The Arsenal player who became Minister of Finance and stood for President

By Tony Attwood

Albert Sigurður Guðmundsson is said to have been the first ever Icelandic professional footballer, and he included in his varied footballing career a couple of league games for Arsenal, as well as playing in France and Italy.

He was born on 5 October 1923 and is first found playing for Valurootball Club of Reykjavik (known as Valur) – one of the oldest athletics clubs in Iceland (it focuses on football, handball and basketball), which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011.

In 1944, with the second world war still raging, he moved to Scotland to follow a course in business studies, and then signed up with Rangers, moving from there to Arsenal where as an amateur he played in two league games in the transformative 1946/7 season under George Allison.

His first appearance was on 2 October 1946 in a friendly against Sparta Prague, a 2-2 draw.  This was a match in which the Arsenal team had a fairly traditional look including Swindin, Joy, Male, Leslie Compton, and Logie.

His opening league match was against Stoke at home on 19 October 1946, which Arsenal won 1-0 in front of a crowd of 62,000 (an amazing crowd considering Arsenal had previously only won two games and had lost six up to that point).  The team was much the same as in the friendly, although Reg Lewis (who scored 29 goals in 28 league games that season) was now back in the side.

Albert kept his place at inside right and played on 26 October 1946 away to Chelsea which Arsenal lost 1-2.

Although these were only matches 11 and 12 in the league season he was already the fourth person to occupy the number 8 shirt, and this position was not an exception.  Aside from the regulars Arsenal used 14 players that season who each played under 10 games – Albert was one of the continuing stream, but he played as an amateur because he did not have a work permit.

Arsenal certainly wanted him and he wanted Arsenal, but the employment restrictions made it impossible and he played his last match (still as an amateur) for Arsenal on 11 November 1946 in the annual game against Racing Club de Paris, it is not surprising that there was an immediate interest from Racing in signing Albert.

It is difficult to be exactly clear about this, as different records give different accounts but it looks as if he played for Racing, and then moved on to AC Milan in 1948.

However a break of his knee ended his career at the highest level, and when Milan were not willing to pay for Albert to have the operation to put it right he left the club and paid for the operation privately.  He then returned to France, to play again for Racing, and subsequently Nancy for whom he was top scorer, before ending his playing career in 1956 in Iceland once more with Valur, as well as setting up a clothing wholesale business, importing women’s clothes, and later other goods, from France.

In 1967 he was awarded the Silver Badge of the KSÍ (FA of Iceland) for his work in football and the following year became chair of the KSÍ where he remained until 1973, when he was awarded the Gold Badge, and retired from football.

At this stage he started to develop his political work with the Independence Party.  He had become a councillor in Reykjavik in 1970 and a member of the Iceland Parliament (The Albingi) in 1974.

In 1980 he ran for President but lost to Vigdís Finnbogadóttir but continued his politicial career, and in 1983 he became Minister for Finance and in 1985, Minister of Industry.  However a tax scandal in 1987 forced his resignation, and his departure from the Independence Party, who he felt had not supported his case but had forced his resignation.

Then he formed a new party – the Citizen’s Party (Borgaraflokkurinn) and it received almost 11% of the popular vote in the general election in its first year, and he was joined in Parliament by his son Ingi Björn Albertsson, who was also a footballer, and who played for Iceland.

In 1989 he became Icelandic ambassador to France and remained there until 1993.  He died on 7 April 1994.

His great-grandson Albert Gudmundsson was offered a contract by Arsenal aged 16, but he decided to join SC Heerenveen instead.  Having trained with Arsenal from 2011 onwards he acknowledged his father’s footballing achievements, but said he didn’t yet feel ready to join a club as big as Arsenal.

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