Áfram Ísland! A Very Late and Not Totally Sports-Related Recap of Iceland’s First World Cup Qualifier Match

Photos of fans during the Iceland v. Norway World Cup Qualifier Game

A few Fridays ago–the day after we moved into our awesome apartment–Mark and I went to the Icelandic national soccer team’s first World Cup Qualifier match against Norway. This was pretty cool for a handful of reasons. For one, it was a professional soccer game (henceforth known, in Rest-of-the-world-ese, as ‘football’), and harkened the gathering of momentum toward World Cup 2014. I know that you might not believe me when I say that I love the World Cup, but guys, I love the World Cup.

I’ll take a moment to tangentially justify that last statement because I am pretty sure that you don’t believe that I (Larissa) am really invested at all in a major sporting event in which men (frequently wearing headbands) chase a ball across a field for an hour and a half straight. So why, you ask, is this at all of interest to me (and you)?

A) It’s a contained sporting event. By this I mean that much like the World Series, it only lasts for a short time and therefore I don’t have to maintain interest for too too long.

B) The World Cup is a sporting event which brings out the patriot in pretty much everyone in the world, and that’s actually not a bad thing. You get to see everyone’s flag! You hear all the amazing national anthems! People wear hilarious face paint and hats and t-shirts which at once mock and affirm the weird things you think you know about their cultures! (See here, here, here, here, and here.) Note: I’m not talking about all the hottttt girls wearing very little clothing while watching the World Cup–that is something else, and certainly part of the fun for some people, but less for me.

C) The World Cup doesn’t really have much to do with the U.S. I know this sounds anti-patriotic and I just said that the patriotism is a good thing, and I know that the U.S. is trying to bust into the worldwide soccer football scene, but honestly, it’s nice, I think, to be a spectator when you (me) really have nothing to lose (or win). It’s nice to be invested in another country’s glory to some extent. I imagine that this is what it is like to be a huge <insert whatever random team you want> fan if you are not from that place. You build a sort of emotional affiliation, one by choice rather than because of where you happen to be from. This is also, come to think of it, part of what makes Eurovision so enjoyable, but we’ll have to discuss that can of worms at a later time.

Which brings us to point…

D) Namely: I love the Dutch National Football Team. Like for serious, and I actually know things about it, although all of my favorite players are probably going to be retired by the next World Cup. But whatevs: go orange, and Hup, Holland! (It broke my heart the way you guys lost last time, for serious.) But obviously I live in Iceland now, so I (need to) totally love the Icelandic National Football Team, too. Áfram, Ísland!

This is not a conflict of interest: I can have two favorites. But one of those favorites is probably more likely to make it to a late round of the World Cup qualifiers. I won’t say which one.

Okay, but back on topic: this Iceland v. Norway World Cup Qualifier game we went to.

I’m not going to try and tell you a lot about what went on during gameplay because I would embarrass myself and would probably misremember major things, like who got what goal. End result was (yay!) that Iceland won (2-0) and the game was, as Mark put it, really rather ‘scrappy.’ But if you want extensive game coverage, you’ll have to convince Mark to recap.

What I can tell you about are the scene-setting details. The feel of a soccer football game at Iceland’s national stadium, Laugardalsvöllur. Here are some highlights:

1. For a national stadium built for professional teams to play in, Laugardalsvöllur is not very big (9,800 regular seats). So pretty much every seat, as far as I can tell, has a good vantage to the field.

2. The whole experience is really affordable. We took the bus there, but walked back, so that was about $7. Our seats were less than $30–maybe less than $20, we can’t totally remember–combined. We spent less than $10 on concessions for the both of us (see below). Compare that with professional sporting events in the U.S. A bottle of beer at a professional baseball game (in NY) usually costs between $10 and $12. (A little less if you’re at a minor league game, naturally.) I must have spent over $100 at a Red Bulls soccer game when I went once, if I count admission, the train there and back, the concessions…And I had a good time, of course. But you (I) can’t really make a habit of attending sporting events that set you back that much each time.

3. Concessions are limited (and adorable). You have the choice of coffee (which you serve yourself from a thermos on the counter) or bottled sodas to drink, and your food options are huge bags of pop corn (‘popp’)–with cheese or without–or pepperoni pizza. It bears noting that the pizza is all delivered by Domino’s before the game (we saw the delivery truck) and when you buy a slice, the person at the counter just opens up one of the semi-warm boxes sitting behind the counter and sells it to you. I’m not even sure they are making a profit on this, but there definitely aren’t any concessions being cooked on premise, which surprised me. And there’s no alcohol sold, which was another surprise. If there was an event at which I would have expected to find copious Icelandic pulsur (hot dogs) and lots of Viking beer, it would have been a football game, but this was simply not the case. The lack of alcohol makes for a somewhat more wholesome stadium experience, and certainly accounts, in great part, for the relative cheapness of the outing.

4. Icelandic fans seem to enjoy cheering on their squad–clap-accompanied chants of ‘Ísland!’ and ‘Áfram Ísland!’ (or, ‘Go, Iceland!’) were regular–but everyone seemed just as happy–and maybe happier–to express general displeasure, particularly when the Norwegian team was either feigning an injury or actually hurt. One Norwegian player took a dive and was immediately booed by the entire crowd. Another fell or was tripped and had to be carried off the field by the trainers. He was also immediately booed by the crowd. Later, to psych out the Norwegians during a penalty shot, everyone started whistling/shrieking– shrilly–like crazed banshees. Mark informs me that whistling as a signal of displeasure is a common thing for Europeans, but I’ve never encountered this. It was a little scary. And awesome.

5. The game is broadcast on the national TV channel, but there is no commentary or any real announcements in the stadium, save when player substitutions are made. There wasn’t much in the way of music or anything played over the loudspeaker, either, except a peppy-poppy and extremely enthusiastic song called ‘Áfram Ísland!’ which played about 30 times throughout the game. I looked everywhere on the interweb for this song and was not able to turn anything up, which is very sad for both me and you. Because it was amazing. Or at least it was amazing by the 30th time around, after it had battered me into submission.

Here, however, is a short list of the very divergent songs/videos I found sharing the title “Áfram, Ísland!”

  • Áfram Ísland!” — the title track from an album by the Icelandic punk band Morðingjarnir (The Murderers)
  • Áfram Ísland” — a song by Icelandic band Sigur Rós, from their album “Hlemmur” (which is, it bears noting, a large bus station downtown)
  • “Áfram Ísland!” — the title track of an album by the comedic band Baggalútur. The album review in The Reykjavík Grapevine is none too positive (“Baggalútur are too obsessed with being consistent and making sense, and have a tendency to make their jokes too long and noticeably lacking in punchlines…The music is cheap, unremarkable and competently played and sung, with bland and inoffensive production, and are primarily vehicles for the lyrics, which…”), but if you’re interested, there is a video on You Tube with various football ‘highlights.’
  • “Áfram Ísland” — a song by the children’s performers Skoppa og Skrítla. The video features much in the way of accordian music, wacky yellow costumes, and a multitude of little kids waving Icelandic flags.

Quite a range, but none quite right. I’ll keep looking so that Mark and I can pump ourselves up prior to the next home game.

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