A week after England and Russia supporters clashed and while flare-throwing and fighting have marred games elsewhere, fans of tiny Iceland say they prefer hugs to hooliganism at Euro 2016.
Having the time of their lives, Icelanders said in Marseille they have come to their first ever European Championships to have fun and feel part of Europe.
“I’m not sure life can get any better, it’s historic, great to be here,” said Louise Ragnarsdottir on the seafront of the southern city.
“All my life I watched the tournaments on TV, now we are part of Europe’s party!” said the 28-year-old accountant from Reykjavik.
Some 27,000 Iceland fans have travelled to France, almost 10 percent of the Nordic island’s 330,000-strong population.
No smaller country has ever featured at a Euro finals.
“We live on a faraway island, just to go abroad at all is an experience,” said Ragnarsdottir.
After the Group F tie with Hungary on Saturday pockets of Iceland fans gathered in Marseille’s Vieux Port district to chant “Boom-Boom-Hoooo!”, leaping in unison on the “Hoooo!”.
“It’s our Viking song, synchronised and terrifying,” laughed Arni Gardar, an IT consultant from Reykjavik.
“But we don’t mean to be scary, we are good Vikings not marauders, actually very nice, we come in peace,” he said.
“Iceland is N-Iceland!” cried another fan, Jonina Unnur Gunnarsdottir.
‘Best fans yet’
“They are the best fans we have seen yet,” said Karim, a cafe owner watching the revelry on the Quai des Belges.”It was different last week,” he recalled.
Nearly a week ago England and Russia fans conducted pitched battles in the worst violence at a football tournament since the 1998 World Cup, prompting police to respond with tear gas and baton charges.
For fans of the Nordic minnows the Euro 2016 violence has been an eye-opening experience.
“We are a peaceful nation, we have no army, no guns, we’re just not into fighting,” said Atli Gudmundsson. “At home families go to football, no-one dreams of ever causing trouble.”
The 29-year-old attended the Croatia-Czech Republic tie in Saint Etienne on Friday where Croatian fans fought among themselves and lit flares, forcing a temporary stoppage in play.
“Torches on the pitch, fighting in the stands, that kind of thing is new to us, it was quite shocking to see,” he said.
‘Share the love’
“We just want to hug people, I mean come on, just share the love,” said his friend Daniel Ma’sson. Hungary brought some 20,000 fans to the game in Marseille. Some scuffled with security guards before the game and threw flares on the pitch.
“All the tension was on the other side of the pitch,” said Elisabet Thorisdottir.
“The Hungarians were a little bit aggressive, but very passionate. We had no problem with them or anyone else.”
Around 10,000 Iceland fans were also in the Stade Velodrome and the two sets of fans produced a raucous atmosphere, the Scandinavians holding their own with renditions of “Boom-Boom-Hoooo”.
And leading 1-0 with two minutes to go Iceland were on the brink of a fairytale win to follow the 1-1 draw against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on their European Championships debut.
Then two minutes from the end an own goal by Birkir Savarsson crushed their dreams.
“The Portugal 1-1 draw was like a win, but the Hungary 1-1 felt like a defeat,” said Iceland fan Bjarni Mak Johanntsson.
But for a country that just four years ago was ranked 131st in the world their fans will enjoy the rest of Euro 2016 no matter whatever happens in the final group game against Austria in the Stade de France on Wednesday.
“We’re the small guys, always overlooked,” said Hdortur Bjarnason. “It’s just good to be noticed for once. Europe, we will be back!” he said, punching the air.
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