Euro 2016: Entire island chilling out

Iceland's amazing run to the q-finals makes every citizen a fan, with packages and air tickets to France snapped up

On Thursday morning, Thor Baering Olafsson had no problems flashing his pearly whites at a dental appointment.

Three days prior, he was one of the estimated 3,500 Icelanders who watched his country's greatest football triumph in Nice.

Debutants Iceland stunned England 2-1 in the Euro 2016 round-of- 16 game and the win was the best anaesthetic against the sickle probe.

It helped that the dentist was garbed in an Iceland jersey.

Even the President-elect Gudni Johannesson was in the blue kit at the Stade de Nice, a day after the elections. "I see flags everywhere. Everybody is dressed in Iceland jerseys," said Olafsson of the streets of Hafnarfjordur, a town 10km south of the capital Reykjavik.

 

If they are not at the stadiums or public screenings, they are watching their team on television. When Iceland's final group game against Austria kicked off at 4pm local time last Thursday, shops were closed so employees could watch the match.

The country, with a population of 330,000, comes to a standstill when Iceland take to the pitch. Some 99.8 per cent of Iceland's television viewers reportedly watched the win over Roy Hodgson's men.

"On Sunday, it will be 100 per cent. That 0.2 per cent will be watching as well," predicted Thora Bjarnadottir ahead of the quarter-final against France.

She will be hoping to be at the Stade de France for that encounter even though she returned home after watching the group games against Portugal and Hungary.

With commercial plane tickets to Paris snapped up in a matter of minutes, the account manager with travel agency Eskimos Iceland managed to secure a seat on a chartered plane. Eight of her 10 family members, who travelled with her last month, have also signed up for round two. She estimated that 10,000 Icelanders will be in the French capital.

Gaman Travel, which Olafsson owns, sold out all 300 of its packages to France for the weekend within 10 minutes. Each package costs €1,100 (S$1,650) for flight and accommodation. The demand was so high that his website crashed.

Some fans like Bjarnadottir made the trip without securing match tickets. But the 32-year-old was determined to see the national team in action for only her third time.

"I wasn't a big football fan but I am now," she confessed. "Everyone has suddenly gained a huge interest in football. Even my mother, who never watches football, is screaming in front of the TV."

One man who will definitely be in the stadium tomorrow morning (Singapore time) is Johann Bianco, 35. The lead drummer for supporters' group Tolfan - or 12th man - will be setting the rhythm of their cheers, including the Viking chant.

"The chant is intended to give our boys the fighting spirit, let everyone know that Iceland have arrived," he said. "If it puts some fear into opponents, even better."

With such a small population, it is said that almost every Icelander will know at least one of the 23 national players on Euro 2016 duty.

Olafsson, 42, knows captain Aron Gunnarsson and Eidur Gudjohnsen, the former Chelsea star.

"After the England game, they stayed with the fans to celebrate for 45 minutes," Olafsson said.

"We would take photos with the captain after the game. You don't get that with other teams. That's why people in Iceland love them."

Victory or defeat, Iceland have already won over a nation. And many new fans the world over.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'Entire island chilling out'. Print Edition | Subscribe