In the small Faroe Islands fishing town of Klaksvik, talk among the population of about 5,000 concerns only one thing at the moment: football.
For a country ranked 107th in the world, there is usually little to cheer when it comes to European and international matches.
But on Thursday, league champions KI Klaksvik will face the Republic of Ireland’s Dundalk in the Europa League play-off round, in the most important game in Faroe Islands’ football history. They are 90 minutes away from becoming the country’s first team to qualify for a major European competition.
“This is the biggest game in our history, by far,” says Sigurjon Einarsson, an editor at the dimma.fo website. “It’s the first time our team has had a chance to get into the group stage of the Europa League. A team from the Faroe Islands – I never thought I would see that happening, not in my wildest dreams.”
With a budget of about £1m, Klaksvik play their home games at a stadium with a capacity of only 2,600 (530 seats), but their match against Dinamo Tbilisi in the previous round, which produced a shock 6-1 win, was played at the national stadium, as their own ground does not fit the criteria set by Uefa for the third qualifying round.
The prospect of a place in the Europa League proper, which could see them face teams of the calibre of Arsenal, Tottenham, Leicester, Celtic and Rangers, seemed a long way away when, in 2009, they were relegated to the country’s second division. It was a low point for a club which has won 18 domestic titles, and ended a 20-year wait for their most recent when they triumphed in 2019.
Klaksvik, who began the season by overcoming Slovan Bratislava in a Champions League qualifier before losing to Swiss side Young Boys, rely largely on players born and raised in the town.
“We are like a family,” says Jakup Biskopsto Andreasen, their 22-year-old captain.
“All the players from Klaksvik have a really good connection and we are close friends.”
He has spent his whole career at the club and says there are “at least four or five” players from his youth age group involved in the first team. Pall Klettskaro, who scored a hat-trick against Dinamo Tbilisi, was also brought up in Klaksvik.
As Einarsson explains, the whole community is mad about football.
“When it comes to the passion of Klaksvik’s citizens for football, it’s said: ‘When KI win, the work goes quickly and well in the local fish factory. If the team loses, the workrate is worse.’ Klaksvik is called ‘the fishing capital of the Faroes’. It’s a proper working-class town, and they take their football very seriously.”
“You meet people on the street everywhere, when you go for a walk, and everyone is talking about football,” adds Andreasen. “People here are very excited about seeing their team making an effort to get into the group stage.”
Last season, for a title decider against B36, about 70% of the town’s population went to Torshavn, the country’s capital, to cheer on the team.
The transformation in fortunes has come under the guidance of head coach Mikkjal Thomassen, who took charge five years ago.
“In 2015, when Thomassen came, we set high goals and we have been working very hard,” says Andreasen. “We began by winning the Faroes Cup in 2016, and then we got into Europe.”
European games provided an opportunity to gain experience and improve technically.
“I think this is one of the strongest Faroes teams in European football ever, if not the strongest,” says Sjurour Jacobsen, the club’s assistant coach.
“We are perfectly set up for these games, as we are very physical and well organised. The players also have a great mentality – when they are under pressure, they can stand against it.”
As well as Klaksvik’s success, rivals B36 Torshavn beat three opponents in a row before losing against CSKA Sofia in the third qualifying round of the Europa League, hinting at further progress for one of Europe’s smallest footballing nations.
“There is more money involved and teams try to work professionally, training more and nurture better players,” says Andreasen.
The national team, which has never come close to a major tournament, might benefit, too. They have recently recorded Nations League wins over Malta and Andorra.
More than half of the Klaksvík squad work either full-time or part-time. Andreasen has just finished his apprenticeship as an electrician, Jacobsen works in a fishing factory, and there are students, carpenters, painters and accountants. In order to enable everyone to train, the coaches set the training sessions for 5pm local time.
“It would be an amazing achievement for us to get to the group stage – maybe we can bring Faroese club football onto the world map,” says Andreasen, whose side must overcome League of Ireland side Dundalk, who enjoyed their own Europa League fairytale when they reached the group stage in 2016-17.
“We are not there yet, but we will go after our chance. It is quite unrealistic when you think about a Faroese team in the group stage. It would be a fulfilled dream for us.”