The Vikings’ trip to Spain marked the very beginning
With its anniversary season starting soon, let‘s take a step back to where it all began for the Women’s EHF Champions League. 24 years back, to be exact.
It was 25 September 1993 when the first game of the new European club competition took place in a sports hall in Valencia, Spain. The hosts, CB Mar Valencia, were up against Icelandic champions Víkingur HC in the first qualification match for a place in the Last 16.
The Spanish team were one of the strongest in Europe at that time. Earlier that year they had taken up the name Mar Valencia, after having dominated the Spanish handball scene under the name Íber Valencia.
They won the national league a record 20 years in a row between 1979 and 1998 and the Spanish cup 19 times.
Regarded as one of the best teams of all time, they became the first women’s team from Spain to win the Champions League in 1997 after beating Viborg in the final.
Being up against those giants in 1993 was a tough task for the Icelandic side, which had celebrated their second national title earlier that year. But the Vikings set sail and headed for Spain.
Star Morskova stood out
“I mostly remember the tall Russian one, and just how poor we were. We never had a break,” former Icelandic national player Halla Maria Helgadottir tells ehfCL.com. She became Vikingur’s top scorer in the game with five goals.
The Russian player she is referring to, was Natalya Morskova, one of the best handball players of all time. She represented the Soviet Union at the 1988 Summer Olympics, winning bronze, a feat she repeated four years later with the team that consisted of players from 12 of the 15 former Soviet countries.
While Morskova did not get on the score sheet against Vikingur, it was Raquel Vizcaino who led the attacking force with nine goals. Helgadottir rightfully recalls how difficult the game was for the Icelandic side.
Hard time for Vikingur on and off the court
Mar Valencia had a comfortable lead at half-time (14:7) and turned up the pressure even more after the break, which secured them a 10-goal victory (26:16) in front of 400 spectators in Valencia. In the second match the Spanish team dominated even more and won 29:10 as Vikingur only scored three goals in the second half.
Helgadottir received clippings from Spanish newspapers about the game and can’t help but laugh when she goes through them and what was written about her side.
“The game was pretty boring until the last few minutes when the Spanish team finally started to play for pleasure,” she reads up and continues to the next one. “Víkingur was not a difficult opponent though they had four players from the Icelandic national team.”
“So we pretty much got trashed off the field as well,” says Helgadottir, and laughs.
Stuck in an elevator for two hours
Helgadottir recalls a warm welcome for Vikingur in Valencia, but it were mostly some unusual incidents off the court that became the most memorable moments.
“We were too many in the elevator and it got stuck for around two hours. It was like a bad joke, people were able to open a small slot and throw candy at us. Thankfully it was after the games. And we really enjoyed the trip to Spain, that was exciting, for sure,” she says.
It was not an easy task for the Icelandic side to play the games, having to fund the trip largely by themselves, for example by collecting bottles. But that was the reality.
Referees felt sorry for them
Helgadottir was one of the leading Icelandic players at the time. She was the captain of the national team and was the first Icelandic female player to become a professional when she went abroad to Sola in Norway.
Helgadottir says that Mar Valencia were one of the toughest opponents she faced during her time with Vikingur, although she doesn’t remember much detail from this first Women’s EHF Champions League match.
“I don’t remember the referees that much but the Spanish article says that we had gotten some soft fouls. I guess they felt sorry for us a bit, that is my feeling. At least you can’t say that we came back richer after this trip,” says Helgadottir.
Different strength – similar history
The upcoming 25th edition of the competition features 16 teams competing in four groups; 14 had qualified directly while eigth teams competed in qualification for the remaining two spots.
Back in 1993, there were 32 taking part in the first edition. Mar Valencia eventually went all the way to the group stage of the Last 8.
And although the strength of the teams that faced each other in that first match 24 years ago was very different, they share a similar story today.
Mar Valencia were successful for the next decade or so, but after the club moved in 2004 the name was changed to Balonmano Sagunto. The club emerged with another Valencia-based club, and are now playing in the Spanish league as Valencia Aicequip.
Vikingur are currently in their second year in the Icelandic second league. The club was re-established in 2016 after years without a team.
Their golden generation will always be represented by Helgadottir.Author: Andri Yrkill Valsson / ew