This Manitoba MLA is related to 22 of the 23 players on Iceland's national soccer team

This Manitoba MLA is related to 22 of the 23 players on Iceland's national soccer team

You could say Len Isleifson has the thunderclap in his veins.

The powerful clap and hwah sound rose to prominence from deep in the bellies of thousands of Icelandic soccer fans in 2016, as Iceland’s national soccer team surprised some by rising through the ranks of the European Championship.

It rang out again last fall, when the team from the small island nation — with a population of about 350,000 — clinched its first-ever spot in the FIFA World Cup.

For Len Isleifson, an ocean away, it was kind of a family affair — albeit a distant one. According to genealogical research pursued by Isleifson’s dad and conducted by Icelander heritage company Icelandic Roots, the Manitoba politician is related to 22 of the 23 players on the team — plus the coach.

“I played soccer about 40 years ago when I was in elementary school. I wasn’t an avid fan to sit down and go absolutely crazy like some people do,” Isleifson, who is the Progressive Conservative member for Brandon East in the Manitoba Legislature, said this week.

“But again, when you put that connection of soccer and our heritage together, it just made it that much more exciting.”

Len Isleifson holds up the Icelandic World Cup jersey, presented to him by Iceland’s consul general in Winnipeg on behalf of the club, in his office at the Manitoba Legislature. Behind him is another framed Iceland jersey he picked up himself, and a team baseball hat. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Isleifson’s connections to the players range from a few eighth cousins — including defender Hordur Magnusson and goaltenders Runar Alex Runarsson and Frederik Schram — to a third cousin, midfielder Emil Hallfredsson, and many more in between.

Big scorer Gylfi Sigurdsson is his fifth cousin, Icelandic Roots found, and team captain Aron Gunnarsson is his seventh cousin, as is team coach and part-time dentist Heimir Hallgrimsson.

The only one he’s not related to is midfielder Olafur Skulason, the company found.

Isleifson said he hasn’t touched base with any of his distant relatives, but he may just look them up once the World Cup buzz and Manitoba legislative scheduling slow down.

“Their schedule’s pretty busy and ours in the legislature right now is pretty busy,” he said.

This year marks Iceland’s debut in the World Cup — it’s the smallest nation ever to qualify — after securing a spot last fall when the team beat Kosovo.

When that happened, Isleifson read a statement congratulating the team during question period at the Manitoba Legislature, mentioning his own Icelandic roots and connection to the team.

Since then, he said he’s gotten excited messages from Iceland supporters across the province and the country. Last week, the Icelandic consul general in Winnipeg, Thordur Bjarni Gudjonsson, presented him with a World Cup jersey, courtesy of the Icelandic football club.

“We had members of the legislature wanting to do that chant [the thunderclap] one day in the House when I read my statement, which obviously we couldn’t do,” he said.

Iceland’s captain, Aron Gunnarsson, celebrates with teammates at the end of the World Cup Group I qualifying soccer match between Iceland and Kosovo in Reykjavik on Oct. 9, 2017. (Brynjar Gunnarsson/The Associated Press)

“It creates an opportunity. It just shows that you can go from something to something big, and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are.”

On Saturday, the team will play Argentina in its first World Cup game, starting at 8 a.m. CT.

It’s a little early, but Isleifson said he’ll definitely be watching. He shared some words of encouragement for the team ahead of Saturday’s game.

“I would simply say to them, keep up the good work. You’ve worked hard, you’ve done us really proud. And you know, do the best you can,” he said.

“And hopefully you’ll walk away holding up the big trophy and maybe we’ll all come to Iceland and celebrate together.”

Published at Sat, 16 Jun 2018 07:00:00 -0400