When We Were Icelandic
Unless you’ve been on the moon for the past week you’ll know that Iceland recently knocked England out of Euro 2016.
Tonight they come up against France, and it seems like the perfect opportunity to recall some of the Icelanders who wore the red and white of Stoke.
The man who started the Icelandic revolution was Toddy Orlygsson, who joined from the less glamorous surroundings of Nottingham Forest. A scurrying midfielder with a thunderbolt of a shot, Toddy was a firm fan favourite.
He was a favourite with the coaches too, persuading Lou Macari to snap up his cousin Larus Sigurdsson.
The centre back went on to become the most successful Icelander to play for Stoke, making more than 200 appearances during the mid-late 1990’s. Sadly Stoke’s failure to gain promotion back to the second tier in 1998-99 prompted Sigurdsson to join neighbours West Brom, where he became a popular figure.
Just a few months after Sigurdsson’s departure, Stoke’s relationship with Iceland completely changed.
An Icelandic consortium bought the club from Peter Coates, resulting in Gunnar Gislason becoming chairman and Gudjon Thordarson the new manager- Stoke’s first overseas manager.
The new manager signed a number of Icelandic players, with Einar Thor Danielsson and the late Sigursteinn Gislason both playing in Thordarson’s opening match- a memorable 4-0 thrashing of Wycombe.
New faces kept arriving, including Gudjon’s son Bjarni Gudjonsson and Brynjar Gunnarsson- for a club record fee of £600,000.
That first season under Icelandic power saw Stoke lift the Auto Windscreens Shield at Wembley- a match where three Icelanders were in Stoke’s starting XI.
An abundance of new Icelandic faces arrived for Thordarson’s second campaign- notably Rikhardur Dadason, who was signed on a pre-contract agreement from Viking FK.
There was much hype about Dadason, and he initially lived up to that by scoring a winner on his debut. Sadly that was about as good as it became from the tall striker.
Other new arrivals included Stefan Thordarson- who memorably scored an absolute cracker at Charlton- Birkir Kristinsson, Hjorvar Hafildason and Larus’ younger brother Kristian Sigurdsson signed his first professional contract. Sigurdsson never played a match for the first team, but did go on to play 53 times for his country.
Thordarson’s tenure was to last just one more campaign, but the 2001-02 season was a successful one for Stoke.
The manager dipped into the transfer market once more, signing Arnar Gunnlaugsson on loan for a second time and he, along with Petur Marteinsson, helped Stoke to promotion.
Thordarson, formerly Iceland’s national coach, departed the club just a day after gaining promotion, but will always be remembered fondly in Stoke-on-Trent.
The Icelandic love affair continued, but burst horribly when the board went above Tony Pulis’ head to sign Toddy Gudjonsson- ironically Thordarson’s son- and Trygvvi Gudmundsson.
The decision undermined Pulis’ position and he was ultimately sacked for failing to exploit the international market.
Pulis was to return at a later date, but the Icelandic board lasted just one more year before Peter Coates took charge of the club once more.
The final piece of the Icelandic jigsaw saw Pulis sign Eidur Gudjohnsen on a free transfer in 2010.
It didn’t work out for Gudjohnsen at Stoke, but tonight he will be one of 23 men who represent Iceland in Paris.
It seems fitting that there will be at least one Stoke connection on this historic evening in Icelandic football history.
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