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"It was a crazy thing to look across the changing room and see your own son": how Arnór and Eiður Guðjohnsen made footballing history

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Dave Fawbert
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When Eiður and Arnór Guðjohnsen played for Iceland against Estonia, they made history as the first father and son to play in an international match. But how did it come about, and what did it really feel like?

Every son tries to walk in the footsteps of his father - if only for that short childhood period of putting your LEGO bricks together as your dad is out at work on the building site - but, usually, there comes a point when the paths diverge.

But even for those who choose to follow the family line, it’s a tough business, trying to live up to expectations and previous accomplishments. Nonetheless, when Eiður Guðjohnsen was growing up, it was soon clear: he wanted to be a footballer like his dad, the longtime Anderlecht striker and Icelandic international Arnór.

Of course, talent and skill can be based in the genes, and there have been several footballing dynasties over the years: but no one has achieved what this pair did on 24 April 1996, when they became the first father and son to play in the same international match.

Arnór was 34 and Eiður was just 17 when they played for Iceland in a 3-0 win against Estonia in Tallinn, with Eiður coming on as a second-half substitute for his father.

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Nine years before, Arnór had said that his biggest wish was for his son, then aged just eight, to play international alongside him - and it duly came true.

However, the pair never played alongside each other. On the wishes of the Icelandic FA, who wanted the historic happening to take place in the following home match, they refrained from doing so in Talinn - but shortly after the match, Eiður broke his ankle in an Under-18 tournament and missed two seasons, during which Arnór retired from his career.

Nonetheless, it remains an incredible achievement. We spoke to Arnór, who became Eiður’s agent during his incredible career with Barcelona, Chelsea and Iceland, and his son, speaking as a Gillette ambassadors, who have over 100 years’ experience of working with men and a heritage steeped in sport, to discover what it was really like to enjoy such a special moment between a father and son.

The moment when Eiður came on for his father Arnór

Growing up

Arnór, you were only 17 when Eiður was born and just starting out on your career yourself, with no guarantee that you would have any success. It must have been quite a scary, uncertain time for you?

A: Of course it was a little scary, not just because I was young but also because I was still finding my feet as a professional. It was a dream of mine to be a professional football and having Eidur actually helped drive that dream - he gave me the inspiration i needed to be the best man and best father that I could be.

When did Eiður first show an interest in football, and when did he start paying attention to your footballing career?

A: From a very, very young age he was kicking a football. He didn’t have much choice because the majority of presents we gave him for his birthday or Christmas were football related. He used to come and watch me play when he was a young kid. He’d sit in the stands are cheer the team on during my time at Anderlecht.

When did you first start to think that playing together for Iceland might be a possibility?

A: When I went to watch one of his training sessions when he was maybe 15 or 16. I remember thinking, “Wow, he’s the best player on the pitch”. He had such great balance and was technically very good with both feet. I knew the next year or two would be crucial for his development but if he kept progressing he had a chance to play for the country.

When Eiður was called up for the national team alongside you for the first time, can you describe your feelings and emotions?

A: It was an incredible feeling. A very proud moment for me and something very unique. I remember we had talked about it for a year or two beforehand and when the squad was announced for the game against Estonia and he was in it, it was like a dream come true.

Eiður, what’s your earliest memory of playing football with your dad?

E: My earliest memory would be him coming back from training and me waiting for him with a football for a kick around. It makes me laugh thinking about it today because I know how tiring training is, and the last thing you want to do is keep playing when you get home!

Did your dad train you as you were growing up? What was he like as a coach? Patient? Demanding? Was he hard on you?

E: He wouldn’t coach my team or anything like that but of course he’d give me a advice. He was more of a role model and mentor than he was a coach. He’d come and watch training sometimes and tell me I need to do X to improve, or I should focus on Y if I want to get better. He was never demanding or hard on me; not like some dads you see today. As long as I was enjoying my football and striving to improve and better my game, he was happy.

When did you first start to think that playing together for Iceland might be a possibility?

