Iceland’s Real National Sport - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Iceland’s Real National Sport

Iceland’s Real National Sport

Published March 25, 2013

I thought I was good at Foosball. Then I moved to Iceland where I had my ass handed to me on a plate, several times a week. But not just on a plate, sometimes on platters, regularly on trays. Pretty much every food-serving apparatus currently being sold at Tiger, my ass has been on it, all over it (apologies if you’re reading this while serving dinner).
It happened in bars, pubs, clubs, house parties, almost at an aged care facility (but it turns out old Vaka’s wrists just ain’t as nimble as they used to be). It happened on afternoons, evenings, into the early hours of the morning… anytime, anywhere, ass on plate.
On losing I would tell myself that my opponent was just a particularly gifted player, that I’d picked the wrong dude to ‘foos’ with. But then the losses began to pile up, in progressively unceremonious fashion; in some cases with me barely making it on to the scoreboard and in other cases with me not making it on to the scoreboard. My ego was given a once over, then a twice over, and thereafter a ninth over, until a point came where he deserted my physical being in shame, escaping sheepishly out a back exit. With each defeat he cowered a little further and a lot more pathetically under the foosball table until, collapsing in on himself, he was a mostly liquid form that had melted into the stale beer encrusted carpet.
I grew bitter. I began to speculate as to whether the folks here were somehow at an advantage on home tables. They must be cheating, or have a secret. Maybe they’re using a magnetised ball that a miniature compatriot is guiding from underneath the table into the Icelandic goals time and again.
What would Icelanders know about foosball, right? Are they genetically predisposed to be better at foosball? Have they had some kind of extra wrist exercises as adolescents that I missed out on? Did the Vikings ‘foos’? Did adolescent Vikings have wrist exercises?
Then I grew into a bad sport, concluding these freaks have nothing better to do with their time, before realising that clearly, neither do I. The only difference being they’re at least half decent at it.
I tested out several different styles of gameplay. I played defensively, offensively, I played the slow ball game, I played the kamikaze game. I even played the risky and highly unconventional distract-your-opponent-with-a-suggestive-and-well-placed-upper-leg-stroke-under-the-table-game. To no avail (well, perhaps to some avail. Ahem), I even tried the even riskier and even less conventional spill-your-beer-in-your-opponent’s-crotch-decoy-game, which proved both unsuccessful and expensive.
The kind of characters who destroyed me varied. One dude who I met at a Muck gig had waist length hair, half moon eyes, and could have easily been mistaken for a younger version of the caretaker in Harry Potter. I swore this was my chance to show the stoners of Iceland what I was made of.
I lost game after game after game to Filch (not his real name). He enjoyed slaying my candy-ass so much he was practically begging me to stay and continue getting pummelled into the ground. He bought me not one but two beers, and offered me 200 ISK (that I’m ashamed to say I accepted) and missed most of his beloved Muck’s set just so I’d stick around. I felt cheap and dirty.
I lost another game to one of the lamest guys in Reykjavík. After schooling me on the table he came up to me and shook my hand before smugly asking, “Do you know who I am?” I didn’t. “No, should I?” was my response. He gave a forced laugh before replying, “The name’s Jökull.” I said, “Ok, hi Jökull.”
Cocking his head in a way none but Keanu Reeves ever should he said, “Do you know what Jökull means in English?” I wanted to say ‘dipshit?’ but I resisted the temptation, so instead said, “No, please do tell me.” He said “glacierrrr… Yep,” rolling his rrrrs for forever. I walked off in sheer awe of how fly he was.
The final nail was hammered into the coffin by two tall blonde girls who were so gracious in victory, their kind smiles after each score verged on pity. Goal after goal, they attributed their success to good fortune, liquid courage, even the weather I believe, until they asked sincerely whether I was aware which end I was shooting towards. This defeat I handled the worst of all. I was a silent, polite, teary mess, withering further with their every elegant wrist flick. I swore I even heard one of their friends say under their breath something along the lines of, ‘Does he know it’s called foosball, not loseball?’ I thought about replying, “Umm, actually yep, I do,” but feared sounding like a loser, playing loseball.
So, newly-arrived expats, weekend visitors, honorary friends of Iceland etc. I feel it my duty to ask you to please, be careful out there. Those hours you spent playing table tennis, billiards, Mario Kart, guitar, what-have-you, growing up. Well, see that friendly Icelander standing over there by the jukebox, the one with the bomber jacket, and standing next to the sneaky miniature version of himself holding a magnet. They probably spent their childhoods playing foosball. By all means have a game with them, you might win, doubtful. You might even enjoy it, even more doubtful. But for peats sake please don’t get your hopes up.
Oh and please tell that shivering drunk mess under the table that used to be my ego that I miss him and I’m lost without him.

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