I’m looking for an old football programme from Iceland. Where can I look?

timarit.is morgunblaðið

We admit we’re a little out of our depth with this one as the original question specifically referred to a 1967 match between Aberdeen and KR.

Although we have already outlined some tips for antique hunters looking for Icelandic used books, vintage coins, stamps, and so on, we thought this was also a good opportunity to point amateur researchers and historians to some useful resources.

Tímarit (timarit.is) is an excellent place to begin if you’re looking for anything historical in Iceland. It’s a digitised database of nearly every newspaper that’s been in print in Iceland for the last century, meaning that every day’s headlines reaching back to the turn of the century are available for browsing, free, anywhere in the world. Other periodicals are also available on Tímarit as well.

A quick search turned up the daily news coverage of the match in question, for example.

Another useful resource that’s more specialised, but still worth pointing out, is handrit.is.

At Handrit, you can access digitised versions of manuscripts found in several major manuscript collections, such as the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, and collections at the National Library of Iceland.

While generally a tool for scholarly research, it’s free to use for all. Amateur historians can, for example, peruse the recently rediscovered manuscripts found in the archives at Handrit, and also access the original sources for much of mediaeval Icelandic literature.

Rosé and 10K (at the Reykjavík Marathon)

reykjavík marathon

It was a season of debauchery. A season of cocktail-filled nights and subpar parenting.A season of good-natured rationalisation.“The good thing about drinking while raising two young boys,” I observed, “is that I have four hands. Sometimes six.”I was in Surrey when I made that observation. Surrey in English means Sorry – in reference to how insufferably […]

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Mud, Sweat, and Gears

motorsports iceland

The motorsport Formula Offroad began in Iceland in the 1960s. The history of the sport is traced to rescue teams, who in an effort to generate additional funding for their chapters, began showcasing their 4×4 trucks navigating challenging Icelandic terrain. And what started as a demonstration evolved into a competitive endeavour among teams, with custom-built […]

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On the Edge of Glory

Tindastóll Iceland basketball

By the start of Iceland’s latest basketball season, the northerners of Tindastóll, from Sauðárkrókur (pop. 2,612), had made it to the league finals on four occasions. Four times, they left without a trophy. No other team had made it so far, so often, without anything to show for it.

Tindastóll Iceland basketball

This year, the Fates seemed set on weaving a familiar narrative. Excitement brewed, and crescendoed, as the Championship trophy was driven to Sauðárkrókur, Tindastóll’s home turf, during game four of the finals, in anticipation of the team’s first title.

icelandic basketball
Tindastóll Iceland basketball
Tindastóll Iceland basketball
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Game five began ominously. It was Tindastóll’s final chance to take the title, but Valur dominated the first quarter, and by the closing minutes of the fourth, appeared to have the championship within its grasp: 77-72.

Tindastóll Iceland basketball
Tindastóll Iceland basketball

A minute is a long time in basketball.

Tindastóll Iceland basketball
Tindastóll Iceland basketball
Tindastóll Iceland basketball
Tindastóll Iceland basketball

In a scene ripped straight out of a sports film, during one of thosehalfunbelievable sequences of events, which occur so rarely so late inthe season – Tindastóll levelled the game with 15 seconds to go.

Tindastóll Iceland basketball

79-79.

Valur’s head coach, Finnur Freyr Stefánsson, called a timeout and drew up a play for Kári Jónsson. He drove past Tindastóll’s defence and netted a tough shot with five seconds left on the clock.
81-79. All hope seemed to have faded.

As the players huddled around, Pavel Ermolinskij – head coach ofTindastóll for all of four months, eight-time national champion, and a former player for Valur – took to the playbook.

Tindastóll Iceland basketball

When play resumed, Tindastóll’s Keyshawn Woods drew a foul on a three point attempt. With the weight of the entire season on his shoulders, he sank the first of three free throws. The next two bounced precariously around the rim – before ultimately sealing Tindastóll’svictory.
81-82.

