Exclusive Q&A with Gary at the bottom of article
He may have also played in Hungary, Denmark, Belgium and Norway but it is Iceland where Gary Martin feels most comfortable. The 29-year-old striker has over 130 goals in Icelandic football. He is now hoping to lead his current side ÍBV to promotion back to the top-flight this year.
It has been ten years since he first played football in the country that has a population similar to Cardiff, albeit he has also has spells across Europe in that time. However, it is always Iceland that he comes back to. Loan spells or permanent deals, the country has always tempted him back eventually.
Hungary for goals
For someone who has gone on to play in several countries, it was fitting for Martin that his first taste of senior football would come abroad. After scoring a hatful of goals for Middlesbrough at under-18 and reserve team level, the Teeside club sent the young forward on loan to Hungarian top-flight club Újpest. The club also had English forward Tony Stokes on their books at the time. Martin made his debut against Diósgyőr, playing the last five minutes in a 4-1 win over
The Darlington-born forward appeared twice more off the bench before returning to Boro where he was released at the end of the season.
Following his release from the club he had grown up at, Martin exploded on to the scene of Icelandic football. Joining second-tier club ÍA for the final few months of the 2010 season, the striker had a devastating impact. After failing to score in his first two appearances he then went on a goal scoring rampage, firing 10 goals in his next 7 appearances, finishing the campaign with a hat trick.
His astonishing start in Iceland began a six-year spelling dominating the goal scoring charts. The following year he scored nine goals to help ÍA to promotion and then earned himself a move to KR in 2012 where he would fire them to the top-flight title the next year. This led to two appearances against Celtic in the Champions League where he tested himself against Virgil van Dijk. There was also a brief spell on loan in Denmark with Hjørring during his first spell in Iceland.
After lifting two league titles and two cup trophies, Martin looked away from Iceland in 2016, joining top flight Norwegian club Lillestrøm on loan from Víkingur Reykjavík. He took the step-up in his stride, scoring four goals in 10 games.
Having impressed at a higher standard, the striker’s upward trajectory continued with a permanent move to Belgian top-flight club Lokeren.
A year with the Belgian club was followed by a short return to England for the first time in seven years, playing four games for York City. He then returned to Norway and Lillestrøm, where he spent the 2018 season scoring five goals.
Return to second home
Having gone three years since his last appearance in Iceland, Martin headed back to the country where had performed so well in the past, joining top-flight side Valur in 2019. After two goals in three games, he joined division rivals ÍBV, hitting 12 goals in as many games and finishing as the league’s top scorer – despite his side being relegated.
He has remained at the club this season with the aim of promotion back to the top-flight and has started the campaign in blistering form with 11 goals in 8 matches in all competitions. The club, based on Vestmannaeyjar, a tiny island off the south-east coast of Iceland, currently sit top of the table after six matches.
His overall record in Iceland right now stands at 95 goals in 172 matches, an incredible return. Watching back some of his goals, you see a player always alive in the box, the perfect poacher, as happy to score from one yard as he is from 18.
He’s built up quite a following in Iceland during his time in the country and I was lucky enough to get to ask the forward a few questions about his career so far.
EPA: When you first made the move to Iceland in 2010, did you ever expect to be still playing in the country now? Albeit with spells in other countries in between.
GM: Of course when I came to Iceland, it was just one contract and the aim was to get a contract for as long as possible. Over time, things started to go well so I always wanted to go to other countries and to higher levels.
I always knew I would come back to Iceland at some point. Maybe I came back a bit earlier than I should have but I believe I made the right choice. Better to be happy than been miserable playing at a higher level.
What is it about Iceland that keeps you coming back? Do you see it as a second home now?
Yeah this will always be my second home. I feel great here and will continue to play here until the day comes that I have to hang them on the shelf.
You finished as the top scorer in the Úrvalsdeild last year despite relegation. Were you not tempted to look for another club in the top flight or were you happy to stay at ÍBV to try help them secure promotion back to the top-flight?
Finishing top scorer was great personal feeling for me, the downside was that we were relegated. I’m not a person to jump ship when things go bad. I did not want to play in top league this year with what had happened last year regarding Valur – that’s the reason I signed a new contract even though we were relegated. I feel great here and enjoy being on the island and want to help the club go straight back up.
How does football in Iceland compare to the other countries you’ve played in abroad, does the level compete with Norway, Denmark and Belgium?
Of course Belgium top league is just miles ahead of Iceland. I’m judging this by experience of playing six seasons in top league in Iceland. The top teams in Iceland would do okay in the top league in Norway I don’t think they would be relegated but Norwegian football physically is whole other level to Iceland some players are just machines and the tempo in games are very high.
Do you see yourself playing in Iceland for many years to come or are there other countries you’d like to play in?
At moment I see myself finishing in Iceland there are a few targets. I want to hit 100 goals in the top league [currently on 57] as foreign player. Also I think I will stay in football in Iceland after I finish but you never know. I would love opportunity to play in the Emirates or somewhere adventurous for a few months but you need to be lucky.
Finally, would you recommend Iceland as a good place to play for young English players?
Yeah this is one thing I’m looking in to after the football season, trying to get British players to Iceland. It’s a great platform for young hungry players who want to use it as a platform to go to higher leagues and to stay in football after being released. To some people they see it as Iceland, not a huge country but the level is a lot higher than people think and more technical than physical. Some players in the UK who are deemed not big enough but have great ability, would be great out here.