Celtic’s potential Qualifying Round 1 opponents in the 2020/21 Champions League – KR Reykjavik of Iceland…
Ahead of the draw for the first qualifying round of the 2020/21 Champions League, which takes place in Nyon on Sunday, 9 August 2020, I’m reviewing the 17 potential opponents for Celtic. All but one of the possible options are now known, and as we’ve already covered Floriana, FK Sileks and KF Tirana, let’s take a look at number four which will be more familiar.
4/17: KR Reykjavik of Iceland
Representing Iceland in the 2020/21Champions League will be Knattspyrnufelag Reykjavikur, normally known for fairly obvious reasons as KR (or KR Reykjavik). The Icelandic champions currently have a UEFA co-efficient of 2.5, compared to Celtic’s 34. The word above beginning with K literally translates as ‘ballkicking.’ I think I’ll just leave that one there.
Founded in 1899, KR is by some distance the oldest football club in Iceland. Indeed, they were the only club in Reykjavik for a decade, before the establishment of new teams allowed the formation of a national League in 1912.
KR’s home colours are black-and-white vertical striped jerseys with black shorts and socks, adopted as a tribute to Newcastle United, who were the English champions at the time of the club’s formation. Their current away kit is sky blue.
The club’s home ground is the KR-vollur (literally the KR Field) in western Reykjavik, which can accommodate just under 3,000 spectators. Built in 1951, it has been home to KR since 1984.
The club’s nickname is KR-ingar, which apparently translates simply to Reykjavik football club!
The Icelandic season runs from April to September, so European participation for 2020/21 is based on the campaign which ended in September 2019. KR won the 12-team Ursvalsdeild in September 2109 by a whopping 14 points from Breidablik, with FH a point behind in third.
KR is the most successful club in the country, with 27 championships, 14 Icelandic Cups and 8 Icelandic League Cups. Like Billy McNeill’s Celtic, they won a League and Cup Double in their centenary year, 1999 in KR’s case, a first title in 31 years. They suffered their only relegation from the top-flight in 1977, having been Icelandic champions just nine seasons earlier.
KR was the first side from Iceland to compete in Europe, and curiously their first opponents were also making their continental debut, Bill Shankly’s Liverpool, in the European Cup of 1964/65! It was a tough baptism for the Icelanders who lost 5-0 and 6-1 to the Merseyside outfit, who would lose out themselves in the semi-final to the eventual winners, Inter Milan.
They have now played 78 times in the three major European competitions, with 18 wins helping them to success in 12 of their 39 ties. KR have fared best of all against Irish opposition, defeating Glentoran twice, as well as Cork City and Glenavon.
Their biggest scalp would probably be Dinamo Bucharest in the UEFA Cup of 1997/98, whilst their best run was in the Europa League of 2010/11, eliminating the Faroese side IF and Slovenians MSK Zilina, before exiting to Dinamo Tbilisi of Georgia.
In the debit column, KR suffered their heaviest defeats in the late 60’s, and there was a Celtic connection involved both times. In September 1967, an Aberdeen side competing in the European Cup Winners’ Cup following a 2-0 defeat by Jock Stein’s Treble-winners at Hampden inflicted a 10-0 mauling on KR at Pittodrie, with future Hoops captain Frank Munro scoring a hat-trick. Munro scored again the following week, as the Dons won 4-1 in Reykjavik.
Two years later, the opening round of the 1969/70 European Cup saw KR beaten 12-2 by Feyenoord in Rotterdam, with Ove Kindvall scoring a hat-trick and Ruud Geels going one better with four, perhaps a record tally for a substitute in continental competition.
For some reason, the second leg was also played at the De Kuip, the Dutch this time restricting themselves to just the 4-0 win, with Kindvall and Geels splitting the goals between them. Strikes from future Celtic manager Wim Jansen and the great Wim Van Hanegem then helped Feyenoord eliminate the holders, AC Milan, in the next round. They would go on to win the prestigious trophy in Milan the following May, beating strong favourites Celtic in the final. The video above is well worth viewing but what a frustrating photograph that is down below.
