick Barmby and Craig Hignett. He scored the second goal in the first ever game at the Riverside, a 2-0 win over Chelsea, and marked Juninho’s first contribution to English football by slotting home his perfectly weighted pass against Leeds. The club set about upgrading their attacking options the next summer and Fjortoft was squeezed out by Fabrizio Ravanelli and, to a lesser extent, Mikkel Beck. Moving on to Sheffield United in January 1997, he scored ten in 17 games as the team reached the Division One play-off final. When United re-signed Brian Deane that summer, they had one of the strongest sets of forwards in the division with Dean Saunders, Gareth Taylor and Belarus international Peter Katchouro.
Later in the year, Fjortoft was dropped despite scoring regularly and duly expressed his dismay: “I always score goals and everyone knows that, apart from perhaps a couple of people.” Those people were the club’s then chairman and CEO, who authorised the sale of both Fjortoft and Deane on the same day in January 1998, effectively ending United’s automatic promotion chances. Manager Nigel Spackman resigned shortly after, citing boardroom interference. Fjortoft’s move to Barnsley took him back into the Premier League, again with a team in a precarious position. With Ashley Ward, he formed a partnership that had lots of sharp elbows to upset defences as the team adopted a more direct style. Fjortoft scored in wins against Wimbledon and Southampton that lifted Barnsley up to 18th but they won only one of their last nine matches and went down. In November he moved to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Fjortoft returned to Barnsley last year where he was a popular guest for a screening of the film Daydream Believers, which tells the story of the club’s sole season in the top flight to date. Since retiring he has worked in various roles within football including as team manager for the international squad and as an often forthright TV pundit.
Photos: Jan Age Fjortoft celebrating a goal for Swindon against West Ham in March 1994 (Colorsport); playing for Norway against Mexico in the 1994 World Cup (Getty); face-to-face with Tim Flowers for Middlesbrough in September 1995 (Getty); scoring for Sheffield United in the 1996-97 play-off semi-final against Ipswich (Colorsport); celebrating with Barnsley team-mate Martin Bullock in April 1998 (Colorsport); working as a TV pundit in 2016 (Getty)