Ten years ago, sport was also in chaos… from an Icelandic ash cloud

Barcelona travelled 625 miles by COACH to face Inter, Blackburn missed out on Lewandowski and one very keen star took a £1,600 TAXI to Madrid! Ten years ago, sport was also plunged into chaos… from an Icelandic ash cloud

  • Ten years ago, football faced huge repercussions from an Icelandic ash cloud 
  • A volcano called Eyjafjallajokull erupted and the cloud caused total chaos 
  • Many flights were grounded and it took more than a month for normality again
  • There were long-term consequences for football and across other sports 
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

Though the current COVID-19 shutdown is unprecedented, football has had to contend with peculiar circumstances before, including 10 years ago when European air travel shut down in the aftermath of an Icelandic volcano.

Ten years ago, on April 14, Eyjafjallajokull erupted and propelled ash several miles into the atmosphere, making it dangerous to fly in case the debris got into aircraft engines.

Being a globalised game with plenty of international travel at the top level, football was forced to amend quickly, and its repercussions were significant.

On April 14, Eyjafjallajokull erupted and propelled ash several miles into the atmosphere

Sam Allardyce (left) believes Blackburn would have signed Robert Lewandowski from Lech Poznan in 2010 had the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud not ground flights across the globe 

Planes at Gatwick Airport the day after the eruption are seen grounded due to the conditions

By the time the dust had settled, metaphorically as well as literally, West Ham had completed an ownership change, Jose Mourinho had taken advantage of Barcelona’s two-day coach journey to Milan and Sam Allardyce was cursing his luck for missing out on Robert Lewandowski.

Match of the Day host Gary Lineker travelled more than a thousand miles over land and sea to present the programme having been in Madrid the night before.

‘It reminded me of my football days – once you’ve got a target and put your mind to it, nothing stands in your way,’ he said on his bleary-eyed arrival to the BBC studios.

Of course, the volcano had serious repercussions. Though some restrictions on flights were lifted within a fortnight, air travel wasn’t completely back to normal in England until the middle of May. Until then, the old-fashioned team coach returned to fashion to replace the charter plane.

The most prestigious fixtures to be affected were the first legs of the Champions League semi-finals. The holders Barcelona, at their peak under Pep Guardiola, had to travel 625 miles by coach to Milan to face Jose Mourinho’s Inter, the journey broke up by an overnight stay in Cannes.

Inter won 3-1 with Lionel Messi and Xavi subdued and understandably leggy after 14 hours on a bus. ‘Something should have been done not to give this advantage to the home team,’ complained Barca’s sporting director Txiki Begiristain, who now occupies the same position at Manchester City.

The mass cancellation of flights caused chaos and left teams forced to take coaches to games

Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were exhausted after they travelled 625 miles by coach to Milan

Maicon (right) scores against Barcelona during Inter’s shock 3-1 win at the San Siro

Inter went on to reach the final 3-2 on aggregate and in the other semi, Lyon also went out having had to travel 450 miles by road for their first leg against Bayern Munich.

In the Europa League, Liverpool had a 24-hour trip to Madrid for their semi-final against Atletico, travelling by rail to Bordeaux before being allowed to fly the rest of the way. They lost the tie on away goals though Fulham were able to reach the final despite a 570-mile road trip to Hamburg.

The most eye-catching sacrifice was made in another sport. Eventing rider Oliver Townend took a £1,600 taxi ride to Madrid in order to fly to America and compete in an event in Kentucky.

Though life returned to normal for most sports people relatively quickly – certainly compared to today’s crisis – there were some longer-term repercussions.

For West Ham’s Icelandic owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson – and his bald-headed consortium partner Eggert Magnusson – already reeling from the banking crisis in his country the previous year, the volcano was the final straw. He surrendered majority control of the club to David Sullivan and David Gold in May, having seen them buy 50 per cent of the club in January. After the ash cloud, Magnusson and Co disappeared like dust.

Up at Blackburn, Allardyce was foiled by flight cancellations. It scuppered his chance to meet Lewandowski, and up-and-coming striker with Lech Poznan. 

Eventing rider Oliver Townend (pictured in 2018) paid £1,600 to take a taxi to Madrid, Spain, in order for him to catch a flight out to America for a competition in Kentucky, United States

West Ham’s Icelandic owners, including Eggert Magnusson, gave up control in the aftermath

‘I had watched him play, but didn’t get the chance to meet him. His agent said he couldn’t come over because of the ash cloud,’ said Allardyce. The centre-forward later moved to Borussia Dortmund and the rest is history.

More than 100,000 flights were cancelled in total by the eruption. Across the world, events were either cancelled – like the Japanese Moto GP – or disrupted, with several star runners unable to compete in the London Marathon. 

Although European flights were affected worst, it had global knock-on effects with large swathes of European air space dangerous to use.

It was Newcastle United’s misfortune that, at the height of the problems on April 19, they were slated for the longest trip in domestic football, an away match at Plymouth.

Instead of flying as normal, Newcastle had to make the 916-mile round trip by road but won 2-0 to clinch the Championship title with goals from Andy Carroll and Wayne Routledge.

In this current climate, it’s a tiny reminder that better times can be around the corner. 

Newcastle took the longest trip in domestic football to Plymouth by coach but were not hampered that day as they produced a comfortable win to seal the Championship title


Despite being a relatively small volcano, the ash cloud created by Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption caused the highest level of disruption to air travel since World War II.

From April 14, the volcano produced an estimated 250 million cubic metres of ash and small debris, which rose to a height of around 9km.

What turned a local problem into an international crisis, however, was that the volcano was situated directly under the jet stream, which was unusually stable at the time and blowing steadily south-easterly, pushing the ash cloud straight towards mainland Europe.

The initial human impact was felt in Iceland, with hundreds living near to the eruption site evacuated and farmland and livestock severely affected by ash.

But the main effects were felt in the aviation industry. As well as concerns over poor visibility, the glass-rich nature of the ash cloud, caused by a reaction between melting ice and lava, was potentially particularly damaging for aircraft engines, and there were widespread fears of crashes.

Huge amounts of European airspace was consequently shut down, with countries ranging from Belarus to Turkey, Finland and Ukraine all affected.

An estimated 10 million passengers were stranded, not only in Europe but around the world.

After an initial shutdown across northern Europe in April, there were further shutdowns in May affecting the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria and Germany.

The cost to the airline industry caused by 95,000 grounded flights was estimated to be £130million per day, with a total loss of around £1.1billion.

TUI reported losses of £5-6m per day during the airspace closure, while 13 other travel firms went bust.

Other areas of the economy hit by disruption to supply chains included the pharmaceutical and car-making industries. BMW, Nissan and Honda all suspended production on some models, while Asian electronics producers such as Samsung were unable to export large amounts of goods.

The Kenyan flower industry also lost millions per day, with a reported 400 tonnes of flowers destroyed as they were unable to be airshipped into the UK.

The ban on flights in the UK disrupted the general election campaign trail. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was among those affected, as he was stranded in Israel during his campaign tour.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and others were forced to miss the funeral of Polish president Lech Kaczynski, who had died in a plane crash.

The comedian and actor John Cleese was reported to have spent roughly £3,300 on a taxi journey from Oslo to Brussels after a flight was cancelled. His 900-mile journey lasted around 15 hours, and passed through Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Sir David Attenborough and his crew, who had reached the North Pole to film the upcoming BBC nature series The Frozen Planet, were temporarily stranded in the Norwegian Arctic territory of Svalbard.

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