As well as providing the fairy tale of UEFA EURO 2016, Iceland also served up the tournament’s most memorable soundtrack.
Dubbed the ‘Iceland Clap’, ‘Thunderclap’ or, most commonly, ‘Viking Clap’, it was – as anyone who watched their matches will recall - a noisy and visually spectacular display of synchronicity. Like the performances of their team, the Icelandic fans’ display owed much to unity and gathering momentum, with pauses – long at first, then steadily shortening – separating claps and chants of ‘Huh!’
With Iceland making their EURO debut, having become the smallest nation ever to participate in a major tournament, some assumed that this chant was a long-held tradition finally being showcased to the wider world. Nothing, though, could have been further from the truth, as veteran defender Kari Arnason explained.
“It was completely new – the EURO was the first time any of us had seen it. I’d never even heard of it before,” he told FIFA.com. “It was brilliant though! Whoever started it definitely deserves a pat on the back. It looked and sounded fantastic, and it became something you looked forward to experiencing. Obviously, we would go down to the fans and join in afterwards, especially if we’d won, and those were special, special moments.”
Given that, for Iceland at least, the chant only burst suddenly and spectacularly into life in France, the question inevitably arises: where did it come from? Was the Viking Clap really a nod to the role of those legendary explorers in the country’s history? Again, apparently not.
“It’s not actually Viking,” Kristinn Hallur Jonsson, treasurer of the Tolfan supporters’ group, told The Telegraph. “It was taken from fans in Scotland and is more connected to the Spartans in the film ‘300’ than to the Vikings.”
Fans of Scottish club Motherwell, it transpired, had sown the seed during a UEFA Europa League match against Iceland’s Stjarnan in 2014, while ‘300’ was responsible for the synchronized shouts of ‘Huh!’ Yet regardless of its history, the display made for some awesome sights and sounds. It could be seen as rousing or intimidating, depending on your perspective, with one Portuguese journalist writing: "Don't cross Iceland - their Viking chant is terrifying."
Above all, though, it was a show of unity, and there was added poignancy to the Viking Clap that echoed through the Stade de France on 3 July. On that occasion, with their team having been resoundingly beaten 5-2 by the hosts, there was palpable emotion as the fans marked the end of a memorable adventure by lauding their giant-killing heroes one last time. Those players, though exhausted and crestfallen, were soon joining in, while the French fans made loud and clear their admiration for this stirring display of loyalty.
Further recognition recently followed, of course, when Iceland’s supporters - much to the delight of Arnason - were nominated for the inaugural FIFA Fan Award. “I was really pleased to see that,” he said. “The fans deserve it because they were superb during the EURO – they gave us an extra lift.”
Much was made of the scale of Iceland’s support for their national team in France, with close to ten per cent of the country’s modest 323,000 population estimated to have travelled for that quarter-final against the EURO hosts. There remained, though, a genuine and very personal connection between fans and players, even as the numbers swelled.
As Arnason explained: “I would look up into the stands and know that most of my family and childhood friends – maybe 90 per cent – were there. That was special. You’d look into a section of the crowd and, guaranteed, you would know, or at least, recognise someone.
“My mates, who were there as supporters, all said it was the best summer of their lives. Although it’s certainly something the players will always remember and tell our grandkids about, I think, having spoken to my mates, that the fans probably had more fun than we did! It was a great experience for everyone, and I definitely think Iceland – both through our players and our fans - made a great impression on the whole world.”
Voted for by FIFA.com users, you can make your choice for who you want to win the FIFA Fan Award, with the winner to be announced at the The Best FIFA Football Awards™ ceremony on 9 January in Zurich.