Celtic and KR have met once before in European competition, with several firsts involved. This was the second qualifying round for the Champions League in July 2014, a first competitive match for new Hoops manager, Ronny Deila. The game was played in front of just 1,500 fans in the KR-vollur, with the only goal coming from 21-year-old debutant Callum McGregor with six minutes remaining.
The return leg the following week would see Celtic’s first-ever match at Murrayfield draw almost 40,000 spectators through to Edinburgh on a lovely evening. Both Virgil Van Dijk and Teemu Pukki would net doubles in a straightforward 4-0 victory for the Hoops. Sadly, the next round clash against Legia Warsaw would be rather less clear-cut.
There could have been a match-up with KR two years earlier, the Icelandic champions drawn against HJK Helsinki in the second qualifying round of the 2012/13 Champions League, with the winners drawn to face Celtic in the next tie. As Scottish Champions, the Hoops only entered at that stage in those days, as did 3rd placed Motherwell, taking the place of runner’s up Rangers, following the liquidation of the Ibrox club.
The Finnish champions would (sorry) finish the tie in Helsinki, winning 7-0, before completing the formality of the second leg with a 2-1 victory at the KR-vollur. Celts would beat both HJK and Henrik’s old side, Helsingborg, home and away to qualify for the Group Stage, paving the way for one of the greatest nights in our history – perhaps THE best since Lisbon – when we beat Barcelona, the greatest team on the planet, 2-1 at Celtic Park on the 125th anniversary of our club’s formation.
And in Celtic’s greatest-ever season, the first round of the 1966/67 European Cup saw KR paired with French champions Nantes, the Canaries winning 3-2 in the first leg in the Laugardalsvollur, before finishing the tie with a comprehensive 5-2 win in France, thus qualifying to meet Jock Stein’s Lions in the second round. The rest, as they say, is history.
KR have beaten one Scottish side. That was Kilmarnock, in the first leg of a UEFA Cup qualifier at the national stadium – the Laugardalsvoller – in August 1999, thanks to a late goal from Hinriksson. The Icelanders were then on the brink of going through at Rugby Park a fortnight later, until a last-minute Paul Wright penalty took the tie to extra-time. David Bagan spared Kilmarnock blushes by scoring the winner early in the additional first period.
The vast majority of KR’s current squad are Icelandic, whilst they also include a couple of Danish forwards and Miami-born midfielder Pablo Punyed, who represents El Salvador.
In his second spell as manager of KR is former midfield star and national team captain Runar Kristinsson, who won the Icelandic Cup with the club in 1994 before moving to Orgryte in Sweden. He also played in Norway with Lillestrom and Belgium with Lokeren, before ending his playing career back with KR in 2007. Runar holds the Icelandic record for international caps with 104 gained between 1987-2004, scoring three goals.
Bizarrely, with the exception of Orgryte, his coaching career has followed exactly the same path, beginning with KR in 2010 and arriving back there via Lillestrom and Lokeren. He has won three Icelandic titles and three national cups as the manager of his hometown team and was in charge when KR met Celtic in 2014. His goalkeeping son, Runar Alex Runarsson, would appear to be blazing the same path as his father. He also commenced his senior career at KR, before spending three seasons in Denmark with Nordsjaelland then moving to the French top-flight with Dijon. He is also an international with Iceland and was part of their squad at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
There are some familiar names in the list of previous KR managers. Former Newcastle United and Everton manager Gordon Lee had a spell there in the mid-80’s, whilst former player Atli Edvaldsson, one of the country’s most famous sons, was the man who won the Centenary Double in 1999 before leaving to take over the national team. As a player, he enjoyed a successful career in Germany, most notably with Fortuna Dusseldorf, where he became the first foreign player to score five goals in a Bundesliga match, doing so against Eintracht Frankfurt in June 1983. Bizarrely, he was implicated in an MI5 spy scandal in 2009, as the owner of papers passed down from his father, who was the Chief of Police in Tallinn during the German occupation of Estonia in the Second World War. Sadly, Atli passed away last year after a battle with cancer, aged just 62. He was the brother of Celtic’s Johannes, see below.
