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  • Writer's pictureKai Abbott

Eyjafjallajökull 2010: How a Volcano Plunged Football Into Chaos

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

Just over 10 years ago, the Icelandic volcano of Eyjafjallajökull erupted, causing European airspace and commerce to come to a standstill, due to the 7 miles worth of ash and harmful debris in the air, for over a month. Once the dust had settled, metaphorically and literally, 95,000 flights across Europe had been canceled, and $4 billion dollars in airline travel and tourism had been lost. However, this decade defining eruption did not only have a major effect on air travel, but on the sport of football in Europe. By the time the plume of ash dissipated, Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho took advantage of Barcelona’s two-day journey to Milan, London’s West Ham United had a new owner, and Blackburn Rovers coach Sam Allardyce was cursing his luck for missing out on a young Robert Lewandowski.

Top: Robert Lewandowski celebrating in style

Bottom: Eyjafjallajökull erupting next to the town of Skögar in Iceland

Due to the volcano’s significant effect on the airlines across Europe, teams were forced to use the good-old fashioned coach bus to replace the charter plane. While this event did affect some smaller teams across Europe, like Newcastle United, who had to drive 916 miles round-trip from Newcastle to Plymouth for one league match, current Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola’s infamous Barcelona side were forced to spend 2 days on the road to Milan, for their Champions League semi-final versus Inter. The holding champions would drive 625 miles to the San Siro for the matchday, and would go on to fall to Jose Mourinho’s side, 3-1, in the first leg of the semi-final. After the match, Barcelona’s sporting director Txiki Begiristain complained to journalists, saying that “something should have been done not to give this advantage to the home team.” Inter went on to win the tie 3-2, with Barcelona’s one goal in the second leg at the Camp Nou not being enough to stop Milan, who would go on to win the tournament against Bayern Munich in the final.

'The Special One' Jose Mourinho's celebrating at full time in the San Siro

Elsewhere, other teams would also struggle with sore legs and cramps in their own respective travels by bus across Europe, like Liverpool, who drove for 23 hours straight to Madrid for their semi-final second leg tie against Atletico Madrid, of which they lost on away goals, even though English counterparts Fulham were able to win their against Hamburg, despite a 570 mile trip.

It only took a short amount of time for the sport to resort back to normal, though other long-term repercussions occured, such as for West Ham's Icelandic owner Bjorgolfur Gudmunsson, who already suffering from the subprime mortgage crisis the previous year, saw the volcano eruption was the last straw, viewing his ownership of West Ham as ‘too much to handle.’ Gundmunsson sold his majority stake in the club to English businessman David Sullivan and David Gold for $120 million dollars.

Up at Blackburn, once the ash cleared, Sam Allardyce was kicking and screaming at his failed opportunity to sign a young Polish striker by the name of Robert Lewandowski, from Lech Poznan in Western Poland. Lewandowski, at the time only 23 years old, was supposed to fly to Lancashire to visit the Blackburn Rovers training ground and facilities, after being scouted by Allardyce himself in Poland. Though, just a week before the flight, Eyjafjallajökull erupted, and Lewandowski’s agent did not think it was worth the effort of driving. Lewandowski, who recently signed for Barcelona for $50 million dollars, would go on to sign for Borussia Dortmund, where he would win 2 Bundesliga titles, and sign for Bayern Munich, where he scored over 300 goals, and become a Champions League winner. Now sitting mid-table in the English Championship, Blackburn Rovers fans must be wondering what could have been, if they had the grasp of a striker, who is arguably considered the best forward in the world.

European football would not see such an important event again, until almost another 10 years later, when the Covid-19 outbreak across the world sent football into suspension for 3 months, and fans out of the stadiums for close to a year. In 2020 once the season resumed, though still able to travel, continental competitions like the Europa and Champions League were designated to one city, Lisbon, in order to minimize outbreaks in other countries.

For over a month in the spring of 2010, European football was shocked, due to a relatively small volcano in the south of the small island nation of Iceland. It is very possible that without this eruption, football would be a very different sport today, with the likes of world-class strikers like Robert Lewandowski, playing on cold, rainy Tuesday nights in Stoke, in the second-tier of English football.

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