The date is the 17th of July 2008, and Manchester City are 55 days away from a takeover that will transform the club from top to bottom. A takeover that will take Manchester City from being United’s little brother to a global powerhouse part of one of the wealthiest groups in Football. But before that City faced a trip into European Football for the first time in 6 years. After finishing 9th in the Premier League, the season before City managed to get themselves in the Europa League first qualifying round thanks to the English fair play system and despite even finishing 6th in that, but thanks to all five teams above them having already got into Europe, City managed to squeak in. Thanks to their lack of Yellow Cards City were rewarded with a first-round trip to the Faroese semi-professional side EB Streymur.
A unique experience to say the least, facing off against a side from the 47th ranked nation out of 55 is not one that English sides are used to. For the Man City fans it meant a 3,400-mile round trip to one of the most isolated nations in Europe. Made up of 18 different islands, and 700km north of the peak of Scotland, Football in Faroe Islands is viewed very similarly to the likes of Andora and San Marino. With a population of only 48,000 and despite their national Sport being Rowing the tiny island country can see upwards of 10% of their population attend a single football game at a weekend, in fact if you could see the percentage of football fanatic fans across the country they probably rank as one of the highest in the World. Formed in 1892, the Faroe Islands Football League is one of the oldest in the World forming only 4 years after the EFL. It is by far the most popular Sport in the country with the Premier League also being incredibly popular within the islands.
On the southernmost Island of Tvøroyri play the oldest team in the Country and whole Danish region. Tvøroyrar Bóltfelag (TB) in 2018 expanded their club for one of the first times in their history when they became the merger side for the three sides on the Tvøroyri. TB are also one of the most multicultural teams in the country, with most sides housing full squads of players from their town of Village TB now have a manager from Germany, two players from Ghana, one from Senegal, four from Denmark and one from Sweden. Together they play for TB in the Betri Premier League.
Otherwise known as Effodeildin the Premier League is home to the 10 best teams from the Faroe Islands scattered across all 18 Islands. You may have seen my piece on the Europa ConferenceLeague a few weeks ago and in essence it was made for the teams from the likes of the Faroe Islands. Three teams from the Islands can qualify for Europe, with the top club getting a Champions League preliminary place, 2nd getting Conference 1st round qualifying and the and another Conference 1st round going to the Faroe Islands cup winners or 3rd place.
Football in the country is very slowly progressing with this year being the closest ever that a team has come to getting to a European group stage. KI Klaksvik (KI) made it all the way to the Europa League playoff round where they faced off against the Republic of Irelands Dundalk for a place the Europa League group stages. Unfortunately, despite a very valiant effort the side who finished 3rd in the League lost out 3-1 to their Irish opposition.
But KI are a perfect example of how the locals adore Football in the country. Klaksvik is a small working-class town with a population of just over 5000. Known as the fishing capital of the Faroe Islands it is said the very result of the club can affect the work that week in the factory. Last season with a title decider against B36 Tórshavn on the cards, 6000 people or 11.5% of the countries entire population went to watch, with 70% of the whole of Klaksvik making the game.
So what became of Manchester City? In what we be one of the final teams that they would play before the City Group era, City were faced against a team resultant of another merger between two Villages. With a combined population of under 900 people the fact that EB/Streymur managed to get 3000 fans to the game is beyond ridiculous, although you do have to assume that fans travelled from across the country to watch a Premier League team play in their country.
And yet despite the clear excitement and lure of the game it doesn’t sound like security around the Torsvollur Stadium was all that tight as Man City fan Ian Malcom, who actually went to the game describes in this phenomenal story:
“Having travelled to the game via a couple of days’ wandering around in Copenhagen, I hadn’t spent any time considering what to do before the game. The fact that there was no security at the stadium seemed to be a Faroes’ welcome which I took to mean … ‘come in and wander around’….. so I did.
“Had a chat to my wife on the phone, at home, whilst doing a number of circuits of the pitch until the groundsman attracted my attention whilst he was mowing the pitch. His name was Tugge and he also happened to be the Faroes’ Chief of Police. The delightful chap rather nicely allowed me onto his sit-on mower and mow the pitch! Yeh! So, I did a couple of laps & produced 4 quite beautiful stripes on the pitch, just left of the half-way line.
“The ease with which I’d entered the stadium in the morning rather emboldened me for the game in the evening, so although I had a ticket, I put on my smart togs, hung some papers around my neck to create a rather formal impression and then averted everybody’s gaze for the next 3 hours in case they were likely to ask difficult questions along the lines of .. ‘and who the heck are you?’ ….. or …..‘and what exactly are you doing here?’ As none of that happened, I spent the hour before the game and the whole of the game stood on the outside of the plexi-glass bench cover, 2 ft away from Mark Hughes & Mark Bowen & the subs; I was almost a reserve sub!
After the game, I kinda hung around as media interviewed the City contingent. I managed to get Michael Ball to have a word with my daughter on the phone, something that confused both of them – ‘So who are you and why am I talking to you?’ could have been the question from each of them, but it wasn’t. Ah the delight of being a 62-year-old teenager, getting up to japes on tour with City.
Surreal with a capital ‘S’.”
In the end Man City armed with a team of; Hart, Onuoha, Dunne, Richards, Ball, Ireland, Hamann, Johnson, Petrov, Jo and Vassell manged to run out 4-0 winners over the two legs.
It may not be one of the best Footballing nations (with the national team being ranked 110th) but there is no faulting their sheer passion. The country is by no means made for Football, with pitches being places wherever there is a flat piece of land and every now and again you will see photos go viral of their incredible pitches on the coasts because that is literally the only places they can play. But it is a beautiful country and in the coming Conference League may even get some sides into group stages of a European competition. Long live the Faroese love of Football.