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As Elvar Geir Magnusson, editor of Iceland’s biggest football website and a lifelong supporter, says: “When promotion was achieved everyone tried to squeeze out as many parties as humanly possible. Everybody realises this is a real life fairy tale and people are ready to enjoy every ounce of it.”
The team was desperately close to promotion to the top flight in 2010, missing out on goal difference. After two meagre years following that near miss, Leiknir appointed Freyr Alexandersson and David Snorri Jonsson as joint managers in autumn 2012. After a solid start in their first year they defied all odds and won promotion last summer.
“With that near miss supporters were afraid of losing the club’s best players to bigger teams but luckily they stayed true to Leiknir’s cause. Freyr and David then took charge of the team, knew exactly what was needed and the dream was finally realised this summer. When no one truly expected it,” said Magnusson.
The club started as a multi-sports organisation, reflecting the need for varied sports opportunities for children. Youth teams in basketball, handball, athletics and gymnastics were set up. These were active until 2002, after which football remained the only sport with a youth setup.
Leiknir has had a difficult time since being founded as other people have neglected it. The neighbourhood was known for poverty and immigrants, which has fuelled other peoples’ ideas about it. A good example of this is that their ground has for a long time been called “The Ghetto Ground”.
“This ‘Ghetto’ talk is just silly. Instead of complaining about this nickname the club decided to play a bit with it, and use it to its own benefit, by playing ‘In the Ghetto’ by Elvis Presley when the teams walk out onto the field. By doing this we are making it impossible for others to denigrate the club by calling it a Ghetto,” said Elvar Magnusson.
This has worked to great effect and recent successes are testament to that, as Freyr Alexandersson, Leiknir’s manager, tells me: “The club was looked at with suspicion and no one wanted to know it existed. Enthusiastic parents with a great vision founded it, but it’s only about ten years ago that the city council, and the public in general, started to take Leiknir seriously. Those who still look down on us today regret it quickly.”
Running the team has never been an easy job, and in 1999 it came upon its hardest times and a merger with their neighbours, and arch-rivals, IR was even discussed.
The club was clearly in trouble, as Þórður Einarsson, Leiknir’s director, says: “The club was technically bankrupt, the worst time was clearly when Reykjavik city council tried to push through the merger with IR. Some great people had taken charge of Leiknir at the time and fortunately they decided against that. Our only assets were a summerhouse, a useless Astro Turf and a team in the third league, but nobody gave up and Leiknir’s rise started.”
Slowly but steadily better facilities were built in the neighbourhood, the club sold the land under its training field to the council and debts were negotiated with creditors. Operating costs were cut down and every penny was looked after. “I remember one time there was a discussion whether we could buy a new waste bin into our club house. Money was that scarce,” said Einarsson.
Their rise through the league has not been made possible by signing a vast amount of new players, which seems to be the fashion these days around Europe. Instead Leiknir put their trust into home-grown players, and they’ve certainly reaped the rewards of that decision.
“In 2002 Leiknir were relegated to the bottom league, but in 2005 a squad comprised of mostly the same players were promoted to the one below the top flight,” said Alexandersson. The club had clearly turned the corner.
Leiknir are a clear example that you don’t need a suitcase full of money to succeed. Team spirit, hard work and a love for your club can get you a long way in the world of sports. After narrowly missing out on a promotion in 2010, few would have blamed players for moving on to pastures new.
There certainly was interest from teams higher in the food chain; what surprised many is they stayed true to Leiknir and only one key player left for the top flight. He joined the club again after their promotion this summer.
“The players’ love for their club and their neighbourhood is one of the biggest reason for our success. For a few years there was a steady flow of solid players coming through the youth system. Players that are maybe not the best footballers per se, but their passion for the club is immeasurable,” said Einarsson.
When Leiknir’s success is mentioned it’s important to mention the role of former manager Sigursteinn Gislason who took charge of the team in 2009 and masterminded their promotion push in 2010.
“Gislason did so much for the club and was the perfect fit in that point in time. He and his family simply joined the Leiknir family,” said Magnusson. So it was a huge blow when he was diagnosed with cancer at the start of the next season.
Right from the start it was obvious that he was in for a very difficult fight. In the end the board relieved him of his duties so he could concentrate on his health. This created bad blood between the club and Gislason, as he did not want to step down.
“For my part it would have been the right decision for Gislason to step down and focus on his own battle. As he didn’t want to quit his post, the board took the incredibly difficult decision to relieve him of his duties. A decision that was right, although it could have been done in a better way. Today everyone are friends and it was great seeing his family celebrating promotion with the team,” said Magnusson.
Gislason lost his battle in the summer of 2012.
After his illness became public news, the team’s results went into a downward spiral. Leiknir barely escaped relegation in 2011 and 2012 before their current managers brought a much-needed stability to the club, and next season the club will contest its first season in the top flight.
There is excitement in abundance amongst supporters and in the neighbourhood. “I live in a dream where our small, cute stadium will be filled for every home game next summer,” said Alexandersson. That dream will surely come true in 2015.