Iceland: Inside the Tólfan
Árni Thor Gunnarsson is an Icelandic football fan from the neighbourhood of Breiðholt in Reykjavík. A supporter of Leiknir, Árni is a member of the famous Icelandic supporters group Tólfan, which supports the national teams in Iceland. Árni travelled to many football matches in Iceland over the course of 9 months with his Goal Click camera, documenting the fan culture that he holds dear to his heart.
Who is in the photos?
I took photos of people that I met along on the way of my football journey over 9 months. Most people in the photos are members of Tólfan, Icelandic football fans and players. Most photos were taken in Reykjavík but there are photos from Selfoss, Njarðvík and Grenivík also.
What did you try to show with the photos?
I wanted to naturally show the life of an Icelandic football fan. At the start I thought the weather would be a perfect theme because weather is ALWAYS a factor here in Iceland, but I found out quickly that it is very hard to capture weather in a photo! Iceland has only about 330,000 people living here on this volcanic island and about half that are in the capital area. Iceland does not have a professional league - we have a semi-pro league, so that means that every player here is in school or has a full-time job alongside football. The setup means that every person you see working on the fields or in the ticket office is a volunteer.
What is the role of Tólfan in Icelandic football culture?
The people of Tólfan, young and old, come from all over the country and some travel very far to be at the games of the national team at Laugardalsvöllur. When everyone comes together we have this common goal to help Iceland to get a result by supporting the team. In other aspects in life we might not have anything in common, but on game day we are joined together in this task to try to do what we can to support our team!
It has been said that Icelandic fans are brilliant, loud and fun, but that was not always the case! Not so long ago we were once the quietest stadium in Europe, if not the world. It really needed the effort of forming Tólfan and getting the loud people together because fan culture was non-existent just 10 years ago. Tólfan was formed in 2007 and it really was a baby-step process, but slowly fan culture was raised up one or two levels.
I remember in 2004 when the Men’s team were playing against Germany and Iceland was playing well. The man sitting behind me “shushed” me...he literally put his finger on my back and “SHUSHED” ME!! He asked me kindly to sit down and be quiet because he was trying to watch the game! Now today we see the whole stadium stand up, with hands up high and clap their hands in a synchronised and organised motion and “HUH” sound, spreading terror to the away team with an act which has been called the Viking Clap or the Thunderclap by some. It really shows how far fan culture has come in a short space of time here.
What is your favourite photo?
The penalty shoot out was between Valur and KA in the semi-final of the Rey Cup, a Youth tournament for kids age 12 to 15. This photo has it all, emotions and drama. Even though these are kids it really was a good shootout. The goalkeeper from Valur was really good in the game and in my opinion was the man of the match, showing real leadership qualities when he was getting his teammates to do various tasks in the game to firm up the defence. But when you are in the semi-finals it is not only talent that gets you through, sometimes it is luck. The kids of KA won the penalty shootout, which left the goalkeeper heartbroken. You can see the kids of KA are celebrating the victory. In the background is the roof of Laugardalsvöllur, the national stadium where the Finals will be played. I could not help but feel for the goalkeeper.
Sometimes it is said that the goalkeeper is the loneliest position there is and this photo shows that! You can take 30 shots as a striker and still be a hero, but one mistake from the goalkeeper and you are left with the feeling of letting everyone down.
Are there any good stories connected with the people or teams you photographed?
Magni Grenivík stole the show. This tiny town (even for Iceland) Grenivík has about 300 people living there. They even built a stand that can hold every member of the town in it. This town somehow got the club up to the 2nd division of the Icelandic league. Everyone thought it was nice that they somehow did this but no one really believed in them. But the beauty of football is that you don't need the approval of others, they believed in themselves and went into every game fighting for their lives. On the last day they found themselves playing against ÍR in a true final, the winner would be saved from relegation and the other would be relegated. Magni won 3-2. In total Magni was above the drop zone for 11 minutes all season! This Team proves what you can do when you put in the hard work and heart because it is not silverware and glamour for everyone in football. Some play to survive!
As it turned out the season went in a totally different way than I expected. My team Leiknir Reykjavík struggled at the start of the season and sacked the manager. To save the season they turned to a former player to take over as caretaker manager, Vigfús Arnar Jósefsson, which he did. He never had the interest to take on the job full time (because of other job reasons) but could not turn his back on the club in need. This is an Icelandic reality. At the end of the day the majority of people in football here need other jobs to support themselves.
Why is football so important for Iceland and Icelandic people?
Football brings people together. In a country where there are harsh weather conditions especially over the winter you need a venue of some sort to get people together when summer comes around. Football is very successful in doing that here. I went to the Women’s match against Germany. We at Tólfan showed up with drums and the national stadium Laugardalsvöllur (9,800 capacity) was full for the first time. I was so proud of this moment because it shows you that this sport called football can break gender boundaries and so long as you keep up the standard of the game people will show up to see it.
What role does football play in Iceland and Icelandic society?
Football is by far the most popular sport here in Iceland, with handball and basketball coming in 2nd and 3rd, but nothing can touch the grip of football here. The role it plays is huge. The FA here has invested a lot to have football accessible to everyone by building artificial grass fields in every school and town in the country, and also investing to build these indoor football halls that have revolutionised Icelandic football. Now we can play all year round.
What does football mean to you?
Football is very important to me. There is not a day that I live that does not have football in it one way or another. Football is the only sport I know that can produce these emotions that the beautiful game has. There is nothing like it when your team scores or wins with a dramatic injury time winner - and I love it! Even if things are not going so well I am crazy enough to believe that I, the fan, can help the team (with other fans) to raise their game and get a result...and I really believe this!
What is the future for Icelandic football?
We have everything in place to keep up the high standards of football here. If we keep the maintenance up on our facilities here along with making sure that coaches get the right education to be able to grow in the sport, I don't see why we can't keep up the good work.