Faroe Islands the focus of attention as season kicks off

Top-flight football made a welcome return in the Faroe Islands last weekend. With a population of just over 52,000, ten percent of them are registered as players, so it’s no surprise to learn that football is their most popular sport. In this archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean, around two hundred miles off the Scottish coast, the game was given a huge boost to begin the season after Norwegian broadcaster TV2 and Denmark’s Ekstrabladet secured rights to the league.

Sports editor of TV2, Vegard Jansen Hagen was delighted to bring live sport back to the people, telling Norwegian newspaper VG: “In the weeks since sport closed down there have been lots of repeats, studio broadcasts, pools and ratings. A little less talk and a lot more action – that’s the job I hope the Faroe Islands will do for us.”

The Premier League (known as the Betri deildin for sponsorship reasons) was due to kick off in early March. However, the day before the opening game clubs were informed that they games would be cancelled due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. After 3-4 days the country went from an open society to a total lockdown. 

Luckily for the Faroese the Coronavirus has been relatively contained. The government declared the Islands free of the virus over the weekend, after 187 people who had previously tested positive had all fully recovered. No one had died, and they have no patients in intensive care. 

It’s still a worrying time for people, they are still worried about family and friends contracting the virus, especially those who may be vulnerable. Many people have lost their jobs due to the lockdown and struggle with mental health issues as a consequence.

In general, the Faroese football clubs have not suffered severely from the Corona pandemic.

The government reached out to the football community with financial plans to cover any lost income. While football has begun, the games are currently being played behind closed doors.

There were some Coronavirus protocols in place on opening day, with how the players and staff greeted referees and the opposing teams. No clubs had any concerns from players or staff with regards to playing games.

Over a seven-week period the islands football clubs trained in small groups of three, because if one contracted the virus the other two had to go into quarantine.

The league received a huge amount of media attention over the past few weeks, in the absence of top-flight football across all major European leagues. Speaking to a couple of managers this week, they were delighted with the increase in media attention.

HB Tórshavn’s Jens Berthel Askou, said: “We’ve certainly had an extra focus during the last 7-10 days. I’ve done more than fifteen interviews with Danish, Norwegian and Faroese newspapers, TV, radio and online. Many of the players have had much more media attention than usual. It’s something that we enjoy and it is obviously very motivating for the players, and the clubs, that we get the opportunity to present ourselves to other parts of the world rather than just the local population.”

Jens Berthel Askou

The club is the oldest and most successful team on the island with a haul of 23 league titles. It’s based in one of the smallest capital cities in the world with the fishing industry powering much of the town’s commerce. It’s multicoloured houses, cobblestone streets and grassy roofed houses make for a charming setting.  

The 37-year-old Dane, a former defender who was appointed in December, spent the early part of his playing career at Silkeborg before heading to England and Norwich City, winning League One in 2010 and finishing runner-up in the Championship a year later. 

Askou arrived at the club following a spell at Danish Superliga side Vendsyssel FF and is delighted to accept this new challenge: “After my time in the Superliga I was looking for a new challenge. I had options but none were where I got the chance to manage a top of the league team pushing for the championship and playing European football. I’m getting that opportunity now. I’ve always been very curious and eager to experience new places and cultures so I thought it was a very good challenge and a great place to develop and take my next steps as a coach. I’m also in charge of recruiting, negotiating contracts and I have a strong link with the youth department which is also a great experience for me.” 

HB Tórshavn had a 1-0 win over EB/Streymur, with a goal from midfielder Adrian Rúnason. Askou said he was happy enough with the performance but knows there’s room for improvement: “We dominated the game with a high percentage of possession. We had a good attacking threat and played with an extremely high and aggressive defensive approach. However, we lacked a bit of quality technically in the final passes/finishing and in the decision making, allowing the game to become a bit too exciting at the end. But overall it was a strong performance.” 

NSÍ Runavik kicked off the campaign with a 3-1 home win over TB. They raced into an early 2-0 lead with strikes from Aron Knudsen and Klæmint. Betuel Hansen added a third late on before they conceded a consolation goal in added time.

NSÍ Squad

Head coach Glenn Ståhl said “I think we controlled the game, especially in the first half. We should have closed it out there. Our captain got injured. Our two normal central defenders were out. One was injured, while the other was suspended from last season after picking up a red card, so we were lacking leaders at the end of the game. They got some set-pieces and had some good opportunities and took one of them. But overall, that was a win that that I’m really happy with.”

NSÍ have the leagues all-time top scorer, 29-year-old Klæmint Olsen in their squad. He was top scorer in 2019 with a record 26 goals. It was the fifth time in 7 years that he was named top scorer. 

Ståhl said of Klæmint: “He’s is an extraordinary person. He was born with a clubfoot, which makes his career even more amazing. He started playing for the national team against Sweden. Last autumn he scored against Spain in a Euro 2020 qualifier. His career is totally amazing to be honest. He will be a key player for us without a doubt. I would be surprised if he scored less than 20 goals. He is our captain. He leads by example without a doubt, every session every game.”

Clubfoot is a condition where the feet appear to be rotated internally at the ankle. He’s in pretty good company, as former Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard also has the same condition along with former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman.

Klaksvíkar Ítróttarfelag (KÍ), managed by Mikkjal Kjartansson, are the current champions. They beat their nearest challengers B36 3-0 on the final day to claim the title by just three points. B36 extracted some revenge on KÍ on the opening day of this campaign, winning 2-0 at the home of the champions, with late goals from Sebastian Pingel and International midfielder Meinhard Olsen. 

Ståhl will hope to be involved in the Europa League later this year, should UEFA competitions be able to be played. He knows how important those games are: “I have never coached a club in European competition before. I’m a person who likes a challenge and this felt like a really, really exciting one. That was definitely a key reason for me coming here. I’m a little bit worried that the games may not be there in September. The Faroe Island is a small footballing country and of course we are very dependent on all that money.”

Glenn Ståhl

When I asked both managers what the atmosphere was like at their games, Olsen said: “I felt the atmosphere was different even though there were only the club officials in the stands. We were so deep into our own bubble of focus and concentration that we did not pay much attention to the fact that the stadium was almost empty.”

Ståhl said: “It was like a training game, totally quiet. If you are a home team that normally have a huge home crowd backing you up, cheering you on, of course that will affect the game if all those people are gone. It is the same situation for all teams. I mean you can’t make the problem bigger than it is. We are just really, really happy to be able to train and play football games. But of course, if we could, we would have our home crowd there.”

Both HB Tórshavn and NSÍ Runavik will look to make it two wins from two this weekend when they face ÍF and EB Streymur respectively.

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