“The call came out of the blue, and within a week I was playing in Iceland”
Name: Darren Lough
Previous clubs: Newcastle United, Ashington, KA Akureyri
Current club: IA Akranes
Location: Íþróttabandalag Akraness or IA Akranes for short play in Iceland's top division and won the last of their 18 league titles in 2001. The city Akranes is just 20km north of the capital, Reykjavik. Akranes has a strong fishing industry which is helped by the Hvalfjörður Tunnel; one of the world's longest underwater road tunnels.
Iceland will be featuring in Euro 2016 next month, the first time the country has qualified for a major tournament. It is fair to say there is quite a buzz in the country at the moment, something that is being experienced by Newcastle-born Darren Lough who is currently plying his trade with IA Akranes in the top flight in Iceland, his second club in the country. Having previously been on the books with Newcastle United, and then playing at local side Ashington, he recalls the time a move to Iceland came out of nowhere.
“A person called Nick McCreary who at the time I was totally unaware of asked me how I would like to play in Iceland, at this point I was unaware of anything to do with Iceland and it was probably the last place I was expecting to go to. So after the call and great detail from my now agent he persuaded me to go over and give it a shot, I thought at the time why not? Nothing to lose and everything to gain, and if nothing the experience of just traveling to the country”.
Darren jumped into the opportunity with both feet, and before he knew it (within four days in fact) he was making his debut for his brand new club. “I ended up travelling over the Wednesday to Akureyri before the 1st game of their season in 1st division of Iceland, signing on the Friday and playing Saturday and that’s where it began.”
Lough has noticed a technical difference in the game in Iceland in comparison to playing back home. Whilst referee’s aren’t as lenient in Iceland he sees this as a benefit which leads to the players having to play good football instead of relying on physicality.
“The level of the football is good and is getting better every season. Not as physical as back home so that was one thing I had to try and adapt to, (emphasis on the word try) because the referees are not as lenient as back in UK so that means a lot of football is tried to be played which is a great compliment to the way that they have developed the players through their youth systems. Since I have been here the last four seasons, you can see how the training and understanding has greatly improved and coaches are constantly learning and getting better.”
Whilst Iceland isn’t too far away from Lough’s North East routes, there is still a big difference in the culture, but he is enjoying his time in the country, especially when in the capital of Reykjavik. The travelling across the country may take its toll, but it is all still a new experience for the 26-year-old.
“You get to travel the country to most away games, we have had to fly to the far north/west of Iceland on a 15 seater plane; it wasn’t a good feeling but a great experience. We have also travelled on a ferry to a small island at the bottom of Iceland; something that if you’re not good on a ferry then not the best idea before a game.”
“Getting to travel about the country and see all the sights is great and you get to do this while playing football, so it’s a win win situation. Obviously Reykjavik is the capital and is a very nice place to go if you’re a tourist, everything you need is there; great restaurants, nightlife and history of Iceland and getting to experience the attractions such as the Blue Lagoon and the Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights) will be something you won’t forget.”
Whilst Lough may be enjoying his new life in Iceland, he wouldn’t rule out a return to the UK in the future, but also feels other players should take opportunities to play abroad and experience something different. “Everyone wants to play in the UK doesn’t matter where you come from, but leaving the UK is definitely not a bad thing to do, you grow as a person having to adapt to the language and how other people in different countries live. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of playing back in the UK but moving abroad is a great option.
There is excitement generating in Iceland ahead of Euro 2016 and Darren believes it is well deserved, and they could cause a few surprises.
“With Iceland going to the Euros it has put them on the map as a footballing country. From just over 320,000 people it shows how much talent is among the players in the country and the amount of effort they put in. There’s definitely no luck about it because Iceland has some very good players, but as it’s the first time they have qualified for a national competition you can only imagine the buzz around the country and it wouldn’t surprise me if they pulled a rabbit out of the hat.”
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