One of the things that I want to do with WAFU is give our fans a voice. Whilst for logistical reasons at the moment we can’t do that with a forum, etc – WAFU is keen on hearing from as many #MUFC fans as possible from a wide number of backgrounds.
I thought it would be a good idea to find a fan on Twitter who comes from an unusual background to intially find out their thoughts on the club.
Whilst snooping around, I noticed one of our follower’s on Twitter, Martin Hagen – @martinvonhagen – and that he was from Norway. United of course have had our links with Norway over the last 15 years in terms of players and the country is well-known for having many United fans.
So with that in mind, I though itwould be good to chat to Martin (who is a member of the Scandinavian Branch of the Manchester United Supporters Club) and ask him alot of Norway-related questions connected to the club.
I hope you enjoy the interview!
First things first, how did you come to be a United fan and what are your first memories about the club as a supporter?
It all started when I got my first United shirt as a 3-year-old. It was really quite random, because nobody in my family was not really interested in English football.
I didn’t understand much, but I never forgot the red shirt. When I was a few years older, I understood more about what football and what the United shirt meant.
Nobody in my family are United fans, so I was completely alone about this. I got my first football card a few years later, it was no one other than Bryan Robson.
The Football Card for me was a milestone in my time as a United supporter and was when I first started to get passionate about the club.
You’re a member of the club’s Scandinavian Supporters Club. What were the circumstances that led you to joining up and how important do you think it is world-wide that our fans are able to link up and feel more connected with the club?
Football is a passion for me, so with that in mind It was natural for me to join the fan club and link up with fans just as passionate about Manchester United as me. They’re Reds and it’s a great club to be part of.
We regularly discuss in the club’s forums about everything from the Glazers to Gabriel Obertan. We get all the news that we need at UNITED.NO – which is a real focal point for us.
In collaboration with Andy Mitten, we have Norway’s best fan sites with exclusive content and great articles. We are getting a quality magazine each month in collaboration with the Danish and Swedish clubs.
We have journalists in the UK at any time that can come up with something new every month. Interviews, statistics, pub-guides, football tours and great deals for supporters, they’ve got the lot.
The club arranges meetings, supporter cups that we play in and It is also very common that we organize trips across the pond.
Redcafe.net is also an important focal point, which allows us the chance to discuss about the club in our hearts with people from all continents, which is a truly wonderful thing to be able to do.
The summer of 1996 proved to be an important one of course in Manchester United’s history as the club signed our first two Norwegian players in Ronny Johnsen and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
At the time of their transfers just how well-known and highly-rated were the two back in Norway?
Ole Gunnar Solskjær was a wonderkid back home. He was a machine of a player who would turn games round on his own.
Everyone in Norway knew that we had a great talent, as he’d scored 115 goals in 109 appearances for Clausenengen FK in the Norwegian second division.
The adventure started when Solskjaer was brought up to Molde FK’s A-squad. He scored almost as many goals as he played games in the Norwegian premiership. Everyone knew that this man was too good for the Norwegian league.
When Manchester United contacted Molde about Solskær, there was no doubt. The club put Ole Gunnar’s dream ahead of their own title aspirations back home and Molde hardly demanded money for the boy and let him go. He was now all Norwegian football players’ role model.
Ronny Johnsen in my opinion was perhaps one of the best Norwegian central defenders ever. He went to Besiktas after many good years in the Norwegian premiership and did good down there.
When he was taken to Manchester United with Solskjær, Norway was in ecstasy. Suddenly there were two talented Norwegians at the world’s best football club. Perhaps the best Norwegian players we’ve ever had.
Solskjaer of course went onto have a tremendous career at United, which peeked of course with his goal that won the Champions League in the historic Treble-winning season in 1999.
How much did it mean for United’s fans in Norway for ‘one of their own’ so to speak to play a leading-role in the club’s most important game of the season and become a club-hero overnight?
That season was an important factor in Manchester United’s reputation here in Norway and helped it grow instantly overnight.
With that goal Ole became the whole of Norway’s hero. Even the Liverpool fans thought it was great even though they would have rather seen him in the Liverpool-shirt. No one will forget that season.
