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International Eagles: Hreidarsson's Risky Road to SE25

16 June 2018

Throughout the World Cup, we will be looking back at the careers of some of Palace’s former international stars. With Iceland set to make their first finals appearance against Argentina today, one man probably springs straight to Eagles fans' minds – and it’s not Lionel Messi.

When Hermann Hreidarsson was clinging on for dear life to a trawler in the middle of the North Atlantic while a Force 10 storm ripped away at him and the rest of the crew, life in the Premier League seemed a million miles away.

On board that ship, an international footballer wasn’t the most precious cargo. Back in 1996 Hreidarsson was a fully-fledged member of the Iceland squad and played for IBV on the south coast of the island, but to continue studying engineering at university he had to earn a living on choppy waters.

“I was a part-timer in Iceland,” Hreidarsson revealed in an interview with The Independent in 2008. “I was in school until 20, then university. I had trials and started playing for the national team. I worked where I could - a factory freezing fish, a fishing net factory, building work - all sorts of things. I also worked on the trawlers. For me, it was important to be part of that before football.”

However, in 1997 that work ethic and his displays on the pitch caught the eye of Steve Coppell, and he jumped at the chance to swap plaice for Palace.

“It was an honour for me to move there in 1997,” he added. “I went from what was essentially amateur level to the Premier League in one move; a dream come true. I even scored at Stamford Bridge!

“I went on trial there [at Palace] and I must have done OK because later in the year when they were promoted to the Premier League they made an offer, and it all happened quite quickly.

“I loved every minute of it and I owe a lot to Steve Coppell. He believed in me and gave me my first chance in England, and put me straight on the bench for my first game against Everton.  There were 40,000 fans there and a great atmosphere, and my face was just one big smile!

“It ended up being a great season as I got to experience playing in the Premier League. I came from Iceland and was chucked straight into the deep end, so it was a fantastic time.”

Hreidarsson would play 48 times for Palace scoring three times, and is well-known for holding the unwanted record of being relegated from the Premier League from each of the five teams he represented. However there were plenty of highs in his career, including winning the 2008 FA Cup with Portsmouth, and is still his country’s second-highest cap holder with 89 to his name spread across 15 years.

Back then the Icelandic team came nowhere near reaching a major finals, but Hreidarsson - who is currently assistant to David James at Indian Premier League side Kerala Blasters – is incredibly proud of his countrymen’s exploits at Euro 2016 and since becoming the smallest nation in history to reach a World Cup.

“This team has been together for a while now and there is incredible camaraderie on and off the pitch,” he said. “Our fans play a big part in that togetherness too. They went to France to have the time of their lives; win, lose or draw, and that lack of pressure helped us.”

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