Tindastóll Iceland basketball
Tindastóll Iceland basketball
Tindastóll Iceland basketball
Tindastóll Iceland basketball

From the Archive: The Ancient Art of Glíma

glíma wrestling iceland

From the archive: In this 1999 article from Iceland Review, Jón Ívarson delves into the history of Icelandic wrestling. Note that this archival content may not necessarily reflect the current editorial standards of Iceland Review.

The one truly Icelandic national sport is a type of wrestling known as glíma. After decades of neglect, glíma has been enjoying a major revival in popularity during recent years, especially among young people.

Wrestling has been practiced in Iceland ever since the country was settled, and there are early references to a form based on tricks performed with the legs and feet. The name “glíma” is first mentioned in the 12th century, and it is thought probable that the word means “the game of gladness.”

The most likely explanation of the origin of glíma seems to be that two types of wrestling, that of the “Eastmen” (Norwegians) which did not employ foot tricks, and that of the “Westmen” (Irish) which did, merged in Iceland to produce a new sport – glíma. Wrestling based on so-called “trouser-grips” was practiced for hundreds of years in Iceland and continued almost unchanged right up to this century. At the same time, however, other forms of wrestling were also in use: the so-called “loose-grips,” in which it was permitted to grip the opponent’s body more or less anywhere, and “back-spanning,” both of which often amounted to a mere trial of strength. It is worth noting that glíma-trained men would sometimes incorporate tricks from “back-spanning” if they could get away with them.

glíma wrestling iceland

More or less everything in Iceland was originally imported - our language, industry, occupations, sports - everything, that is, except glíma, which is wholly Icelandic. It seems quite miraculous that here in Iceland we should develop a form of wrestling which is based more on technique and artistry than on energy, weight and strength as is the case with most other types of wrestling in the world. Glíma is one of 112 recognised types of national wrestling throughout the world.

Glíma wrestlers keep a firm grasp on a harness which is fastened around each contestant’s waist and thighs. No other grips are permitted. Tricks are then applied with the feet, and the body is employed with bends, jerks and swings to upset the opponent’s balance and knock him to the ground, a fall marking the end of the contest.

A picturesque sport

Foreigners who watch glíma wrestling are without exception struck by its lightness, and many people find it a picturesque sport. Our neighbors, the Norwegians and Danes, once had their own traditional wrestling sports, but these disappeared long ago, and in Sweden, the only remnant survives on the island of Gotland. These countries greatly envy the Icelanders their glíma. The English, Scots, and Bretons, on the other hand, have their own national wrestling styles that are enthusiastically maintained.

Right up until this century, glíma was a form of wrestling in which the contestants took a grip on each other’s clothes using so-called “trouser-grips.” The trousers of glíma heroes had to suffer a great deal of wear and tear before people came up with the idea of gripping-straps, which subsequently developed into a special harness used in Iceland since the first decade of this century.

In glíma the contestants must stand upright. In all other forms of wrestling contestants bend over as far as they can, their stance resembling a 90° angle, but bending is banned in glíma where it is considered a major fault.

During the last few centuries, glíma was practiced in schools, at fishing camps, and as a recreation on festive occasions, such as wedding feasts. People also used to enjoy a match or two after church. The usual practice was for contestants to be divided into two groups for team-wrestling (lit. “farmers’ wrestling”), a form which was especially common in temporary fishing camps where two crews would compete to defend the honor of their boats.

iceland glima wrestling

Symbol of nationalism

Shortly after the turn of the century, there was a great upsurge of national feeling among Iceland’s young people. Although still ruled by Denmark, the nation was beginning to find its feet again and was no longer content with its lack of freedom. One sign of this was the formation of youth societies in every district. These were highly nationalist in their sympathies and came to see glíma as a symbol of national revival and the struggle for independence.

Glíma is characterised by treading or stepping. Contestants take a special sequence of steps between bouts which cause them to move in a circle, keeping constantly in motion. An airy, circular movement which resembles the steps of a dancer, stepping serves the purpose of maintaining the sport’s lightness and creating openings for attack and defence. Competent stepping is an essential feature of good glíma.

