A long, long, time ago, when travellers and tourists roamed the streets and countryside of Iceland, guests would occasionally walk into our tourist information office and ask about my all-time favourite topic.
No. It had nothing to do with the sites in Thingvellir. Or where to see an ice cave. I’m talking about football.
(To our American readers, I’m referring to soccer, but I won’t say that word again. In Iceland, it’s football. Not that other word. Capiche?)
We love football
Iceland loves football. A quick Google search of “Iceland” and “football” will yield a plethora of results concerning Iceland’s men’s national football team; in 2016 and 2018, Iceland became the smallest nation in history to qualify for the European Championship and the World Cup respectively.
But there is also plenty to love about the local football leagues. The top-flight league in Iceland is named after everyone’s favourite soft drink: Pepsi Max. The league comprises 12 teams. The team that tops the table at the end of the season is crowned the champion. The bottom two teams are relegated to the league below (the Lengjan league).
A nail-biter of a season?
This year’s season, which begins on June 13, looks like it’s going to be massively exciting, with five teams currently considered possible championship contenders: Breiðablik, Stjarnan, Víkingur R, Valur and KR. It’s those two last teams, however, that are considered the absolute favourites. Incidentally, both of these teams play close to the centre of Reykjavík (which is where most travellers stay when visiting Iceland).
A bit of history, in the lead up to the summer
Last season, the Valur reds had one of the worst title defences in the history of Icelandic football (they had finished first for the past two seasons). Despite fielding an expensive and experienced team, they played like relegation contenders for a big part of the season. At the same time, KR – who hadn’t won the league for six years – dominated the league in their iconic black-and-white striped shirts, finishing with a massive 14-point lead (ahead of Breiðablik).
When the season ended, Valur sacked their manager and five-time league winner Ólafur Jóhannesson (he won two titles with Valur). In his stead, the club hired six-time league winner, Heimir Guðjónsson; many fans expect a resurgence this summer.
KR is managed by Rúnar Kristinsson, another serial winner who has lifted the trophy three times but who has thus far failed to defend his titles. We will have to see if the “third time will be the charm” this summer.
Both of those teams play their home games in walking distance from the Reykjavík downtown area. If the opportunity presents itself, you should definitely try to catch a game. (You can check out the schedule for games here as well as the league table).
If you do manage to attend a game with either one of these teams, here are a few players to look out for:
Atli Sigurjónsson #23
Atli is a very talented and technical playmaker who is easily recognizable on the field with his silky smooth, long, blonde hair.
Kristján Flóki Finnbogasson #21
Kristján is a great goalscorer who joined KR from Start in Norway midway through last season. He will be trusted with putting the ball in the net this season for the champions hopeful.
Óskar Örn Hauksson #22
Óskar is an oldie but a goldie. He may be 35 years old, and turning 36 in August, but he ages like fine wine. Óskar was the league’s MVP last summer. He is an absolute key player for KR.
Hannes Þór Halldórsson #1
It’s roughly two years now since Hannes saved a penalty from Messi. He has been vital for the national team in progressing to the World Cup and European Championship. Hannes joined Valur last summer, but he, like the rest of the team, will be determined to make up for a disappointing season last summer.
Haukur Páll Sigurðsson #7
Haukur is an absolute engine on the midfield and rarely if ever finishes the game without some sort of head injury or a yellow card. He makes everything tick in Valur’s midfield.
Patrick Pedersen #9
Patrick is probably the most gifted player in the league: a proven goalscorer with 60 goals in his 100 Pepsi League games. But Patrick is so much more than JUST a goalscorer; besides making everyone around him better, he also has some clever passes and great technique in his arsenal. He’s an absolute joy to watch.
There are loads of great and gifted players on the two sides though so bear that in mind. Enjoy the footballing summer in Iceland!