An Iceland Paradise?

An unfortunate facet of football is that the vast majority of players signed by clubs as youngsters will not progress to the promised land of the first team.  Premiership clubs have such large squads at all levels and a sad fact is only one or two players a season will progress to first team status.  The remainder are often released before the age of 20, with the thinking being that if they haven’t progressed by this stage of their development then it will not happen.  These individuals have often been with the club since their early teens and are suddenly without a club.  Lower league clubs will often pick up these players, and some will get a second chance later in their career to return to the top level, such as Danny Graham who was released by then Premier League Middlesbrough before serving an apprenticeship at Carlisle and Watford before returning to the Premier League with newcomers Swansea City.  Players from Football League clubs who do not make the grade often drop down to non-league level and some fall out of love with the game completely and stop playing.

A group of footballers formerly of clubs in the North East are trying another route to get their careers back on track, and are playing league football in Iceland.  What they all have in common is that they have worked with Nick McCreery, employee
of Tommy Langley’s Rockingham Promotions and son of former Newcastle United and
Northern Ireland defender David McCreery.  In the top flight of Icelandic football ex Darlington, Rochdale and Lincoln midfielder Clark Keltie is currently playing for Þór Akureyri.  In the second tier ex-Newcastle United reserve duo Mark Doninger and
Nicky Deverdics are playing for ÍA Akranes and BÍ/Bolungarvík respectively.  Deverdics is joined at BI by ex-Leeds United player Tomi Ameobi, brother of Newcastle duo Shola and Sammy whilst alongside Doninger at Akranes is ex-Middlesbrough forward Gary Martin.  Colin Marshall is another Brit plying his trade in Iceland having spent a number of years on the move since leaving Aston Villa without making a first team appearance back in 2004.  Marshall has just left BI and moved to Víkingur Reykjavík in the top flight.  The most recent addition to the Brits in Iceland is ex-Lincoln City midfielder Brian
Gilmour who has just joined Knattspyrnufélag Akureyrar.

Nick was kind enough to give up some of his time to discuss the players currently plying their trade in Iceland.  McCreery has worked with ex-Chelsea forward Tommy Langley at Rockingham Promotions since 2006 and works networking with clubs around the globe.  Nick has worked with clubs in 22 different countries and it was during this work that he made connections with a number of clubs in Iceland.  The first club Nick worked with was ÍA Akranes who contacted him as they were looking for a new striker to spearhead their promotion campaign.  Akranes are the third most successful team in Icelandic football, having won the top flight on 18 occasions, most recently in 2001.  Nick recommended Gary Martin, formerly of Middlesbrough but a player who had experienced football abroad during a loan stint at Újpest in Hungary whilst on the books at the Riverside Stadium.  Whilst talking to Nick he said that Martin was on the fringes of the first team at Middlesbrough under Gareth Southgate, but when the former England international was replaced by Gordon Strachan, Martin seen his chances limited.  Since joining ÍA Akranes, Martin has been a huge success being named in the Team of the Year for scoring 8 goals in 10 starts, helping the former champions to top spot in the second tier with a two digit
point difference over the second place team.  The success of Martin alerted other clubs in Iceland to the fact that players from the UK might be willing to move their in order to play
football.  McCreery is passionate when talking about the players says that they have all shown a hunger and desire to move abroad in order to play football and further their careers.  Scouts from Norway, Sweden, Germany and Holland regularly watch the Icelandic league, and this will have been a selling point for the players who have moved to the edge of the Arctic Circle to further their careers.

IA Akranes

McCreery feels that the openness of Icelandic culture makes it an ideal place for these
players to go and fall back in love with the game.  This coupled with the fact that the vast
majority of Icelanders speak English has made the transition of living abroad as hassle free as possible for the players.  One potential worry is that the players could get bored living away from friends and family, but since arriving in Iceland none of the players have had
any complaints or trouble which McCreery feels is testament to their will to
succeed.

In addition to speaking to Nick McCreery who facilitated the moves to Iceland, Clark Keltie was kind enough to agree to answer a few questions for Footy Ramblings.  As mentioned earlier, Keltie plays for Þór Akureyri who are based in the north of the island, and whose name roughly translates to the slightly easier FC Thor in English.

FR: How did the move to Iceland first come about?

CK: Nick McCreery is a friend from Newcastle and approached me about my plans for the
following season.  At this time I was still under contract with Lincoln City so I wasn’t sure on what was happening at the time and obviously still concentrating on the season there. He mentioned he had contacts abroad and if I’d be interested there would be an opportunity for me.

FR: Was it an easy choice to make or did you have to mull it over for a while?

CK:  When I arrived in Iceland I already had an offer on the table from Cork City.  I had
my first training session with the team and the manager pulled me to one side
(after 1 hour) and said I would like to sign you… TODAY!  I was taken back and told the club I needed a few days to look at the place and decide if Iceland was the right country and league for me.  After seeing the facilities and opportunities it turned out an offer too good to refuse.

FR: How does the style and standard of football compare to when you played in England?

