When football fans think about the game in the Faroe Islands, images of Jens Martin Knudsen, the bobble hat-wearing goalkeeper immediately spring to mind. Indeed, prior to a match against France in 2004, Thierry Henry said: "The goalkeeper is the only one I recognise. I don't know him, just his hat." A year later, when Republic of Ireland played in Torshavn in June 2005, their fans wore green bobble hats in the custodian's honour.
The keeper was on the bench that day and sitting a few metres away from him was Brian Kerr, the Irish coach, who was masterminding a 2-0 win for his side thanks to goals from Ian Harte and Kevin Kilbane. Fast forward four years and now Kerr and Knudsen are sitting in the same dug-out, with the Irishman in charge of the Faroese team and the former keeper, his right hand man.
"It's a big challenge to say the least," said Kerr, who nurtured the likes of Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and John O'Shea for the Republic between the U-16 and U-20 age groups. "When you take on a team that's 166th in the FIFA rankings, that last won a competitive game in 2004, you have a fair idea of what you're coming into. But I'm edgy as ever, I want to do as well as I can for them so I've thrown myself into it."
I'm edgy as ever, I want to do as well as I can for them so I've thrown myself into it.
The gung-ho approach has certainly paid off as 09/09/09 proved to be a red letter day in the history of football in the Faroes as they secured their first win in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match for eight years when they defeated Lithuania 2-1 in Toftir. Suni Olsen opened the scoring for the islanders after 13 minutes, but the visitors found themselves level nine minutes later. But in the 34th minute of the match, Arnbiorn Hansen popped up to restore their lead, which they were able to maintain for a memorable three points.
As well as putting the Faroese on to four points in Group 7, the result also rocketed them 41 places up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking table, taking them to 122nd spot, to make them the Best Mover in October. Another win of a similar standing could push Kerr and his men to emulate the achievements of December 1992, when the Faroes reached 94th spot, but the former Irish coach is not piling any expectations on his committed band of part-timers just yet.
"They're no less passionate here in their own way," he continued. "We have four carpenters, at least six full-time students, two policemen, an accountant, one fella works in a sports shop, two teachers, Andreas [Olsen] works in a bowling alley, and he's doing a bit of carpentry as well. Simun [Samuelsen] is full-time in Iceland, Suni [Olsen] works in a fish factory, I think Frodi [Benjaminsen]is a builder, Jakup [Mikkelsen] is a teacher but he's on the town council as well, he's like a Member of Parliament. That's kind of the run of it. The pool of players is quite limited, there's no one at AC Milan we've missed out on!"