Greenland

Kalaallit Nunaat / Grønland / Greenland

  • Capital: Nuuk
  • Official Language: Greenlandic
  • Recognised Languages: Danish, English
  • Nicknames: Polar-Bamserne (The Polar Teddy Bears)
  • Association: Kalaallit Arsaattartut Kattuffiat (KAK) / Grønlands Boldspil-Union
  • Confederation: CONIFA, Island Games, Arctic Winter Games

Records

  • Best CONIFA World Football Cup Result: Not Qualified
  • Best CONIFA European Football Cup Result: Not Qualified
  • Best Island Games Result (Men): Silver Medalists (2013, 2017)
  • Best Island Games Result (Women): Silver Medalists (2013)
  • Best Greenland Cup Result (Men): Runners-Up (1983)

Greenland / Kalaallit Nunaat / Grønland is the largest island in the world and is located between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic archipelago. Despite being a part of the North American continent, Greenland is an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark and has been politically and culturally connected with Europe, especially with Denmark and Norway, for more than 1,000 years.

Most of the people who live in Greenland are Inuit, whose forefathers migrated from Alaska through the northern section of Canada before eventually settling across Greenland during the 13th century. Today, the majority of the population of Greenland is mainly concentrated on the southwestern coast of the island. Greenland is divided into five municipalities; Sermersooq, Kujalleq, Quqertalik, Qeqqata, and Avannaata. With a population of 56,081 (a 2020 estimate) Greenland is the least densely populated region on Earth and roughly a third of the population lives in the capital city, Nuuk (formally known as Godthåb). Three-quarters of Greenland’s area is covered by the only permanent ice sheet outside of Antarctica.

Greenland has been inhabited periodically over the past 4,500 years by peoples of the Arctic whose forbearers migrated to the island from what is now Canada. At the start of the 10th century, Norsemen began to settle on the southern part of Greenland having previously settled on Iceland. Inuit people arrived in Greenland during the 13th century and although being under the constant influence of Norway, Greenland was not officially announced as being under the Norwegian crown until 1261. By the late 15th century, the Norse colonies had departed Greenland after the black death (the bubonic plague between 1346 – 1353) hit Norway which started a severe decline for the Norwegian crown. Following this, the Portuguese briefly began to explore Greenland and for a short period of time they even claimed the island and named it Terra do Lavrador – a phrase latterly applied to Labrador, a geographic and cultural region found within the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador.

By the early part of the 17th-century explorers from neighboring Denmark had arrived in Greenland and in order to strengthen both trading and power, the Dano-Norwegian Realm proclaimed sovereignty over the island. However, due to the somewhat weaker status of Norway, it lost its sovereignty of Greenland in 1814 when the partnership with Denmark was ended. The year 1814 was also the year when Greenland became Danish but it was not fully integrated into the Danish state until 1953 under the constitution of Denmark.

In 1979, Denmark gave Greenland home rule and in the 2008 non-binding referendum on Greenland’s autonomy, 75% of Greenlandic voters, voted in favour of the Greenland Self-Government Act. The referendum was on expanded home rule in 30 different areas which included police, courts, and the coast guard. It also provided Greenland with a say in foreign policy, a more specific split of any future oil revenue, and probably most importantly, made the Greenlandic language the sole official language of the island.

With regards to football, it is considered that the game was first introduced to Greenland by Danish settlers as far back as 1891. History shows that it was not until 1953 that a federation to organise a national football tournament was founded, which was called the Grønlands Idrætsforbund (GIF). This federation was not just one that catered for football, it was also in charge of organising several sporting activities. That inaugural meeting and subsequent forming of GIF was attended by the following clubs:

  • K’ingmeĸ (Upernavik)
  • Malamuk (Úmanaĸ)
  • Nanoĸ (K’utdligssat)
  • K’SP (Godhavn/K’eĸertarssuaĸ)
  • Kugsak (Christianshåb/K’asigiánguit)
  • T-41 (Egedesminde/Ausiait)
  • SAK (Holsteinsborg/Sisimiut)
  • Kâgssagssuk (Sukkertoppen/Manîtsoĸ)
  • Nûk (Godthåb/Nûk)
  • Nagtoralik (Frederikshåb/Pâmiut)
  • Kigssaviarssuk (Julianehåb/K’aĸortoĸ)

The first national football championship in Greenland was organised for the 1954-55 season and GIF would continue to administer the championship up until 1970. The championship was known as either the Fodboldturneringen, Grønlandturneringen, or Fodboldmesterskab I Grønland and was initially only held once every three years. In fact, it would not be until the late 1960s that an annual football championship in Greenland was normal practice. The winners of the first Greenlandic championship were Nûk who won the grand final of that historic tournament by a staggering scoreline of 17-1 against Nagdlúnguaĸ. The final winners of the tournament (held in 1970) administered by GIF were T-41.

