The boat journey around the rough and rocky coast of Greenland lasted three days. It was long and slow, and stopped at apparently every village on the way to pick up passengers and drop off packages. The scenery is spectacular: snow-capped mountains rising from the sea, fjords cropping the pristine landscape. However, after a while Inuk Mathaussen found that even the scenario was no longer interesting. In his memory, the trip was "tedious".
Spending all that time at sea was not Mathaussen's only sacrifice. He had to leave his partner and their one-year-old son at home alone for two weeks. Used precious vacation days. It also spent hundreds of dollars: on transportation, lodging, equipment, and registration fees.
In return, when the boat reached its destination it would have the dubious pleasure of spending seven nights sleeping on a mattress in a school gymnasium, struggling to fall asleep in a room shared with dozens of friends and strangers. But he didn't think twice about the trip, and the same goes for his colleagues at Equaluk 54, the football team that embarked on this odyssey.
After a couple of days, the boat arrived in Greenland's capital, Nuuk. There, two other teams embarked. The players traveled the final stretch together – another eight hours at sea – until they reached Sisimiut, a town about 300 kilometers to the north.
There, they teamed up with some of the six teams to compete in the Greenland football league this year. It is certainly the shortest championship in the world: just six days of games, starting on Monday and ending on Sunday.
As Mathaussen and the others knew, however, the tournament can also be the most intense: a whole season of physical exhaustion and mental wear, drama and intrigue, rivalries and controversies, transfer fights, and internal fights, all concentrated in one. only week. Getting to the place is tiring. But this is just the beginning.
Fog and controversy
Hosting the Greenland championship is a source of great pride and pressure. All games are broadcast on Greenland's national TV network. For a week, the eyes of the country – Greenland has about 56,000 inhabitants, the population of a small town spread across the largest island on the planet – will be concentrated on Sisimiut.
For René Lennart Frederiksen, it is crucial that all goes well. Director of the local team, who failed to qualify for this year's championship, he has devoted the last few weeks to ensuring that everything was prepared for the classified teams: he checked the artificial grass field, found places to host the teams. But before the ball came into play a problem arose.
With such a short lead time and such a busy schedule, the six ranked teams usually set aside a long time for the trip. Mathaussen's team, Equaluk 54, had the longest distance to travel from Greenland's southern tip to its west coast. The Ilulissat and Qeqertarsuaq teams traveled south in iceberg-occupied waters on their way to Sisimiut.
The summer was unusually hot — the warmest many people can remember, and there were fires in the hillside vegetation around the city — but we're still talking about Greenland. The weather remains unpredictable. The night before the start of the tournament, with five of the six teams already safely housed, fog came.
This happens every few days: a low white cloud over the sea, inexorably approaching the coast. Upon reaching the earth, the fog turns everything — horizon, landscape, and sea — into an indistinct gray spot. Visibility is reduced to a few meters. The temperature drops, and the airstrip a few miles from the city closes.
And this time the fog caught not only a group of referees and a delegation from the Greenland Football Association, KAK, but a whole team. And it wasn't any team.
Greenland is not a member of UEFA, the organization that runs European football, or FIFA, which organizes the World Cup. Their teams are amateur and do not participate in international competitions. But in this isolated ecosystem, the B-67 – the 2018 champion and winner of 8 of Greenland's last 10 titles – is the Brazilian team, Real Madrid.
The B-67 inspires reluctant admiration for its opponents. It has the most generous sponsors, and thus occupies the best accommodations each year. Tends to be the best prepared team. Attracts the best players. "They are the most professional," said Hans Brummerstedt, who played for B-67 years before moving to another Nuuk team, the GSS. But this time, his planning was less than perfect. The B-67 was still in Nuuk when the fog came. The team did not arrive on Sunday. If it failed to arrive on Monday, in time for its first departure – there aren't so many planes in Greenland – the game would have to be postponed.
In one meeting that night, the other five teams were adamant: the B-67 should lose the points of the match. The federation disagreed. It determined that the game would be played on Saturday, usually a rest day before the final.
But before that decision was made, the B-67 decided to take no chances and chartered a boat in Nuuk, rather than waiting for a flight. It arrived at 3 am on Tuesday, with just a few to sleep before beginning its title defense and its effort to maintain its air of supremacy.
It was not an auspicious start to the championship, but Frederiksen, the local director, was not disturbed. "This is Greenland," he said, shrugging, not taking his eyes off the field.
A week is a long time
The voice that answered the phone at the hospital was blunt. The hospital had received two phone calls in quick succession about two more injured players on the football field. Patience was running out, so was sympathy.
"They said they have other patients to treat," said Kuutak Olsen, a GSS player and coach, who made the second call. "They said they would send an ambulance this time, but after that they will only come in case of a fracture." This happened on Tuesday afternoon. It was the second day of the championship.
In most football leagues on the planet, crowning a champion takes almost all year. In England's Premier League, the season runs from August to May. So playing an entire season in a week is a saving throw for everyone involved.
There is the example of Hans Frederik Olsen, sent from Nuuk to cover the championship as narrator. This is his childhood dream, he said, but it's laborious: narrating three games a day keeps him in the microphone from 3 pm to 9 pm. "It's harder for him," said Andreas Paulsen, the commentator. "I don't need to talk so much."
There is the case of Kasper Bro Rasmussen, a Danish physiotherapist who moved to Greenland a year ago – the idea seemed "an adventure," he said – and serves as one of the tournament's four referees.
There should have been more judges, but the fog caused delays and two of them did not arrive. Rasmussen concludes his shift at the hospital at 4 pm, rides his bike to the soccer field, puts on his uniform, whistles a game, and works as a flagman on the next.
There are local volunteers, playing every imaginable role, whether it is selling bitter coffee and home-made cakes to fans, working as announcers, recording official statistics or flying Greenland flags, and setting up advertising signs on mounted fences to keep sled dogs and snowmobiles. "off the lawn in winter.
And there's the city as a whole: the families who provide food for the teams, the busy hospital operators, the bakery staff who work nonstop at lunchtime.
However, it is the players who suffer the most. The five games in five days are fast and hard. Injuries are common, and inevitable, and treatment is whatever is available — painkillers, bandages, a makeshift ice bath in the arctic waters of Baffin Bay. Then the players are left without care. Only in the most serious cases is it considered acceptable to disturb the hospital.
One of the injured players on Tuesday was Mathaussen. It was his first opportunity to start as a starter, in his first participation in the national championship, after three days of travel and resulting in two weeks away from family. He was injured after just a few minutes on the field.
When he arrived at the hospital, he was informed that his injury was serious. His leg was immobilized and he received crutches. The tournament was over for him. But it would not be possible to return home before the team concluded their participation, and anyway he wanted to stay to cheer. "I'll stay and watch," he said. "That's the way it is when you play football at the end of the world."
A prize worth winning
At night, Hans Brummerstedt sleeps on a mattress on the gym floor, surrounded by his GSS colleagues. He puts on the headphones. Everyone is so tired, after a few days of games, that the room usually falls silent around midnight, but there are always whispers, coughs, choking. Even so, he believes he heard a noise, like a ball bouncing on a ping pong table. Unfortunately, Brummerstedt notices in the dark, someone left a ping pong ball in the gym, and the teams decided to play to pass the time.
The players spent two months preparing for the championship. Most play futsal during the long, dark winter — the Greenlandic style of play is surprisingly technical, and it shows players' experience with the smaller, heavier futsal ball.