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Oliver McManus writes about the Faroe Islands international football team, and their fairytale rise in international football.
If I asked you to describe the Faroe Islands in a mere 3 words, I’m fairly certain that ‘football’ wouldn’t feature in those three, and yet the culture of the country is one in which the beautiful game is almost ingrained into everyday life. In fact, I’m fairly certain, the majority of you couldn’t point out the nation on a map.
One of the smallest nations affiliated with UEFA, the autonomous country of the Kingdom of Denmark has a population of a mere 49,709 but sport remains key to the Islands, with 60% of the sport-playing population playing football regularly – making it the most popular sport within the country.
A four-tiered system exists in the Islands, starting with 3.deild before promotion to the 2.deild, 1.deild and the top level, Effodeildin, respectively, resulting in 54 competitive teams being based in the Faroes.
This all comes despite most football pitches being of a 3G nature, with only 2 teams – Royn Havbala and B68 Toftir – playing their matches on grass, at the Torsvollur and Svangaskaro, respectively.
Football has come on leaps and bounds since the formation of Tvoroyrar Boltfelag, the Islands’ first club, on the 13th of May 1892, when clubs would play increasingly infrequent friendlies, in a home and away structure, to decide an unofficial championship. The infrequent nature often owing to the varying weather conditions and the uneven, gravel like style of the pitches.
After 50 years, in 1942, the first official National League was launched. In the 73 editions to follow, 12 clubs have won the title with Havnar Bolteflagg (HB) being the most successful, with 22 championship wins.
From 1992, teams from the Faroe Islands have been permitted to participate in UEFA European Competitions, the first team to take place in such a competitions was KI Klaksvik, who partook in the 1992-93 edition of the Champions League, whilst B36 Torshavn, took part in the Cup Winners Cup (now incarnated as the Europa League).
Little can be said of their attempts to shake up the European scene, with KI losing both legs against Skonto Riga, who had only been founded the year before, 3-1 and 3-0 respectively. B36 did muster some self-respect however, drawing their first leg 1-1 before going down 1-0 away to FC Avenir Beggen, in Luxembourg.
Despite being 200 miles north of Scotland, the league still manages to attract several foreigners to ply their trade in front of an average attendance of 500, with 25 players from 14 countries featuring in the last season.
Many players see it as a stepping stone to the bigger leagues of Europe, the likes of Ibrahima Camara, from Senegal, signed for B68 in 2010 still harbouring dreams of playing in “France or Belgium … perhaps England”. Having only signed for the club due to Visa issues, with moves to Toulouse, Le Havre and Al Shabab all falling through, the 23 year old now seems unlikely to move on, having settled in the Islands – even working in the local village bakery.
On the other hand, others see the league as a challenge, take Albert Adu, who not long ago was playing in Evo-Stik League Southern; Division One – Central, for Ware FC. Born in Ghana, raised in Holland, at the age of 16, Albert moved to England along with his family.
The move to the Faroe Islands was not his first obscure move abroad, having played in the fourth tier of Spanish football for CD Comarca de Nijar for a year and a half, before financial issues hit the club.
Having had to take up an office job to help pay the bills, his desire to play full time football burnt through and, in August 2015, he managed to impress those at TB during a week-long trial and earn himself a permanent contract.
The league itself may not be the most famous, popular or challenging in Europe – ranked only 41 by UEFA – but it does possess the sort of atmosphere and down to earth spirit rather reminiscent of that you’d find watching the mighty Herne Bay F.C on a cold, windy Wednesday evening at the Altira Park Stadium.
So, whilst the league may not be thriving, it is fair to say that the national team is enjoying a veritable honeymoon period. Having reached an all-time low FIFA ranking of 198 in 2008, the Landsliðið has since risen to 74th in the summer of last year, and now stand at a steady 90th place.
Whilst not anything major in the footballing world, the sense of achievement really does enhance when you take a look at the circumstances their working within; the 4th least-populated UEFA member association, with merely 49,469 inhabitants.
Having only joined FIFA in 1988 and UEFA in 1990, this tiny nation pulled off one of the biggest sporting upsets the world has ever witnessed (ironic, because very little people actually saw it), in an event that has since been popularised at ‘The Miracle of Landskrona’.
The game itself took place on the 12th September 1990, in the nation’s first ever competitive international. A Euro ’92 qualifier against Austria, the match was played in a rather subdued atmosphere in Landskrona, Sweden – owing to the fact there were no grass pitches on the Islands.
They would not only take home a 1-0 win, and 3 points, thanks to, then 25 year old, Torkil Nielsen (now one of the best chess players in the world), but they would become cult heroes overnight. Coach Pall Guðlaugsson, is now fondly remembered across the Islands as the most fearless of players, willing to take the fight to anyone who dare accept it.
Little success has come their way since, with the country only winning 10 of 127 WC/Euro qualifiers since the ‘Miracle’, but their campaign for the 2018 World Cup serves as a golden opportunity to test their quality, to mark their progress and, above all, to shatter all expectations.
Having thought for many an hour on how to finish the article, what better a way than to leave with the pre-match speech given on the night of the Miracle, so, without further ado, I give you the words of the irrepressible, the incandescent and the indomitable Pall Guðlaugsson;
“Think of the Faroese flag. Your flag. Take it with you on that field. Throw yourself into the tackles against those arrogant Austrians with one mission – to win the game for your nation. Tonight you pay back your childhood home. You have the opportunity now and it is an irreparable blow if you don’t seize it!”
Written by Oliver McManus