Jonathan Franks discusses breaking through at Boro & ending up in Iceland

In Depth
Jonathan Franks, Middlesbrough

Jonathan Franks moved north to join Hartlepool when he left Middlesbrough in 2012 – but he probably didn’t expect he’d end up moving as far north as Iceland.

Franks played once for Boro in the Premier League in 2009 and remained on the books at his boyhood club for three more years in the Championship before departing in search of regular first-team football.

He found that for three years at Hartlepool and now, after spells in the Scottish Premiership and the National League, he is preparing for his second season with top Icelandic side IBV.

“I had a call about coming over to Iceland and another English lad, David Atkinson, who was there at the time, spoke to me about moving there, too,” Franks says.

“I discussed it with my girlfriend and we decided not to go for it as it wasn’t worth it financially, but IBV came back with a better deal.

“We had always wanted to go and live abroad at some point, so we went for it.”

Boro breakthrough

Vestmannaeyjar is a long way across the North Sea from Middlesbrough, who Franks signed for as a youngster after he was spotted playing for his local junior team.

A lifelong Boro supporter, his talent was such that he was playing for their reserve team at just 15 before signing a professional contract two years later.

He trained under Steve McClaren before being brought into the first-team picture under Gareth Southgate and making his debut in Boro’s final game of the 2008-2009 season at Upton Park against West Ham United.

It was, however, a day of contrasting fortunes as Southgate’s side were relegated from the Premier League.

“I had been on the bench a couple of times that season and remember being told to go and warm up, but not getting on,” he says.

“I wasn’t too disappointed because it was great for me, as a young player, to gain that kind of experience.

“For the West Ham game, I wasn’t in the original matchday squad and was making my way home from a reserve team game when I got a call telling me to get back to the training ground as I was in the 18-man squad.

“As a diehard Boro fan it was really strange because we had been relegated but I had just played my first game in the Premier League for them.

“I will always remember, even though we had just been relegated, the other lads offering me words of encouragement as we came off the pitch and Southgate coming up to me on the coach afterwards telling me well done, but that the hard work had really started.

“I really appreciated him doing that.”

Ups and downs

Southgate was gone by the October of the next campaign, with Gordon Strachan replacing him for what became a forgettable stint at the Riverside Stadium.

“It didn’t work out for him, but some of his sessions on the training pitch were brilliant and he was good with me.”

He scored his first goal in January, 2010, against Doncaster Rovers, and enjoyed a run in the team until a recurring back injury meant he missed the start of the 2010-2011 season due to surgery.

Halfway through his rehab, Boro legend Tony Mowbray replaced Strachan.

“I was on the treatment table, so to speak, so I didn’t make a good first impression on him,” Franks says.

“He told me to keep working hard and I got back in the squad and was a substitute a couple of times.”

Unfortunately, after loans at Oxford United and Yeovil Town, Franks had to leave the Riverside Stadium in 2012 for regular action at Hartlepool, where he scored 22 goals across 163 appearances.

Hartlepool United's Jonathan Franks scores a late winner vs Morecambe

Then, in 2015, Franks continued his journey north to join Ross County, then in the Scottish Premiership.

“It was a really good experience,” Franks says.

“I was playing in front of 60,000 fans when we played Celtic and Rangers.

“We finished in the top six and won the League Cup while I was there, so I couldn’t have asked for much more.”

Move to Iceland

Another short spell at Hartlepool followed and then Wrexham before he headed to Iceland in 2018.

It was a culture shock at first, but the father-of-three and his family have settled into life in Vestmannaeyjar.

“It is really quiet and relaxed,” Franks says.

“In the winter it is a three-hour boat ride and then an hour’s drive to Reykjavik, and in the summer it only takes half-an-hour on the boat and then the drive.

“Where we live has been brilliant for the kids as they make their own way home from school and are always outside playing football and other sports in the rain, snow and sunshine.”

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READ: A tribute to the fantastic but flawed Middlesbrough side of 96-97

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Due to Iceland’s inclement weather, the football seasons runs from April until October.

And, although Atkinson has left IBV, there are two fellow Englishmen in the squad in the shape of Priestly Griffiths and Matt Garner.

Among his other team-mates are former Leyton Orient defender Yves Erichot and Argentine Ignacio Fideleff, once of Parma and Napoli.

“The standard is good and last year IBV played in the Europa League,” says Franks.

“We have a new manager, a Portuguese guy called Pedro Hipolito, and he always speaks in English, which is good for me.

“I struggled in my first year because I wasn’t match fit and had lots of niggling injuries, but I kept myself fit in the close season by training back at Hartlepool.

“I could have signed for Hartlepool for a while, but the two clubs could not agree a deal.

“I am looking forward to the new season – the manager is very precise about what he wants and has worked us hard, and pushed us to the limit in training.”

Thou shalt have a fishy…

The weather hasn’t been too much of a problem for the 28-year-old winger, either, despite winds regularly reaching up to 60 miles per hour and the snow, which, he says, usually clears up pretty quickly.

And he is getting used to the local food, as well – though he’s not planning to eat shark anytime soon.

“I look out of my bedroom window and I can see the sea and mountains,” Franks says. “There is a lot of beautiful scenery and we get a lot of tourists here.

“I haven’t tried shark and don’t want to, but whale steak is meant to be quite nice, so I might try that.

“I have been eating a lot of fish, though, which I never did when I was back home – the closest I got was when I went to the chip shop.”

He would not be averse to returning to English football but knows from experience not to get carried away by any interest that may arise.

“An offer is on the table one minute and then it is gone in the next, so it can be a pretty nasty environment.

“I am happy in Iceland at the moment, although my girlfriend would like to try another country, so we will have to see what happens.

“I would definitely advise more young English players to move abroad. It makes you come out of your bubble and see different cultures.”

By Simon Yaffe


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