BY MARC BOAL
There are not too many stadiums in the world that hold the same appeal as Hasteinsvollur, which is literally a stadium in a volcano.
Ex-Liverpool and England international David James found himself playing in goal there for a season after Hermann Hreidarsson persuaded the Englishman to come and play in the Icelandic Premier Division.
The Vestmannaeyjar archipelago is made up of 15 islands which lie in the Southern Icelandic volcanic system which consists of 70-80 volcanoes both above and below sea. Heimaey is the only inhabited island and is home to the tongue twisting IBV Vestmannaeyjar. The town’s population is just over 4,000.
The island came to international attention in 1973 with the eruption of the Eldfell volcano which destroyed many houses and forced the evacuation of the entire population apart from a few from the fire department as they battled to save the harbour by directing the lava flow as it threatened to close off the harbour completely.
The club have been in existence since 1903 although they were formed under the guise of KV but has since adopted the name of IBV (Ithrottabandalag Vestmannaeyjar). IBV have won the Icelandic title on 3 occasions – 1979, 1997 and 1998 – and the Icelandic Cup 4 times with the last success coming in 1998 during the club’s glory days.
The women’s and men’s teams suffered double heart break in 2016 as both reached their respective cup finals which were played within 24 hours of each other. The women went down to a strong Breidablik team 3-1, and the men’s team suffered a 2-0 defeat to the hands of Valur at the national stadium in Reykjavik; a game played in front of a crowd of 3,511 with many fans travelling from Heimaey hoping for the team’s first piece of silverware in 18 years. It was a long, disappointed journey back home for the islanders.
There is a large foreign contingent representing the team with players from as far apart as El Salvador and Kosovo making up the squad; understandably, it’s very difficult for the club to produce homegrown talent due to the island having such a small population. IBV, however, have produced some of the biggest names in Icelandic football with the likes of Asgeir Sigurvinsson – who played with VfB Stuttgart in Germany – and Gudmundur Torfason who had a decent career in Scotland.
Icelandic football’s all-time leading scorer, Tryggvi Gudmundsson, started his career at IBV and returned twice to play for his hometown club. Hermann Hreidarsson picked up the FA Cup at Portsmouth, and has also been part of the excellent youth system on the island. Current Iceland manager Heimir Hallgrimsson also played and managed at IBV and was the island’s dentist before taking on the Iceland job full-time. He still helps out at his local dental surgery and, incidentally, had to put his dental expertise into practice last season when he was watching a women’s match between IBV and Fylkir; one of the players had to receive treatment after a challenge left her with a cracked tooth.
How can this small and remote island produce so many great players? I don’t really know the answer to this, but maybe because there isn’t much to do around town, the youngsters just play football all day.
These days the club has plenty of qualified coaches and training is well structured. IBV have excellent indoor facilities, all the names that I’ve mentioned above are at an age when it was just the school that they could train in during the harsh winter storms that lay siege to the island.
The club’s form has been very erratic over the past few seasons, going on unbeaten runs then struggling to get any points on the board at all. With the top four or five clubs having relatively large budgets to spend on players, IBV may have to play second fiddle for a few years yet but the main aim should be to target a Europa League berth which would bring in extra revenue for the club. IBV are no strangers to the European scene having played 44 games in all competitions, winning on 7 occasions and drawing 9 times.
The appetite for football in the community is plain to see in the summer months as the youngsters train on the pitches outside the stadium. The players from the first team squad will usually take the kids’ sessions as many of the players have a UEFA B coaching licence.
On match days the whole community pulls together to help with stewarding, and selling refreshments and food. This really is a million miles away from the glitz and glamour of the English Premier League or the top leagues around Europe.
The town is a bustling little fishing hub as well as a major tourist destination these days as people come from all over the world to visit this magical little island to see what it has to offer.
The stadium is built into a huge valley with massive columns of lava formations which dominate two sides of the ground. At this outpost what you get is good honest football with breathtaking scenery at one of the most enchanting stadiums in the world. It’s easy to see why David James was sold on the idea of coming to finish his career on this picturesque island.