If you finished watching last night’s episode of Football Outposts without a burning desire to go to the Faroe Islands, there is something wrong with you. The place is stunning. Spooky, rainy, imposing and a little cold, but stunning.
And, as the programme’s title suggests, they are big into their football. In fact they have the highest rate of participation in the whole of Europe. Not bad for a territory which considers a force-eight gale as conducive weather for a kick-about.
Mind you, the places they get to play are jaw-dropping. Tom Watt, the presenter of the documentary, was nearly lost for words when he came across a pristine football pitch yards from a rocky coastline with some impressively surfable waves rolling in. On the land-side of the pitch loomed a large, steep, granite hill that looked perfect for running up and rolling down.
These pictures and the scenes throughout the documentary were beautifully shot with evocative piano music from Soren Andersen to accompany it. And it also was a bonus to find that the Faroe Islands football community is made up of pure-of-heart souls who play for the love of the game.
This was a recurring theme through Watt’s travels from the most northerly top-flight team (Tromso), to the furthest east (Kairat in Almaty, Kazakhstan) to one that has emerged from the Balkan conflict, Zeljeznicar, in Sarajevo. He also went to Uefa’s latest member, Gibraltar, where the inclusion into Europe’s governing body is bringing problems as well as recognition.
Fans of all the sides regarded their football team as a cornerstone to their community, for varying reasons. Tromso, so far into northern Norway that it is in the Arctic Circle, was credited with low rates of seasonal affected disorder, despite the fact that the city is in near darkness for three months of the year.
Kairat was a source of pride to the Kazakhstanis, especially as the club has revived itself having deteriorated after being cut loose from the Soviet league. Watt was invited to the club chairman’s house to watch the final match of the season, on which Europa League qualification was riding. They managed it with a draw, although Watt may not be invited back if his hosts ever find out the meaning of his “Thursday night, Channel 5” chant at the final whistle.
The most harrowing part of the show was his Bosnia trip. The physical scars on the city from the war almost 20 years ago are visible – and as Watt said: “Everyone you meet is carrying a story, probably a tragic one.”
But Zeljeznicar players – many of whom were drafted in to fight Serbs – and fans were determined to see to it that the club carried on. It has, as was shown, with their diehard supporters, known as Maniacs, filling the stadium once more.
Bulent Buscevic, a former Zelo player, said as he fought back tears that the club’s resurgence from the rubble “is a little gift from God”. It was a beautiful moment. Not Faroe Islands nice, but beautiful all the same.