The Football Bard of Iceland Makes History

Written by: Peter Alegi

Primary Source: Football is Coming Home, June 23, 2016

Guðmundur Benediktsson who?

On Wednesday, June 22, the 41-year-old Icelandic announcer’s emotional call of Iceland’s winning goal against Austria at Euro 2016 went viral. The moment was immediately enshrined into the unofficial Hall of Fame of soccer broadcasting.

Benediktsson is no ordinary broadcaster. He played for Iceland from 1994 to 2001 and has coached steadily since the end of his playing career in 2009, most recently as an assistant at KR Reykjavík — the tiny island nation’s most celebrated club. The family love of the game extends to Benediktsson’s 19-year-old son, Albert Guðmundsson, who is on the books of PSV Eindhoven, and whose mother is a former Iceland international.

Iceland and Austria were in stoppage time, with the score tied 1-1. Austria, needing to win to advance to the second round, was launching its final desperate attacks. Iceland was deep in its defensive bunker, knowing a point would be enough to earn an historic qualification to the knockout phase.

With 45 seconds left, the Icelandic defense brutishly clears a ball, which randomly finds Bjarnason all alone charging full speed ahead towards the Austrian goal. In the blink of an eye, a three-on-one breakaway develops.

Benediktsson does more than announce the Iceland players’ excited forward movement. He seems to thrust them towards the Austrian goal.

There will be no running out the clock by the corner flag. No way. Iceland are beyond the point of no return.

Bjarnason slices a deliciously inviting assist across the penalty box. Traustason, a substitute, slides in at the far post and strikes the ball with his left foot.

Benediktsson’s first eruption literally encourages the ball into the net, past the outstretched hands of the diving Austrian goalkeeper: “Jaaaa!”

“Jaaaa! Jaaaa! Jaaaa! Jaaaa!” Benediktsson loses it. His primal scream is like “a ‘do’ sung [in Icelandic] from the chest that would leave Caruso forever mute,” in the words of Eduardo Galeano.

It’s more than orgasmic. “Maybe if I hadn’t made love for eighteen years, and had given up hope of doing so for another eighteen, and then suddenly, out of the blue, an opportunity presented itself,” Nick Hornby reminds us in Fever Pitch, “maybe in these circumstances it would be possible to recreate an approximation of that [. . .] moment.”

The Polish referee, Szymon Marciniak, blows the whistle. It’s over! Iceland 2, Austria 1. Iceland is through to the last 16.

Benediktsson, exhausted, goes quiet.

Should Iceland pulls off a miraculous victory against England on Monday (June 27), Benediktsson’s performance may surpass the one that made him world famous.

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Peter Alegi
Peter Alegi is Professor of History at Michigan State University. He is the author of Laduma! Soccer, Politics, and Society in South Africa (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004) and African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game (Ohio University Press, 2010). With Peter Limb, Alegi hosts the “Africa Past and Present” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @futbolprof.
Peter Alegi

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