Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Nordic football stayed low and humble, and Iceland – on the very bottom of it. One more country with adds on the football shirts, small league of 10 clubs, spring-autumn season, making the best of the short summer, both clubs and national team – a punching bag for everybody else. But something was happening on the volcanic island: players making their way to the continent and joining professional clubs. Icelanders played abroad before, but now the numbers increased and more importantly – they were going to stronger clubs. Which means the Icelandic football was getting better, at least in producing players. Small change, hardly affecting the low standing of nation's game in Europe. Anyhow, regular season was competitive enough by local standards. The last two in the league were relegated of course after miserable year – just for the record, those were KR (Reykjavik) and Tor (Akureyri). Both clubs knew better days, but... small league, small clubs, frequent changes of fortune. It was their bad luck. On top things were brighter and somewhat familiar – Iceland did not have dominant 'big' clubs, yet, there were a few performing steadily and successfully through the years. One point divided 1st and 2nd placed, a competitive season without clear-cut favourite. Valur (Reykjiavik) scored the most goals, but they ended a point short of the title. That is, unable to keep the title for a consecutive second year. IA (Akranes) bested them.

A young club even by Icelandic measuring stick, Íþróttabandalag Akraness is founded in 1946. In mere 30 years of existence they elbowed their way on top nicely – in 1977 they won their 10th title! Few clubs in the world had so many titles back then and even fewer in so short time. Internationally, the club was not impressive at all, except for challenging non-Icelandic tongues. Mysterious second 's' exists in the name of the club, but not in the name of city – the problem of the name was solved by using just IA Akranes, or simply Akranes. Since the club never lasted more then 2 matches in the European tournaments, the difficult name was not really difficult.

Of course, the team had national team players, whose names meant nothing outside Iceland, but: before the season started Teitur Thordarson moved to Jonkoping (Sweden), and from there to other foreign clubs. Today his name is fairly well known – Thordarson became a good coach, most recently at the helm of Vancouver Whitecaps (Canada), 2008-2011. He was not part of the champion team, but his example was followed on significantly bigger scale – Petur Petursson joined Feyenoord (Rotterdam) in 1978. Icelandic players were getting noticed abroad.

The Cup final was Reykjavik derby, not so difficult to happen, since almost half the First Division consisted of clubs from the capital. Old enemies, so to say, met at the final – Fram and Valur. Fram was unable to remedy a sour season (they finished 8th in the league, escaping relegation) – Valur won 2-1.

One of the consistently strong Icelandic clubs, Valur were also among the most successful. Champions in 1876, second in 1977, and ending the year brightly by winning the Cup. Their forth so far, freshly added to 15 titles. Akranes was still biting the dust in terms of all-time records, but Valur was much older club too – they were founded in 1911, initially formed as part of the local YMCA. They are the most prolific Icelandic club not only in football, but in football alone – very successful.
Like IA Akranes, Valur's squad had national team regulars, entirely unimpressive to foreigners. However, individual players were becoming interesting to foreign clubs – Atli Edvaldsson, who scored one of the goals at the Cup final, was recruited by Borussia (Dortmund) in 1980.

The Icelandic football revolution had begun: it never produced strong clubs or national squad, or even big international stars – it made sturdy, reliable, competent players and during the 1980s European clubs imported plenty of Icelandic players.