Years that end in odd numbers hold barren summers for football addicts in most of the civilized world with no World Cup or even a European Championship to ease the pain of seasons end. Idle transfer gossip dominates the back pages instead of actual goals and results and if there is a game on the telly it’s probably a rerun. Is it perhaps time to get a life?
Fear not. There are always the barbaric Nordic countries that insist (or rather the weather insists for them) on having the football season during the summer. Therefore, with a long summer holiday in, say, Iceland, you can finally make football a year-long obsession. One problem remains, however, what to do with all those unpronounceable names and strange initials? Well, in the long tradition of teaching Americans math by using baseball scores (all those heartfelt Hollywood movies don’t lie, do they?) I will now try to teach Icelandic football by using examples of European clubs that bear an uncanny resemblance to their Icelandic counterparts.
Let’s start with the current champions, KR. They are, without a doubt, the Manchester United of Iceland. Both are by far the richest in the land and draw the largest group of supporters (2,000 and 65,000 respectively). Comparisons do not end there, however. Both had legendary sides in the sixties, only to fall into obscurity and failure for decades. While United waited 26 years for the title, KR waited 31, years filled with nasty jokes from fans of opposing teams. Since they finally broke the ice they’ve both been the teams to beat in their respective countries. They even mirrored each other in 1999 both winning the treble. The only difference was that KR’s treble didn’t include a European cup.
Then there is Fylkir. They used to be the relegation specialists but have recently transformed themselves to the Neverkusen, sorry Leverkusen, of Iceland. They may be top of the league most of the season but they won’t take home the trophy on the final day.
An hour’s drive from the capital is Grindavík, who have evolved from a small town team in the lower divisions to the Chelsea of Iceland. First they were, along with ÍBV, the masters of the relegation battle (i.e. the team that sent Fylkir down) but in recent years have always been near the top without actually being good enough to take the title – just like Chelsea. Not to mention that being the closest town to the Blue Lagoon, they have the same knack of attracting foreigners that Chelsea does. This season they even have Lee Sharpe playing for them.
The Arsenal of Iceland would have to be KA from the beautiful northern town of Akureyri. Not only did both win the championship in dramatic fashion in 1989 but also they have by far the most intelligent and literate supporters (Nick Hornby and me, that is).
ÍA from Akranes are a mixture of AC Milan and Ajax Amsterdam. All three clubs seemed almost invincible in the mid-nineties but have since faded somewhat, although still remaining serious contenders. And just like Ajax they have what seems like a never-ending production line of young talent.
FH have a thing or two in common with Aston Villa, both were very good at finishing second a decade or so ago but are now mostly good at being hardly noticed in the middle of the table and in danger of being overtaken by the other, less famous, team of the city / town.
The Westman Islands have a lot in common with Sicily. Both are south of the mainland and the inhabitants don´t necessarily follow the law of the land too strictly. Perhaps Roskilde in Denmark is a better comparison, because of the annual music and drinking festival – although the bands in Roskilde are probably a bit edgier. The Danish national team are probably the most like Westman Island team ÍBV, both are kind of ligeglad (Danish slang for charmingly careless or annoyingly irresponsible, take your pick) yet able to pull up their shorts and win things from time to time.
The destinies of Reykjavík clubs Fram and Valur have been quite similar recently. An annual duel for the title in the eighties has transformed into an annual battle to avoid the drop. A state of affairs strangely parallel to teams from another city, Liverpool and Everton, except for the Beatles. Hljómar, The Icelandic Beatles, are from Keflavík – chances are you’re about to land there if you’re reading this aboard a plane. They are currently spending a rare year outside the top flight but are expected to be back soon.
Then there are this years minnows, Þróttur. Newly promoted and with the most successful coach in the Premier league, they have been frequently promoted to the top flight over the last fifty years – but they never seem to last long. Sunderland perhaps? And that’s it as the Icelandic premiership only features ten teams. Well, it’s not like the summer is long here. As for the Icelandic national team, did I mention we managed a draw against the world champions once? Just don’t mention Scotland …
Ásgeir H Ingólfsson
Originally published in The Reykjavík Grapevine on August 8th 2003.