Published February 5, 2010
It was that time again, the time of a big handball feast. Whatever it’s called — European Championship, World Cup, Olympics — ever since the Iceland’s national handball team brought the silver medal back from Beijing in 2008, everyone gets extra excited for the tournaments. This is what brings me to Bjarni Fel one rainy afternoon in January. I am here to watch Iceland compete against Croatia.
I try to behave like an Icelander, so I show up late, just after the game has started. I certainly wasn’t worried about getting a seat. Who’d be there anyway, sitting at a bar in the middle of a working day? Lazy students and freelance artists, maybe? Perhaps a rabid handball enthusiasts or two that had taken the day off.
I was wrong.
The place is packed with folks who don’t look anything like students or freelance artists. I end up watching the match on my feet.
Bearing in mind that it’s only 3 PM, one would thus assume that folks would just quietly watch the game over a beer and then go back to work. Again, I am wrong. The place is going crazy; everyone is cheering, clapping for every single score, every saved goal and for every good move in general; moaning loudly each time the Croatians score and maliciously laughing at every mistake they make.
Iceland leads the game from early on, so the air is filled with excitement and joy. The noise level rises steadily and the beer flows — everyone is happy. But then, just before the end, Croatia takes the lead, all of a sudden the joy gives way to some darker emotions: Fear, anger and despair.
The score stands at 26:26 during the last seconds of the game. The tension is damn-near unbearable. Croatia attacks! One false move and the dream of the big final might be over. At that moment, the relieving whistle indicates that the game is over. It’s a draw, and for some reason everyone is really happy about it. Personally, I’m exhausted, these quick ups and downs and adrenaline kicks in the middle of the day confuse my energy level completely. I decide to return tomorrow to see how a confrontation with Russians will affect these crazy folks.
Bjarni Fel is equally crowded the day after. There are the usual Icelanders and I even spot a few Russians, who seem to prefer hiding though. The cheers are still on the Icelandic side and every goal receives a vigorous applause, but where’s the tension in the air? Where are the desperate groans whenever Russia scores?
People seem more relaxed. It’s understandable, really, since the match is hardly as exciting as the last one, with Iceland leading 10:3 after 15 minutes. On the big screen, the Russian team proceeds to give up the ghost way too early in the game. Towards the end, Iceland is ten goals ahead of Russia, and the audience in Bjarni Fel seems almost indifferent.
I’m still surprised by people’s persistence. Even though watching the game now seems like a formality, no one leaves the bar due to boredom. It’s as if they’re scared of leaving “the boys” (as the team is affectionately referred to) alone with those wicked Russians. Asking around what people are doing in a sports bar in the middle of a working day, I get uncertain answers. “I think it’s the biggest sport in Iceland…” Someone tells me it gives him a positive feeling.
Maybe that’s just what these people need in times of kreppa and endless Icesave discussion — some positive feelings.