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Footy Beneath the Arctic Circle – Akureyri, Iceland

  • Sunday, June 02 2013 @ 08:33 pm ACST
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Located in northern Iceland, Akureyri is the fourth largest town in the country and the biggest outside the Reykjavík metro area. It is also a mere 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the Arctic Circle, and it just happens to have a very devoted following of Australian Rules fans who are keen to further develop the game in Iceland.

With a history which dates back to initial Viking settlement in the 9th century, Akureyri has grown over the centuries since to be a significant population centre in Iceland with a thriving fishing industry and an ice-free port which makes it an important centre of commerce for the nation.

Geographically, in football terms, it might also become the most northerly centre for Australian Rules football world-wide with the apparent hiatus of the Tromsø team in Norway as well as the same fate for the Krasnoyarsk team in Siberia, Russia.

A chat with new AFL Iceland General Manager Solvi Fannar Sigmarsson, one of the gentlemen who are driving the development of this new club, reveals that “We're in Akureyri, and we're currently throwing around some ideas for the name. We've been slowly building up a squad here, and currently we have a bigger female squad than we do male. [In fact] it is looking more likely that we will have a full girl’s squad [before the boys], but nothing has been confirmed yet.”

Solvi alludes to the history of footy in Iceland when looking at the growth of an Akureyri club. “Aussie Rules in Iceland started pretty much the same way as it did in Denmark; a couple of mates, who were already familiar with the sport, placed an ad asking for more to join them.”

“In May 2012, I contacted Jón Hrói because I knew one of the guys training in Reykjavík and I wanted to try it out. So he told me to contact Jón. We had a little talk and we agreed to meet the following day. “

“For our first unofficial practice session it was just the two of us. But we had practice pretty much every week, and our squad grew a little. We had two matches last summer with the boys in Reykjavík: one in Akureyri, and the other in Reykjavík.”

“In September 2012 I went with the rest of the boys in the national team to Edinburgh for the Euro Cup. This year we've been training since January, and I've been going to a local university to have [offer] introductory lessons in their gym classes. Now, five months later, our squad has grown significantly. But what delights me the most is that currently, the women outnumber the men.”

“As for the team we will almost certainly have for this year’s Euro Cup, we will also have a couple of the girls join us, so there will likely be some Icelandic players in the Crusaders squad.”

On the weekend, the Akureryi team travelled down to Reykjavik for a match. Playing under the old nickname of “The Dragons”, they went down to their southern hosts 132 to 71, but were highly competitive. Later this month they will host the Reykjavik team in a follow up match. As the Akureyri team continues to evolve it is likely that matches will follow the existing pattern of occasional hitouts against Reykjavík.

But the exciting aspect of this development is seeing another club growing the game in Iceland and, by extension, Europe. This is already an indication of the growing popularity of the game within Iceland, and not just the men. Women also are taking to the game in significant numbers which will continue to add strength to women’s footy across Europe.

As for a permanent name for the Akureyri team? I am sure that Solvi and his crew would welcome any useful suggestions. Until then, good luck to this newest Icelandic Australian Rules team.