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Man goes on holiday to small town in Iceland to visit team he manages on Football Manager

Man goes on holiday to small town in Iceland to visit team he manages on Football Manager

James, from South Shields, visited Grindavik's stadium in south-west Iceland after a love affair with the club on Football Manager.

A dedicated gamer was so engrossed in his long term Football Manager save that he decided to visit the Icelandic second division club in real life.

James Hammonds, from South Shields – a coastal town in South Tyneside – made the 2,600-mile journey to south-west Iceland on Wednesday with his wife and young daughter.

The 37-year-old had always wanted to visit the volcanic island so when he found some reasonably-priced flights to Keflavik – a small town close to his final destination, Grindavik – he pounced on the perfect February half term mini-break.

So why Grindavik? Well, the fishing town on the Southern Peninsula is certainly picturesque. Its world-famous Blue Lagoon is perhaps the area's premiere attraction, while the stunning Gunnuhver Hot Springs is a great place to relax.

But for James, the 1,450 capacity Grindavíkurvollur stadium – home of Icelandic second tier side Grindavík – was the ultimate destination.

Image credit: James Hammonds
Image credit: James Hammonds

In the past few months, James has enjoyed a trophy-laden spell with the Lengjudeildin side on popular game Football Manager after his wife, Georgi, picked the club at random when the game was released.

"For the last few years I have been falling out of interest with all things Premier League as the money has gotten more and more outrageous, and the characters that we used to have in the game seem to have disappeared," James tells SPORTbible.

"When I play Football Manager I prefer to be a random lower league team. I usually pass the laptop to my wife for her to pick a team for me to make the team choice especially unusual and she chose Grindavik."

James, who has since helped the club qualify for the preliminary stages of the Europa League, amongst other achievements, has grown a real affection for the team, so on his recent travels to Iceland, he decided to drop in for a visit.

"My plan was just to turn up and have a wander around the ground and see if anyone was there," he says. "I did message in the morning before going just on the off chance that someone might be there to show me around."

Image credit: James Hammonds
Image credit: James Hammonds

James posed for pictures outside the Grindavíkurvollur stadium and, after a brief spot of sightseeing, they sat on a bench near the pitch to take the surroundings in.

Then, a woman came out of the clubhouse and shouted, 'Are you the guy?'.

"She had received my message from the morning but hadn’t replied yet," he smiles. "The woman was absolutely lovely. We chatted for a while and she gave me a pin badge with the Grindavik logo on.

"She then introduced me to Jon Julius Karlsson, the general manager of the club. We chatted about plans for a pre-season training trip for warm weather training in Spain and about the intricacies of the Icelandic League Cup competition."

In another wonderful gesture, Grindavik general manager Karlsson popped into the clubhouse before returning with a club shirt.

"It was was a really nice surprise," he says. "We then took some pictures holding the shirt up and spoke about the clubs aspirations for promotion to the Best League this season.

"I mentioned to Jon that in my world they are already there!"

James holds up a Grindavik shirt alongside general manager Jon Julius Karlsson. Image credit: James Hammonds
James holds up a Grindavik shirt alongside general manager Jon Julius Karlsson. Image credit: James Hammonds

As well as speaking to him about the football club, the Grindavik manager invited James and his family to the Grindavikurvollur stadium for a match in the summer.

"Afterwards I took my daughter to a park in Grindavik and made a brief post on social media about the encounter," James says.

"By the time we had got back to our cabin the post had blown up and I was getting all sorts of messages from others who want to do similar trips to the clubs that they have fallen in love within the virtual world of Football Manager."

James says there wasn't many players around on the day of his visit, although he did get to meet one. "I was afraid to ask him his name though in case he was one of the guys that I transfer listed!" he laughs.

"We got to see the training facilities and some of the youngsters practicing. It is a really cool club and there are a variety of sports played there and teams at different age levels; it is really part of the community in Grindavik."

In terms of his save in the virtual world, James managed to win promotion to the Men’s Best League with Josip Zeba being a brick wall at the heart of the defence and Aron Johannsson providing that creative spark up top.

Then, in their first season in the Best League, they led until the final week of the season before a devastating 2-1 loss to Valur lead to them leapfrog Grindavik and take the league title.

"My main aim has been to get Grindavik into the group stages of a European competition, which hasn’t happened yet," he says. "But last season we had a dramatic away goals loss to Feyenoord in the final qualifying game."

Image credit: James Hammonds/Sports Interactive
Image credit: James Hammonds/Sports Interactive

As he reflects on such a memorable trip to his beloved Grindavik, James has a parting message for those who are pondering over a lower league save on FM.

"I would like to say to the folks that are thinking of doing something similar to just go for it," he says.

"It was a really cool day out and I got to meet some really nice people. Even if I hadn’t gotten the chance to meet them it would have been awesome to just get out there and experience a new place.

"It is important as we get older to still have a fun time and nurture our inner child.

"Also, if you are getting fed up with the Premier League. there is a whole world of amazing smaller clubs and leagues out there. Give it a go and one day you might find yourself in a random village in Iceland!"

Featured Image Credit: SPORTbible

Topics: Football Manager, Gaming, Iceland, Spotlight