If you ask an old lady on the street, who has never been interested in football to name a football player, they all say ‘Solskjaer.’ That goal’s been a big influence on the numbers of United-supporters here in Norway and is probably one of Norway’s greatest sporting moments.
One player who sometimes get’s forgotten by United fans is Henning Berg who whilst not being a first choice for us played a key ‘supporting act’ in our success in his 3 seasons at the club.
How do you remember Henning’s time at the club?
I remember him as a good squad player and an important ambassador of Norwegian football in European football.
Henning Berg may have been overshadowed a bit by Solskjær and Johnsen during his time at the club, but he was good when United needed him and played well when he got the chance.
Without being unkind on Blackburn as Berg won a Premier League winners medal there in 1994/95, would it be fair to say that it was during his time at United that he became more-well known back at home?
I would say that. He was an important piece of the Norwegian national team and topped it all with becoming the first Norwegian to win the English league, which we will always remember him for.
The fact that he signed for United was helped by his success for the national team. Blackburn is a small club here in Norway, so I would say that he became a bigger star when he arrived at Old Trafford, as most players do.
Of course back in Norway at the moment, both Berg and Solskjaer are managing in the Tippeligaen, Norway’s Premier League.
How have both been getting on so far in their managerial roles and in your opinion can you foresee them returning to England to manage?
Solskjaer’s first game in charge at Molde didn’t go to plan as they lost 3-0 against newly promoted Sarpborg. They didn’t start that well to be honest, but Ole’s growing into the role and they’re beginning to click.
They play attractive football and have climbed up the table to 5th. Two points behind leader Tromsø.
I have faith in what Solskjaer can achieve with this team. I looking back on it the reason why they struggled at first was because the team had alot of new players so had to change their style. But with things beginning to turn around, I think you can expect to see Molde in Europe in a few years.
Henning Berg’s done well as a manager too. After doing well at Lyn he’s moved onto Lillestrøm SK where he’s been for 2 years. They’ve had a good start this season and beat Stabæk 7-1 away from home in the first match.
After that, they’ve struggled abit but they’ve got some good players and despite them being 10th at the moment I expect them to climb up the table.
I think Solskjaer is going to go a bigger club in Europe in a few years, like Ståle Solbakken (a good Norwegian player in the 1990’s) has done.
After 9 matches so far at Molde, it looks very promising after a poor start. He needs time. He has learned a lot from Sir Alex, and he will thank him in the future. I guarantee that you will see Solskjaer in Europe in the future.
I do not think Berg has something to do as a manager in Premier League. He’s good coach in the Norwegian standards. He may go to the Belgian league or one of the smaller leagues in Europe.
But if you were to ask me whether he’s going to be a top European manager, I would have to say no.
One of Norway’s most well-known players these days is Blackburn’s Mortem-Gamst Pedersen. Pedersen of course is known for being a United fan and started his Blackburn career well scoring several goals against us down the years.
Do you think that after his first couple of years in England that it was a surprise a bigger club in England/Europe (such as United) didn’t try and sign him?
The main problem for Pedersen is that he’s good at club level, but isn’t as good when playing for the national team.
After some good seasons at Blackburn he was expected to take another step up. But it has not happened and it’s been a disappointment for us back home.
I think he could have done well for a club like Spurs, Marseille or Hamburg, but I do not think he had enough quality to have established himself at a top club like United.
The reason is that he is too uneven in his performances. It is a well known problem for him. He has been a key player for Blackburn, and I think it’s fine for him to be in a medium Premier league club, which after all is still a good achievement for where he started in the game.
In the 1990’s there were alot of good Norwegian players playing in the Premier League, with 11 of those being part of Norway’s highly successful 1998 World Cup squad in France.
How important looking back at it now do you think it was that the Norwegian team back then contained so much Premier League and European Experience and how is that team remembered now almost 13 years on?
The class of 98 was outstanding and that team was so iconic for us at the time.
Here in Norway we call the 98’team ‘the Drillos.’ That’s because Egil Olsen was the manager at that time and Egil during his playing career had the nickname ‘Drillo’ because he had excellent dribbling skills!
Olsen was not known for producing great football in terms of style, but he got results more often than not for Norway. He is back as manager and has got more good results in the Euro 2012 qualifiers so far this season.
