UMF Stjarnan are probably not a household name to many outside of Iceland, but in going unbeaten along the way to the 2014 Úrvalsdeild karla Championship that finished in October, they joined an elite list of teams including Arsenal (2003-04) which have achieved a similar feat of going an entire league campaign without a single defeat.
Stjarnan are a club from the small town of Garðabær near Reykjavik in the south-west of the volcanic outpost in the Northern Atlantic. Home to just 14,000 inhabitants, the town is more famous for its surrounding areas of natural beauty which includes Snæfells Glacier, than its football team. In fact, just ten years ago, the team were competing in the Icelandic Third Division.
Many of you have probably heard of the team before, albeit for their well-choreographed goal celebrations which went viral after a video emerged of the team performing a fishing celebration after scoring.
Promoted in second place from 1. deild karla – the Icelandic Second Division in 2009, the team were expected to be title challengers in 2014 after consolidating themselves in the league over the previous four seasons. In the previous season, the team qualified for the Europa League after finishing third behind Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur (KR) and Fimleikafelag Hafnarfjardar (FH) respectively and went on to have a good cup run in the Championship winning season.
Competing in Europe for the first time under the leadership of Danish Captain Michael Præst and Vice-captain Veigar Páll Gunnarsson, the part-timers managed to reach the play-off round of the Europa League only to bow out to the mighty Inter Milan 9-0 on aggregate. In reaching that stage of the competition the team had overcome Bangor City (Wales), Motherwell (Scotland) and Lech Poznan (Poland) with some particularly good away performances against much stronger opposition.
In the Úrvalsdeild karla the team performed very well from day one, opening the season with consecutive wins to kick-start their unbeaten run. The team had a couple of scares along the way including a 4-3 away win over Þór Akureyri – who turned out to be the league’s whipping boys, being relegated with just 12 points. Even with a few scares, the team kept pace with FH which meant the league would be a two-horse race.
Going into the final league game of the season and Championship decider, Stjarnan were sitting two points behind the also unbeaten FH who were heavy favourites due to the points advantage and the game being played at home. In fact, they had looked like a wise-bet for the title until a dramatic twist of fate in the shape of a 93rd minute penalty.
FH had been at the summit of the league for 16 of the 22 games and only needed a draw to be crowned Icelandic champions for a seventh time. It looked like it would be heading that way after Stjarnan went down to ten men and Scottish striker Steven Lennon of FH cancelled out Olafur Karl Finsen’s 40th minute opener.
In a remarkable finale much akin to Manchester City pipping city rivals United to the 2012 Premier League, Olafur Karl Finsen converted the all-important spot-kick to claim a 2-1 away win. The win meant that Stjarnan had done enough to leapfrog their rivals to secure the title by one point and the first in the club’s 54-year history.
With the new season kicking off in May, the club is once again expected to be the forerunner in the Championship chase. Can they go one further than Arsenal and go another season unbeaten?