And Glasgow-born David Winnie stepped up from his assistant manager’s role at the club to steer KR away from the threat of relegation in 2001. He is best known in Scotland for his time at St Mirren and Aberdeen, although he also played with Hearts, Dundee and Ayr United and had two separate spells at KR in the late 1990’s. Winnie would later manage Dumbarton.
Most Celtic supporters of a certain vintage will immediately think of one player when Iceland is mentioned, Johannes Edvaldsson, better known whilst he was in Scotland as ‘Big Shuggy!’
Son of a former Estonian international goalkeeper, who was accused of war crimes and fled his homeland after the Second world War, Edvaldsson was signed by Celtic from Danish outfit Holbaek after a brief trial in Ireland in the summer of 1975, whilst the club recovered from the loss of Billy McNeill and Jimmy Johnstone as players and the serious illness of Jock Stein following his road accident. Icelandic team captain Johannes would go on to become one of the most popular and versatile players at the club in his five-year stay, which straddled the transition from Sean Fallon then Stein to McNeill in the Parkhead dugout.
I have immediate images of his debut winner against English champions Derby County at Celtic Park, goals against Rangers at Ibrox and Hampden and a late headed winner at Muirton Park, Perth against St Johnstone in 1976, in which Celts had come from behind several times to win 4-3.
He would be back on home soil within a month of joining Celtic, as the Hoops were drawn against Edvaldsson’s old club Valur – who also featured his brother Atli – in the first round of the 1975/76 European Cup Winners’ Cup. Shuggy was given the captain’s armband as the Hoops won 2-0 at the Laugardalsvoller on Tuesday, 16 September 1975, in Sean Fallon’s first Euro match as interim Celtic manager, with goals from Paul Wilson and Roddie MacDonald. The only sour note on the night was his twice-taken and twice-missed penalty with 20 minutes remaining, Johannes blasting the ball over then seeing his retaken effort saved by the keeper.
He did manage to find the net in the second leg at Celtic Park two weeks later, opening the scoring within seven minutes as the Bhoys romped to a 7-0 win, the other goals coming from Kenny Dalglish, Pat McCluskey, Dixie Deans, Tommy Callaghan and a Harry Hood double, on the night Sean Fallon gave debuts to youngsters George McCluskey and Jim ‘Ben’ Casey from the bench. This victory allowed Celtic to win one of its most unusual pieces, the Polar Bear Trophy, a stone image which I prefer to think of as a bear getting friendly with a seal.
Shuggy scored his only hat-trick for Celtic in a thrilling 7-2 midweek win over Ayr United at Somerset Park in November 1975, on the night home winger Johnny Doyle scored and produced a performance which would lead to his joining his boyhood club the following March. Edvaldsson was also at the heart of the incident which secured the penalty kick from which Andy Lynch would win the 1977 Scottish Cup final, his attempt on goal handled on the line by Derek Johnstone of Rangers, allowing the now-recovered Jock Stein to celebrate what would be his last League and Cup Double – and indeed silverware – as manager of Celtic.
On 25 April 1979, Shuggy scored a vital late equaliser against St Mirren at Celtic Park, Roy Aitken adding an even later winner as the title tilted towards the Hoops following Aberdeen’s defeat of Rangers at Pittodrie. He would then play as 10 Men won the League the next month.
He would make his last appearance for the club against Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup in January 1980, before crossing the Atlantic to join Oklahoma NASL outfit Tulsa Roughnecks. After a spell in Germany with Hannover 96, Johannes returned to Scotland to sign for Jock Wallace’s Motherwell, lining up with former Parkhead colleague Alfie Conn as McNeill’s Celts destroyed the Steelmen by 7-0 at Fir Park in September 1982. He played with a future Hoops star in Brian McClair as the next league meeting of the clubs finished in a 3-1 win for Celtic two months later, and again as the teenager’s home double beat Celtic 2-1 in January 1983. McClair had scored a hat-trick against Rangers at the same venue two weeks earlier.
Edvaldsson would feature regularly against his former club in his second and final season at Motherwell, before ending his playing career back in his home city of Reykjavik with Throttur.
Shuggy will celebrate his 70th birthday in early September.
I hope you enjoyed that look at the fourth of our potential European opponents and our links with clubs and players from that country.
More to follow soon.