How Iceland thunderclapped their way into the hearts of football fans at the World Cup


Some fans are part of the package. You wouldn't quite go to watch Iceland just to get a look at their supporters, but they certainly make things good fun. The unflagging support, the noise - boy, the noise - the drums, and of course the thunderclap.

The Icelandic trademark has become a song that other people cover but only sounds right when they do it. A bit like 'Born To Run'. Lots of other sets of fans have appropriated it, but with anyone else it feels forced, wrong, out of place: like a white guy with dreadlocks. Only they really can do it: accept no substitute.

Of course, even with them, it still feels like there's a performative aspect to it. Like they're expected to do it at some point: as soon as the first claps start, out come the phones, frantic Fifa wonks everywhere hopping up and down, worried that non-rights holders (that's you and me, kids) are capturing a moving image in their stadium.

They might be a bit more relaxed about it in the stands, but if you're in the press box you might as well drop your pants for the reaction you get if the smiling volunteers think you might be considering pressing 'video' on your phone.

There's an episode of sketch show 'Big Train’, in which Ralph McTell, who wrote 'Streets of London', plays to an audience delightedly singing along to his big tune. But when he's finished playing 'Streets of London' and tries a new one, the crowd turn on him, demanding 'Streets of London' again. With panicked eyes, he gives in. It can feel a bit like that with Iceland fans: yeah, that chant is fine, but do the one we know again. Shut up and play the hits.

All of which contributes slightly to the idea that Iceland remain something of a novelty act, the adorable cousins who have tried ever so hard and managed to party with the big boys, bless them. Which by now should be recognised as inaccurate and patronising. This is an accomplished team, an undulating unit that is a huge amount greater than the sum of its parts.

It's a remarkable achievement for them to even be at this World Cup, a nation with a population that could fit into London about 27 times over, competing - and actually competing, not just occupying the same patch of grass - with Leo Messi and Luka Modric. "We're very proud, by far the smallest nation to reach the World Cup," said Gylfi Sigurdsson after their defeat to Croatia. "It's bittersweet, because we were so close to reaching the last 16."

Iceland v Croatia: Group D - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

For a few minutes towards the end of the game, just after Sigurdsson had shown the mental fortitude to put his penalty miss against Nigeria out of his mind and leathered a spot-kick into the roof of the net, they had a chance.

There was a window of opportunity, when Nigeria had drawn level in the other game against Argentina. Here was their opening, one goal could swing it, put these upstarts into the knockout rounds of the World Cup.


What a thing that would have been. But alas the goal couldn't come, Iceland lost and will be heading home. After the game their players hung around on the pitch, either because they were too gutted to do anything else, too tired to do anything else or just wanted to soak in the last few seconds of their World Cup experience, before it was down the tunnel and back into the real world.

A decent chunk of their fans stayed behind, giving a rapturous reception to these heroes of their nation. And yes, they did a thunderclap. A couple of Iceland players half-heartedly joined in, knowing how close they came. We'll miss Iceland - until next time.

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