Glíma has probably never been practiced as widely as it was during this period. In 1907, a wrestling competition was held on Thingvellir, the Parliament Plains, which was without doubt the most famous sporting event ever held in Iceland. It was known as the King’s glíma of 1907, as in that year Iceland was visited by the King of Denmark for only the second time in history. Glíma was the natural choice as representing the best, most nationalist display the Icelanders could put on for such an important head of state. Johannes Josefsson, the great champion from Akureyri in the north of Iceland, swore an please clean up this text by fixing the spacing and spelling:  oath to uphold the honour of the Northerners by remaining undefeated in the King’s glíma on Thingvellir plains, or never hold up his head again. The Icelandic nation went wild at this bold claim and glíma champions from the south of Iceland began to train for all they were worth to take the swaggering Northerner down a peg or two. For months no one talked of anything in Iceland but who would triumph in the King’s glíma. No national games or sporting event today has attracted anything like as much attention. In the event, Josefsson came third, and the story of the competition is related in many books, not least in Josefsson’s own highly entertaining biography Johannes of Borg. Josefsson later went abroad and became a famous circus-performer in America. Using glíma as the basis for his self-defence method, he took on everyone from boxers to knife-fighters and was victorious every time. Josefsson came home in 1927, so rich as a result of his shows that he was able to build Hotel Borg in Reykjavik largely out of his own pocket.

Glíma becomes a competitive sport

During these years, glíma changed from being a popular pastime, practised in a haphazard fashion according to the occasion, into being a competitive sport with strict regulations and official tournaments. People stopped ripping each other’s trousers and began instead to use the glíma harness. In 1906 the first Icelandic glíma championship was held. This tournament celebrated its 90th anniversary last year and is thus the oldest sports competition in the country. The “Grettir” Belt (named after one of the most famous wrestlers and saga heroes of ancient times) is the most magnificent and historically renowned prize in Icelandic sporting history and the title of “glíma king” has a special ring to it. Two other historic glíma competitions are Skjaldarglíma Armanns, named in honour of Reykjavik’s greatest wrestling champion, which has been going since 1908, and Skjaldarglíma Skarphedins which has been held in the south of Iceland since 1910.

glima wrestling in iceland

During the Second World War years, glíma was abandoned in many districts as a large number of people moved away from the countryside. Many went to Reykjavik, however, where wrestling continued to be practised vigorously. The greatest glíma champion in the country at that time was Gudmundur Agustsson, who some consider the best wrestler of the century. Agustsson was a glamorous figure and fine wrestler and there is no doubt that the attendance at glíma matches increased greatly when he took part, the increase being largely accounted for by female admirers.

On the rise

The rules of glíma were amended in 1966 to make the sport lighter and nimbler and to reduce the abuses or fouls which had always tended to blight the game. As part of this process the wrestlers’ canvas shoes were replaced with leather ones and adjustments were made to their harnesses.

It is not permitted to commit a foul in glíma. The attacker must keep his balance once the trick has been executed and must not fall on top of his opponent on the ground, as this would be considered a foul. The concept of a foul hardly exists in foreign forms of wrestling. In the opinion of the Glíma Association, these three factors combine to make glíma a particularly attractive spectator sport and it is therefore vital that we continue to honour them.

During the last decade, the age of glíma contestants has been lowered and women have at last been permitted to enter the arena. Teenagers are now allowed to wrestle but must do so on mattresses to avoid injury, and this has given good results. The main problem facing glíma is that few practise the sport and there are barely enough trainers to go round. The Glíma Association has reacted to this state of affairs with an energetic campaign to introduce the sport to elementary schools all over the country. This has proved successful and glíma is now practised in places where it had not been seen for decades, and the number of contestants in wrestling competitions, particularly in the younger categories, has dramatically increased. For example, in 1983 there were only 9 contestants for the Icelandic glíma championship in all age and weight categories while, in contrast, at the last Championship in 1997 there were 120 participants. This has led to increased optimism that glíma is on the way to enjoying a new heyday at the end of the century, reminiscent of its popularity in the early days of the youth society movement.

