Football wasn’t always a big thing in Iceland, they didn’t even have indoor stadiums until 1965! A beautiful landscape, but not one hospitable for football, as the sun would forget to rise for three months a year and pitches were made of sand or flat areas of dried magma. Not exactly the grassy pitches used elsewhere.
It’s also the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup, with a population of under 400,000 people! For the men’s tournament, the choice goes down to men between 16 and 40, so there were less than 100 thousand people to choose from! Compare this with the next smallest to qualify, Trinidad and Tobago, who have a population of 1.35 million.
And perhaps those factors mean something, as six years ago, the men’s national team was ranked 131st in the world. Or perhaps it only indicates the Icelandic drive, as they have managed to pull themselves all the way up the ranking to hit 19th in 2017. The women’s team ranked 15th in 2015 and 2016.
It’s important to note that women’s football is just as popular as the men’s, and each club has a women’s team as well. Celebrities and the president went to the Netherlands in 2017 to support them, and many fans also went to the airport to wish them luck. Because football in Iceland is a very grassroots scheme, both girls and boys are inspired equally, and clubs treat the two the same during training.
In 1912, the Icelandic football league, Úrvalsdeild Karla or “The Pepsi Max League”, was created, and so then several clubs begin to form. This Premier League runs during the summer, from May to September.
The sport as a whole is overseen by the Football Association of Iceland Knattspyrnusamband Íslands, KSÍ, which was established in 1947. KSÍ also look after both the national teams and they have been doing a fabulous job over the past few years.
One of the biggest highlights in Icelandic football was the Euro 2016 in France, where they played against England and won 2-1, and felt like a turning point for the country. Football enthusiasm has continued to shoot up from that point, with hundreds of Football Houses (indoor pitches) being constructed and turning football into a year-long and enthusiastic affair.
Here, as well, their lower population seems to be an advantage, with a professional coach per every 550 people (rather than the 11,000 of the UK) and 1 for every 35 people registered in clubs. It’s also shown with the unusual threat of everyone in the country knowing who you are if you don’t try to work as a team. When you claim that you know 50% of the stadium personally, that threat becomes a bit more profound.
The culture of football is now also starting at a very young age, with those Football Houses being leased out to the clubs in exchange for the coaching of the children after school. Many of the coaches are also teachers who have taken on the work as a second job, so there are further connections with the local schools.
If you want to come to Iceland to watch a match or play some yourself, there is a wealth of choice for you. It’s also highly recommended, as their values of passion and commitment over the more money-focused clubs elsewhere provide relief and inject pure enthusiasm back into the sport.