Soccer Magazine

Valur 1 HK 0

By Stuartnoel @theballisround

Thursday 2nd March 2023 7pm – The Icelandic League Cup – Origovöllurinn, Reykjavik

It was never my intention when booking a trip to Iceland as a Christmas present for The Current Mrs Fuller that football would be on the agenda. Come on, it is still in the depths of winter in these parts, the season isn’t due to start until mid-April and naturally, the pre-season league cup wasn’t even scheduled, was it? Was it? OK, so I MAY have seen there were games on prior to the weekend and that MAY have swayed my planning in choosing to visit Thursday to Saturday rather than the weekend, where there were no games, but the official line we all stick to is that flights and hotels were significantly cheaper on Thursday because there was a conference at the weekend – a GeoThermal Ecological thing. That’s the one and nobody is going to say different.

This was my fourth trip to the land of fire and ice, and I’d yet to see a game. I’d had a wander around the national stadium at Laugardalsvöllur, the 10,000 capacity ground next door to the biggest outdoor swimming pool on the island but never had the sniff of a game. Pick the right weekend and you cannot walk more than a few hundred yards in Reykjavik without stumbling on a ground – with 30 clubs playing in and around the city.

It wasn’t all about football naturally. After the almost complete failure to see the Northern Lights on our long trek to the Arctic Circle the weekend before, whilst 10 miles down the road at home in Kent they were treated to the best nocturnal display in living memory, we aimed to give it another try in Iceland. Add in a trip to the latest “in place to whip your clothes off” (copyright Bridget Fuller, December 2022) at the Sky Lagoon, which has the world’s biggest single glazed window apparently (one of my favorite world records by the way), the opportunity to try whale, puffin or rotting shark and pay north of £15 for a beer and you had the makings of an excellent short break.

There were games on both nights we were there but I didn’t want to be greedy so suggested we only went to one on each night, rather than the two which was possible. I had no idea what to expect. Average attendances for league games in the Pepsi Deildin, the top flight in Iceland, were less than 800 in 2022, with the best supported team being U Breiðablik Kópavogur, the upstarts from Kópavogsbær in the Höfuðborgarsvæðið region of Reykjavik who had won the 2022 league championship. I’d like to see you ask a taxi driver to take you there after a beer or two.

Our (my) plan had been after a day of wandering the streets of Reykjavik to head up the hill to watch Valur, the twenty three times champions of Iceland, before a late dinner and as many drinks as the second mortgage would cover. Iceland has very strict closing times, with almost every restaurant closing at 10pm, and normal pubs at 11pm. The rise in “craft and cocktail culture” (copyright Stuart Fuller, March 2023) has led to an easing of some of these licensing rules and it is now possible to drink until 1am in many bars – they are easy to find as they have ATMs conveniently located outside.

Valur has spent most of it´s time in Icelandic top flight football, having only played 3 seasons in the clubs history outside the top tier, and is one of the most successful football clubs in Iceland with 23 Icelandic championships and 11 Icelandic Cups. For the past three seasons they have entered the Champions League (as just the champions do in some of the smaller leagues in Europe – fancy that!), losing to Rosenborg, Maribor and Dinamo Zagreb respectively. European football does pose a problem, as the surprise package from Norway this season, Bodø/Glimt, showed in that whilst the rest of the domestic league shuts down for the winter break, they have to keep playing in Arctic conditions.

The club holds the record attendance to a football match in Iceland with 18,243 spectators in attendance v Benfica in 1968, although that was at their old stadium. The current stadium, Hlíðarendi (Icelandic pronunciation: ​[ˈl̥iːðarˌɛntɪ] if that makes it any easier for you), opened in 2008 and is a one sided affair, attached to an indoor sports hall. As with most pitches in Iceland, it is a 3G, as too are most in the country, which is understandable with the weather in these parts for six months of the year.

The performance of the national side in the last few major tournaments, both Men’s and Women’s is attributed to providing community facilities based around 3G pitches around the country, both indoor and outside, encouraging more youngsters to play the game. At this point the Football Association will skip to another website rather than facing an inconvenient truth of the lack of investment at a community level and the correlation to national team success.

Valur 1 HK 0
Valur 1 HK 0
Valur 1 HK 0
Valur 1 HK 0
Valur 1 HK 0
Valur 1 HK 0

Information on the game, aside from location and kick-off time was scant. My Icelandic is rusty to say the least but from Google Translate it appeared entry was free and coffee was 250ISK (£1.50) or vice-versa so we made our way towards Perlan, the “Futuristic revolving glass-domed fine dining restaurant in park setting, with cocktail bar” that sits atop a hill overlooking the city, ducking into the ground just before the ascend requires oxygen. It was indeed free entry, and coffee was indeed 250ISK. Confident in my Google’s ability to make sense of Icelandic, I tried to order a hit dog in local language, which just led to smirks from the young girls behind the counter, who responded in perfect English, pointing me in the direction of the condiments, adding “that means sauces in English”. Thanks.

The single stand afforded some good views of the sunset to the west, which were the highlight of a goal less first half. Valur have a decent squad, made up of Icelanders, Danes, a Dutch keeper and former US international Aron Jóhannsson, born of Icelandic parents in the US. They huffed and puffed against a spirited HK, or to give them their full name, Handknattleiksfélag Kópavogs side, promoted to the top division for the start of the 2023 season, hailing from just outside the capital. Kópavogur is one of Iceland’s most prominent sites for Icelandic urban legends about the huldufólk, or elves, as we would better know them.

There was little to shout about in the second period and with two minutes to go we headed out, conscious of the 9pm food curfew. As we stepped out of the ground, of course, we missed the one and only goal, scorer still to this day unknown.

Valur 1 HK 0

The following night we had the joy of Thróttur Reykjavík vs Fylkir at Þróttarvöllur, a venue not a stone’s throw away from the National Stadium, but also a similar distance from the RVK Brewing Company taproom, which I am not ashamed to say, waylaid us for a good 75 minutes of the game, by which time the away side had gone into a 2-1 lead and that’s how it stayed. There’s sometimes more to life than football, as the RVK C & C Stout (“This is what do you get when you introduce a dozen cinnamon rolls to a Russian Imperial Stout. Dark, handsome and sophisticated with an intensely complex flavor profile. One may find notes of coffee, chocolate, cinnamon and liquorice intertwined in a delicate balance’) proves.

Reykjavik is up there with the best for a weekend (or late week) getaway. Yes, it is expensive and yes, it can be freezing (the temperature dropped from a daytime high of 8 degrees when we were there to a low of -13 a week later), but the scenery, the friendliest of people, the food, the beer and occasionally, the football, make it a sure-fire winner of a weekend.


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