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Football, fire and ice: the inside story of Iceland’s remarkable rise (2016) (theguardian.com)
59 points by Tomte on Feb 14, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 18 comments

Disclaimer: Am Icelandic, very generally proud of how my country punches above its weight in sports.

Having said that it's unbelievable how a publication like The Guardian can write an article about UEFA 2016 with claims like "smallest nation ever to reach a major tournament", without mentioning that 2016 is the first year where 24 teams compete, instead of 16 as has been the case since 1996. Before that it was 8 for a while, and 4 when the tournament first started in the 60s.

Iceland's been getting consistently better at football for decades now, and it beat England last year in the tournament showing that it could play with the big boys. But obviously if the tournament is expanded from 16 to 24 teams, an increase of 50%, it's going to be the first year that some small team qualifies.

They do mention it:

"For all the alluring backstory, questions still remain. Chiefly there is that brittleness. Iceland are ready. Iceland have a great system. But are they actually any good? Most riffs on this story tend to overlook the fact Iceland had plenty of luck in qualifying.

The expanded tournament helped. Other teams played poorly. Iceland tended to sit behind the ball, scoring from knockdowns and set pieces. Even in the key home defeat of Holland they had 26% of possession."

This is an excellent story and pretty fascinating to hear the background of it. If any non-Europeans or football fans don't know what's up, Iceland has the population of a small city and very little history as a footballing nation, yet they managed to progress into the later stages of the European Championships, knocking out former footballing greats like England (and giving Portugal - the winners of the tournament - a scare) along the way.

Also it's funny to see the Guardian continue to live up to its "Grauniad" nickname once again - the FIRST non-headline sentence has "Iceland travel Euro 2016..." should be "Iceland travel to Euro 2016...". I once for fun kept a tumblr with screenshots of these but it became very boring because:

1. there's usually one glaringly obvious mistake in nearly every single article

2. they never seem to issue corrections, so screenshotting is pointless (this one's over half a year old)

3. they're otherwise a good paper/site, so it feels a bit harsh to point this out (even if it is just for fun)

> This is an excellent story

Agreed: I highly recommend it.

> there's usually one glaringly obvious mistake in nearly every single article

An actual mistake or a typographical error? It compares very favorably to the error rate in Donald Trump tweets!

> they never seem to issue corrections,

The Guardian is famous for publishing a "Corrections & Clarifications" column [1], and collected clarifications have even been published in book form [2].

However, typographical errors are rarely included, though they do get corrected on the website.

> so screenshotting is pointless

Yes, screen-shotting is pointless. However, you can email the quoted line(s) and a link to the Guardian global readers' editor at guardian.readers@theguardian.com

Hope that helps!

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/series/correctionsan...

[2] Books https://www.amazon.co.uk/Corrections-Clarifications-2002-May... https://www.amazon.co.uk/CORRECTIONS-CLARIFICATIONS-Ian-Maye... https://www.amazon.co.uk/Only-Correct-Best-Corrections-Clari...

Haha by "screenshotting is pointless" I meant that capturing a funny moment for posterity is pointless since it'll probably be there for years to come. But yes the whole endeavour was pointless when you think about it.

My apologies for mis-reading you.

I have a bee in my bonnet about (PR) people who send me images of things when I have to retype the contents ;-)

FWIW, the Guardian regularly publishes drafts of articles on it's website, and then makes changes and corrections to the articles.

I regularly see Top Photos, Headlines, Captions and even whole paragraphs appear and disappear after a few hours.

they never seem to issue corrections, so screenshotting is pointless (this one's over half a year old)

I don't think that's true! A copy error is quite different from something one would expect to issue a correction for.

I think I used the wrong term, I meant they rarely fix them up afterwards. Some pretty atrocious typos or mess-ups I saw were there for ages. I never reported any but I thought someone at the organisation would read the article after it was published

I remember reading this story last summer and finding it really fascinating

the part I really liked was the part that talked about the spread of coaches:

"Fine. But how have they done it? For once there is a fairly easy answer. This is a command economy kind of fairytale, managed from the top down. There are three clear strands. The first of these is coaching.

Arrigo Sacchi famously suggested elite coaching should be open to people from any walk of life, from elevator operators to stockbrokers. At the end of the last century the Icelandic FA put this into practice. Bolstered by the TV money pouring into every Uefa country, Iceland set up an open, hugely popular training scheme. Currently this nation of 335,000 has around 600 qualified coaches, 400 with Uefa B licences, or one per 825 people. To put this into context, in England this number falls to one per 11,000.

