Like millions of Americans I celebrated this past weekend with a moment of national pride. Sports were involved, as is often the case with such celebration, and I found myself in a room with hundreds of others on Sunday evening, rooting for the Red, White and Blue. But mine was far from a typical American Independence Day celebration.
I was in Höfn, Iceland at the local library which had converted to a sports pub to watch the locals take on France in the quarter finals of UEFA 2016. Oh, and Iceland is full of French tourists right now, possibly more than the massive contingent of Icelanders who were in France to watch the game live. The outcome is well known at this point: Iceland fell 5-2 to the host nation. But sitting in that room and watching the match was a special moment in many ways.
I’ve attended sporting events in many cities and countries through the course of my travels. I cannot think of a better way to immerse in the local life and get a feel for how a society can come together in support of a common goal when it wants to. Yes, it is just sports. But for a couple of hours at a time whole communities, or in this case a whole country, can come together with a common focus, a tie that binds. Yeah, there was an election the other day and a new leader was chosen. But that was a small blip compared to the love shown for the football team, even as they ended their magical, Cinderella run in the UEFA tournament. The first six pages of the paper the following morning were dedicated to the team, thanking it for the joy it brought to the country the past few weeks. And when I say that everyone cared more about the game than other parts of life I really mean EVERYONE.
Shops closed early so that employees could watch. Those that stayed open were obviously preoccupied. Out waitress at dinner apologized in advance for the subpar service, noting that they had the pre-game warm ups streaming on a computer in the kitchen so things weren’t running as normal. And that was still an hour before the match actually started.
Alas, the match did not play out as the Icelanders hoped. The French in the crowd were obviously happy, though mostly kept quiet, respecting the hospitality of their hosts. And the team was still welcomed home as heroes after the game.
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