Iceland Bringing More Than Football to Euro 2016

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It’s become journalistic shorthand to describe Iceland’s impact at Euro 2016 as ‘volcanic’, but the team’s success in France is down to the close bond that exists in in the squad, and the harmony between the players and the fans.

These are the two constructive, rather than destructive, forces setting the scene for a history-making tournament for Lars Lagerback and Heimer Hallgrimsson’s players, and its little wonder that people around the world have taken a shine to them.

Such is the good feeling and bonhomie, even the fans are getting in on the act of charming the world; their good conduct means they may usurp the Republic of Ireland’s green army and become unofficially recognized as the best supporters in world football.

Their ominous, Viking roar is designed to drive on their team, in contrast to the deep pop of the flares and hooligan violence that serve only to disrupt matches and create disorder.

And they share with Ireland an underdog typecasting that is befitting of a windswept island in the Atlantic; and Euro 2016 can be for Iceland what Italia 1990 was for the Irish, a transformative event that was more about lifting a nation and less about the football.

A Team That Can Play

But they can play football, and that 1-1 draw against Hungary in the Stade Velodrome felt like a loss; Gylfi Sigurdsson slumped to the grass on the final whistle and the entire team were left to rue two points dropped.

Many of the players graduated from the Under-21 side together, and the fact that the men in the blue jersey share a friendship that extends beyond the white lines of a football pitch means they will be united in these low moments.

This familiarity is hardly surprising considering how their co-manager, Hallgrimsson, doubles as a dentist and is beloved in his community.

Hallgrimsson has also revealed a unique tradition that used to take place before every Iceland game – 200 fans would gather and learn of the lineup before the media got a chance to see it; and those fans always kept the information secret.

The practice has been discontinued now because there are too many fans following them in France, and that number looks set to grow because the Nordics keep putting in good performances – on the pitch and in the stands.

Their propensity for a headline grabbing quote or a robust tackle show that they’re not unblemished saints, but the freedom and innocence they bring to Euro 2016 is a refreshing antidote to the violence that continues to mar this tournament.

By Enda Kenneally