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I like sports....lots of sports...all sports!  Follow my blog as I talk about sports....if you like sports of course

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Strákarnir okkar
Cheering for "Our Boys"

#TwineTime recently took a small hiatus from blogging to take a much needed vacation last week.  While many may consider a vacation in November as a great time to head south to tropical paradises like the Dominican Republic or Jamaica, I chose to head north: Iceland!

First thing to get out of the way for those who may be unfamiliar with this tiny European nation, well the name Iceland may make the hairs on your arms stand up and thoughts of horrible shrinkage come to mind, it is quite the opposite.  In fact, the average temperature while I was there was around 12C.  In comparison, my current home location hovered around a dismal -14C on average.  That is a 26 degree shift in temperature.  Still sound like a cold place to visit?

The entire trip was amazing.  I highly recommend if you are looking for a place to go on a future vacation, give Iceland a look over.  The people were friendly.  The environment is breath taking.  The entire time you are there you get washed away in sights of the ocean, fresh air, amazing food, laid back and relaxed people.  I cannot sell it enough!

But this is a sports blog, not a travel blog.  The Iceland men's national football (soccer) team is currently in the middle of their Euro 2016 qualification process.  While there were no home games taking place while I was there (disappointing I know!!), the team was in Brussels, Belgium on Wednesday night for a friendly against the Red Dragons.  Being the sports fanatic I am, I knew about this upcoming match ahead of time and, after a few conversations with some local fans, I found a little pub in downtown Reykjavik to sit down and enjoy the match.

A few points to note:
  • Iceland was a HEAVY underdog going into the match.  Belgium was coming off a quarterfinal appearance at the recent 2014 FIFA World Cup and are currently ranked at an all-time high of 4 in the world.  Iceland, on the other hand, missed qualifying for the World Cup in a tough playoff loss to Croatia.  The KSI are up to a highest-ever FIFA ranking of 28 in the world though
  • KSI stands for Knattspyrnusamband Íslands, the governing body of football in Iceland.  I actually asked someone about this.  Yes, I know I should have just went on wikipedia beforehand but sometimes it is better to just hear the answer from someone.
  • Iceland was at their lowest FIFA ranking in June 2012, sitting at 131.  In just over 2 short years, they have jumped 103 places.
  • The first official match for Iceland was in 1946, a 3-0 loss at home to Denmark.
  • Iceland entered the match on the heels of perhaps their biggest win ever, a 2-0 Euro Qualifier victory at home vs. the Netherlands (3rd place at the recent World Cup)

When I first arrived at The English Pub (of course an English Pub in Iceland would be showing the match), I was surrounded by footy fans.  I was glad I was told to get there at least 30 minutes before match start time if I wanted to find a seat.  I parked myself in the back of the bar but still with a decent view of one of the many large screen tv's.  In front of me were two buddies, one wearing an Iceland jacket and one wearing a Belgium shirt.  My first thought was I was in for hearing some good chirping, as would be the case at any bar in Canada/United States during any sport event.  It was quite the opposite actually.  Both men were actually discussing the pros and cons of one another's team of choice.  Both had more positive comments to say about their opponent than bragging rights about why their national team was superior.  It was actually quite nice to see.  Two grown men can sit in a bar cheering for opposing teams and not chirp one another all night?  Who knew this kind of civility existed in a sports world?

The passion of everyone in the pub was clear during the national anthems.  Some people stood.  Everyone sang.  It was a great sight.  All this for just a friendly.  I cannot imagine what a Euro qualifier match or, hopefully some day for these fans and this nation, a World Cup match would be like.  Even the Belgium fans (all 2 of them in attendance) sang during their national anthem.  There was a respect level not often seen in North America.  As the lone 2 Red Dragon fans sang their national anthem in the pub, everyone else sat quietly and let them enjoy their moment.  There was no chirping.  No booing.  No disrespect.  

The game itself started quite fast with Belgium knocking home the first goal only 11 minutes into the match.  Fans seemed a bit down but that was only momentary.  The KSI found the back of the net only 2 minutes later to tie the game.  The remainder of the first half was highlighted by a bunch of near miss attempts by both teams coupled with some great defensive plays and outstanding saves.  Halftime brought a 1-1 tie and everyone was in a happy, drinking mood.  In fact, not sure about how this worked exactly but after the Iceland goal, a guy at the bar got to spin a giant wheel to win a few beers or sorry try again.  As his luck would have it, he landed on the "1 meter beer" spot, equating to 8 beers for him.  Not too bad of a deal!!

Settling in for the second half, having completed my 10" pepperoni pizza and second beer of the night, I was prepared for another equally matched half.  Could the upset be in order?  Belgium came out attacking and it was only a matter of time it seemed until they found the back of the night.  Sure enough, in the 62 minute mark the Red Dragons took the lead.  They were able to seal the victory with another goal in the 73 minute.  The crowd was disappointed.  The 2 Belgium fans rejoiced.

The biggest thing I noticed though was, even at the end of the game, Iceland fans were congratulating the Belgium fans, commenting on what a great match they played.  The Belgium fans were equally polite with similar comments.  There was no negative comments or hard feelings.  Heck, I have been to hockey games when I was 8 years old and been spit on by opposing team fans during a game.  Seeing this calm, relaxed and polite environment during a sporting event was quite odd.  It was also very refreshing!

After the match I made it my mission to find an Iceland team jersey the next day, a little birthday gift to myself.  These are impossible to find!!!  Luckily enough, Thursday night, around 8:30 p.m. I found a small shop in downtown Reykjavik that had some available and in my size.  After trying a few sizes on for comparison (knowing European and North American sizing is quite different) I was able to proudly make my purchase.  The nice blond girl working the store commented on my North American accent and my purchase.  I told her I just could not leave Iceland without this purchase, especially for my birthday.  She laughed and thought it was cute.  She even threw in a free Iceland string bag as a gift, saying it was just her way of showing Iceland saying "Happy Birthday" to me.  Did everyone receive this free item?  Maybe.  I have no idea.  But still, the way she sold it made it feel more special.

In my first trip to Europe, watching my first European football match in a European environment, I could not have asked for a better experience.  Sure it wasn't the result I would have wanted.  Sure it wasn't some crazy celebration scene like a World Cup or Euro match would be.  But it was still memorable and enjoyable.  How often can you sit in the back of a small pub in downtown Reykjavik watching the home country battle a heavily favored nation and just soak it all in?  This experience was by far one of the many highlights of my trip!  Not too bad of a beer on special and enjoyed the thin crust pizza as well :)

Strákarnir okkar!!!