US fan: Why I’m rooting for Iceland in Euro 2016
Readers of Iceland Monitor have posted many, many messages of congratulations and support on our social media accounts since Iceland’s fine performance in the first ever Euro 2016 game on Tuesday.
But one of our favourite submissions comes from Willona Sloan, just across the water in the United States. Thank you, Willona, and all you Iceland supporters out there!
“When I was last in Reykjavik, the Iceland national football team beat the Netherlands. Fans were screaming, dancing on tables and banging drums in Ingólfstorg square. Everyone was going nuts. I loved the energy and the happiness and the pride. I thought to myself, “Man, Icelanders love them some soccer.” I didn’t know at the moment that the nation was on the brink of football history.
That was my second visit to Iceland. My first was trip was in 2014, when I finally realized a 20-year fantasy of visiting the island. What brought me to Iceland was the newly launched Iceland Writers Retreat. During this special event, I gained an appreciation of the Sagas, and visited the Gljúfrasteinn-Laxness museum, where I peered at the books tucked on the author’s shelves.
I met President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, and learned about Icelandic history from Presidential candidate Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who led us on an engaging and at times hilarious tour of the Golden Circle. I heard Sjón read from a couple of his books, and I developed a deep and lasting bond to the country. Before I even left, I knew I needed to come back.
In September 2015, I had been in Reykjavik just two days before the big Netherlands match. I came to teach writing workshops that used writing by U.S. writers of color to engage Icelanders in a conversation about literature and culture. My programs were hosted by Reykjavík Bókmenntaborg UNESCO and Bókmenntahátíð í Reykjavík.
For me, this was a beautiful and touching experience that allowed me to delve into conversations with people who are passionate about literature and curious about cultures other than their own. I learned a lot by teaching those workshops and I made quite a few new friends on that trip.
I was again in Ingólfstorg when Iceland’s berth to the UEFA Euro Cup was cemented by a draw with Kazakhstan. This time, I understood the excitement.
The next morning, I walked all the way from the 101 up to Jói útherji to get my brother a football scarf. As an avid follower of international football, he e-mailed me and requested I bring him back a scarf to commemorate the historic moment. He also had a little connection to the team as he once interviewed Eiður Guðjohnsen while he was in New York with Chelsea.
On Tuesday, even though I am far from my own home (Washington, DC), on vacation in a mountain retreat high up in the mountains of Utah, I rearranged my day so I could be in my room, with snacks ready, poised to watch Iceland’s Euro Cup debut. I logged on to Facebook to ‘like’ my friends’ photos and their cheers of ‘Áfram Ísland!’.
I don’t know if I have ever rooted against Cristiano Ronaldo, but there I was clapping, gasping, cheering and hoping Iceland could get that precious point. For those agonizing stoppage time minutes, I stood in front of my TV with hands clasped.
I am rooting for Iceland because I like a Cinderella story. I like watching the underdog win; I like dramatic sports moments. I am rooting for Iceland because I feel connected to Iceland. I’m rooting for Iceland because this team is classy. They play hard and they play fair. I am rooting for Iceland because as a long-time fan of the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, I know that every goal scored really does feel like a championship win.
I’m rooting for Iceland because they’re a good team. They just might take the world by surprise.”