Four reasons to love Icelandic football
Sunday, 26 June 2016
Underdog lovers will be backing Iceland when they take on England in the last 16; team reporter Jóhann Ólafur Sigurdsson explains why everyone else should too.
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No one is loving this EURO more than Iceland
There have been around 10,000 Icelanders at each of the team's last two UEFA EURO 2016 games – not a huge number but massive for a nation of just 330,000. Those 10,000 fans represent around 3% of the population; if a similar proportion of the population of round of 16 opponents England came to France, there would be 1.59 million people backing Roy Hodgson's side.
"It is like having your family at the game," defender Kári Árnason said after the 2-1 group-stage win against Austria. "I probably know at least 50% of the people in the crowd."
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Icelanders love football, full stop
Football is the most popular sport in Iceland, and viewing figures for the national team's EURO matches have been phenomenal. While around 9.3 million British viewers tuned in for England's game against Wales – some 14% or so of the population of Great Britain – over half of all Icelanders are estimated to have watched Iceland v Austria, representing 99.8% of the nation's television audience. And of course, if you have heard that famous piece of commentary for the second goal against the Austrians, you will know how much EURO success means to Icelanders.
Icelanders love English football too. Árnason noted: "I have always supported England at major tournaments." Joint-coach Heimir Hallgrímsson added: "Icelanders know everything about English football – we are English-football crazy."
Iceland fans are making as much of a mark as the team
Though Iceland's fans are relatively few, they have made a huge impression here, not least with their superbly choreographed chant during games: supporters go silent for several seconds, then let out a sudden burst of noise in chorus, repeating the same trick to disorientating effect. Portugal fans found it daunting. "The chant thing that Iceland are doing is terrifying – like a Viking horde or something," wrote one Portuguese.
However, they have a soft side too. At every national-team fixture, they give a rendition of the romantic pop song Ferdalok (Ég er kominn heim) – translation: End of the journey (I'm home). Lyrics below:
Sól slær silfri á voga, Sjáið jökulinn loga.
(Sun shimmers in the water, see the glacier glow)
Allt er bjart fyrir okkur tveim, því ég er kominn heim.
(All is bright for the two of us, because I am back home)
Domestic football in Iceland is fantastic too
Yes, it is cold in Iceland, but football thrives in indoor halls and on artificial surfaces (as well as 100-or-so mini-pitches, which are open to everyone, encouraging adults and children to hone their skills). The Icelandic top division is a part-time league – most players have day jobs outside football – making the national side's progress at these finals all the more astonishing.
Watching domestic league matches is a cheap and unique experience; a ticket for any top-tier team costs around €10, while clubs have an unusually close relationship with supporters. In a tradition respected across the country, head coaches meet fan groups before every game to explain their starting line-up and tactics, only later releasing such details officially. Supporters, in turn, have such respect for their clubs that the content of such pre-match briefings is never released to the media.