Although it might not have ended completely as how he would have liked, Michael Newberry’s first season in senior football was an impressive one nonetheless and an advert for the wonders a move abroad can do.
“It was a lot different mostly because in academy football it doesn’t matter if you win or lose or make bad mistakes so when I came here it was all about the three points and doing your job.”
The 21-year-old defender is talking ahead of his second season in Iceland having joined second-tier side Víkingur Ólafsvík in May last year.
Having joined the academy of his local side Newcastle United at the age of 11 from amateur youth side Red House Farm Boys, the defender worked his way up to the under-23 side and was a regular with the side in the 2016/17 season, playing 14 matches in the Premier League 2 that season.
During his time at Newcaslte, he was also rated highly by Northern Ireland and played for their under-19 side and was also involved in the under-21 as he qualified through his parentage.
However, at the end of the 2017/18 season, the defender’s nine year association with the Magpies would come to an end as he was told his deal at the club would not be renewed.
However, he had a clear target of what he had to do next and didn’t waste any time in looking for his next move.
“Yeah it was fantastic [growing up in the academy] and I loved playing for Newcastle but I wasn’t disappointed [about being released] because I hadn’t played any men’s football or anything so I knew I needed that first.
“I then went on trial at Motherwell. I had just finished a game for them and was waiting to hear if they were going to offer me anything when Nick McCreery [Newberry’s agent] rang me saying an Icelandic team had offered me a contract. So two days later I was in Iceland, it all happened really fast!
“I’d not really ever thought of playing abroad to be honest, definitely not Iceland anyway.”
With the season in the Icelandic second-tier starting in May, Newberry had no time to waste following his release from Newcastle if he was to play a starring role at his new club. Joining Víkingur Ólafsvík, a side who had been relegated from the top division the previous season, everything was sorted in time for the Northern Ireland youth international to make his debut in the second game of the season.
The defender, who can play anywhere across the back four, quickly settled into a spot in the starting lineup at his new club, slotting into the back four of a side who were hoping to bounce straight back into the top flight at the first time of asking. The surroundings of his new home Ólafsvík, a small town in the north of Iceland with just a population of just over 1,000, did take some getting used to though – as did the style of play.
“It took me few weeks to find my feet because it was all new way of living,” he says. “I was used to being surrounded by millions of people to moving to a town with 800-1000 people.
“The style changed so much as well. I was used to playing out from the back all the time but we don’t take that chance as much at Víkingur.”
You wouldn’t be able to tell the 21-year-old defender was in a new environment though, as he took Icelandic football in his stride, missing just two league games all season for Vikingur as he played 22 times in all competitions. However the campaign would have a bittersweet ending as the defender’s side missed out on promotion at the first time of asking by six points.
“I was happy and frustrated at the same time. I think the team did really well against so called better clubs and lost a lot of needed points against the bottom teams – if we had have won those points, for sure we would have got promoted.”
The new campaign has already began for Newberry and his teammates as although the league does not begin for another three months, the annual curtain raiser, the Icelandic League Cup is already underway. Known as the Deildabikar, the tournament starts with a group stage which combines first and second division sides and is ideal preparation for Víkingur as they test themselves against sides who play at the level they wish to achieve.
Next weekend will see a big English reunion as Víkingur travel to top flight side ÍBV in the group stages. With Newberry recently joined at his side by former Southampton midfielder Harley Willard, they will take on a side who boast two Englishmen themselves in the shape of former England youth international Preistley Griffiths and ex-Middlesbrough midfielder Jonathan Franks.
Once that’s over, Newberry has set his sights on his side going one step further and achieving promotion this season. He is also targeting a call-up to the Northern Ireland senior side in the not too distant future as well. It’s a dream which may well come true as his decision to move abroad has been repaid with regular first team football in a competitive division and at the age of 21, he has plenty of time to resurrect his international career.