Mar
08
2008
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Iceland – National Suporters Club

Physical presence has long been a quality- exhibited by the Icelandic footballers who ply their trade as aerially proficient defenders across Scandinavia, Scotland and England. But by the 1980s at the latest, it had become apparent that filigree skills, dribbling ability and footballing intelligence had also entered the repertoire of Icelandic players, Added to this is their uncomplicated, adaptable nature. Icelanders have no difficulty integrating abroad; they are cosmopolitan and usually speak at least two foreign languages. Back home, however, they are fiercely proud of their national language. For football, Icelandic has the handsome word knattspyrna, a combination of the words for “ball” and “kick”. The modern Icelandic word ‘fotbolti’ is also common now, particularly as in the first division there can no longer be any talk of the ball simply being kicked around, for the standard is excellent. The national team does give cause for concern, however.
Styrmir Gislason, the chairman of a supporters club recently set up for the Icelandic national side, does not beat about the bush: “The lads were rubbish against Liechtenstein. They should pick a few younger players whose wallets aren’t so full.” Along with his 400 or so colleagues in the national supporters club, Styrmir is a rare breed in Iceland. For as much as the Icelanders love playing, enthusiastic support for a club or the national team is not really their cup of tea. Reason enough for Styrmir to act: “I was totally fed up. We sell out for almost every international game, everyone is proud of the ream, but what happens? Everybody sits there as quiet as a mouse, and even the smallest bunch of fans from abroad make more noise than we Icelanders do. No wonder the players are disappointed. ‘Ihey’re used to something different at their clubs overseas.”
Styrmir’s idea did nor fall on deaf ears though, and now at least his group make themselves heard at international matches. F.idur Gudjohnsen liked the idea, too, and gave the loyal fans 200 tickets for the European Championship qualifier against Spain. Sold-out stadiums are something that Icelandic club treasurers can normally only dream about. Football fans project their love of the game onto idols, and neither a distant cousin not the school’s games captain make suitable candidates. Virtually everyone in Iceland is either related to or acquainted with the country’s star players. Traditionally Icelanders support English clubs such as Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester United. While there arc plenty of supporters clubs for these teams, hardly any show the same kind of passion for an Icelandic team.
Their preference for British football is easy to explain. It is nor so much the geographical proximity as the fact that the first live football to be broadcast regularly came from England in the 1970s. The national television service was not technically advanced enough at the time, and a diverse media landscape featuring private broadcasters was comparatively late in developing. Today, all the top matches in the Icelandic league are also shown on television. Their love of English football also plants some unusual ideas in the minds of some wealthy Icelanders. That English clubs can be bought is -something that Icelanders understood long before the clays of Abramovich and Glazer. A colourful Icelandic consortium made up of fishing magnates, fruit and vegetable traders and other well-heeled businessmen pulled the strings at Stoke City from 1999 to 2006, for example, and in 2006. an Icelandic holding gained a majority stake in Premier League club “West Ham United. Some West Ham fans will no doubt be uneasy at the thought that some monied upstarts from little old Iceland have seized control of their club. Yet many Icelanders are also sceptical ol the football imperialism being exhibited by their compatriots. Tine singer Bjork. for example, says this type of megalomania is simply ”sickening”, while others point our that the money men could put their cash to much better use, preferably in Iceland.