Having matched an Icelandic record by winning a UEFA competition game by a four-goal margin last week, Stjarnan are earning praise for the way they score goals – rather than just the fashion in which they celebrate them.
While league rivals FH Hafnarfjördur were beating Northern Ireland's Glenavon FC elsewhere on the island, Stjarnan – literally Star – were putting four without reply past Wales' Bangor City FC to conclude a fine night for Icelandic sides in the UEFA Europa League.
The goal celebrations at Stjörnuvöllur were also reasonably restrained, given the YouTube notoriety the club's players have gained for their innovative post-strike choreography; their fishing, rowing, cycling, and 'Rambo' routines having set something of a gold standard.
All that exciting play-acting is perhaps a reflection of the passion and enthusiasm that Stjarnan have brought to their game. Founded in 1960 in Gardabaer – the Reykjavik suburb which is also home to the studios where the world-famous LazyTown TV series was filmed – Stjarnan did not command much attention until the mid-2000s when they won promotion, first to the second division and then – in 2008 – to the top flight. Determined to give local players their chance to shine, coach Bjarni Jóhannsson laid excellent foundations from 2008–12.
Captain Jóhann Laxdal was 18 when he was signed by Stjarnan in 2008. "When Jóhannesson took over everything changed," he said. "We looked into every corner and everyone – players, staff, fans – had the same goal. We have more or less kept the same squad and we are still fighting for our first title, but we know you have to lose some games before you can win." Results continue to improve. Stjarnan reached the 2012 and 2013 cup finals and – after a third-place finish last season – are now making their European debut.
Rúnar Páll Sigmundsson succeeded Jóhannesson last year and was impressed by the way his side have taken to European football. "This was a new experience for most of the boys, and also for the club in handling a UEFA game, and everybody wanted to do their part correctly," he said. "The tension was fairly high so it was great to win the game like this. They made good use of those nerves. Everybody knew they had to work hard and they did so."
A second qualifying round meeting with Motherwell FC is now in sight, but for the moment Sigmundsson knows his players have work to do – and not on their goal celebrations. "I have managed to keep my players' feet on the ground and we are slick enough to be able to prepare the right way for the next game," he said. "We are very much looking forward to it and know we have to focus to make to the next round."
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