New Coach Speaks Out on the Case of Gylfi Þór

Iceland football team

Åge Hareide, the newly appointed coach of the Icelandic men’s national football team, has commented on the situation involving Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson to Norwegian media. Notably, Åge’s contract with the Football Association of Iceland was barely finalized when it was announced that the charges against Gylfi Þór had been dropped.

Read more: Charges Dropped Against Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson

As IR has reported, Gylfi Þór had been accused of multiple offences against an underage individual. Now, the new National Men’s Football coach has spoken openly about the matter. The 69-year-old coach said that he is on his way to Iceland today, Monday, to meet with his staff at the Icelandic national team.

“He hasn’t played for a long time. He was possibly the best player Iceland has ever had. He ended up in a difficult position. I hope he puts on his shoes again. All teams can benefit from a player with his abilities,” said Åge when asked about Gylfi Þór.

Gylfi Þór has not played football since 2021, when he was arrested. With the case against him now dropped, he will be available for selection by the national team.

Read More: Åge Hareide New Head Coach of the Men’s National Football Team

Coach Hareide said he hoped the player would return to playing soon and that he had not decided on how to handle the situation around him. “I know very little about this matter. I need to look into it further before I say more,” replied Åge when asked if he would personally contact Gylfi Þór.

Vanda Sigurgeirsdóttir, the chairperson of the Football Association of Iceland, has stated that there is nothing stopping Gylfi Þór from being selected for the national team in the future, now that the charges have been dropped.

Bjartur, 19 Years Old, to Play Football in US on Scholarship

Bjartur Eldur Þórsson

19 year old Bjartur Eldur Þórsson is heading to the United States on a full sports scholarship. And according to a recent conversation with Vísir, he intends to go all the way to the NFL

Always having been into sports, Bjartur has played as a wide receiver for the past one and half years for the Einherjar, an American football team based out of Kópavogur.

Bjartur stated to Vísir: “I started in the summer of 2021, so you could say I’m still kind of new to it. I started out in the youth league for Einherjar and worked my way to get a position on the starting team. That summer I was also playing [association] football, but I just found [American] football to be much more exciting.”

Bjartur will be attending studies at the Kiski school, a preparatory school in Pennsylvania. His scholarship is for around 5 million ISK [$35,000; €33,000] a year.

According to Bjartur, he and his father have visited the United States to see football games, from the NFL, to college, and even high school games. “I saw that I could definitely be there, and I thought it was just awesome to get to go and visit,” he said.

Bjartur and his father also received some outside help. Brynjar Benediktsson, an Icelandic [association] football player and founder of Soccer and Education has helped prospective Icelanders find scholarships and positions in the US before, but this was his first foray into American football.

After completing his studies, Bjartur hopes to play football in college, and hopefully even the NFL. His dream team, he stated, was the Baltimore Ravens. “But of course,” he add, “I’m happy to play for anyone!”

For more on American football in Iceland, read our profile of the Einherjar, Iceland’s only American football team, here.

Sparsity Blues

“A brutal ballet of flesh and bone”

It’s Saturday night – and it’s feckin’ freezing. 

Seven below.

Even inside the Egilshöll stadium, my fingers feel like popsicles. Taking notes means pitting the will against whatever half-responsive nerve cells are relaying messages from my benumbed digits.

Inside the locker room, Sigurður Jefferson is screaming his testicles off. 

But not because of the cold.

“We’re the only fucking football team in Iceland!” he yells. “We’re fucking Vikings!” 

It’s not the most original of sentiments – but it gets his teammates going.

And they really need to get going.

It’s halftime, and the Einherjar – literally army of one, referring to the warriors in Norse mythology who met their death on the battlefield and then caught a Valkyrie-driven Uber to Valhalla – are 20 points down. 

34-14.

They’re losing to a ragtag bunch of Romanians called the Bucharest Rebels. 

Everything’s going goddamn terrible.

THE PATH

Let’s rewind…

The Rebels scored a touchdown during the first play of the game. Their quarterback – who had all kinds of time – spied a wide receiver sneaking up the right side of the field with limited coverage. 

Like a cell phone in the boonies.