E: To be honest it didn’t really cross my mind at a young age. It was when I was an early teenager, around 14 or 15, when my game was really improving and I realised I had what it took to be a professional. It was around that age that I seriously thought, “Hey, this is a real possibility, we could be playing in the same team together”. I obviously followed the national team and felt that if I kept improving and working on my game then there was a real possibility I’d be able to play for my country.

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Eiður in action for Iceland during their triumphant Euro 2016 campaign

The historic match

You were not allowed to play together in the game, as the plan was for you to play alongside each other in a home match later on - did you have any say in that decision?

A: Of course not, it was always down to the coach. We didn’t mind thought because the plan was always to play together in the home game.

E: I never had a say - I was such a young player at the time! The plan was for me to come on for my dad away against Estonia and the following home game we’d start together. With my injury that unfortunately never happened.

Nonetheless, what a special thing to happen, a father and son to play in the same game. What was it like on the morning of the game? And in the dressing room before the game together? Did you cry, were you emotional?

A: It was of course emotional. It was a crazy thing to look across the changing room and see your own son there. I tried to be a good role model growing up and the best father I could be, and seeing Eidur in the same changing room as me gave me great pride as it showed that I had also done a good job in raising him.

E: It was of course a really special occasion. Not just for me but for me dad and for the rest of the family. Not everyone can say they’ve played on the same team as their dad, let alone representing your country. I remember being very nervous. Not just at the possibility of playing with my dad but the whole idea of representing my country at such a young age. Having my dad in the changing room really helped - he was such a good role model and made me feel at ease. He made everything feel normal.

Arnór, can you talk us through exactly what you felt as the board went up for the substitution - seeing your son waiting on the touchline to replace you?

A: I can’t remember exactly - but it was a very surreal experience and a very proud moment.

Eiður, can you talk us through exactly what you felt as the board went up for the substitution - watching your dad come towards you on the touchline?

E: I wish I could remember but i was so focussed on the game!

Arnór and Eiður at the Jan Breydel Stadium in Bruges

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After the game

Arnór, after the game, did you feel at all a little sad - in that way that your time as a player was starting to come to an end, and Eiður had his whole career ahead of him? It’s always a bittersweet moment when we realise that our children have grown up/could be better than us!

A: I get asked this a lot and actually it was an extremely proud moment. You always want your kids to do well! i wanted him to surpass my achievements in football. I was just excited to see what the path ahead of him.

Eiður, of course, then broke his leg and you retired - did you consider trying to hold on and keep playing to try and make the appearance together at the same time happen?

A: It did cross my mind but by that point my career was coming to an end and Eidur’s injury was so bad that it became apparent very quickly that the chance hand gone.

Eiður, how did you feel when you broke your leg and then your dad retired?

E: It was obviously devastating. I had worked so hard up until that point and things were going really well. It was a horrible injury to suffer so early on in my career but there was never a time where I doubted I’d be able to come back and be a better player. Both dad and I were upset because before then we really thought that the day would come where we played together for the country we love.

Arnór, how has it felt, to be a dad watching Eiður’s career progress the way it has?

A: It’s been amazing. As I said, I just wanted to be a good role model for my son and have the best possible relationship with him. We are very close, so to see the career he has had makes me extremely proud. Now let’s see if any of my grandkids can surpass his achievements!

Eiður, how thankful are you to your dad for everything he’s done to help your career?

E: It’s hard to put into words really. He was the best dad anyone could wish for and a role model for me throughout my career. He always told me to enjoy my football and play the game the right way. He would say that if I worked hard then I had everything I needed to succeed as a pro player. He made my dream feel more possible. And then as my career developed and I moved to bigger clubs, to other countries, he was always there to offer advice when I needed it the most.

To celebrate Father’s Day and the launch of the brand new Chrome Edition Fusion Pro-Glide razor, Gillette has appointed footballers Eiður and Arnor Guðjohnsen to talk about what being a father means to them and the importance of role models in modern day society. 

The campaign is underpinned by a new study commissioned by Gillette which reveals Dad’s to be the UK’s favourite role models. 

Gillette Fusion5 ProGlide Chrome Edition razor is available exclusively to buy at www.Boots.com

(Images: Getty/Wikicommons)