CK: The style of play is very different in some aspects as it can be a lot of kick and rush
but also there are some very good quick players.  I must add the referees are very different
here and do try to slow the game down a lot which can be frustrating.  Also the formations of most teams are different to England and you will rarely see a team play the standard 442.

FR: Obviously you can’t say too much, but do you envisage staying long term in Iceland, or do you see it as a stepping stone back in to the British game or elsewhere in Europe?

CK: At the moment I’m still in the settling in period but I do feel my time in England is over whether the option is there or not.  I have experienced 10 years in league 2 making roughly 250 appearances and feel now the time is right at the age of 27 to try a new country.  If an opportunity came along from another country then of course I’d look at it as I’m very open minded but for now I’m 100% committed to FC Thor.

FR: How have you adapted to living in Iceland?  What are the notable differences from life as a footballer in the UK?

CK: The team I’m playing for is based in a very small town, where you are noticed a lot more than in England.  I feel the culture here is very different and a lot more relaxed than England which suits me down to the ground.  The notable differences I’d say are the culture, also the club have an alcohol ban 7 days before any game which I think is very good and professional as we’ve all seen the way it can get in England.

The players are very close where as in England there can be divides amongst squads.  For example when we won the Icelandic cup semi-final we went along to the fans club house and mixed with them after the game, something which I’ve never experienced in England and was quite overwhelmed by.  They gave me one of their own supporters t-shirts with the Icelandic phrase “die for the club” written on it.

FR: Does it help having the likes of Marc Doninger, Tomi Ameobi, Gary Martin and Nicky
Deverdics playing in Iceland as well?  Do you have much contact with the other players there?

CK: Those players are in the south of the country and also in the league below and I’m up
in the north so I’ve yet to see them but have spoken to one or two.  An old team mate of mine has just signed with a team down the road from me, a team called KA, a lad called Brian Gilmour, ex Lincoln City so that’s been great for me to have a friend here.   That aside, the locals are very friendly and made me feel at home.

For those technically minded souls, some of the players and also Nick McCreery are on Twitter so if you wish to follow their progress they can be found as follows;

Clark Keltie @clarkkeltie8
Gary Martin @G1Bov
Tomi Ameobi @tomi_mobi
Nicky Deverdics @Nicky_Dev
Mark Doninger @Markdoninger
Brian Gilmour @bgilmour87
Nick McCreery @nickmccreery

I will end with two apologies.  Firstly to any Icelanders reading for more than likely using dreadful grammar and punctuation for any Icelandic used, and secondly to any other Brits playing in Iceland who I have missed.  I have featured the ones I am aware of that have been facilitated in their moves by Nick McCreery.  Feel free to leave a comment for any I have missed.

EDIT: On 18th August after helping ÍA Akranes secure promotion back to the top flight, Gary Martin moved on loan to Danish second tier side FC Hjørring.  As opposed to the Icelandic season which is in its final stages, the Danish league is alligned to the main European calendar.

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12 Responses to An Iceland Paradise?

  1. Great post. I have a feeling that that ÍA will have a hard battle ahead of them in order to keep both Gary Martin and Mark Doninger the way they are playing these days. It may actually turn out to be a realistic “back door” for British players into the upper tiers in English football (via Scandinavia I guess).

  2. Thanks for the comment Magnus.

    It is a much more viable option than impressing further down the English leagues. It will be interesting to see how and if any of the Brits in Iceland progress.

  3. Víðir Ómarsson says:

    Sam Hewson is playing for Fram football club…he’s the newest addition to Icelandic football 🙂

    • Thanks for that Víðir, the success of the pioneers must have spread and more players are giving it a try. Would it ever get to the point where it became an issue with the number of foreign players playing in Iceland? Many English fans feel the high numbers of foreigners in the English game stop young English players progressing.

      • Árni Freyr Helgason says:

        I don’t really think that’ll ever be a problem again. We used to have a big number of foreigners playing in the league, poor Eastern European players on good money weren’t an uncommon sight – especially at current league champions Breiðablik. Then, in 2008, the credit crunch happened so Icelandic clubs couldn’t afford to keep those type of players anymore. That led to young players (including those who then led Breiðablik to last year’s title) getting their chance to play which has proved to be a fantastic thing for the Icelandic league and Icelandic football as a whole.

        We’ve learned our lesson.

      • Its good to know that the lesson has been learnt. I think it is the same in the UK, fans don’t mind good quality foriegn players but when it is simply foreigners for the sake of it then it harms development. Thanks for your comment Arni.

  4. Árni Freyr Helgason says:

    Agreed. I look forward to “Financial Fair Play” being put to action. It will have a good effect on the English game (hopefully).

  5. It looks as if Mark Doninger is in contract talks about signing a new deal with Akranes according to Nick McCreery. This would be good news for IA fans and also for Mark himself.

  6. Pingback: Northern League Ramblings | ¡Viva Northern League!

  7. Craig says:

    Also Theo Furness another ex-middlesbrough academy player and current boro futsal player is over there. The way the season works over there makes it capable for him to play futsal for boro during the off-season, although he’s going to miss the play offs!

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