Latest Football News From Manchester: Inside the Manchester United supporters’ club where membership is booming – despite sacking of national hero

It was a Danish defender, John Sivebk, who scored the first goal of Sir Alex Ferguson's reign at the club, in a team that also featured the talents of Danish winger Jesper Olsen as well.

Scandinavians also played a key role on the most famous night in the club's history, the 1999 Champions League final, as Swede Jesper Blomqvist, Danish shot-stopper Peter Schmeichel and Norwegian defender Ronny Johnsen started the match at the Nou Camp, before a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stole the show with his iconic winning goal.

It is this deep-rooted relationship that United will look to celebrate this weekend as Erik ten Hag's side travel to Norway for their dress rehearsal ahead of the Premier League opener, and will be looking for revenge against an Atletico Madrid side that knocked them out of the Champions League last season.

It looks set to be United's toughest test of the summer so far, and the plan is for Ten Hag to treat the match as an opportunity to settle on his strongest side ahead of the Brighton match, with the second string given the chance to catch his eye against Rayo Vallecano a day later.

The match will mark United's third trip to Norway in the last five years, following a clash with Valerenga in 2017 and Kristiansund in 2019, the latter coming as part of Solskjaer's first pre-season in charge of the club.

United had hoped to visit Norway last year to mark the 40th anniversary of the Scandinavian Supporters Club, but the celebrations have been put on hold, with the party set to take place this weekend instead.

The MUSCS currently holds over 500 season tickets at Old Trafford, produces a magazine eight times a year; runs its own dedicated website about the club; and operates a shop, both online and in Bergen, which sells official United merchandise.

It would be understandable to presume Scandinavian interest would have waned following Solskjaer's sacking, but interest is now higher than it has ever been before ahead of Ten Hag's first season.

“We obviously got a boost in membership when he was appointed manager,” Eivind Holth, who is a journalist for United's Scandinavian supporters club, told the Manchester Evening News. “However, we just had our record number of members in 2022, after he was sacked.

“I think it shows the loyalty of United fans, they are not just Solskjaer fans, and also our tickets were sold out much faster than last time. Obviously, Atletico Madrid are much bigger than Kristiansund, but it is a very huge fanbase and I think it is a vote of confidence that they have chosen to come back time after time.”

Holth spent a year in Manchester as part of his university studies and has experienced first-hand what it is like for British supporters to follow the club.

He insists Norwegian fans are just as passionate about the club and Saturday's match at the Ullevaal Stadium will be a chance for Scandinavian supporters to prove that is the case.

As part of a weekend of celebration, there will be events across Oslo marking United's match with fanzones outside the ground on matchday and a singing section inside the stadium on what is set to be 'a huge day for United fans'.

Holth added: “From my perspective, the tours are all about commercials, merchandise, and revenue. I feel like this is a real event for the fans.

“We are trying to recreate what you'd get at Old Trafford, which is to enjoy your drinks, hopefully good weather and have a proper matchday feel to it.

“For many people in Norway, United are more important than their local team. My local team is just 30 minutes away, but I never really had a bond with them like I did with United. I think that is the case for many others.”

One such example is that of fellow journalist Anders Zerener. The 32-year-old started supporting United in 1996, the same year Solskjaer joined the club, though his compatriot wasn't the player he admired the most growing up.

“Ole had a huge say, but Beckham was important too,” he tells the MEN. “I remember practicing his free-kicks all the time. It was difficult to follow them at times. Some league games were on, but all the Champions League games were on. I was allowed to watch the first half, then my mother would tape the second half and I'd watch it before school the next day.”

While it was Beckham who proved to be the poster boy for an older generation of fans, Solskjaer's reign as manager brought a huge surge in popularity in recent years.

During his first month in charge of the club as caretaker manager, the Scandinavian Supporters' Club was receiving over 100 new members per day, such was the increased interest in the club.

“It was bigger than I can even explain. I mean everyone started watching football. My mum started watching and talking about Solskjaer, my gran, who hates football, I mean everyone cared and wanted to know the latest.

“It was just so nice. Everyone knew he was a nice guy and deserved the chance. It was surreal, and it meant a lot to the Norwegian people.

“It was painful just to watch those last months of his tenure and I think the majority understood he needed to be sacked. That was until the club released the farewell interview with him. I teared up. That was a guy who just cared about the club.”

United's presence in Oslo will certainly be a welcome distraction from Saturday's other notable match, as Liverpool take on Man City in the Community Shield, a curtain-raiser that will see Norway's second-most supported side take on the nation's favourite player.

Erling Haaland might be wearing the blue of City next season, but he will also be representing Norway on an international stage, something which has left United fans with a real conflict of interest.

Holth said: “We are quite passionate about our fellow countrymen. The majority of football fans here follow Haaland quite closely. Obviously, now that he is at City, that is the worst that could happen to United fans.

“18 months ago it could have been a reality that we had Solskjaer the manager with Haaland as his striker. It seems very different now. He will be a huge boost to their popularity, he is the biggest star in Norway.”

Those thoughts were echoed by Zerener too, who faces the ultimate dilemma of club versus country next season. He added: “I was working in sports journalism at the time of his Dortmund move and I remember talking to lots of sources and I thought he was actually going to go to United, because of the Solskjaer link and everything.

“But, now… (groans). Sure, it is going to be fun to watch a Norwegian in the Premier League, but I hate it. You just know he is going to score against us, and it is going to suck. But, then there are only like ten Man City supporters in Norway, so it won't be so bad the day after at work, at least!”

Another test for United fans in Norway has been the resurgence of Liverpool in recent years, with the two historic rivals by far and away the most popular sides in Scandinavia too.

“They have certainly gotten louder!” Zerener says. “I am at least hoping Haaland scores more than Nunez. I have been friends with so many Liverpool fans.”

It's been a similar feeling for Holth too. “I was at an event the other day because we have a new Premier League broadcaster here in Norway and a guy from the Liverpool supporters group was on the stage as well. It is a debate we have a lot here.

“I think there was a time when Liverpool were bigger in terms of fanbase, probably before I was born. There were a lot of envious Liverpool fans then, but now they have now got their revenge and it is our turn to say 'next year!'”

Last season was a real test of commitment for many Scandinavian supporters with Solskjaer's sacking and another trophyless campaign, but after an encouraging summer under Ten Hag there is reason to dream once again.

Zerener admits: ” At some point last season, everyone just seemed to lose interest in some way. It just never ended, it was a chore, you had to watch the game but you'd end up talking about other things. It was so boring and predictable.

“The enthusiasm now is massive. I am more excited than I have been for a long, long time. Now it is going to be a real test against Atletico, but our intensity looks quite different from recent pre-seasons.