KR are the nation’s most successful club, with 27 titles, followed by Valur on 23. Víkingur have six, making last season’s first success in 30 years all the sweeter. Indeed, victory against Levadia was the club’s first in the European Champion Clubs’ Cup. It is a significant milestone for a team formed in 1908 by a group of kids who, unable to break into other local sides, banded together to raise money for their own ball.
The first chair of the board of directors was 12 and the ball still features in the club logo. The group’s inaugural meeting was in a basement at the corner of Sudurgata and Túngata streets where the boys lived in the city centre, and this season’s Víkingur shirts bear the club’s original name, Sudurgötufélagid, on the back of the collar to mark the significance of the occasion. Founding sons rather than founding fathers.
Now 1,300 boys and girls aged six and up are members of the Víkingur club, playing a range of sports from football, handball and skiing to karate. Local authorities contribute to membership fees to encourage children to keep active, and Iceland’s clubs have become hubs of their communities. Víkingur’s catchment area is about to grow considerably too. Neighbours Fram are moving to an outlying suburb and Víkingur will take on their facilities, becoming the new focal point of the neighbouring Háaleiti og Bústaðir district as well as their own Fossvogur.
Finding then developing the next home-grown star is the goal. For Víkingur, prominent examples are EURO 2016 heroes Kári Árnason and Kolbeinn Sigþórsson, but the club have also been shrewd in the transfer market: they keep a close eye on local players who perhaps went abroad too young and give them the option to come back home. Ingason, Víkingur’s matchwinner against Inter, is a case in point. He was just 16 when he joined Copenhagen, then returned to Iceland without playing a first-team game in Denmark. His 14 goals last season were key to Víkingur winning the title and have earned him Iceland’s young player of the award, plus a pair of caps for his country.
Coach Arnar Gunnlaugsson knows what it takes to succeed at the top. He left Iceland at 19, joining Feyenoord then playing in Germany and France, before spells at Bolton, Leicester and Stoke in England; he also won 32 international caps. He was a League Cup winner with Leicester, but nothing compares to winning your first title as the man in charge. “I was playing at a high level in the Premier League, but winning as a coach is much more satisfying. You are responsible for a community, a club and the players. When you’re a player you’re more egotistical, you only think about yourself. But as a coach, it’s all on you.
“Winning the league was an amazing feeling. When we started this process in 2019, the club was in a downward spiral. We had too many foreigners, old mercenaries; the fans weren’t connected with the club. We changed that: we got local players – young players – and the fans started to identify with the team again.
“We changed everything, so reaping the rewards is fantastic. It’s a family club; people who come here get a good feeling and we try to stick to that ethos. But it’s still a professional club. Everyone wants to win – to win titles, to play in European games. And if you’re not stepping up your game, you need to move on.”
Part of the reward that Gunnlaugsson mentions is the chance to take part in these European nights – and the frisson that comes with leading your team out to that famous anthem, which connects clubs of all levels. “Oh absolutely, there’s a different feeling; it’s a different game with different preparation. We pay salaries but some of the players are studying, some are working. You can feel the focus levels are lacking a little in Iceland. But you can’t be expected to work nine to five then be bombarded with meetings and training. It’s impossible.