It is unlikely the name Frode Kippe comes onto the radar for many Liverpool fans, but here, Owen Collins tells the fascinating story of how he is still playing at 42.
Ex-Reds have been at the forefront of the news this week.
Liverpool’s greatest-ever goalkeeper Ray Clemence sadly passed away, while a more-recent icon, Javier Mascherano, officially called time on his 17-year playing career after spells with Hebei China Fortune and Estudiantes.
El Jefecito’s time with the Reds already feels like a distant memory, such has been the rollercoaster of the last decade.
But if the twilight of the Benitez era feels remote, spare a thought for an ex-Red who is remarkably still playing despite arriving at Anfield in the early days of Gerard Houllier’s tenure.
Step forward, Mr. Frode Kippe.
If you’re scratching your head, it’s not without good reason – Houllier’s second signing and mainly remembered as one of the Frenchman’s many misses in the transfer market, the Norwegian defender played only two games in his time at Liverpool.
Yet having returned to his home country in 2002, Kippe is still a professional footballer nearly two decades later.
An inglorious career
Before we go any further, a reminder of Kippe’s time at Anfield might be helpful, given that he did little to imprint himself on the memory.
Signed for £700,000 from Lillestrøm in January 1999, Kippe had to wait until the beginning of the next season for his debut, when he came on as sub in a Worthington Cup second-round second-leg clash with Hull.
Also making his maiden appearance that night was another recent arrival, Stephane Henchoz, who went on to play another 204 times for Liverpool, winning the treble along the way.
By contrast, when the full-time whistle blew Frode Kippe had unknowingly already played 50 percent of the Liverpool games he’d ever play in.
A loan spell to Second Division Stoke was arranged, where he made 20 appearances and enough of an impression for the Potters to take him again the following season, where he featured regularly in an unsuccessful promotion charge.
In the summer of 2001, though, he was back on Merseyside, and two years after his debut he made his second and final outing in red, as Liverpool relinquished their grip on the Worthington Cup in an extra-time defeat to Grimsby.
And that was largely that, with Kippe returning to Norway and to Lillestrøm in March 2002, barely to be mentioned again on Merseyside – with the exception of regular placings in rundowns of the club’s worst-ever signings.
The second (and third) coming
“The reason I came back [to Lillestrøm] was the desire to play football,” Kippe later reflected, acknowledging that the move was also motivated by financial and family reasons.
“At that time there was almost as much money in Norwegian football as in the Second Division in England, so it wasn’t a big difference. Plus we had our first child there so it was safe and good to come home.”
The desire to play football was certainly fulfilled, with the 19 appearances Kippe made in his comeback campaign the lowest he would accrue until 2019, regularly hitting the 30-mark for a season, although never scoring more than eight goals a year – still a decent return for a centre-back.
By the time of his 40th birthday in 2018, Kippe had played well over 400 times for Lillestrøm and featured in 17 consecutive top-flight seasons.
“As long as the motivation is there, I think it’s hard to quit,” Kippe said at the time. “I will do everything to play as long as possible. The motivation and the desire are almost greater than before.”
He added: “I have the best job in the world. I know how lucky I am. I’m having a lot of fun.”
The player’s crowning glory with his hometown club undoubtedly came in 2007, as Lillestrøm won the Norwegian Cup for the first time in 22 years, with Kippe collecting the trophy as club captain having also been named the league’s best defender that season.
Ten years later, he repeated his cup final exploits in a 3-2 victory over Sarpsborg, scoring what would prove to be the winning goal – before putting it into his own net five minutes afterwards!
This silverware took Lillestrøm back into Europe, and in the summer of 2018, aged 40, he became the seventh-oldest player ever to appear in the Europa League (one of the six above him, Brad Friedel, had been in Liverpool’s goal for Kippe’s debut 19 years previous!) although unfortunately a 6-1 aggregate defeat to LASK meant the adventure was short-lived.
A Lillestrøm “superlegend” according to one former teammate, Kippe and his team suffered a downturn in fortunes in 2019.
Having finished third from bottom in the Eliteserien, Lillestrøm were relegated for the first time in over 40 years, and with it, Kippe hung up his boots.
“When you are 41 years old and do not play football every week, you get a little rusty,” he conceded.
“I could certainly play football longer, but do not want to give up when I am completely in the basement,” Kippe announced, saying that he wanted to retire “when I am still contributing on the field.”
Off-field, though, the veteran’s association with the club would continue, working in a coaching role with the academy, until a final twist of fate brought his career an unlikely third act.
A defensive injury crisis, not unlike the current situation at his former club, led Lillestrøm to re-register Kippe, now 42, to help them in their push to bounce back to the Eliteserien at the first opportunity.
“We have some acute injury challenges in the defence,” manager Simon Mesfin told the press at the beginning of November, explaining that Kippe’s return was “the opportunity we have always known we have behind us.”
“There is no doubt that he is in good condition,” Mesfin continued, adding that the defender “has not put on an ounce.”
“They want me to contribute in case something happens,” Kippe himself said of his “emergency player” status, although with the sensible caveat that “I hope I do not play too much.”
At the time of writing, the self-confessed “worst-case scenario” has only been deployed once, as a 90th-minute sub in a 1-0 victory over Sogndal, for his 527th Lillestrøm game.
In doing so, this unlikely hero and future pub quiz tiebreaker has reclaimed the title for earliest ex-Red still playing (John Welsh, at Stafford Rangers, is his closest contender, if you were wondering), as well as becoming the only active ex-Red to have played in the previous millennium.
He also becomes one of a select group of footballers to have played professionally in four different decades – a group that includes former Reds winger Maxi Rodriguez and all-time legends such as Kenny Dalglish, Gianluigi Buffon and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It’s perhaps the only time Frode Kippe will be mentioned in the same breath as those icons of the game, but there is no denying that in Lillestrøm, Kippe will go down in history as one of the club’s greatest-ever representatives.
And who knows? If (god forbid) the injury crisis gets much worse at Anfield, he might yet make that long-awaited third Liverpool appearance…
* This is a guest article for This Is Anfield by Owen Collins. Follow Owen on Twitter, @OGBCollins.