I know almost nothing about soccer, but while in Reykjavik last week I attended my first soccer game, Iceland against England in Euro 2016. I showed up at the hillside gathering at the civic big-screen TV because the game — it’s more than a mere game, I suppose — was the talk of the town. I’m told by my friend the sports journalist* that five percent of the country of Iceland was on this hill in Reykjavik to watch Iceland defeat England in the doubly historic event, first for Iceland’s playing at all, and second for the ass-kickery that the English team suffered.
One of the very few things I do know about soccer is that fans are rowdy, even more than hockey fans, so I assumed that pandemonium would break out even before the game was over (they last 90 minutes I had learned), when it seemed the final score of 2 to 1 would hold (and soccer fans need not gear up to cheer foro double-digit scores). But in fact, the crowd politely waited for the clock to run out, cheered loudly in place, managed some gentle hugs, then walked home quietly. I had to wonder, “What would England have done?”
*I don’t really have any such friends, but on the bus to Keflavik airport the next day, I had a burning question about the match and asked the guy across the aisle from me. He happened to be an English sports journalist, one Andrew Butler of the Sun, in country to cover Iceland-England, ever so nice but still in a little shock. He had thought he’d have an easy night, posting a couple of sweet paragraphs about how Iceland had nobly lost to dominant empire England as ordained, drinking a few beers, and retiring after a ho-hum assignment. Instead, he had filed a several stories of the “war delared” nature, about the unimaginable loss and the fallout.