Not many players can claim to have played in National League North and then the Europa League three months later but that is exactly what David Atkinson has achieved this season.
“Playing in the Europa league was a great experience and is something every footballer wants to do,” says the 25-year-old defender from County Durham.
“I just wish we could have progressed more in the competition and it is something I would love to do again.”
Atkinson is talking midway through his second season in Icelandic football. Having joined top flight side ÍBV halfway through last season, he returned to the club at the start of the season to reap the rewards of his side’s European qualification after they won the Icelandic Cup last season.
In between his two seasons with ÍBV though he returned to his homeland to play for National League North side Blyth Spartans but always hoped of a return.
“I returned to Blyth so I could continue to play matches I had missed due to injury while I was younger, as I was eager to play as many games as possible,” he says.
“I have a lot of respect for the manager at Blyth [former Stockport County player Alun Armstrong] and also I think he will have a great career as a manager.
“I always had a return to ÍBV in the back of my mind and Europa League football was a big factor in my return.”
Atkinson joined the Icelandic club last season, playing ten times in the league as his side finished ninth and avoided relegation. He also played twice in the Icelandic Cup, featuring in both the semi-final and final as ÍBV won the cup for the first time in nearly twenty years. The defender helped his side keep a clean sheet in the final, as they defeated FH 1-0 to claim a famous victory.
Before joining ÍBV, Atkinson grew up in the Middlesbrough academy, working his way up through the ranks and captaining the under-21 side until he made the first team. In the 2013/14 season, he made the bench on ten occasions but was not given his debut, something that the defender still wishes had happened differently.
“I was very disappointed not to make my debut at Middlesbrough, especially when I had been there from such a young age and overcome a lot of injuries to get to a position where I was available to play,” he says.
“But I’m still very proud of reaching the squad of such a big club.”
The north-east native had a loan spell at Hartlepool United before he moved even further north in March 2015 when he joined League Two club Carlisle United on loan, a move which then became permanent in the following summer.
He made 24 league appearances for United in the 2015/16 season as he slowly started to establish himself but the following season he made just a couple of appearances and left for Blyth Spartans, initially on loan before permanently joining the club in January 2017.
Three months later, the chance to move to Iceland arose and Atkinson didn’t think twice.
“I was contacted by an agent and it was arranged very quickly,” he says. “I was always open to the possibilities of playing abroad but never thought it would be Iceland.”
The defender settled in well in his new environment, despite it being entirely different.
“I moved to Iceland with my family so that made it a lot easier for me to settle in. The people here are very friendly and speak great English so that helped the transition much easier for us all.
“The island where we live is very remote and unlike anything we have ever experienced but we have enjoyed exploring somewhere different.”
ÍBV play their games in Vestmannaeyjar, an island off the south coast of Iceland and have to fly to their away matches. The island has a population of just over 4,000.
“I’m living on the island of Vestmannaeyjar at the moment it’s a small island. It’s been quite hard to adjust to the lifestyle as there isn’t a great deal to do and the weather isn’t the best.
“The food is very good especially in the restaurants though. The supermarkets don’t have a lot of choice to pick from though and it’s difficult to get a lot of good quality fresh fruit and vegetables.”
After last season’s cup win, the 25-year-old has made a further 15 league appearances and his side are currently in 8th place with four matches to go. Undoubtedly though, the highlight of the season has been the previously mentioned Europa League matches against Norwegian side Sarpsborg. Atkinson played in both matches in the first qualifying round as his side lost 6-0 on aggregate to a side who have made it all the way through into the group stages.
The former Boro man has had nearly two seasons in Iceland now so how does he think the standard compares to back home?
“The standard of football is hard to compare to the UK,” he says. “A lot of people have asked me what the standard is like but I find it hard to compare. If I had to judge it, maybe [it is similar to] lower League Two but the top two or three teams could maybe compete in League One.”
Atkinson is now coming to the end of his second season abroad but has high hopes for the rest of his career.
“My future ambitions and goals for my career are to play at the highest level I can possibly get to, winning as many games and trophies as I can.”
The 25-year-old may not have got the chance to make his debut for his boyhood club but by taking a gamble and moving abroad, he has furthered his career significantly and European football would have been just a dream if he had stayed at home.