After he ran into the end zone, the game announcer and his assistant – seated at a rickety table above the bleachers – scrambled to get the game clock going.

“There’s something wrong with this damn thing!” The announcer complained. He was wearing a Lamar Jackson jersey and comporting himself like an office worker caught in a scuffle with a dysfunctional printer. 

“Anybody know how to work it!?” he said, jabbering into the void.

Einherjar hadn’t played a game since last March – so of course they were rusty. That’s one of the things about being the only American football team in Iceland. Not a lot of on-the-job training.

When they gained possession (eight points down), the centre hiked two bad snaps to quarterback Bergþór Philip Pálsson; and each time, Bergþór – who goes by Beggi – pounced frantically on the skidding pigskin as if he were jumping on a pinless grenade. 

And then he imploded.

Despite the rust, the Einherjar don’t break easily. They’ve got spirit and moxie and subscribe to a kind of football mindfulness that involves fully inhabiting every passing parcel of time – without getting needlessly distracted by the calamities that seem to beset each moment.

“There’s only the next play!” someone yells philosophically from the sidelines.

They’re forced to kick it. Rebels’ ball.

The Romanians, who are the strongest team in their national league, progress swiftly upfield – but then one of the Einherjar safeties makes an interception.

When it comes to the Viking Gods of American Football, however, Óðinn is blind in both eyes.

Flag on the play.

“Offside. Defence. Five-yard penalty,” the head referee, a man named Jan Eric Jessen, announces to the crowd. He says something else, too, but it’s barely audible.

The announcer calls “first down,” and a man in his thirties, who’s been watching the game from the concrete walkway above the bleachers – a stone’s throw away from the dysfunctional clock – strolls over. 

“That can’t be right,” he observes.

“Jan said first down!” the announcer fires back.

“Yeah, I know, but I don’t think that’s right,” the man replies, in a voice full of meekness and understanding.

Below them, near the halfway line, a Rebel wide receiver catches a short pass and breaks through a series of abortive tackles.

The announcers begin complaining about the clock again.

Ref Jan Eric – noticing the slow progression of time – walks over to the announcers and suggests they find someone to help out with the clock.

As he walks away, the main announcer calls, “Jan, it’s not automatic first down when there’s an offside!” 

“Yeah, I know,” he replies. “I said third.”

“I dream of developing the sport here in Iceland; that we get the same respect as all the other sports clubs. It’s perhaps an unusual dream for an Icelander.”

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SOME BACKSTORY

The Einherjar football team was founded in the year of our unlordly economic meltdown. 

2008.

They played their first match in 2016 – but all of their games are friendlies. Not yet recognised by the National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland (ÍSÍ), the Einherjar must fend for themselves as far as their finances are concerned.

Ten days before the game, left tackle Úlfar Jónsson – who also coaches the youth team – stood on the sidelines of the Kórinn sports stadium in Kópavogur, waiting for the clock to strike 10:00 PM. 

If that seems like a pretty late hour for practice – it’s because it is.

“It’s cheaper to rent the last slot of the day,” Úlfar explains, “but we still need to shell out ISK 160,000 ($1,130) a month, which we manage to eke out through practice fees collected from the players. We’ve also got a handful of sponsors, Shake and Pizza at Egilshöll, for example.”

The application process for ÍSÍ has proved a real hassle. 

“It’s been one step forward and two steps back,” Úlfar notes. “Without making them sound like massive dicks: when we first contacted them, they said that the sport would need to be practised in all the six regions of Iceland – but that couldn’t be right. We pointed out that facilities for figure skating were only located in Akureyri and Reykjavík. They then suggested we begin by applying to UMSK [the Youth Association of Kjalarnesþing, for youth and athletic associations in the capital area], and that’s in the works. I get regular updates from our head referee.”

As he says this, a young, scrawny wide receiver walks up and unceremoniously slaps him on the rear end. There’s a spark of static electricity. 

“I’m getting electric shocks left and right!” The man, a bundle of peculiar energy, says – before bursting into laughter.

