Saturday 4 July ~
English players are often criticised for being insular, failing to take the chance of playing overseas and preferring to rot away on silly money in the reserves. Despite the relative successes of David Beckham and Matt Derbyshire, who has made his move to Greek champions Olympiacos permanent, there are no other Englishmen playing in major leagues in Europe. It might come as a surprise therefore to discover that there are some 200 Englishmen playing and coaching outside the UK.
According to Les Rosbifs, a website which tracks the progress our footballing exports, many English migrants have made a success of playing in countries such as Latvia, Singapore and the US. In recent years, Iceland has become a popular destination. At the last count, there were eight English footballers playing full-time in the mainly part-time Icelandic league.
One is Matt Garner, formerly of Crewe Alexandra and Northwich Victoria and now approaching his fourth year with top-level club IBV Vestmannaeyjar. “I’ve seen some players from outside Iceland lock themselves away in their apartments because they are not prepared to fit into the lifestyle, which leads to them becoming lazy on the pitch,” he says. "You have to approach the challenge of playing abroad with an open mind.” Paul Clapson, a former goalkeeper and American footballer, who has had success in the Faroe Islands and Iceland as a striker, echoes this: “Unless you are prepared to change your lifestyle, you will find it tough. Everything is different: the style of play, manager demands, shopping...”
Magnus Mar Einarsson of fotbolti.net claims Icelandic football has taken a shine to English footballers because of the way they give everything, unlike players from some other countries who have headed to northern Europe. “Icelandic people like passionate and hard-working players. The Englishmen give this.” This may sound like the stereotypical view of the English footballer, but according to Sam Tillen, formerly of Chelsea and Brentford and now of Fram Reykjavik, the level and appreciation of technical skill is far greater in Iceland than in Leagues One and Two. “Compared to the 50-yard channel balls I was expected to play at Brentford, Iceland is a world apart. Even in the lower leagues here, the teams try to play more football and do a lot of skills work in training.”
Sam, whose brother Joe also plays for Fram, hints at the ignorance of the Englishman in general when he adds: “People always ask me on my return home if I live with penguins. They just don’t believe we have sunshine in Iceland. My Icelandic friend, who played in the Coca-Cola Championship for a year, was asked if he lived in an igloo. His team-mates were astounded he could use a computer.” There are difficulties, though, with the language being chief amongst them. It helps that English is the lingua franca, making half-time team-talks slightly easier to understand.
Speaking to the English players in Iceland it is clear that they are happy and settled there. Former West Ham and Brentford striker Dean Martin has been in Iceland for nearly ten years and is now player-coach of second level side KA Akureyri. He has seen many players come and go and believes it has more to do with English players being satisfied with a diet of reserve and non-League football. He sums it up succinctly: “There’s more to life than British football.” Gav Stone