Great Britain’s Ouse Valley Eagles headed to Iceland to face Reykjavik Einherjar

Iceland’s Reykjavik Einherjar American football team will be facing perhaps their stiffest test yet when they play the Ouse Valley Eagles from Great Britain on September 16 in Reykjavik , Iceland.

The Eagles, who play in the British American Football Association National League (BAFANL) SFC1 Central Conference, have a game left in their season and then preparations will begin in earnest for the September trip to Iceland to take on the Einherjar.  The roster is made up mostly of players from the Eagles but also contains a number of  other high caliber players including Great Britain national team running back Dwayne Watson from the London Warriors.

Einherjar always looking for games

Arranging games like this is not always easy for the Einherjar, the only football team in Iceland. This island nation, located 1,200 miles north of London, England is home to the Reykjavik Einherjar who spend most of the year practicing. They have to look far and wide – literally – to find opponents. Earlier this year they took on  Germany’s Starnberg Argonauts (Division 5), beating them 48-14. Late last year, they lost narrowly to Norway’s Eidsvoll 1814s. Quarterback  Bergbör Phillip Pálsson has been the driving force and has been contacted by teams as far away as the United Arab Emirates. This time it was the Ouse Valley Eagles.

Ouse Valley Eagles in action against Solent Thrashers in 2016 playoff game Photo: 2GCreative

With a population of only 300,000, Iceland is famous for its glaciers (10% of the land surface is covered), volcanoes, banking system and national soccer team although not always in that order.

Reykjavik is located on the 66th parallel just 150 miles from the Arctic Circle. 

The soccer team famously reached the 2016 European Championship quarterfinals defeating Austria, the Netherlands and England before succumbing to the host French.

So what would prompt a team located north of London, to travel all the way to Reykjavik just to play a football game?

AFI sat down with Ouse Valley Eagles head coach and chief “firebrand” Neale McMaster to talk to him about the trip.

Ouse Valley Eagles head coach Neale McMaster

American Football International: How are plans proceeding for the game against the Reykjavik Einherjar?

Neale McMaster: At the moment, all we have sorted out is a team and got everyone paid up and on the flight. Getting the money sorted out for it was the biggest hurdle, as over 100 people in total registered interest in it, but then when we actually needed them to pay a lot of guys disappeared. It’s been a bit of struggle organisationally, but we have everything sorted now, and get to focus on the football side of things.

What we’ll do is we’ll create a playbook that suits the type of players we have, and get that out to the team in the next couple of weeks. It needs to be simple to learn, but flexible enough to allow us to react to different things and just let our players play. As the majority of players come from the Ouse Valley Eagles, we’ll stick to our base and build on that with the strengths we got from players from across the UK and Ireland.

We’ll then have a practice the week before the game, to cover everything, and a final walk through on the morning of the game to make sure we are set.

We’re about 75% of the way there at the moment, but we have a plan in place and it’s just about executing that over the coming weeks.

AFI: How many players have signed up?

NM: We have 56 players signed up and 7 coaches on top of that, so we have a pretty full roster all in. Its a combination of mostly players from the Eagles, with additional players from across the UK, Ireland and a couple of American players too. We’ve brought in other players to supplement the weaknesses we had in the Eagles roster, as not all of our team can make the trip, and we think we’ve made some great additions to give us a really strong team to go out and play some tough and exciting football.

AFI: How did you find out about the team and make contact?

NM: I actually read about the team on American Football International and your article about them defeating the Starnberg Argonauts. It really intrigued me to see people playing football outside of all the IFAFA struggles, just because they love the game, and Iceland is such a beautiful country, I thought it was a great opportunity to take a team over and play them to help grow the sport.

There’s been some political issues as they are completely outwith IFAF, but that’s not stopped it, as if people want to play football, I believe they should be allowed to, despite the political agenda’s at play. This game is nothing to do with that at all. We don’t represent the UK, we simply represent a group of people who want to play football and help grow the sport across the world.

So when your article gave us the contact information for Bergpor Palsson, the man in charge at the Einherjar, I got in touch to see if he would be interested. He’s been a huge help in getting this pushed through, and without their help with transport and accommodation at the other end, I genuinely don’t think it would have been possible to get all this organised. He’s a great guy too, his enthusiasm for football just shines through all the time, and we sorted everything together from flight times, all the way through to promotional posters (see attached).

AFI: What do you know about them and football in Iceland?

NM: I know they love football, and are desperate to play some games, and that should be enough for everyone to respect them and want to give them a game.

I think what they are doing is absolutely terrific. Being the only team for several hundred miles obviously comes with its own challenges, but these guys are so passionate about the game, they battle through a lot just to get practices going, never mind games. Personally, we’re hoping this can be an annual thing, and hopefully work to get the Einherjar over to the UK at some point in the future too to play a game.

I’m certain the more games they play, the bigger the sport will grow, and hopefully they can start to get another team started up and be able to play each other and grow, then come together as a country to play travelling squads.