“I’ll have to speak to the head of human resources,” Úlfar replies with a wry smile. He’s a tall and solid man who has the demeanour of a Viking chieftain, despite his young age. He’s 21, studying sociology and working part-time. 

“This is the dream. Let’s see what happens,” he says solemnly.

“You dream of playing football abroad?” I inquire, not quite understanding.

“No, I dream of developing the sport here in Iceland; that we get the same respect as all the other sports clubs: [the handball team] HK, Stjarnan, etc; that we’re able to conduct regular seasons, similar to the high school seasons in America; that we can offer athletes the opportunity to play abroad – and bring players over here.”

Bergþór Philip Pálsson is 27 years old and began playing football at 13. A jack-of-all-trades to begin with, he took on the role of quarterback – the most prestigious of offices, one could argue – a few years back because “there was no one else.” He’s been a driving force for the sport of American football in Iceland.

He has an earnest look on his face.

“It’s perhaps an unusual dream for an Icelander,” he admits.

Úlfar lived in Belgium from the age of one up to the tenth grade. He played American football for two years during high school, mainly against American soldiers.

“There’s a real sense of NFL culture there. They’ve got two professional leagues. They travel to the Netherlands and Germany; don’t have to go far to find games. The NFL’s everywhere today,” he adds. “People are playing fantasy football and watching games on TV. Sometimes when I’m picking up equipment here, I hear the kids say, ‘Hey, is that NFL!?’” 

I ask him how long before we have two teams in Iceland.

“Depends on how much time we invest,” he replies. “We’re closer now with the under-18s – because they’re motivated. They have two teams that play nine-a-side games.”

When the buzzer goes off, Úlfar takes the field with his teammates as dozens of winded football players – English football, that is – stroll off the field. The Icelanders call it bumbubolti (pot-belly ball), referring to the kind of ball sports played in stadiums across the country by men well past their prime.

The Einherjar are a motley assortment of players, which is one of the charms of American football: there’s a position for all physiques; a heavyset man with long grey hair and a Viking beard, takes his position in front of Beggi. Úlfar, who has long arms and massive shoulders, is, as the Icelanders like to say – “no lamb to play with.”

“Alright, let’s complete every single ball now,” Beggi yells.

Watching the Einherjar practice is like observing some kind of armoured analogy for modern life: people trying to do way too many things in way too short a time; football practices, Úlfar later notes, usually last for two hours, given the complexity of the game. 

The Einherjar only have one. 

They scramble through the three phases of the game: offence, defence, and special teams – only that they’ve allotted the latter phase all of about five minutes. After the centre hikes two rotten snaps at quarterback Beggi, they call off special teams on account of the clock winding down.

I worry what this means for their upcoming game.

SIGURÐUR JEFFERSSON

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that Sigurður Jefferson is one of the most talented players in Iceland.

His foray into the sport began five years ago, when he was a sophomore at junior college – and when he barely knew what American football was. (Despite being half-American himself.) It wasn’t until a friend dragged him along to practise that he understood. 

He hasn’t stopped playing since.

Handball – which Sigurður’s played since he was nine (he plays professionally) – was his first love, but there’s just something about the NFL that engrosses him. It differs from all the other European sports because it requires a different mindset: a man must be willing to transform his faculty of vision so as to perpetually “see red” – nurturing a kind of homicidal attitude towards his opponents, the kind that has led to a series of gruesome injuries that have long plagued the sport. 

And then there’s all the hype and exaggeration, so often on display in American football stadiums, the kind that doesn’t appear to come naturally to the Icelanders, who very often bristle at American melodrama.

But that doesn’t necessarily hold for Sigurður Jefferson. He has some knack for showmanship.

A natural athlete who’s tried almost every sport he can think of, Sigurður Jefferson proves to be a real menace on the field; 14 points down, Sigurður returns a punt from deep inside the end zone and tears upfield like a soldier who’s just consumed a bowl brimming with stimulants. He weaves and jumps over Rebel defenders and makes it well beyond midfield. 

The crowd, composed of maybe 150 people, goes wild. 

Sigurður’s talents had been restricted to defence for the past two possessions but now transitions into the role of running back. He completes a 15-yard run on the first attempt – and looks very much like a man possessed.

