Icelandic fans are like an Ireland tribute act, only better

The sooner we come to terms with the reality that we are no longer the small European island everyone is talking about the better

Iceland simply became an Ireland tribute act, and because tribute acts have the advantage of being cheaper and less high maintenance than the Prima Donnas they are copying, they’re riding this for all it’s worth. Iceland are even better than the real thing. EPA/ROBERT GHEMENT EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Iceland simply became an Ireland tribute act, and because tribute acts have the advantage of being cheaper and less high maintenance than the Prima Donnas they are copying, they’re riding this for all it’s worth. Iceland are even better than the real thing. EPA/ROBERT GHEMENT EDITORIAL USE ONLY

 

This week a small windswept island on the edge of the Atlantic battled to a valiant draw at Euro 2016 against a team containing one of the best footballers in the world. Unfairly represented as a country with freezing cold weather, weird inedible food and ruinously expensive prices where people drink near lethal amounts of alcohol, here was proof that not only could a small country produce internationally famous musical acts but could also hold its own in major football tournaments. We deserved our draw against Sweden.

But then those parvenu opportunists of Iceland stole our story on Tuesday night. Because we never copyrighted it, they plagiarised it – word for word, paragraph for paragraph. Look at them now in Reykjavik running around with “You’ll Never Beat The Icelanders” T-shirts.

Sweet talking

We fought long and hard for our distinguished status – the small island that set the sporting world alight with its bravado.

Was it for this that international media outlets are now sweet talking them the way they used to sweet talk us with their reporters tucking into some unpronounceable fish the way they used to tuck into pints of Guinness and hilariously concluding their pieces with “maybe this is the secret of their success!”

But you can’t con a con. We look at those figures being unveiled this week – “Iceland only has a population of 323,000 but 322,000 of them have travelled to France to support the team” and “if you’re an Icelandic male aged between 20 and 40 you have a 99 per cent chance of being in the starting 11” – and think we’re far better at making up complete lies about ourselves than any other country in the world and could do better than that.

They’re cunning those Icelanders; desperate for a narrative to get some media attention, they looked to us and saw a story that had travelled far and wide much to its creators’ benefit.

Iceland simply became an Ireland tribute act, and because tribute acts have the advantage of being cheaper and less high maintenance than the prima donnas they are copying, they’re riding this for all it’s worth. Iceland are even better than the real thing.

Travel to Iceland and you quickly realise they drink just as much as us – only quicker – and, like us, they lost the run of themselves a few years back and had to put in a hungover phone call to the International Monetary Fund for a bit of a dig out. You also notice they are a very happy people despite the fact most of their country makes Leitrim look like Las Vegas. The similarities are everywhere: the airport bus takes a detour so Anneta with the hip replacement can be dropped direct to her door after having to put up with a week in London trying to talk some sense into her wayward daughter.

A request at the hotel reception for a good place in Reykjavik to get a drink elicits the bored reply of “anywhere that’s still open”.

Inconveniently, their taxi drivers don’t complain loudly about immigrants for the whole trip; they complain about coastal erosion for the whole trip.

Woollen jumpers

The cheap dental work and the ill-fitting woollen jumpers that have seen better decades immediately make you feel at home. As do the people falling off their chairs at the end of the night.

Like us they get a great laugh altogether out of electing “colourful” characters to political office despite the fact that “colourful” translates as “clinically insane” in every other country that isn’t Iceland or Ireland.

They also like annoying loud and vulgar American tourists by giving them the local equivalent of “you should really go to Harcourt Street on Saturday night, it’s really classy and upmarket”.

We both know what it’s like to be repeatedly patronised by citizens of bigger countries, and we both lure in unsuspecting tourists by keeping a straight face while saying that we have become a “trendy and happening” place.

We both have days given over to getting very drunk on the basis of some spurious historical connection – theirs is the admirably plain-speaking “Beer Day”, ours used to be called “Arthur’s Day”. And we can both do a good line in victimhood.

We’re both playing on Saturday, and the sooner Ireland comes to terms with the reality that we are no longer the small European island everyone is talking about the better. It’s just that we were beaten by a country that stole our manifesto. But this day was always going to come: someone younger and prettier with a better against-the-odds story was always going to replace us.

Iceland is just Ireland with more Omega-3.

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