Knight: A Faroe Islands fantasy
by Globe and Mail
Theres a large
photo in the January issue of FourFourTwo magazine
that is just knocking me out.
Two boys, arms raised happily, are sitting at the edge of a short cliff. In front of them lies a tiny, picture-perfect little soccer stadium in the Faroe Islands.
On the pitch, the locals are taking on Scotland in a Euro 2008 qualifying match. These boys have the equivalent of front-row, upper-deck seats in the corner – worth a fortune anywhere else, but obviously free in the Faroes. The sky is misty, with some lovely patches of pale blue. Directly behind the far goal? Five short rows of terracing – and the sea.
It’s so simple. So perfect.
I’m sure the park gets some utterly horrendous weather, but this picture is idyllic.
Late last week, my youngest brother (who isn’t a sports fan) locked eyes with me over a basket of chicken wings and asked “Why are the Faroe Islands trying to qualify for the World Cup?” So I tried to explain that they have their own Football Association, which makes them eligible, and that they held Austria to a 0-0 draw a few years back, forcing the entire Austrian coaching staff to resign on the flight back to Vienna.
He looked puzzled, and brought up the bottom-line point that even if they’re eligible, they have no players and even less chance. I tried to explain about romance and underdogs, but then the conversation switched to international politics, and the Faroes were forgotten.
I wish I’d had this picture then.
There’s no Manchester United in this shot. No Real Madrid. No Italy hoisting the World Cup in Germany. Just a huge dream in a tiny park, in a lonely, wind-swept region of battered rock and open water.
A spot of light research reveals the park is Torsvollor Stadium. The game was played last June, and Scotland won 2-0 on goals by Shaun Maloney (Aston Villa) and Garry O’Connor (Birmingham City). It was part of a qualifying run in which the Faroes lost all 12 matches, scoring four goals while conceding 43. The highlight had come just four days before, when they lost to Italy on the same park, but only by a narrow 2-1 margin.
How utterly wonderful! To live in such a place, and be able to walk down the road – or paddle along the shore – and watch Italy or Scotland play in a postage-stamp stadium, beneath a cliff and right on the shore.
It’s so easy to forget, in the swirl of money and controversy and diving and ill will that so often characterizes the global sport of soccer, that small countries and small clubs are a huge, essential part of this game’s soul.
As I look at this soaring photograph, I’m smiling broadly at the thought that they can’t hold a World Cup or a European Championship without coming through this place. And while I might wish that parks in San Marino, Liechtenstein, Andorra and Kazakhstan might be as lovely as this, I know all too certainly that they aren’t.
But the dream is every bit as heart-warming.
As much as I’d love to watch Italy play at the San Siro in Milan or the Stadio Delle Alpi in Turin, I’d have given a lot to see them in the Faroes last summer. Filippo Inzaghi scored twice for the Azzurri that day, but I’d loved to have been in that atmosphere when islander Rogvi Jacobsen shockingly cut the lead in half on 77 minutes.
The tension on the Italian faces in those final minutes – and the joy of the home Faroe fans – must have been intoxicating.
And looking at this picture, at two anonymous boys with the whole world of soccer just below their feet, you can see it all. That game, in this tiny place, held equal weight and importance to any marquee match-up between any of Europe’s top national sides, in any huge and famous stadium, anywhere on the continent.
You can run World Cups and Euros for another millennium, and the Faroe Islands will never qualify. But the global game is infinitely richer and better when all the globe partakes. This gorgeous little place, a bravely battered field of green, tightly squeezed between icy wave and barren rock, has a perfect poetry about it.
I see it, and now I want to go. I know I’m not the only one.
We’ll get back to the big clubs, rampaging egos and creeping controversies soon enough. Just for today, though, I thought we all deserved a break.