Despite not being able to boast any Icelandic heritage my heart was swelling with pride last night as the Iceland players, staff, and supporters sang their national anthem at the opening game of their Euro 2016 campaign.
The sound was immense and the passion and patriotism palpable. The sense of humour, calmness and happiness of the Icelandic people also shone through. So far removed from the violent clashes between ‘supporters’ and the police, ugly scenes that have marred the tournament thus far, this was a breath of fresh Icelandic air. 30,000 fans travelled from Iceland to support their team in their first major tournament. 30,000 people equals 10% of the entire population. Staggering support.
Another statistic, if I may. There are 50,000 Icelandic males aged 20-40 so this means if you are one of these Icelandic males you have a 1 in 2000 chance of making the national team. Portugal’s population, by comparison, is just over 10 million. But far more importantly they count Cristiano Ronaldo among their number who wouldn’t hesitate in calling himself the world’s best player and in many ways this is a justifiable claim. Ronaldo has scored over 50 goals a season for the last 6 seasons playing for Real Madrid. Yet the Iceland players, to a man, stood tall and threw themselves in front of everything. They blocked, tackled, harried, and ultimately frustrated the Portuguese with the game ending in a deserved stalemate. For a group of players from a country with the same population as Dudley, and who as youngsters learning their trade have to train in ‘football houses’ inside over winter as the ground is often frozen solid, this is an absolute triumph.
Iceland is a fascinating, beautiful, raw country home to a people with an unbreakable spirit and a wonderful low-key sense of humour. I fell in love with the country on my first visit and had to go back again the following year. If I could I would go every summer as the landscape, fresh air, and sense of nature laid bare is awesome. Even more awesome than the national pride and togetherness on display at last night’s football match.