Icelanders are afraid of two things at some stage of their lives. First, it’s Grýla—the baby-eating mother of the Yule Lads, and owner the Christmas Cat (some weird-ass combination of a giant cat and a wolf), which will also eat you if you don’t wear your finest clothes at Christmas. Þrándur þórarinsson captured the true essence of Grýla in a horrific painting that went viral some years ago and still gives me nightmares.
The other thing that we’re really afraid of is the “fifteen minutes of horror”—not to be mixed with the game “seven minutes in heaven,” where teenagers of the opposite sex go into a dark closet and do whatever it is teenagers do today. (Spoiler: they browse their phones until it’s over.)
When I was growing up, our national teams weren’t good at anything that involved balls. Although our handball teams were pretty decent, when it came to competing in smaller—dare I say, insignificant—tournaments, we were always fighting this weird curse.
During the “fifteen minutes of horror,” everything just goes sideways in the worst way possible. It didn’t really matter how well the team was doing in the game—we always waited for these dreadful fifteen minutes to come. It was like our beloved team became possessed by some kind of a sport version of Linda Blair.
This ghastly period would best be compared to a cheap ‘90s Disney movie, when everything goes wrong because of some snickering wizard and his crafty magic. But there was no trickery involved (I think!). We were just incompetent when it came to sport.
The only way to survive these terrible intervals was if the team had scored enough goals to have a secure lead before it happened. Even then, the other team would often gain a landslide of goals during these cursed minutes, and often there was no coming back.
When I noticed that our football team was doing better than usual at Euro 2016, I still waited for the fifteen minutes of horror. After years of experience, I’d grown to expect any optimism to be crushed. I thought to myself—sure, they’re good, but can they survive these fifteen minutes?
In the first game, it never came. A pleasant surprise. But was the curse broken? Did someone finally sacrifice a middle-aged football bully that refuses to act appropriately for his age (you know the type, it’s the guy that paints his beard in the flags colours) to break the spell?
I wasn’t really sure
It wasn’t until we beat England that I dared believe we had broken the curse. Sport-Linda Blair had been exorcised (and the spirit, from the looks of it, flew straight into the souls of the English football team).
My theory is simple. It was the team’s lion hearts—and perhaps having some incredibly talented players, and coaches and a solid game-plan—that vanquished the curse. Nothing can beat passion (except, perhaps, the other team’s incredibly talented players and coaches and solid game-plan). And the Icelandic team is always the winner, because they fight with their hearts.
The Icelandic nation have already won. We got to the World Cup. We made sporting history in Iceland, and we have nothing more to prove. Now we’ll just watch our stressed-out opponents trying to control their nerves when they meet our team on the battlefield. They’re right to be nervous. We will smite those puny creatures.
And just remember, if this goes really sideways for us, we still have fifteen minutes—but instead of horror, it’s our fifteen minutes of fame.