In 1971 a federation specifically for football was founded called the GBU or the Grønlands Boldspil-Union (more commonly known today as KAK) which took over the organisational responsibilities of the national championship in Greenland. The first winners of a GBU-organised championship were T-41 with the most recent winners being N-48 in 2019, as sadly the tournaments in 2020 and 2021 were not held. Today the association has 76 registered football clubs with approximately 5,500 members.

In terms of a Greenlandic national team, Greenland played their first-ever international fixture on 2nd July 1980 against the Faroe Islands which resulted in a 6-0 defeat for them. This game was played in Sauðárkrókur, Iceland, and was played in the short-lived Greenland Cup competition (a tournament between Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland). For the record, Greenland finished third in that 1980 edition of the competition with the eventual winners being Iceland.

The Greenlandic national team has been a regular participant over the years in the Island Games which first incorporated football into the games in 1989. In that 1989 tournament, Greenland finished fourth in a tournament featuring a total of five teams including Faroe Islands, Ynys Môn, Åland Islands, and the Shetland Islands. Their best performances at the Island Games came in 2013 and 2017 where they finished as runners-up on both occasions. In the 2013 final, they lost by just 1 goal to 0 against the Bermuda U-23 team, and in 2017 they were soundly beaten 6-0 by the Isle of Man. It was at the 2003 Island Games held on the island of Guernsey where Greenland recorded their biggest win to date, a 19-0 triumph over the Channel Islander side of Sark.

Unfortunately, the national team has not played a game against another national team since the 2017 Island Games, but earlier this year, they did embark on a tour of Denmark playing against some Danish club teams and came back with a mixed bag of results.

As far back as 1998, Greenland has been seeking to play in fully confederated football with possibilities of them joining either UEFA or CONCACAF as a member, and subsequently, gaining membership to FIFA. Alas, Greenland is still seeking membership, and I for one hope that they can soon realise their ambition of doing so whichever confederation they eventually choose to join, or are warmly accepted into.

To find out more about the Greenlandic national team we spoke to football enthusiast Pat McGuinness. Pat has his own football writing blog called Pat’s Football Blog and has got an excellent knowledge of football in Greenland. You can find the links to both Pat’s blog and Twitter feed below:

Q. Who would you say is Greenland’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Tekle Ghebrelul

The former Denmark manager Sepp Piontek has managed Greenland in the past, but probably the manager who has got the most out of his team has been Tekle Ghebrelul, who managed the team from a pretty successful Island Games in 2013 up until late 2017 when he left to take up a post in Sweden.

Morten Rutkjær

Ghebrelul, who was born in Eritrea but, due to the war of independence there, sought asylum in Denmark when he was quite young, was also manager of Greenland’s most successful club over the past couple of decades, B-67, who hail from the capital, Nuuk. After three years in Sweden, he returned to Greenland last year to co-manage the national futsal team. Now, the former Danish under-21 international Morten Rutkjær is in charge of the national team and is busy putting his own stamp on things. The players seem to be responding positively, and that bodes well for the future.

Ari Hermann

In my own limited experience, the best player I’ve come across has to be B-67’s Ari Hermann, who has also played for cross-town rivals IT-79 and has represented Greenland at the Island Games. He seems to have been around forever, but I’m not sure exactly how old he is! He is a joy to behold in full flow down the wing, and, after missing the 2019 championship through injury and (like the rest of us) seeing the last two editions scrapped thanks to the Coronavirus crisis, he will hopefully be back in action next year.

Hot on his heels would be Hans-Karl Berthelsen, who plays for IT-79 and was the glue that kept the side together for several years, but his star was sadly on the wane back in 2018 and 2019. I would love to see him back in action next year and back to his best. At his best, he was every bit as good as Ari Hermann in an arguably less talented but more dogged team. Fast, skillful, mesmerizing even, with a nose for goals, Berthelsen had everything but was strangely rarely, if ever, picked for the full national team.

Jesper Gronkjær

One name which keeps cropping up in articles about football in Greenland is the former Ajax and Denmark player Jesper Gronkjær, who was born in Greenland but left with his family when he was three years old and has never played for any Greenlandic side (or ever offered himself up to play for the national team, as far as I know). Gronkjær being born in Greenland provides a nice space-filler for any article on Greenlandic football, but he’s never been relevant to the game in the land of his birth.

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?

There are probably a few candidates, but I think former national goalkeeper Loke Svane would be up there with the best of them. Humble, consistent, and talented, he represented Greenland at a number of Island Games tournaments, and domestically won something like nine domestic titles, two with home-town club Kugsak-45, and the remainder with Nuuk’s top club B-67, the country’s most successful club in recent years. After retiring from playing football a couple of years ago, Loke is now the assistant manager with Greenland’s futsal team.

