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  • Writer's pictureTone Rasmussen

SK Brann: Highs, Lows and History

SK Brann made headlines when they were the first ever Norwegian team to make it to the Women's Champions League group stages and made even more headlines when they qualified for the quarter-finals. At the start of the season, no one believed that they would be able to do it, and even more so when they kept underperforming in the league. Now when they are facing off against powerhouse Barcelona they've got all eyes on them and the entirety of Norway behind them.

Women's football in Norway has been on a steady rise over the last few years. Despite Norway only being one of five nations having won the World Cup the investment has been bleak but the tide is finally starting to turn.

Several teams have undergone a fusion with their male club counterpart. SK Brann were Sandviken IL up until the 2021 season and Rosenborg SK were Trondheims-Ørn. Both teams have excelled after the fusion and are two of the top teams in the Norwegian league, and none of the teams are shy about the difference it has made. The financial investments are bigger, everyday life is more professional, and playing under the name of an established club on the men's side has also opened the eyes of the different supporter groups across the league. Players have spoken out about this and SK Brann supporter group "Bataljonen" has taken the women's team under their wings and showed up for them since their first game as Brann.

SK Brannsupporters group in red with flags and smoke in the stands
Bataljonen have been praised for showing up for the women just as much as they have for the men / Foto: Fædrelandsvennen

Steady rise for Brann

Brann has taken Toppserien by storm for the past few seasons. In 2021 they went undefeated in the league and won the first league trophy in club history all while only allowing 6 scored goals against all season long. They also made it to the domestic cup final but lost 2-1 to league rival Vålerenga. Brann carried the momentum from the 2021 season into the 2022 season, which was the first season as SK Brann and not Sandviken. This Brann squad from 2021-2022 had so many talented players and national team players, which showed in their play.

Alexander Strauss (left) in black coat and Tuva Hansen (right) in red jersey and captains armband
Alexander Strauss and Tuva Hansen at Brann before leaving for Bayern Munich / Foto: BergensTidene

Head coach Alexander Strauss, coached Brann to "the Double" as he coached them to a back-to-back league trophy, the first as Brann, and also finally won the domestic league cup. They were very close to qualifying for the UWCL group stages but Swedish side Rosengård FC proved to be too strong in the last game. However, despite missing out on Champions League play the atmosphere around the team in Bergen, where Brann is located, never wavered and the entire city showed up for home and away games.

Alexander Strauss´ success with the West Coast team was eventually noticed in Europe and right before the Euros in England kicked off, the news about Strauss switching the Brann red out for Bayern Munich was made known. This was in the middle of the 2022 Toppserien season and the rumors about his exit had circulated for some weeks. Later it was known that Strauss would bring his captain from his former team to Bayern Munich as Tuva Hansen signed for the German side in late summer of 2022. Former West Ham United coach Olli Harder became interim coach and then eventually signed a permanent contract. Strauss had made an excellent foundation for the team to continue the success and Harder did not miss a beat.

Exodus of players was a cause for concern

With the success Brann had in the domestic league and also not doing too badly in the UWCL qualifiers, the team had gained some attention and several players left Brann ahead of the 2023 season. Tuva Hansen, Guro Bergsvand, Elisabeth Terland, Lisa Naalsund, and Therese Åsland all decided to go overseas. Olli Harder essentially lost five of his starting players. Expectations were high ahead of the 2023 season and people had gotten used to seeing the team dominate possession in games and being an offensive firework. The team got hit by a lot of injuries early on and Harder brought in several international players.

SK Brann starting lineup from 2022 season
Only six of the players starting in the domestic cup final were still at the club when the 2023 season started. Foto: Annika Byrde/NTB

Where people got used to seeing a backline with poise and experience they were now seeing a somewhat nervous backline not quite having figured it out yet. You can expect some changes when losing your two starting centerbacks and captains, but this and the injury crisis were a cause for concern.

After a string of bad results that left them midtable, once as low as 7th place, and already out of the race to win the league something had to be done. There were talks about a disconnect between the players and the coach. The players had different expectations and were also lacking clear information on tactics and style of play. This eventually led to Olli Harder being fired and Manchester United assistant coach Martin Ho came in as the replacement and has brought the west coast club back to where they want to be.

Martin Ho and a historic season continues

Ho signed midfielder Justine Kielland, forward Amalie Eikeland, and Johanna Renmark. After having to sit out several games at the start of the season young star midfielder Signe Gaupset was finally declared healthy, also returning from injury were several key players such as Rakel Engesvik, Marthine Østenstad, and Nora Eide Lie.

With the reinforcements and players returning from injury, Ho made the team look like a brand new team in no time, taking them from a mid-table team to a quarterfinal in the Champions League. The midfield duo of Justine Kielland and Signe Gaupset is one of the youngest in the league and both have proved to be the future of the Norwegian national team. They direct the midfield and set the pace of the game with Rakel Engesvik, Larissa Crummer, and Johanna Renmark all knowing how to turn on the speed slip in behind the defense.

Martin Ho has gotten several other job opportunities in Europe after his success with the team. However, he has told the media he is happy at Brann and wants to build the team and make a platform for future success and stability. The players speak highly of him and it is clear he is well respected and has given the players the confidence back.

Martin Ho holding SK Brann scarf in the stadium
Martin Ho has previously been at Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton/ Foto:

The club now stands before its biggest obstacle in club history when Barcelona is coming to Åsane Arena for the first leg of the UWCL Quarterfinal. They made history just by qualifying for the group stages. No one could have foreseen just how well they would play, making headlines worldwide by taking a point off of Lyon and not showing them any respect.

The rise of women's football in Norway has been parallel with the rise of SK Brann and the club has shown immense support and investment for the women. Giving them the equal opportunity to succeed has led to both the women and men now winning the league, winning the cup, and playing in Europe. SK Brann has now become a historic club taking the international football world by storm, and doing it with a fairly young squad as well. SK Brann is about to become the third-ever Norwegian team meeting Barcelona in an international competition, and who says the third time is not the charm?

Tickets to the game were sold out in minutes and Bataljonen is expected to make themselves known. Martin Ho's squad is ready to showcase what they can do to Europe and no matter what happens, they will always be historic.

SK Brann will play against Barcelona on Wednesday, March 20th, at 4 p.m. EST on DAZN.

Singe Gaupset running in celebration with team after equalizing goal
Signe Gaupset scoring the equalizer against Lyon at home / Foto: Nicholas Noreng


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