Fredrikstad Fotballklubb was founded on 7 April 1903. While football in many older clubs was an addition to other established forms of sport, such as skiing or athletics, FFK was the first club in Norway to focus uniquely on playing football, and as such may be labeled the first true football club in the country. A lack of opposition meant this was in fact the third attempt at establishing a football club in Fredrikstad (tradition has it that the second attempt died out when the only football landed on a freight train bound for Moss). Finding someone in the vicinity to play against was still a problem when FFK was founded.
It so happened that the Englishman H. W. Kenworthy, who lived in the neighboring town of Sarpsborg, wanted to practice his native country’s sport and traveled to Fredrikstad to take part in one of FFK’s training sessions. Upon his return to Sarpsborg, it was suggested that he arrange for a new club to be established. The idea was well received in Sarpsborg, and Sarpsborg F.C. was founded on 8 May 1903. The first match between the teams was played the following year in Sarpsborg in front of 600 spectators. FFK won the historical match 4–0. Sarpsborg and Fredrikstad went on to establish the first regional series and inspired the founding of many new clubs in the region in the years to come.
FFK didn’t have the red and white colors when the club was founded in 1903. In fact, they changed suits seven times from 1903 to 1927, when they finally found the one they are using now.
FFK reached the Norwegian Cup final for the first time in 1932. The semifinal against Mjøndalen was played at home in front of a record 9,000 spectators, and FFK won the match 3–0. Fredrikstad met Ørn Horten in the final, winning 6–1, and were thus Norwegian Champions. This signaled the start of Fredrikstad’s first successful era, in which the club claimed four more cup titles before the start of World War II. FFK became the first club to win the new nationwide league, in 1937–38, and they won The Double the following season.
During the German occupation no organized football took place, as a result of all athletes going on strike in support of the resistance. After the war football was more popular than ever, and Fredrikstad set another attendance record against Sarpsborg in the semifinal of the 1945 Norwegian Cup. There was, however, little success on the pitch. FFK reached three cup finals in four years but lost all of them. The break came in 1949 when FFK won its third league title.
The 1950s and 1960s were highly successful years for FFK. The club secured the league title six times – back to back in 1950–51 and 1951–52 – and finished in second place seven times. The Norwegian Cup was won four times. In 1957, a new milestone was achieved when FFK won their second double. As league champions in 1960, Fredrikstad entered the European Cup as the first team from Norway, sensationally defeating Ajax 4–3 at home and drawing 0–0 in Amsterdam, in the first round.
The town of Fredrikstad was in many ways an economic powerhouse in Norway in the previous century, first as a major supplier of machinery to the timber industry and then as a center of shipbuilding activities. At one point the shipyard in Fredrikstad was the largest in Scandinavia. It has been said that there was always an air of optimism surrounding the town and its inhabitants, and it was certainly reflected in FFK’s playful and relaxed style of football, which many regarded as the most entertaining in the country. The club’s first cup triumph in ’32 even made Jørgen Juve, a legend in Norwegian football, state: “This is how football is supposed to be played.”
Perhaps it was because of this relaxed atmosphere that the club was so successful, and also why it eventually fell into decline. After years of glory, the club was becoming conservative, although they would not admit it themselves. Other clubs were increasingly turning to professionalism, while players from FFK still played football in addition to having normal jobs. Training regimes were becoming more rigorous than before, but in Fredrikstad, they felt that training more than twice a week would ruin the joy of playing football. There is also the sentiment that, in light of the club’s formidable history, newer generations of FFK players were given too much responsibility, folding to the pressure again and again whenever things were starting to look brighter.
Fredrikstad was to struggle throughout the 1970s. They reached the cup final in 1971 but lost to Rosenborg, who was by now firmly en route to becoming a giant in Norwegian football. In 1972, they were runners-up in the league to Viking FK only on goal difference, as both teams finished the season on 34 points. In 1973, for the first time in the club’s history, FFK was relegated. They immediately gained promotion via the playoffs and by 1975 were back in the highest division, where they stayed for two seasons before facing relegation yet again.
The elevator ride between divisions continued until 1984. The Norwegian Cup went to Fredrikstad that year, but it must have been a bittersweet success. The club was once again relegated, and this time they were unable to make it back to the top flight. In 1992, FFK was relegated to the third highest division, where they would languish until 2002.
Fredrikstad’s comeback from obscurity is largely attributed to the manager Knut Torbjørn Eggen, who introduced a degree of professionalism the club had previously lacked. During his tenure, from 2001 until the end of 2006, the son of Rosenborg’s successful former coach led the team to their first title in more than two decades. In 2002, they were promoted from the 2. divisjon to the 1. divisjon, and in 2003, their centenary year, Fredrikstad finished second, earning promotion to the top division. Although struggling to maintain their form through an entire season, Fredrikstad has managed to retain their spot three times, and in 2006 they won the Norwegian Cup for the eleventh time in their history. They came 2nd and won silver in the 2008 season, but were relegated after a poor season in 2009 to 1. division. They eventually got promoted back to Tippeligaen through playoffs in November 2010 by first beating Løv-Ham 2–0, then Hønefoss BK with a stunning 8–1 goal difference over two matches.