Greenland’s best-known player at the moment would have to be Ari Hermann; he could be regarded as Greenlandic football’s poster-boy but has almost always lived up to the hype. He has represented Greenland at the Island Games. If I’m living and lucky, I look forward to seeing him in action at the next Island Games football tournament scheduled to be held in Orkney in 2023.

Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Greenlandic national side currently?

Apart from Hermann, Nagdlúnguak-48’s Markus Jensen and Søren Kreutzmann, and their former team-mate Nick Reimer, now playing for B-67, would be contenders for that plaudit. Jensen is a mix of grit, skill, and goals, and has been wonderfully consistent over the past few years, whilst Kreutzmann came of age in 2019; after showing flashes of what he was capable of in previous tournaments he was absolutely superb in helping his team win their first national championship in around a decade. Nick Reimer began as something of a battering-ram, but has come on spectacularly over the past few years, and, alongside Jensen, Kreutzmann, and his brother Lars-Erik, he was instrumental in bringing the national championship title back to Ilulissat in 2019.

Asii Kleist Berthelsen

I shouldn’t forget Asii Kleist Berthelsen, who has won two women’s championship titles with Nuuk side GSS, but after winning the 2019 women’s GM with GSS transferred to top Danish club Fortuna Hjørring, and after playing for their under-16 team, I believe she has broken into the first team. She has also played for Denmark’s under-16s and is one to watch for the future.

Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?

Due to the Coronavirus and there being no Island Games tournament in 2019, the national team hasn’t been in action against other national sides on the pitch since the 2017 Island Games, but the KAK (the Greenlandic FA) have instead concentrated on futsal and have had some decent results against FIFA-member national sides in recent years. 

Action from a futsal international played in October 2021 – Greenland v Finland

The national football team did visit Denmark in September for a training camp and played a few friendlies, but came away with very mixed results. It should be said that most of the players have had very little game-time since 2019, so they can be forgiven for this. Rutkjær himself said that results weren’t the most important thing to take away from the trip, but that the players played well.

Q. Are there any Greenlandic players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?

I’ll have to put Asii Kleist Berthelsen at the top of the list; she is a goal-machine and her all-round play is excellent. She could go a long, long way in women’s football if all goes well.

Q. Looking at Greenland’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?

Greenland has perhaps never fulfilled their potential at the Island Games, but they came close to winning an extremely abridged tournament in 2013, when they lost 1-0 to hosts Bermuda’s under-23 team due to a last-minute goal.

Highlights from the 2013 Island Games Final against Bermuda Under-23’s

Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?

The team has suffered a couple of heavy defeats down the years, losing 6-0 to both Guernsey and Menorca, and 7-2 to Gotland and Isle of Wight. They also lost their first-ever international match, against the Faroe Islands back in 1980, by six goals to nil.

Q. What are the best (and worst) things about being a fan of the Greenlandic national team?

Not being Greenlandic, I maybe don’t feel every twist and turn of fortune quite as deeply as someone from Greenland, but I still want to see the country’s teams do well, both on the pitch and on the court. Greenlanders are passionate football fans and are proud of their national football teams, and their futsal teams are usually watched by capacity crowds when they play in Nuuk.

Greenland has played very few football matches at home against official international opposition – I think the last match might have been against the Faroes as far back as the mid-1980s, though I hope someone will correct me on that – but when they have played at home, the locals turned up in droves and really got behind the team.

Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?

Not as far as I know; most of the team’s matches are played outside Greenland, so there is minimal support for them away from home, unfortunately.

Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?

Perhaps my favourite Greenland shirt would be their classic blue one worn at the 1997 Island Games in Jersey, when they were sponsored by Pisiffik, a local supermarket chain.

Greenland team wearing Pat’s favourite shirt at the 1997 Island Games in Jersey

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Greenlandic national team?

Like most people who follow football in Greenland, I would like to see the KAK obtain full FIFA membership and join either UEFA or CONCACAF, but the former looks unlikely at this stage. Apart from that, I hope that a proper stadium can be built in Nuuk in the coming years, but that, like many things, will depend on money being made available to finance its construction. The KAK, in association with the local government, has been installing artificial pitches all over the country over the past few years, and that has helped improve the standard of football immensely. That, in turn, can only help the national team.

But, for me, the most important thing is that the national football teams – both men’s and women’s – can get playing other national sides, and, if funding allows it to do so on a more regular basis than a few games every two years at Island Games tournaments. Meanwhile, the national squad seems to be responding well to the work put in by current national manager Morten Rutkjær and his backroom staff. He and his staff are providing some continuity at a time when it is needed most.

A massive Qujan Qujanaq Qujanarsuaq to Pat McGuinness from Pat’s Football Blog for answering the questions on the Greenlandic Football team. Remember you can find his excellent blog in the links at the top of this blog page.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com, or send a message to the author @Gareth19801 or the editor at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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