Ask any young boy about dream jobs and chances are that professional footballer would top his list. Pilot would not be far behind.
For Harald Brattbakk, however, living just one dream has evidently not been enough. Having enjoyed a football career that brought international honours with Norway, UEFA Champions League glory with Rosenborg and silverware at Celtic, the 42-year-old now spends his working days jetting across Europe with his nation’s biggest airline.
It is a combination of professions that would leave plenty green with envy, and the former striker – who made his name as an quick and opportunistic penalty-box predator - admits to counting himself extremely fortunate. Yet Brattbakk recalls that neither footballer nor pilot was the job on which his sights were set when he was growing up.
“During middle school, I really wanted to become a lawyer,” he told FIFA.com. “I always loved football, but I never really believed that I could make a career of it. My only goal at that stage was to play for my local club, who played in the fourth or fifth level of Norwegian football at that time.
"I didn’t really think of flying either. At that stage, lawyer was definitely the job I had my eye on. I actually tried to go back in for some law studies when I returned to Norway after playing for Celtic, but by that time our second child had come along and I didn’t have much time.”
A career in the courtroom having been ruled out, Brattbakk arrived at a fork in the road. In one direction was the traditional route of a career in coaching or management; in the other, an altogether less conventional career for a former footballer. Ultimately, Brattbakk opted to embrace uncertainty.
He said: “I got my private pilot’s licence when I was coming towards the end of my career, although at that stage I was just interested in it as a hobby more than anything. As time went on though, and I looked at what I was going to do after I hung up my boots, I gave it more serious thought. It all moved very quickly from there and I’ve been doing it pretty much non-stop ever since I retired seven years ago. I had considered staying in the game but at that time I was pretty much fed up with football and wanted to do something else with my life.
“Being a pilot is much harder than being a footballer, though. You work hard physically as a footballer but the days are very short. I’ve been away from home a lot more as a pilot than I ever was before. I’m just finishing a five-day working period at the moment and I’ve been up at 4am every morning, which is a big difference to what I was used to.
"Then again, being able to see the sunrise – getting up above the clouds – is always something special. Also, I can be flying anywhere across Europe really but I’m based in Trondheim and flying back here takes me over my old stadium with Rosenborg, which is always nice. I really can’t complain.”
He might paint an idyllic picture, but when it comes to football and flying, Brattbakk has only one true love. Indeed, while familiarity may have led to a temporary cooling of his passions after two decades embroiled in the game’s day-to-day routines, absence has only made his heart grow fonder.
“Deep down, you never lose your love for football and it’s come back really strong in me during the time I’ve been away,” he admitted. “At the moment, I must admit that I really miss it. I have three kids and the oldest one especially – he is 13 – really loves his football. He wants to go to all the games he can, and I took them all back to Glasgow last year to see Celtic beat Barcelona in the Champions League.
“They loved it, of course. It was an incredible atmosphere and, naturally, being there on nights like that makes me miss the tension and the emotions of football. I do hope I can come back into the game at some stage in the future, whether it’s just as a youth coach with my kids or as a manager somewhere a little higher up.”
That memorable trip back to Celtic Park stirred not only emotions in Brattbakk, but powerful memories. After all, despite his many successes with Rosenborg, not to mention the 17 caps he won for his country, it is one match in Glasgow – indeed, one goal – that he considers to have been the high point of his career. It was scored on 9 May 1998 and, for many Celtic fans, still ranks as the club’s most important strike since Stevie Chalmers’ winner in the 1967 European Cup final.
“It won the title on the final day of the season and stopped Rangers winning ten-in-a-row, which would have broken Celtic’s record,” explained Brattbakk. “As achievements go, that was definitely the highlight of my career. Although it’s followed quite closely by beating AC Milan at the San Siro with Rosenborg, and beating Real Madrid in Trondheim, that goal for Celtic meant so, so much to so many people. The stakes were so incredibly high and every time I look back on that day, I’m just so happy to have been a part of it. Flying is great, but you can never compete with the kind of joy football gives you on days like that.”