There’s no place like home…
Or so it appears for English footballers who seemingly can’t bear to pull themselves away from the Cold winter, Corrie and Cod and Chips culture that is good old Blighty.
However, a brave few Britons have recently tested the much warmer water abroad, either for a mouth-watering wedge of cash or to re-ignite failing careers. But while the Ashley Cole’s and Micah Richards’ of this world are enjoying themselves in the Mediterranean sunshine, there are others who have endured far tougher challenges in order to live their professional footballing dreams and not many have had to sacrifice more than Fjolnir FC striker Mark Magee.
From the rolling hills of Cotswold countryside to the northernmost Capital City in the world, with a bit of the American Midwest in between, Magee’s CV reads like an atlas. However, it seems this global search for his childhood dream has left him with a steely determination to succeed.
“For me it was about going somewhere new and knowing that I had to improve. I have done that over the years, both as a footballer and as a person,” Mark said.
Growing up in the small Gloucestershire town of Moreton-in-Marsh, the now 25-year old maintains that even as a young boy he ‘always wanted to win’, even if it was an afternoon kick about with his Dad and Grandad. This unflinching aspiration led to Bristol City snapping him up as a young teen, after a 4 goal haul against Newport at district level.
“I attracted the attention of Manchester United, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Southampton and Bristol City, who seemed like a good fit for me. I was immediately impressed by the coaching guidance of (former academy coach) Pete Amos and didn’t hesitate in signing a 3 year contract with them at 16.”
After appearing for the Robins at U-16, U-18 and Reserve team level, Magee seemed on course for First Team action before even turning 19. However, disaster struck when a serious of major injuries disrupted his progress; ‘I dislocated my left knee cap and tore my right ACL and MCL, which was devastating’ Unwilling to risk signing an injured player on a long term contract, Bristol City offered the striker month-to-month terms. Offers from lower league clubs and agents came in but Magee wanted a change.
“I was really drawn to the opportunity of doing something different. So I packed up my bags and headed for America, something I will never regret.”
His leap of faith landed him in Missouri and Rockhurst University, one of the most historically successful NCAA Soccer Teams in America.
“In my 3 years in Missouri, I had scored 51 goals and created 36 assists in 71 games, becoming captain of the team and being nominated for 3 All American awards, the most prestigious collegiate sporting honour in the country.”
Contacts back in Europe were already making clubs aware of his talents and the first opportunity to arrive for Magee after leaving Rockhurst was Iceland.
“I had always thought about playing in a different country where I didn’t know the language, to test myself on a professional and personal level. Like most English football fans, I knew of some Icelandic players, like Gylfi Sigurdsson, Eidur Gudjohnsson and Heidar Helguson, but had no idea about the standard of the league there, so, like when I moved to America, I took a leap of faith and was excited to experience a totally different culture and football style.”
It was another brave choice for Magee, who had already experienced leaving loved ones behind when departing England: “Going to America I left my family and friends behind and it’s not easy saying good bye. It was the same leaving the States, you make relationships over the years and leaving that is difficult, especially when you are heading into the unknown.”
However, the persistent desire for improvement saw the striker sign for UMF Tindastóll in the Icelandic 1st Division. Based in the town of Sauðárkrókur, one of the most northern settlements in the country, it was a totally new kind of shock for Magee and not just off the field.
“The language is nearly impossible to grasp and the weather is obviously different! But the biggest shock was the form of the club. My time in America was filled with being on the more dominant team, so it was a shock to be battling at the wrong end of table, but I knew if I worked as hard as I could, I would be rewarded.”
And rewarded he was. After playing just 12 games for Tindastóll, Pepsi Premier League club Fjolnir, based in Iceland’s Capital Reykjavik signed Magee, who had already netted five times in the 1st Division. Hauled straight into the starting line up with 10 Icelandic natives around him, it was the strikers’ biggest test in his short career but one he grabbed with both hands. Saving Fjolnir from relegation with his dogged performances, the club have already offered Magee a contract for next season but the Englishman isn’t rushing into any decisions.
“What’s next is a mystery, I’m going to take a short period of time off, Go and visit some friends in America. Yes, Fjolnir have asked me to stay and play here next season, but I’m not under any pressure to make a decision just yet.”
Magee is not hiding his desire to return to England, stating that it would be a ‘dream come true’. However, he is also convinced that his experiences abroad have shaped him into the footballer and man he is today.
“Playing abroad allows you to see new cultures and variants of football. My coaches in America were Italian, so I gained a good tactical knowledge of the game. The guys that I were playing with at Rockhurst were Americans, who are extraordinarily athletic. I have played with many South Americans, who are technically gifted. And the Icelandic game is physically tough.
“Adapting to different styles and learning as much as is possible on the way is honestly one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a professional…It is a daunting challenge but I would recommend any young footballer who can’t quite get the break they deserve in England, to look further afield…I can guarantee it’s worth it.”