In the last years the experience of European football has been very important in the World Cup and Euro Cup qualifying. It’s these players who pull the team forward. You can’t reach very far in the World Cup with only players from the Norwegian league.
Now we only have 3 players in the English Premier League. That’s too few!
Norwegian football is not getting better if we send players to other clubs in other countries. But at the same time the level of the national team decreases if we don’t. It is an issue that is discussed constantly here in Norway.
Anders Lindegaard signed for us from Norwegian club Aalesunds FK earlier this year. He of course had a successful time in Norway where he won the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award.
Do you think he will be able to succeed at United, even though he is likely to be our No.2 keeper?
It’s hard to say. He showed class in Norway, but it cannot be compared with English football. I think he can establish himself as a good No.2 at United.
I think his career at Old Trafford will be very similar to Kuszczak’s has panned out so far and within 3-4 years he will leave for first team experience. But until then he is a good second choice.
Another player worth talking about of course is Mame Diouf who had a successful time in Norway at Molde. Mame joined us of course after Solksjaer recommend him to the club.
Despite his goals for Molde, how much of a shock was the move back in Norway?
He scored many goals here in Norway, but we were all surprised when news broke of United’s interested. There are not many here who thought he would be a hit at United at the time and looking at it now we still have that opinion.
There’s a huge difference – not that I need to tell you that – between Norwegian and English football. I think though that Mame can establish himself in a smaller English club like Wigan or Blackburn, as that’s more his level to be fair.
like Wigan or Blackburn, as that’s more his level to be fair.
It’s been almost 9 years since United last played in Norway, when they played Vålerenga in a pre-season friendly.
How huge would it be for our Norwegian fans to see United back in Norway?
Since Liverpool play here every year and all of Oslo is invaded by Liverpool fans it would be huge if United once could come to visit us. We’ve also had a visit of Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in the past few years, but it’s the English sides that are Norwegians are more interested in.
I think United will benefit from visiting Norway. It would have been extra nice for the young kids to have a visit from the world’s biggest club.
It would also recruit more supporters among the young kids. And since all the Norwegians hate Vålerenga, so it would be great to see United roll them over.
Of course in the last five years, United have had Champions League games in Denmark, when we’ve played FC Copenhagen and Aalborg BK.
I presume those games were great for our Scandinavian supporters, who stood a better chance of seeing United in their own neck of the woods?
Absolutely! Many people from all over Scandinavia went to Copenhagen on both of these games.
Since there are ferries 24/7 between Norway, Sweden and Denmark at a low price, it made it even easier for us Norwegians and Swedes to see United in an important game.
For the FC Copenhagen game in 2006, there must have been at least 4000 to 5000 Norwegians at those games, and it despite the result it was a night those fans won’t forget.
Lastly, you’re a journalist at HamKam, who play in the Norwegian First Division. As well as telling us abit about them, would you in any way have dreams to work in a similar role in England in the Premier League?
HamKam is a club with a long history since 1918. The club has played many years in the Premier League and at level two.
The last two years have been marked by financial problems and many overpaid foreign players. It is though now getting better and new local young players have taken over from the foreigners, which is great for us to see.
HamKam play more attractive football than ever and we hope to see the club in the Premier League within a couple of years.
HamKam has also brought up one of the Norwegian players in the Premier league, namely Petter Vaagan Moen at QPR. We hope he gets enough chances at QPR, but it will be hard for him.
HamKam is also Ståle Solbakken’s parent club. He has both played and managed the club before joining FC Copenhagen and now FC Köln. I hope one day he can take the manager’s job at United, even though it only seems like a dream for me at the moment.
I love my job as a journalist and I feel like I get closer to the club by every year that goes by. I talk to the players and coaches often. HamKam is my childhood club and I’ve even played for them myself. So it makes it extra fun to still be part of the team.
I have a dream to be in the same role at Manchester United, but I know it’s more strict in England and it’s more of a professional environment where you are not as close to the players are you are here in Scandinavia.
Thanks For That Martin!
By Adam Dennehey – @ADennehey87
If you would like to be interviewed for our site or fancy contributing to our site, get in touch with us via the comments/contact section of our site or give us a tweet at @ADennehey87 or @WeAllFollowUtd.