After some good progress, Beggi throws an interception – but the Rebel defender drops it. Sigurður Jefferson tears through the defence again, securing “second and short” – prior to completing an easy touchdown. They kick for an additional point. 14-7. Game on. 

Or so it would seem.

THE GODDAMN REFS

Despite their moxie, the Einherjar gradually lose sight of the Rebels. 

They go 20 points down early in the second half and begin to grow frustrated. One of their defenders – a choleric man roughly the size of a horse-drawn carriage – appears to grab an offensive lineman by the back of his shirt so as to rather violently dispatch him to the pitch. 

One of the referees calls a penalty – and the man loses it. He walks off the field in a fit and begins to vent his frustration to his quarterback, who’s standing there on the sidelines.

“This is precisely why you need to find better refs, Beggi!” he yells. “I hate that ref!” Prior to storming off the field, he adds that the officials show “zero ambition.”

(In his defence, losing is hard. Also, his knee is killing him.)

Three weeks after the fact, I mentioned the incident to referee Jan Eric, who seemed to have little recollection of the event.

“I certainly had an opinion when the incident occurred” he explained, “but as soon as he’s off the field, I’m focusing on the next play. Generally speaking, our interactions with the players have been good; sure, we sometimes get into spats during the game, but after it’s all done and dusted, we usually engage in a productive conversation.”

Jan Eric, who sounds like a stoic father figure, capable of contextualising his kids’ occasional tantrums, observes that because the Einherjar play so few games, many of the players likely don’t have a good enough handle on the rules themselves.

He landed the role of head referee by a rather circuitous route; having taken an interest in the NFL about ten years ago, Jan Eric – who has some experience as a referee in Iceland, in that other kind of football – posted on the NFL Iceland Facebook page to inquire about the rules of the game.

Although he received no response, he did discover a private message in his inbox from Bergþór Philip Pálsson, asking whether he was interested in officiating a few games. Jan Eric said “sure,” and most of the work that he and his colleagues have done thus far has been pro bono. But the Einherjar have, as of late, insisted that they pay them something for their trouble.

They’re an honourable bunch. 

“Given the size of the remuneration,” I speculated, “I imagine that the players must be a little more understanding towards your efforts?”

“Yes – and they are. They remind each other all the time that we’re doing our best. I think the overall mood has been good; tempers flare from time to time, but that’s just part of the game. I’m not easily offended. But I do think that it’s important that the players exercise good sportsmanship because they’re role models for all the younger players.”

All talk of American football in the modern age must at some point broach the injuries that have marred the sport’s reputation. Jan Eric acknowledges the problem – while adding an important point. 

“The rules differ between the NFL and college ball. The rules for college football are much more strict, designed to keep the players safe. And we, like most of the other leagues around the world, follow the college rules. Take targeting, for example: if you target a player’s head or neck area during a tackle, when he’s defenceless – you’re sent straight to the showers. Head injuries are rarer in college ball; of course, the technology and the helmets will improve, but because the risk of injury is higher in American football compared to most other sports, we need to protect the players.”

MAN OF THE MATCH

The Einherjar wind up losing by a significant margin. But everyone seems to be in good cheer after the game. The Romanians line up on the sideline, in front of the audience, and take a bow. They receive a hearty ovation. 

Afterwards, the two teams line up on the halfway line for some pictures. The main announcer hands out a few awards. Sigurður Jefferson, despite being on the losing side, is chosen Man of the Match.

“How do you feel?” I ask.

“I mean, it’s pretty upsetting, in the immediate aftermath,” he admits. “It’s not what we had aimed for defensively. But, I mean, we’ve got a lot of younger players, and the Rebels have been playing league games every week.” 

Playing an average of one game each season is tough; it takes time to get into the zone. 

“It was hard after they scored like five touchdowns; it was all about surviving at that point. But I’m happy with our sense of fight. We kept going. Given our roster and our effort, I can’t complain. We’ve got another game early in 2023. Hopefully, now that the rust is gone, we can get things going again.” 

And no doubt they will.