The meteoric rise of UMF Vikingur Olafsvik is one of the most romantic stories in Icelandic football. The club are based on the remote and isolated West coast and recently returned to the Urvalsdeild (Premier Division) for only the second time in their history.
The small picturesque fishing town which is based at the foot of the towering Snaefellsjokull glacier has just over 1000 inhabitants. Although the club were formed in 1928, the only football on offer was friendlies against other nearby towns and villages. It wasn’t until the 1970s that football was more developed and taken seriously in the quaint little town.
Through the 1970s and following their first competitive fixture in 1972, Vikingur played in the lower echelons of Icelandic football. Games at the time were played on a gravel surface at their ground Olafsvikurvollur, and it wasn’t until 1993 that the Vikings eventually got a grass pitch installed.
Vikingur were struggling in the bottom tiers of Icelandic football until the millennium and things steadily got worse for the club as they struggled to even field a team. Drastic action was taken and the club played under the name of HSH (basically a select team of players from the surrounding villages and hamlets). This arrangement lasted for a few years until the club finally reverted back to their original name of Vikingur Olafsvik in 2003.
It didn’t take long for the club to find success with the young team winning the 3rd division in their opening season, more was to follow for the minnows based in the Western outpost overlooking the bay of Breidafjordur, as they secured promotion again taking them to the old 1st division. They struggled against some of the more astute and well developed teams, and found themselves sliding down the divisions again.
The club started to look to youth development to help build stability, and this indeed was the answer as they started climbing up the leagues in 2010. Football on the pitch had turned more technical with the arrival of Bosnian coach Ejub Purisevic, who brought some foreign players into the squad to give the team a new edginess, the new brand of football was highly entertaining and the locals started coming to the ground again in their droves.
Eventually after many years of ups and downs the club won promotion in the 2012 to the Urvalsdeild for the first time in the clubs history, to the joy of their small band of supporters. Sadly the Vikings found the top league a bridge too far and were relegated in their flagship season.
There are no professionals playing at Vikingur, all the players are semi-professional with players having various jobs. Polish defender Tomasz Luba, teaches kids at the school, reserve goalkeeper Einar Hjorleifsson, works as an engineer on one of the local fishing boats. Tourism and fishing are a vital part of the economy to this remote town. The players also help within the club structure itself, they wash the kits, cut the grass at the stadium and train the youth players through their development, this helps the club control costs.
There is only one full time employee at the club, centre back Anton Jonas Illugason, has dedicated his football career his beloved team. He goes on to tell me – “staying in the top flight is vital to the club, it creates buzz around the town and everyone here likes to read about Vikingur in the national papers and see them on TV.”
The players and board are so proud of their club which symbolises the character of this community, the sports hall and the stadium are a major part of life in this sleepy little town. Chairman Jonas Gestur Jonasson and the board are trying hard to improve facilities at the stadium and hope to have an proper indoor arena for the townsfolk and nearby villages to use for the future generation of players, but this a very expensive project and would require a vast amount of money. The club are hopeful of ripping up the pitch and installing an artificial pitch so the players can train all year round. So the 2016 season is the most vital in the clubs history, as staying up would bring much needed extra money from TV rights and extra crowd revenue to help the club fulfil its dream of bettering it’s infrastructure for young kids.
Olafsvik is so remote they have a very small catchment area for hand picking the best talent on offer, so the club have had to look elsewhere for players and have signed a host of foreigners for their league assault. It remains to be seen if they have the resources to maintain top league status. It’s been a roller coaster ride for this small club over the past few years. Vikingur started the season very well and were top of the league for a brief spell after victories over the bigger clubs Breidablik, Valur and IA Akranes. However, the Icelandic season went into shutdown for a couple of weeks due to Iceland playing at the Euros. Since then, the Olafsvik outfit have failed to get many points on the board and have had injury problems to add to an already very thin squad, and are currently sitting in 9th place as they prepare for a relegation showdown with Fylkir who sit below them in the league. The club are under no illusions how difficult this task is going to be. The last 5 games of this season is going to be a baptism of fire for the minnows who play under the shadow of the mighty Snaefellsjokull glacier.
Olafsvik really has got to be one of the most enchanting places in Iceland, with the majestic Olafsvikurkirkja church overlooking this quaint little ground. They will be hoping for some divine intervention to keep them in the top division for a few years to come. The stadium is only a few hundred yards from the Atlantic ocean and the elements can sometimes spoil the standard of football, but the style of the Icelandic game has improved dramatically over the past decade, with more emphasis on the technical side of the game as well as passing of the ball, although Icelandic clubs struggle with the more physical side of the game.