One of the reasons we’ve chosen such a diverse squad is to really help market the game. We have players from England, Ireland, Scotland, Lithuania, Poland and America all in the squad, so if everyone shares the game or the highlights or even this article, then that will all help promote the game, and hopefully grow interest in the sport so more teams get to go play them.

Maybe soon they could even get a full season of international games all set up!? That’d be awesome.

AFI: What are your expectations of this trip?

NM: We’re expecting a really tough, physical encounter, but I hope will also produce some exciting football. I know the game is being televised nationally in Iceland, which is a pretty big deal for everyone involved, and we have the guys from Podyum coming to document the trip too, so it’ll be very well publicised, and I think will really drive the game forward globally, as a ton of people should see this game, and all the different players involved, we’ve got a really good chance of getting a big audience for it.

Outside of the game, we’re expecting a very warm welcome from Bergpor and the Einherjar, they chance to explore Reykjavik and really get to experience Iceland in a short space of time, and make some friends for life through the this great game. Oh, and a great night out afterwards!!

Our squad is broken up like (no particular order):

Head Coach – Neale McMaster
Coaching Staff:
Andy Cox – Ouse Valley Eagles
Gary Villiers – Cambridge University Pythons
Jon Chilton – Ouse Valley Eagles
Kevin Kong – Ouse Valley Eagles
Toby Chesters – Sheffield Giants
Will Walsh Ouse Valley Eagles

Sam Foulds – Manchester Titans
Nick Tilbury – Ouse Valley Eagles
Joshua Ross – Triangle Torch

Running backs
Ben Cockin – Ouse Valley Eagles
Curtis Williston – Berkshire Renegades
Jamie Harris – Ouse Valley Eagles
Matt Teal – Birmingham Bulls
Simon Burnell – Unattached
Steven Hull – London Warriors
Dwayne Watson – London Warriors
Jamahl Watson – Ouse Valley Eagles

Tight ends
Adam Foulds – Doncaster Mustangs
Kenny Muir – East Kilbride Pirates
Pete Loughran – Craigavon Cowboys

Wide receivers
Cody Hausenbuiller – Ouse Valley Eagles
Deivydas Merkelis – Nottingham Caesars
Joe Cameron – Solent Thrashers
Josh Polson – Glasgow Tigers
Ryan Bowtell – Ouse Valley Eagles
Sean Douglas – Dublin Rebels
Tayo Adeleye – Herts Cheetahs
TJ Ajayi – Herts Cheetahs
Troy Mayer – Ouse Valley Eagles

Offensive line
Andrew Higgot – Chester Romans
Jacob Corbett – Ouse Valley Eagles
James Barber – Warwick Wolves
James Busby – Ouse Valley Eagles
Matthew Barrett – Ouse Valley Eagles
Michael Briscoe – Merseyside Nighthawks
Mike Ireland – Chester Romans
Sam Astley – Sandwell Steelers
Stuart Gallagher – East Kilbride Pirates

Defensive line
Andrew Oliver – Ouse Valley Eagles
Bryan Mullally – Ouse Valley Eagles
Connor Lunn – Bury Saints
Garvin Yarde – Ouse Valley Eagles
Mark Pagett – Birmingham Bulls
Mike French – Chester Romans
Sam Banner – Sandwell Steelers
Wayne Drew – Tamworth Phoenix
Andrew Steadman – London Warriors

Carl Rugen – Merseyside Nighthawks
Gareth Pullen – Ouse Valley Eagles
Kalaba Chibwe – Ouse Valley Eagles
Malcom LaLonde – Ouse Valley Eagles
Neil Graham – Belfast Trojans
Andrew McGowan – East Kilbride Pirates

Defensive backs
Alex Kusimirek – Belfast Trojans
Harry Rackham – Ouse Valley Eagles
Jack Davis-Fletcher – Kent Exiles
Jonny Weekes – Chester Romans
Krzysztof Kucharski – Ouse Valley Eagles
Michael Kane – Belfast Trojans
Mike Turner – Ouse Valley Eagles
Rob Hardwick – Nottingham Caesars
Sam Busher – Sandwell Steelers
Shalom Ogwuche – Stirling Clansmen

Neale McMaster: As you can see from above there is a big mix of talent, experience and playing level from the players that we are bringing. The obvious standouts are Josha Ross and Dwayne Watson on offense. Josh has played throughout Europe as a QB and his experience from both there, and in the US will be vital in leading us to victory. Dwayne is obviously a terrific player for Team GB and the London Warriors, and for him to be playing in this game is a huge bonus.

Both players are committed at the moment, but are very dependent on outside sources. Dwayne needs clearance from Team GB about his eligibility to play against Sweden if he plays in this game and Josh is hoping that Global Professional Football Scouting will visit the game to scout players and start to create a presence in Europe, if they are interested in coming, we get Josh too. Even if things don’t go to plan, we have a huge amount of talent in the squad that every play caller would be delighted to have in their arsenal. I’m sure it’ll be a great game all round and am incredibly excited to get it moving, and help to grow the game in Europe even further.

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.