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behind enemy lines

We watched the England game in Iceland, this is what happened

Being an England fan on the night they were knocked out by Iceland was difficult... unless you were in Reykjavik itself

You’re on a Reykjavik hill with 15,000 Iceland fans.

Your country is being dumped unceremoniously out of a major football tournament.

There’s only one word to describe your emotions.

Bittersweet.

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While the anger boiled over back home in England, the joy spilled out onto the streets in Iceland’s capital last night.

And the one thing I had in common with the local fans was the overwhelming sense of disbelief.

Minutes after the final whistle was blown the fans stood, stunned at what they’d just experienced. For a totally different reason I felt the same, as the crowd slowly dispersed to enjoy what must have been the sweetest of all beers.

Thousands still remained on the Arnarholl hill, overlooking the picturesque port and Harpa concert hall, as an impromptu rendition of quasi-national anthem Ferdalok erupted around the fan zone.

Ferdalok, I’m later told, is a song about a lover returning home.

It’s stirring, emotional, beautiful. These are football fans, I have to keep reminding myself.

Football fans don’t do this, do they?

They do in Iceland.

It’s as if everything they do is shrouded in some sort of mysticism. But moments like this don’t get any more magical.

In the wave of euphoria I even bought an Iceland scarf. I’m English, I have to remind myself.

English people don’t do this.

Ironically the scarf was made in England.

But it’s too good to let an opportunity of seeing a nation come together for this, our silly game of football, pass you by out of patriotic duty.

It’s after midnight and unsurprisingly everyone’s in the mood for a chat and a chant as I make the two minute walk into the now bustling streets of Reykjavik.

“You’ve got to understand, the country has never seen anything like this ever before,” says one lad as he hands me a pint in the heaving American Bar.

“But it’s amazing, the team have made everyone just so proud. They play for each other though, you see?”

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It’s a point many fans make through the night – unlike the English, who seemingly were playing for themselves, the Icelandic team have an unshakeable bond having played together at virtually every age group from Under-16 onwards.

Much has been written about this aspect of the tiny island over the past fortnight.

But there was one point I needed to get to the bottom of: Did every person in Iceland really know each other?

“Well, yeah, in a way,” another fan told me.

“We’re going to Paris at the weekend now… Gylfi can get us tickets.”

Gylfi, as in Gylfi Sigurdsson. Turns out the group of lads I’ve bumped into are good mates with the Swansea star. Of course, this is Iceland after all.

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They interrupt our chat to jovially boo a bloke who has just entered the pub.

“See that guy? He plays for our rival club, Fjolnir. They’re second in the top league at the moment and we all support FH Hafnarfjordur. We’re top.”

By this stage I’m not even surprised when said player comes over and has a chat with us. He went to school with a couple of the group – again, this is Iceland.

This is a night of celebration in its purest form. A whole nation coming together to revel in the greatest achievement in their sporting history.

The streets were packed and an open top bus tour awarded to the Icelandic handball team after they won a silver medal in the Olympics – you can only imagine what it will be like when the heroes return from France.

As the night draws on, the darkness holds off. It’s an appropriate metaphor. Iceland doesn’t get dark during the summer months, giving the evening a feel of a student’s all-nighter.

You don’t know what the time is, and frankly, you don’t care.

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Making my way up the hill there’s a group of around 200 fans still chanting. An Icelandic version of the Kolo/Yaya Toure song gets an airing, the now famous Icelandic Thunderclap is also heard, and there’s even a smidgen of Will Grigg’s On Fire.

A couple of locals tell me they had zero interest in football until now, one shakes my hand when I admit to being English, another says it’s the greatest day in history.

Who can question that?

I’ve never wanted the Three Lions to lose, and under the crushing circumstances it could turn you bitter, frustrated, angry.

But when you see the other side of the story, you simply cannot begrudge Iceland for a time like this.

While it might have been bittersweet for this English fan in Reykjavik, Iceland have had their first taste of true sporting glory.