Jeannette Williams is a American goalkeeper playing for Fimleikafélag Hafnarfjarðar (or FH for a much shorter term) in Iceland's premier division, the Pepsi League. FH was recently promoted to the Pepsi League after finishing second in the table and have signed the American goalkeeper to help bolster their goalkeeping depth chart. Williams talks about her journey to Iceland, the ins and outs of playing abroad, and what it takes to get to the next level.
How in the world did you end up playing for an NAIA school then working up to Iceland’s premier league?
I wasn't expecting to play my freshman year at RMU [Robert Morris University], because their senior keeper was also Ghana's National Team starting keeper with great experience and ability. Ghana ended up making it into the world cup that year, so my playing time came right away. Playing in the NAIA was competitive and my teammates were star players from all over the world: England, Norway, Brazil, Columbia and Ghana, to name a few. When I was looking at what college to play for, I chose the one that I thought would give me the best experience and allow me to truly enjoy playing soccer for four more years. Playing at Robert Morris University in the NAIA, from my teammates to my coaches and the overall experience was what gave me the work ethic and passion to continue pushing myself, simply for the love of the game. It also gave me the opportunity to compete for a national title. My senior year, we made it to the Elite Eight of the National Tournament.
From there, a former teammate of mine at FC Indiana, Lorena, got me in touch with Damon Wilson of Transfair Sports Group. He obtained my first offer from Olafsvik Vikingur in Iceland, a new team entering the first division. I spent three straight seasons with them and had a great experience. We played FH twice last season, which is the team I have now signed with for the upcoming season. I played well in both games against them which sparked their interest. They are moving back up to the top league this season, and I am excited to compete in this environment.
Ultimately, a college experience that further enhanced my love for the game and a good friend that pushed me to find playing opportunities gave me my chance. After that, the platform of playing at Vikingur and working hard to be ready come game day gave me the chance to be seen and make it to a higher level.
What advice would you have for a player trying to play professionally?
Most importantly, believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you just the same. My support system has always been great and is a big part of the reason that I have been successful. I cannot stress enough how important my parents, my family, and my friends have been through this journey. Find the people that push you to be your best, and keep them close.
For players that want to get to the next level, you must be willing to start where you can. I know many players turn down offers because they just "aren't good enough". They end up not having a career because they always wait for the perfect offer, and that never comes. The truth is, no offer will ever be perfect. The only question then is, am I going to pass up an offer and risk not playing, or am I going to play? Players need to know how to work their way up, and be determined and patient enough to put in the time and sacrifice it will take to make your goal, or dream, a reality.
Tell us about Icelandic football. What’s something outsiders probably don’t realize about their game? How does it compare to the American game?
Football in Iceland is huge! Iceland's women's soccer team is number nineteen in the world and the Premier League is considered one of the top leagues for women. Every town seems to have a team with a loyal fan base and community that supports them. Many teams are from the capital area, but there are also teams in smaller towns. Overall, the facilities, fields, and players are very professional on both the men's and women's side. Many kids play soccer and are there to watch and support their teams. It's rare to walk by an open field and not see kids playing a pick up game on it, even if it is 40 degrees out and raining.
The biggest difference I notice between playing in the states and playing in Iceland is the physical side of the game. My first couple of games in Iceland, I got hit hard after catching a couple of balls. I was shocked there was no foul called, but after a few hard hits and no whistles, I realized that's just the way the game is played. Since then, I focused on becoming stronger so that I can hold on to the ball even when I am hit late and I can better protect myself.
What’s a common question you’re asked being an American foreigner?
Many Icelanders have asked me over the last few years why I chose to come to Iceland. I think people that have lived there their whole life are not as absorbed in the beauty of their country as most travelers are. It really is a phenomenal place to see. Being able to live there and make a living through soccer makes it a dream come true. So while some might be surprised at my choice to keep going back, I look at it as living my dream, and am happy to continue doing so.
What’s the outlook on FH's season? Where do you sit in the depth chart? I thought I read that you’ll also be in a coaching position there?
FH has experience in the Pepsi League. They have been there in past years. They spent the last season in the 1st division [the second level, underneath the Pepsi League] and were able to earn their way back into Pepsi. From what I saw playing against them, they have great team qualities, from effort to culture to organization.
I really enjoyed playing with Vikingur the last few years, so in order to make a move I had to be confident it was to a team with good team qualities, like FH. I hope we will have a successful season that includes being able to go for the win against any team we play. Their head coach, Orri Þórðarson, is a UEFA A License coach and I know I will learn from his guidance. I currently hold my USSF National C License, and when I retire from playing I have aspirations to coach at a high level. I was the assistant coach of Vikingur the last two years and I am eager to learn from Orri and his coaching methods this year. He is also the head of the youth club that supports over 900 players, so I will be coaching some of the youth players in my time there also.