Football in Iceland: From the Desert To the Midnight Sun

Mike Sholars is on quite a journey. He has taken his coaching skills from Northern Africa and its desert climate and burning heat to a spot near the Arctic Circle where volcanoes are active, glaciers cover more than 10% of the land and at this time of year the sun never sets.

Talk about going from one extreme to the other.

Sholars, named coach of the year in Egypt earlier this year where he coached the MSA Tigers to a turnaround season, has landed in Iceland to help Einherjar, the only American football organization on this island nation of 300,000 people, develop the game.

What a contrast. From the desert to the midnight sun.

Sholars is a veteran of international coaching with stints in Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Egypt.

Iceland originally came calling in 2013 when Daði Guðmundsson reached out to Sholars to ask him to join the Einherjar Facebook page. However, when Bergbör Phillip Pálsson asked him about helping out in Iceland in 2013, Sholars was not able to accommodate due to coaching commitments elsewhere.

Nevertheless, this spring he found the time to make the trip to Rekyavik, paying his own way, to find out what it is like to coach under the midnight sun. Keep in mind that Iceland is on the 66th parallel, right on the Arctic Circle, roughly the same latitude as northern Alaska. So the midnight sun is a reality here.

Iceland - Sholars midnight practice-2

Posing after a midnight practice in Iceland: Hávar Helgi Helgason, Victor Ingi Guðbjörnsson, Axel Göethe, Jón Örn Haraldsson, Mikael Uni Karlsson Brune, Bergþór Phillip Pálsson, Þorvaldur S. Kristjánsson, Ómar Al Lahham, Coach Mike Sholars, Nikulás Snær, Sævar Hlíðkvíst, Anton Kárason, Ásþór Bjarni Guðmundsson, Ábel Maróti, Viðar Gautinbsp;

When he arrived, Sholars was surprised at the development of the game on this island nation:

“Although this is a young program, they have already developed with a talented 6’4″ quarterback who starts in Norway’s second division and a wide receiver playing in Germany.”

In fact, the team, which has basically been practicing for the past few years, invited a division 2 club from Norway to play a game in Rekyavik earlier this year. The Icelandic team soundly beat the Åsane Seahawks although there was a mitigating factor. The starting quarterback for the Seahawks also happened to be Bergbör Phillip Pálsson, the young Icelandic quarterback who switched teams for the game.

Iceland - action verus Seahawks 2016

Iceland’s only team, Einherjar in action against the Åsane Seahawks from Norway earlier this year

For the past three weeks Sholars has been working with the team. Although saying team is a bit of a stretch. There is only Einherjar and these players are limited to scrimmaging among themselves. They are looking for games though with feelers out to clubs in Italy and Switzerland. There have been no takers yet but they are hopeful.

It has been a struggle but the organization is forging ahead undaunted.

One of the organizers of the club is Brynjar Bjornsson:

“It has been really hard getting equipment but we work with what we got and always work hard, and those of us who are going all in we just buy our equipment and order what we need from sport websites

 We have a big youth program of players under 18 that’s about 40 and our seniors players over 18 are about 30 and we are getting bigger by the minute”
Iceland - Sholars + QB-3

Mike Sholars and Bergbör Phillip Pálsson (starting QB for the Åsane Seahawks in Norway’s Div. II) finally meet after trying to arrange a meeting since 2013.

 It is clear that Sholars has made an impact on these players and although he is likely headed back to Germany to coach, he will stay in constant contact with Einherjar to help them when they need it.
In the meantime, although the desert beckons, Sholars will continue his worldwide trek, helping develop the game wherever he can.
As for Einherjar, they can take hope from their national soccer team who shocked the world by beating England in the European championships. Great things can come from small beginnings.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.