Joan Simun Edmundsson: Arminia Bielefeld’s history-making Faroe Islander
When Joan Simun Edmundsson stepped onto the pitch at the SchücoArena on 26 September 2020, the Arminia Bielefeld midfielder likely had no idea of the impact his appearance would make, reverberating far beyond the city and across the waters far into the North Atlantic to his native Faroe Islands.
Not only did the substitute’s 78th-minute goal against Cologne give Bielefeld their first Bundesliga win in 11 years, he also made history for his country as the first player from the Faroe Islands to make an appearance and subsequently score a goal in the Bundesliga.
Playing in a city that Germans jokingly say doesn’t even exist, it was almost fitting that Bielefeld was put back on the Bundesliga map by someone from a country even geography teachers couldn’t place on a globe.
Watch: Promoted Bielefeld’s 1-0 win over Cologne
Located some 200 miles north of the Scottish mainland and about halfway between Norway to the east and Iceland to the west, the Faroe Islands are home to just over 50,000 people, which is a fraction of that of Bielefeld (335,000) and even smaller than the nation’s sheep population (70,000).
In a country where everyone knows everyone, Edmundsson is a guiding star for many. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the boy from the village of Toftir, whose population of under 800 could fit inside an Airbus A380 with seats to spare, as he has flown around the North Sea in search of his breakthrough.
After a successful trial in 2010, the freshly capped senior international was signed by Newcastle United on loan and then permanently from boyhood club B68 Toftir, but never made a first-team appearance for the Magpies. An equally frustrating spell at Viking Stavanger in Norway and Denmark’s Fredericia followed.
“And then he came home and played for a team in the Faroe Islands,” recalled his father, Edmund Jacobsen. “But the conclusion was that he said to me, ‘One more chance, this will be my last chance’.”
It’s an opportunity he’s since seized. Brief stints in his homeland at Argja Boltfelag and Havnar Boltfelag followed. While at the latter, he netted his third international goal as the Landsliðið beat Claudio Ranieri’s Greece 1-0 in Athens in UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying, ending the country’s run of over three years without a competitive win. In fact, the result goes down as potentially the biggest shock in football history, with 169 places between Greece (18th) and the Faroe Islands (187th) in the FIFA rankings at the time – the largest gap of any nation beating one ranked higher.
It all sparked renewed interest from Denmark and Vejle Boldklub, where he scored 10 goals in 26 games over a season and a half in the Danish second tier. After a 2015 move to top-flight side Odense, Edmundsson established himself at a professional level.
“Where I’m from, being a professional footballer isn’t something that happens,” the 29-year-old explained. “It’s been a great adventure just to be in different countries and experience different football cultures.”
Eleven goals and seven assists in 61 appearances, including one voted Goal of the Year by Danish broadcasters, saw him snapped up by promotion-pushing Bielefeld in summer 2018.
In an almost carbon copy of what would come in 2020, he scored on his league debut in Bundesliga 2 against Heidenheim, becoming the first Faroese to appear and score in German professional football. Naturally, a moment of great honour.
“I’m the first in the German football league, of course I’m proud, because we don’t have that many professional footballers from the Faroe Islands.”
It made Edmundsson the sporting equivalent of Niels Ryberg Finsen – the only person from the islands to win a Nobel Prize.
Although Arminia missed out on promotion in his maiden campaign, they made absolutely no mistake in 2019/20, losing just twice as they stormed to the Bundesliga 2 title. Edmundsson played his part as a key figure in the squad, with five goals in 22 appearances before ligament problems ruled him out after the league’s restart in May.
When he repeated his historic feat in the top flight with his finish from a tight angle against Cologne’s Timo Horn on Matchday 2, he had a city and, above all, an entire nation believing.
Watch: Edmundsson: “I closed my eyes and hoped for the best”
“He’s one of the role models who have shown the path that a young player should go,” stated Bill McLeod Jacobsen, an early mentor and former Faroe Islands U21 coach.
“Now all can see that it’s possible to reach that level, even if you are small,” his proud father added.
The fact Edmundsson is only three away from becoming his nation’s all-time leading scorer, with 10 goals, demonstrates the scale of that size. Now the only member of the current national team plying his trade outside of Scandinavia, and finding the back of the net in the Bundesliga, Edmundsson could well be best player the Faroe Islands has ever produced.
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