The result is a spread of expertise right down to the lowest level. “Here you need a Uefa B licence to coach from under-10 level up and half of the Uefa B licence to coach under-eights,” Dagur Sveinn Dagbjartsson of the Icelandic FA says. This isn’t simply box-ticking. The Uefa B is one step off the level needed to coach a professional team in England. Yelling dads it ain’t.

Dagur is coordinator of the Icelandic FA’s coach education programme. Boyish and studious, like so many other people around here he has a genuine fascination with the systems being put into place. “Even if you start training at four years old you get good quality coaching. Every coach in Iceland gets paid, we don’t have any amateurs. Every kid who plays pays an annual fee and can go and train with a professional club. My own kid started when he was three. One coach had the Uefa A licence and one the B licence.” "

------------- --------------

its interesting to think about what sort of advantage the institutional spread of knowledge is

One of my former soccer coaches has always said that he thinks the best coaches should be on the lower/young levels, later it's "too late" for a good coach to save them anyway. Not sure if I totally agree, but interesting thought.

How Iceland Football National Team Was Selected: Total inhabitants = 332,529

Women ....................................... -165,259

Men <18 years old ........................... -40,546

Overweight .................................. -22,136

Busy in whale sightseeing industry........... -1,246

Busy in earthquake surveillance.............. -314

Busy in volcano surveillance................. -164

Busy as sheepherders......................... -1,934

Busy sheep shearing.......................... -1,464

Imprisoned bankers........................... -23

Blind........................................ -194

Sick......................................... -7,564

Working in hospitals, police, fire brigade... -564

Icelandic fans in stadium.................... -8,781

Team doctor and physiotherapist.............. -2

Teams massage therapist and water carrier.... -2

Busy managing national football team......... -7

Rest......................................... 23


(The coach is from Sweden)

You missed the punch line!

As an aside, obviously, those numbers are obviously cherry-picked, but they appear to be mostly selected based on facts. You can find some census figures in this booklet: http://www.statice.is/media/49863/icelandinfigures2016.pdf (The booklet says that of 111k men, 2.6% (or about 2900) are involved in the sum of all non-aquatic agricultural activities; I couldn't find precise details on sheep farming.) Nonetheless, I'm particularly curious about the listed ratio of sheepherders (shepherds?) to sheep shearers, at 1,934 vs. 1,464

The numbers seem to imply that sheep shearing takes 75% as long as sheep herding. I imagined that one sheep shearer would have sufficient capacity to service a large number of shepherds. Each sheep is typically sheared once per year, and it might take two or three minutes per sheep. But the shepherd must manage the sheep year round. Even with modern automated feeding equipment, farm tractors, and, of course, the requisite sheepdogs, I can't imagine that one shepherd could generate nearly enough sheep to keep a shearer busy for 9 months per year. Even assuming the shearer requires 5 minutes per sheep and only does shearing 30 hours per week for 4 weeks per month, that's 13,000 sheep per shepherd.

The same answer illuminates a couple things about our industries, too: If a task only needs to be performed a couple times a year, a freelancer will need many, many clients! And conversely, if you can automate or outsource day-to-day operations, you can get a lot more done than if you have to process everything manually!

Leaving aside that these numbers seem like some April Fools' gag...

    > But the shepherd must manage the sheep year round.
You're obviously just making stuff up and not familiar with how this is done in Iceland.

Sheep aren't being constantly herded around. During the winter they're inside a barn because everything is covered in snow, during the entirety of the summer they free range getting fatter, raising lambs etc. In the autumn there's a big coordinated herding event (göngur) where farmers and volunteers in an entire area coordinate to herd all the free-range sheep into pens for the winter.

So literally nobody in the country works as a full-time sheepherder. Since it's all over in a matter of days.

> You're obviously just making stuff up

I am passingly familiar with sheep and cattle management on a small farm in the US, and based my assumptions on this process.

> and not familiar with how this is done in Iceland.

That, however, is true. Your description is fascinating! So Icelandic shepherds aren't managing the sheep during the summer? No feeding, medicating, breeding, etc?

Sheep shearing is highly seasonal; you shear your sheep in autumn when they have their winter wool.

Also, sheep herders might have a relatively easy task in summer. Herding might mean letting thousands of sheep loose in the spring, and getting them back in at the end of summer, not getting your sheep in every night or spending the night with your herd to protect it from predators.

Reading http://grapevine.is/news/2015/09/05/sheep-population-of-icel..., that's what happens in Iceland, too:

"The annual gathering of the sheep for slaughter – called the smölun (“herding”) – has commenced this weekend, and will be continuing for another month"

1 in 320,000 Icelanders are Bjork

How can one write an entire article about sports in Iceland and not include even a passing mention Formula Off Road?

This is a travesty.

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