When the Saints visited Iceland

St. Patrick’s Athletic recently visited Iceland to play IBV in the Europa League first round qualifier. Paul Kiernan writes about his account of the trip for the new Balls Out In Public feature – Euro Diary, which are fans’ stories of how they got on following their team away in European competition.

I was a little apprehensive before the draw. I have done a good few Pats trips in Europe before the draw was made for this year’s Europa League and I knew that we could get a team from Wales, which would have been a nice, easy tie. A lot of us knew that, but we also knew we could end up in Kazakhstan as well – or even Iceland.

Once the draw was made and we found out it was Iceland the first thing I said to the lads was “no way, we won’t do it. It’s too far away.” But then after a day on the net I came up with a simple route; Dublin-Gatwick-Iceland from Thursday to Saturday. I told the lads about these flights and that they were around €400 plus accommodation costs, we decided ‘what the heck – we will go for it!’ Getting a flight from Dublin to connect with the Iceland flight was a bit trickier, however we eventually found one leaving Ireland at 8 in the morning and the flight to Iceland was at 10.30 so we had plenty of time.

Now Iceland Express is a company I’ve never heard of but from its site etc. it looked good enough. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I booked Dublin to Gatwick to Iceland and five minutes after I paid the €400 I get a text to say we have moved the Iceland flight forward to 09.30. There was absolutely no chance we would get to London in time for that, so we had to fork out another €105 to get an earlier flight to london. €505 was now the total so far and we still have no hotel for the 2 nights. By this time friends were looking at me dismayed saying you get two weeks in Spain for this amount of money. I asked “do ya love the club or what!?”and that was enough to convince them.

Hlíðarendi Stadium, where Pats visited

Anyway, we all met up on the Thursday morning with the flight at 06.40 due in London Gatwick at 8, giving us lots of time to get to the Iceland check-in desk. It was in the same terminal too, which was handy as Gatwick has two huge North and South terminals. However, did I read the small print on the Iceland Express web site about checking-in two hours before hand?? I did but said nothing to the lads and we got to the desk at 08.10 with no problem checking-in, thank God!

Now I’m not a good flyer at the best of times but how I didn’t turn back when I saw the state of the plane we were flying in I don’t know. It had no writing on it but the old writing that was on it of some Arabic company, as far as i could make out, was peeling away. Also all of the instructions inside the plane were in Arabic as well but I had to get on anyway – the things I do for Pats! Despite my hesitation, it wasn’t a bad trip over to be honest. But when I ordered a cup of tea, the pot had Thompson Travel on it, the sugar bags were from Starbucks and the milk was nicked from BMI Airlines on it, all in the Arabic plane belonging to Iceland Express!

Anyway we arrived in Iceland safe and sound. I always imagined Iceland to be full of snow but in actual fact it was a very hot 17 degrees, and thankfully, no sign of an ash cloud. For some reason apartments are the thing over there, the day before ya go they e-mail you the code for the front door and when you go in there is a key on the table with your room number, odd but it worked out fine and €90 each for the two nights. We arrived with about four hours to kill before kick off time, so sure we had to sample the local beer. We were told was expensive it worked out about €4.50 a pint but a lot of places do 2 for 1, so we found good value there. It was also an Irish Bar that we found and I was very surprised at the amount of Irish living over there, too.

Off to the match we went. It was played in a stadium which held no more than 1000 or so, however the inside of it had about five basket ball courts there too, certainly a nice set up. And to go along with this, a few of the young lads on the trip were delighted to see ball girls at the match.

Arriving at the stadium there were only about 30 of us, but only around 100 there to support the Icelandic side. I did expect a few more of them, but they were still able to make some noise. There was not too much banter between the two sets of fans to be honest; they took no real notice of us arriving on bloc. We all went in the same way and shared the same eating area etc.  The match programme was free too, but it was in Icelandic so not much use to us!

The team actually play two hours away from where we were playing but couldn’t use their ground as it does not fit UEFA guidelines with only 400 seats. The stadium we went to had only one stand which held about 2000, however the inside facilities had the basketball courts I mentioned which can also be used for indoor football and another big sport in Iceland – handball. But a different version of handball this was, not the one against the wall type.

The match itself was alright. I really thought we were going to beat them though, they were not very physical but did move the ball quick, and were a decent side. Pats had a good few chances and even hit the bar etc, but alas it was  not our day. The game ended one nil to IBV, with a penalty from Andri Olafsson being the difference between the teams on the night. Most of us said after the game we would beat them at home and we all felt confident of progressing. It was funny looking at our team leaving and walking back to their hotel as it was only across the road from where we were staying.

After the game we headed back to The Local as we fondly knew it as at that stage. The Dubliner there was very happy to accommodate us so they kept the 2 for 1 drink offer for us, happy days! Now here’s a thing about Iceland I was not told beforehand – 23.5 hours of brightness, wow! It was very weird but wonderful at the same time. We moved around a few pubs that night but Monday to Thursday it’s 1am closing time, while Friday to Sunday it’s 5am closing time. And when they say closing time is 1 they mean 1 on the dot. They’ll serve you all the drink ya want but at 1 it out you go.

Friday was a day of sight seeing – yeah right!! We were in the pub from 2 in the afternoon and there for the day and low and behold another text from Iceland Express to say our return flight was now at 07.10 instead of 08.25… Well we lasted the day on the beer only to go back to the apartments at 8, sleep for an hour and back out!

The time eventually came to make our way to the the airport at the unholy hour of 5 in the morning, and what happens? The flight is cancelled! They put us on the 9 o’clock flight then instead, very nice of them – me arse!! In absolute bits at this stage, this time it looks like a proper plane at least. Sitting on that plane with the biggest hangover ever and knowing we were going to have to hang around Gatwick until 6 for our flight back to Dublin is one thing I will never forget and won’t do it again in a hurry. We didn’t even leave until 10am, and to think of how much longer I could have stayed in bed! We arrived back home, safe and in one piece thank God, and I said to the lads when we landed, “would you do it again?”“Of  course we would,

Once a Saint, always a Saint!”

Written by Paul Kiernan.


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