Icelandic Footballers Playing in England
On a recent trip to Reykjavik I was told that the entire country has less inhabitants than the city of Sheffield. Given the mark the Icelandic nation has made on the world this seemed like an extra-ordinary claim. Back in the UK I repeated it to a friend who was less astounded at the numbers, and pooh-poohed the Icelandic contribution to the fields of sport and modern culture anyway.
Because I'm a pedant this, of course, became a challenge. I set out to document the Icelanders currently employed in English profesinal football (my pooh-poohing friend's field of expertise).
So here's some facts and figures (I say 'facts', they're form Wikipedia ;) to back up my claim:
Iceland, population 317,593
Compare this to the populations of...
- Scotland: 5,168,500
- Wales: 3,004,600
- Birmingham: 1,016,800
- Sheffield: 534,500
- Liverpool: 434,900
- Croydon: 341,800
- Wakefield: 322,300
- Coventry: 309,800
Icelanders currently employed by English professional football clubs
At the time of writing there are 14 Icelandic players plying their trade in the Engish league.
|Eiður Guðjohnsen||Tottenham Hotspur|
|Heiðar Helguson||QPR (on loan at Watford)|
|Hólmar Örn Eyjólfsson||West Ham, on loan at Roeselare|
|Brynjar Björn Gunnarsson||Reading|
|Emil Hallfreðsson||Barnsley (on loan from Reggina)|
|Aron Einar Gunnarsson||Coventry City|
|Gunnar Heiðar Þorvaldsson||On loan to Reading from Esbjerg fB)|
|Ármann Björnsson||Hartlepool United|
14 players! That's an entire team, plus 3 substitues! This seems like a disproportionate amount to me - can you imagine any team in the league having enough home-grown players to fill their starting XI? Maybe there are more than 14 professional football players that all hail from Croydon, maybe more from Sheffield or Newcastle - I'm willing to accept that. But you have to bear in mind that English cities benefit from the footballing infrastrucutre in place - places for kids to learn football, coaches to nurture their talent, scouts to spot and recruit them and so on. For me, it's a remarkable achievement for such a small country - maybe there's something in the water.
One wonders quite why the Iceland national side have yet to trouble major tournaments (you'd think that playing aty home would be a distinct advantage).
For the record, there's a few more Icelanders playing in Norway, Sweden and the German top divisions. Other notable Icelanders to play in the English leagues include:
- Gudni Bergsson (Spurs, Bolton)
- Bjarni Gudjonsson (Newcastle, Stoke, Coventty, Plymouth)
- Arnar Gunnlaugsson (Leicester, Stoke, Bolton)
- Bjarki Gunnlaugsson (Preston NE)
- Hannes Sigurðsson (Stoke City)
And, to round this post off in style, some top Icelandic fopotball trivia: when Eiður Guðjohnsen made his international debut in 1996 he came on as a substitute, replacing his father Arnór. This was the first (and so far only) time that father and son had taken part in an international fixture. Iceland beat Estonia 3-0. They would have played together were Eiður not have sustained a severe ankle injury shortly afterwards.
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