Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
It was a Glaswegian printer, James B Ferguson, who introduced football to Reykjavik in 1895. A keen sportsman, Ferguson founded the Reykjavik Gymnastics Club while working for the Ísafold printing company. Owner Björn Jónsson, later to introduce prohibition to Iceland, had hired Ferguson on account of his temperance – though the Scot would only stay a year by the Arctic Circle.
Four years later his compatriot Frank McGregor, an engineer, founded Iceland’s first football club, FC Reykjavik, later changed to the more Icelandic-sounding Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur, or KR for short.
It would be another ten years before another club came along. Fram, was formed by young students around Tjarnargata. Today based east of the capital in Laugardalur, The Blues use the national stadium, Laugardalsvöllur, as their home ground. Fram, thought of as the people’s team as opposed to the perceived superiority of KR, would later enjoy the best European runs, beating the Swedish champions Djurgården and leading Barcelona for most of the game in 1990.
Fram’s rivalry with KR dates back to the inaugural three-team Icelandic championship of 1912. Fram then dominated the next decade as the Big Two were joined by city rivals Valur. The Reds enjoyed their own period of domination in the 1930s and 1940s, under Scottish coaches Murdo MacDougall, Robert Jack and Joe Devine. Around that time, the club acquired land at Hlidarendi, east of Reykjavik, where they are still based.
By 1918, the Big Three were joined by Víkingur, very much the fourth of Reykjavik’s Big Four. Twice title-winners in the 1920s, and three times in the early 1980s and 1990s, Víkingur have the smallest fan base. Their one-stand, 1,100-capacity Víkin ground is on the south-eastern outskirts of the capital.
From 1912 to 1950, these four clubs held an absolute monopoly on the Icelandic championship. In 1951, ÍA from Akranes, 20km north of Reykjavik, broke the capital’s stranglehold by claiming the first of 18 titles.
Although a league had been in place for 30 years, it wasn’t until 1946 that a newly independent Iceland fielded a national side, against their old masters, Denmark. At the time, Reykjavik didn’t have a proper stadium to speak of, so the game was played on gravel at Melavöllur in Melar, near today’s National Museum in west Reykjavik. With an athletics track in summer and skating rink in winter, this was the city’s main sports ground until 1957.
Having decided to make their World Cup debut in the 1958 tournament to take place in Sweden, Iceland needed a proper stadium to host qualifying matches. Set in Laugardalur, ‘Laundry Valley’, an area of hot springs east of town, the national stadium of Laugardalsvöllur was opened on National Day, June 17, 1957. That September, it hosted Iceland’s two home matches, against Belgium and eventual semi-finalists France, over the course of four days.
Today, Laugardalsvöllur is home to the national team and Fram, and stages major derbies and European ties.
Currently there are six teams from Reykjavik in Iceland’s top-flight Úrvalsdeild, and one each from the adjoining towns of Kópavogur, Gardabaer and Hafnarfjördur. Recently promoted Fjölnir play at the stadium of the same name in the far east of town. Ambitious Fylkir, with a modest European pedigree, proudly represent the district of Árbaer in south-east Reykjavik. Supporters, the Kiddi Tomm, gather at the Blásteinnbar before and after home games at the 5,000-capacity Fylkisvöllur.
Of the clubs just outside Reykjavik, Breidablik have recently appeared in Europe, while Stjarnan from Gardabaer enjoyed a memorable season in 2014-15, winning the league for the first time, and putting Bangor City, Motherwell and Lech Poznan to the sword in the Europa League. Glenavon met a similar fate at the hands of FH of Hafnarfjardar, champions six times since 2004. Dunfermline and Aston Villa fans may well remember tricky games against the portsiders.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
Reykjavik’s main international airport is at Keflavík, 50km (31 miles) south-west of the city. Buses to town take 45min. Flybus calls at Gardabaer on the way to the BSÍ Bus Terminal (from ISK1,950 online). Airport Express (ISK2,400/return ISK4,400) leaves downtown Laekjartorg bus terminal every 30-60min. Both leave 30-40min after flight arrivals and call at major hotels upon request.
Citytaxi charges €85/ISK13,000 for 1-4 persons to town, €110/ISK16,500 for 5-8.
Public transport comprises a network of yellow Straetó buses. Many pass through the main central stations of Laekjartorg and/or Hlemmur. A single ticket is ISK350, a one-day card ISK900, three-day ISK2,200. If paying on the bus, it’s exact change only. Downtown Reykjavik is otherwise walkable.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
Drinking only became legally widespread in Reykjavik in 1989. If you factor how much it now costs to celebrate this fact, around ISK900/€6 a pint, and you can easily see why locals drink at home before going wild after midnight of a weekend. Bars serve beer, often local Egils, in familiar pint glasses.
Bjarni Fel (Austurstræti 20) is named after former KR defender and TV commentator Bjarni Felixson. Vintage black-and-white Icelandic sporting photos cover the wall space not occupied by numerous flat-screens. There’s also a projector screen on the back semi-enclosed smoking deck for bigger events. Bar snacks are available, plus a full menu from the restaurant next door.
Of the expat pubs, Celtic Cross (Hverfisgata 26) offers one of downtown’s later, cheaper and happier happy hours. Despite a distinct literary theme, several flat-screens face outward from the burnished-wood central bar for match action.
The Dubliner (Hafnarstræti 4) has a projector screen for big matches. You enter through the generous street-side outdoor space, past local regulars frantically engaging in the true national pastime of table football. Near Bjarni Fel, The English Pub has a projector screen out front even on normal match days. Basic bar snacks and supermarket pizzas complement nightly live music in the troubador vein and, behind the bar, spins one of Reykjavik’s many wheels of beer fortune.
(Relatively) cheap beer and big screens are the main attractions at Glaumbar (Tryggvagata 18), which turns into a sweaty dance club later on. Upwards of a million viewers have seen the YouTube clip of Julian Assange dancing here.
Boston (Laugavegur 28B) doesn’t really qualify as a sports or even theme bar, but attracts arty, bohemian types to a second-storey lounge, where a TV is usually installed for the World Cup to complement the Mexican kitchen.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the stadium and city centre
Reykjavik tourist information has a comprehensive database of hotels.
The Reykjavik Lights is across the street from the Laugardalsvöllur and national sports complex and contains two lobby restaurants, including recommended pizzeria Eldsmidjan.
A ten-minute walk from the stadium, the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica is large and luxurious, with spa treatments.
Hlemmur Square stands opposite the Hlemmur bus terminal on the western edge of the town centre, a converted industrial space, upscale and boutique.
In the heart of town, the mid-priced City Center Hotel contains the Microbar, with Iceland’s most extensive selection of domestic and imported beers.
On the budget end, Reykjavik Backpackers is a bustling downtown hostel with the funky Bunk Bar on the ground floor.