From Eastbourne United to the top flight of the women’s game in Iceland
Nik Chamberlain is the Eastbourne man coaching in the top flight of women’s football in Iceland.
Jonny Drake spoke to him to find out how a young man from East Sussex went from local sport to a scholarship in America to his involvement in Icelandic football – and where his ambitions lay.
Nik Chamberlain is the manager of Thróttur Reykjavík, a women’s football team in the top division of Icelandic football.
He is also a name that a few Eastbourne United fans may remember from his short stint with the club back in 2015.
He scored four goals in eight games under Tobi Hutchinson, including a brace against Loxwood and a late header that started off a thrilling 4-3 comeback against AFC Uckfield the day of the team’s Christmas party.
Chamberlain, 33, played for Old Town Boys, Ratton Rangers and Eastbourne Borough U18s during his youth and represented Sussex. He was captain of Sussex Downs Park College where they won the double.
While at college, Chamberlain was offered a huge opportunity: “I got offered the chance to go with a company to help kids get to America on scholarships,” said Chamberlain, “which I was successful at.
“I was offered a full ride to go and play for Auburn University at Montgomery (know as AUM in Alabama) in 2006. I wanted to continue my studies but also felt I had more to develop with my football that I couldn’t get from staying locally and that was the best decision I made.”
AUM were the best ranked team in the NAIA league (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics).
NAIA host inter-college competitions in 32 different sports. Since it was founded in 1940, over 65,000 students have taken part in NAIA events across more than 250 different schools in America.
For Chamberlain, this was an incredible experience: “Living and studying in Alabama was an eye-opener but the football was the best I had ever experienced.
Playing with the number one ranked team in the country in NAIA, playing alongside full internationals for Iceland, youth internationals from Iceland, South Africa, France, youth players of Athletico Bilbao, Schalke, PSG and Santos was something I would never have got staying at home.
“2007 was my best year, personally and as a team. Being slight outsiders for most of the season we ended up reaching the semi-finals of the National Tournament where we were beaten by an overtime goal.
“I was selected into the team of the tournament and gave me the belief that I could do something as a player.”
During his summers off from university, he would sometimes go to Iceland to play football having played with Icelandic nationals at AUM. “For the most part it would just be for a few months before heading back to school but on a couple of occasions I did manage to stay for a whole season. I mainly played in the East of Iceland for teams called Huggin and Fjardabyggd.
“Huginn is based in a small town of about 700 people called Seydisfjordur and this team will always be the closest to my heart as a player. I wasn’t a professional there though.
“They paid for flights and gave me a place to stay but I would work for my salary.
“That included working for the town by cutting grass, planting flowerbeds, weeding etc, groundsman for the pitch and working in the kindergarten there as well. I was also fortunate to become the captain when we got promoted from the 3rd division to the 2nd division in 2013.
“At that point I had the chance to go back and do my masters at AUM so I went back, doubting that I would play much again but a close friend and probably the best coach I’ve had, Binni Gest, contacted me about playing for him and coaching the women’s team at Fjardabyggd. I could use this towards my studies so I went back in the summer of 2014 and I started my first season as a head coach of a women’s team.
“They were one of the worst teams in the country when I took over but by the end of the 2015 season (season runs May to September each year) we got to the play-offs for the first time since 2002 with the same team as I had the year before.
“Once that season had finished, I had my Masters from AUM and nothing was concrete from the club so went home whilst I decided what next step I wanted to take. I signed for Eastbourne United as another great friend and fantastic coach, Tobi Hutchinson, was there.