Faroe Islands, located to the north of England and just below Iceland is such a small country – both in terms of population and overall area, that it can be easily overlooked as a tiny dot in the atlas. However, this north-Atlantic nation is one of the most desolate and bizarre places for football on the planet. 18 major islands, separated by a few kilometres of ocean constitutes the Faroe Islands and needless to say, almost every square inch of the country is dotted with rugged terrains in the form of glaciers, plateaus and mountains. But even in this hostile environment, football survives and how!
Faroe Islands – The Country
Football arrived in Faroe Islands in the beginning of the 20th century. Close proximity with England fostered the growth of football in the country, but due to lack of playing areas, not many took to the game. With whaling and fishing the main sources of income for Faroe Islands, almost all of its population is involved in some way or the other with either of these two activities. Understandably, there is very little money in Faroese football and hence professionalism has not set in. Almost every player who plays football is semi-professional and also has a full-time/part-time job in fishing or whaling.
There is very little or almost no money in Faroese football and every stadium in the country is owned by the city councils and not by the clubs. Lack of investment is another cause, although it has been seen that fishing owners often have gone on to become owners of football clubs. The Faroese Football League or the Vodafonedeildin is currently ranked 51st in the UEFA coefficient ranking system. Faroe Islands does not have a fixed transfer window, and it all depends on the decisions taken by the FA. Usually their transfer window closes by February but it has been seen on some occasions to drag till mid-March. Lack of professionalism? Maybe.
Professionalism or rather the lack of it
Football in Faroe Islands is a four-tiered structure with 12 teams competing in the first division, followed by 10 teams each in the second and third division. The fourth division mainly consists of youth teams of first division and second division clubs. One of the main ideologies of Faroese football is to promote youth players and hence we see very few foreigners plying their trade here. Focus on youth football is paramount and clubs usually jostle for the best players around. On few occasions, when a foreign player was bought, it was mainly due to some excess money generated from the fishing industry.
However, holding on to their players is another issue altogether as most of the players are either semi-professional or they study in college. As there was no fixed contract between the players and football clubs in the pre-1998 era, Faroe Islands was a hotbed of almost-free youth players. Denmark, Iceland, Scotland and England took this opportunity to recruit these players who, in turn, were lured by the promises of big money and sponsors. But all that changed soon and players across every division was made to sign contracts with clubs. This enabled them to hold on to their valued resources, whom they had nurtured and developed.
The stadiums of Faroe Islands
The most alluring and beautiful sights in Faroese football are the handful of stadiums peppered all over the country. With a population of about 49,000, Faroe Islands have only 20 stadiums with a maximum seating capacity of 3000, with Tórshavn and Toftir having as many as two stadiums – both of them with seating options. Due to the cold and harsh weather, there is no option of a natural grass pitch, hence it has been replaced with artificial grass, which also serves another purpose. The stadiums are often converted to public playgrounds but with artificial grass, the chances of damaging the football pitch is minimal.
Out of the 20 stadiums, only 4 have seating options whereas the rest are open to the general public. The inability to build a seating stadium not only sees only a few hundred supporters in every game, but also results in lost revenue. Flow of money from fishing to football is the bottleneck, as spectators often have to bear the cold, windy and harsh conditions without any protection. Almost each and every stadium is situated on the coastline with the majestic Atlantic and the snowy peaks of Slættaratindur forming the backdrop.
A typical day in the stadium is usually accompanied by an icy bleakness punctured by the softness of the rays of Sun. A clear day is unheard of here as the remorseless freezing wind blows continuously. The few stadiums that houses a seating place also serves as youth centres and are usually located in residential areas. The Vesturi á Eidinum Stadium in Vágur is one of the stadiums which, instead of being closer to the coastline, is perched up high on a plateau overlooking the Atlantic. With not even a single complex in its locality, a match here is attended by a handful of spectators, that is, if they make it to the top.
Another idyllic location is the Við Margáir stadium of Streymur. Located just besides the Atlantic coastline, the stadium is surrounded by the most unlikely combination of naturally occurring objects – a lake, a paddy field, an ocean and on top of it, the misty peaks of the Thulean Plateau. The perfect place for a Lord of The Rings football match! A mistimed or a misplaced shot hit with enough power can find its way into the adjacent lake or even cross the road and fall into the Atlantic. The wind often force players to lie flat on the ground even when a match is in progress lest they be blown off literally! The Streymur stadium is a perfect example of football surviving against all odds and in one of the remotest locations on the planet.
The Toftir national stadium, Svangaskarð has a unique way to raise funds for football and of maintaining the football complex. The stadium also houses a bed-and-breakfast and the highest paid room in the stadium is located just besides the football pitch. This perfect setting for a football fan comes at a cost since B68 is one of the most successful clubs in the island. Although it has fallen down the pecking order, people around the B68 stadium still fondly remember the time when they played host to Russia in a qualifier.
All in all, Faroe Islands are still a very small fish in the ocean and with limited or almost no outsider influence, the growth of football has stagnated for a long time. While the influence of foreigners has been less, it has in turn fostered the growth of youth football. However, their ventures in international football has met disastrous ends. So far, they have failed to qualify not only for the FIFA World Cup but have also never featured in the UEFA European Championship. Hence, football in Faroe Islands has remained just like their weather – cold, rugged and desolate with a tinge of sunshine once in a decade.