Size isn’t everything, as Iceland are playing in the smallest comfortable place at Euro 2022.
“We are all very excited to play in England, in some of the country’s most famous stadiums, and I think it will be a fantastic tournament,” said Iceland captain Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir after her country’s qualification for the tournament.
But Gunnarsdottir’s tone soon changed when he found out two of Iceland’s three group matches would be played at Manchester City’s Academy Stadium, and not in the Premier League or the already established Football League.
“It’s surprising,” he said. “You play in England, you have so many stadiums, and we have the training ground from City. It’s a shame.”
The Academy Stadium, home to the women’s team Manchester City and in the shadow of the Etihad Stadium – which hosted England’s opener at Euro 2005 – has a capacity of 4,400 for Euros.
That’s small compared to Old Trafford, a few miles across from town, where a record European Women’s Championship crowd of 68,871 saw hosts England beat Austria on an impressive opening night.
But the fans inside the Academy Stadium on a grilling Sunday helped create a good atmosphere as Iceland brought noise, Viking applause and even their prime minister to Euro 2022.
They failed to record a point in two of their previous three Euro tournament appearances, but Iceland got up and running after a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Belgium.
“It’s great to be at Euro 2022,” Katrin Jakobsdottir, Iceland’s prime minister, told BBC Sport after flying to Manchester to support the “stelpurnar okkar” (our girl).
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Iceland brings Vikings applause to Euro 2022
It has been six years since the Vikings’ applause rose to prominence at the men’s Euro 2016 in France, when Iceland reached the quarter-finals.
The action involves fans raising their hands in the air before thunderous applause and chants. Rough estimates suggest that around 8% of Iceland’s population accompanied the team to France for Euro 2016.
Although England’s figures for Euro 2022 are far from the same scale, an estimated 2,000 Icelandic supporters inside the Academy Stadium added to the carnival atmosphere, with Viking applause heard throughout their team’s opening Group D game.
Back in Iceland, thousands more watched the match live on national television while others thronged the fan park in the capital Reykjavik as the women’s game continued to flourish on the island, where 33% of registered players were women.
“I was five years old when I started watching English games on television with my father,” Jakobsdottir added.
“Women’s football in Iceland was definitely nothing until maybe 25 years ago.
“Even then, many stopped playing when they became teenagers. Now it’s become more normal to continue and we now have players who are in the team in Europe and the United States.
“When I was growing up, we had a much more gentle sport. But that has changed, and for me as a feminist, who has fought for women’s rights, it is very important for women to have the choice of playing football.
“As you can see internationally, women’s football is getting a lot more attention.”
Jakobsdottir wore the Icelandic colors as he visited the Manchester fan park before the game to mingle with supporters before changing into more formal attire for the match.
‘The fans are fantastic’
Euro 2022 organizers defended the use of the Academy Stadium after Gunnarsdottir’s criticism, saying it would produce a “great atmosphere”, arguing it was better to play in front of a sold-out crowd than thousands of empty seats in a huge stadium.
With Belgian fans dressed in red, the Academy Stadium became a sea of color and noise.
Iceland’s Sveindis Jane Jonsdottir, who was named Player of the Match, revealed afterwards that the players struggled to hear each other because of the noise.
There were no reserved seats on the pitch as the crowd for the tournament passed 140,000, seven games into Euro 2022.
“I think the fans are fantastic,” said Thorsteinn Halldorsson, the Iceland coach. “There was a lot of noise, singing and cheering.
“You can hear everything and you feel more in touch with the fans. Even though it’s a small pitch, it’s quite loud here.”