Back to Tammela

There’s a story in this morning’s Aamulehti, about the status of football in Finland and how Veikkausliiga boss Jan Walden wants it to be Finland’s biggest sport. That’s not as far fetched as it sounds. When teams are doing well they can attract big crowds, bigger than most ice hockey sides get. We’re talking 5-6,000. I met former Finland captain Yrjö Asikainen a week ago (story to follow, there’s a lot to write up), and he was telling me about IlvesKissat games in the 50s. They used to play at Pyynikki, and drew crowds of 7-8,000 for the biggest games. This at a place with only around 1000 seats-people stood on the grass banks, climbed trees and generally did what they could to watch a successful side.

So it’s perfectly possible for football to capture the imagination of Finnish people. It’s happened before and it will again. But to become the ‘number one sports brand’ as Walden envisages, they’re going to need to deal with a few things. I’ve covered this a little before but as I’ve been looking at the marketing for Veikkausliiga I’d like to add that angle to my ‘back to Tammela’ campaign.

People go to football for the experience. I’ve talked about the attitude prevalent among some clubs before, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not what Veikkausliiga is aiming for. They want big crowds, lots of families, exciting football and more active fans.

Ratina is the worst possible way to aim for this in Tampere. On Thursday night it felt empty and windswept. 3,000 people in a stadium that big just does not work. It makes you feel like you shouldn’t be paying to get in, that this is a pub team’s game you’ve stumbled across. Both sets of fans did their best to create some atmosphere, but they were over a hundred yards apart, and the Kotka fans especially must have felt like they were as far from the action as it is possible to be. Because they were.

There are two price bands at Ratina. If you turn up on the day it costs 15 euro to sit in the main side, and 8 to go on the ‘sunny side’. Given the demographics of football’s audience-youthful, independent minded-it’s unsurprising that the sunnyside usually has more people than the main stand. But everyone could fit into the main stand when the crowd is so small, so why not have all tickets the same price and encourage some interaction? It surely wouldn’t lose any money, and would encourage more of a big match ‘event’ atmosphere.

You see, I was talking to a friend last night. He is pretty much Veikkausliiga’s dream demographic, and if they’re to achieve their aims he’s the kind of person they have to attract. He’s in the 25-34 age group, has a good disposable income, and he likes football enough to go to every Finland home game. He should be going to Veikkausliiga, but he can take it or leave it. I asked him why.

‘I used to live in Tammela in the mid-90s, close to the stadium. When there was a goal I could hear the roar if I was at home. TPV were getting 5-6,000 crowds and it always felt like a big match to go there. You just don’t have that at Ratina-unless there are 8-9,000 people there it feels empty.’

‘I went to a Honka game last year when there were 3,500 people there, and it felt like there were too many. The atmosphere was fantastic. When I go to HJK I like to sit near Forza HJK because they create a good atmosphere.’

I can see his point. On Thursday I looked across from the Sunnyside at the main stand. Apart from the block containing Sinikaarti, the main stand looked at best half full probably less. It’s a bit of a sorry sight. Now at Tammela, a couple of hundred home fans singing and 50 or so KTP supporters would have made a decent noise. At Ratina they got lost.

It is obvious to anybody that Ratina does not meet the needs of Tampere United, and that Tampere needs and deserves a football stadium. Tammela is probably unique in Finnish football, being in a residential area, central to the city and built especially for football. It’s an absolute jewel for a stadium nerd like me-night matches there are special, with the floodlights visible round corners as you approach, then suddenly bang! you’re right next to the stadium. It’s like an English ground in that respect. It’s such a waste that it isn’t the prime footballing facility for the city.

Perkele! This is good football!

I’ve been a bit quieter recently, and one reason is the amount of writing I’ve been doing for other places. This is one that might interest Finnish readers, so I’ll post it here as Six Degrees probably slips under the radar of many Finns. Nothing you won’t know already, but a great quote from Sami Verno in there….

Two games in

Bit calmer now, apologies for the rant. I love stewards really.

So, everyone’s played two games now, and the league’s looking a bit clearer. TPS have defied my fat jibes and are now third with 4 points, along with HJK and Tampere United. FC Haka are top with a 100% record, having won in Pietersaari yesterday. The results from yesterday are here:

FF Jaro 1 – 2 Haka Valkeakoski (EDIT-copypasted from livescore.com. admirable geographical accuracy, but I’m sure they don’t like it)
HJK Helsinki 0 – 0 AC Oulu
IFK Mariehamn 0 – 0 FC Lahti
Inter Turku 5 – 0 VPS Vaasa
MyPa 0 – 2 TPS Turku
Tampere United 2 – 1 KooTeePee

Viikingit have just beaten Honka 3-2 in what sounds like a belting Helsinki (area) derby, to join the bunch of teams on four points. You can see the goals here.

Now I’ve only seen the Tampere games so far. That will change when I go to Haka-Lahti on Thursday, but anyway. I think it’s another Veikkausliiga season of topsy-turvy ups and downs-whether this is due to the strength or weakness of the league I’m not really sure. The good results Oulu and viikingit have achieved show that. Then there’s the battle of the big spenders in Anjalankoski-Armand One scored, and Kuami Agboh didn’t. If they beat HJK next week, TPS will be confident about the rest of the season.

Tampere United were competent against a young Kotka team, who put up a good fight. I missed some of the match by remonstrating with stewards, but Wiss definitely helped. I think he’s what they call a ‘calming influence’. That sounds a bit patronising, but he seems to have a noticeable effect on the other members of the team. Kujala was much better than at VPS, and Pohja’s through ball for the goal was the kind of thing he was signed for. Defensive frailties are a bit of a worry though, teams will have noticed the effect Kuoppala’s absence is having.

A word for the Kotka fans-a full busload of them were there, and it’s a long way from Kotka to tampere. And this was a ‘school night’, too. They were in fine voice and a credit to their team. It’s just a shame I couldn’t have spoken to them at the match…. I got a text from someone going to HJK-Oulu yesterday (sorry Willie, I’ve no credit on my phone right now-if you read this can you email me? I’m in Helsinki next week and we should have a pint or something), saying he doubted there’d be any Oulu fans there. Were there? Kärpät seemed to take huge numbers to Jokerit the other week, and HJK must be one of the easier away games to get to (better rail and air links). plus there are all the ‘exiles’ that habitually inflate the crowd for most clubs visiting the bigger cities.

I’m rambling now, so I’d better stop. A word on the lower divisions first though. KooVee have signed Petri Heinanen, and there can’t be many internationals in Kakkonen. I’ll try and get there, but I have some, er, domestic responsibilities that may preclude my attendance. If you’re at a loose end in Tampere tomorrow though, get down to Tammela-it’s a great stadium, and KooVee are one of the old traditional multisport clubs. they have an ice hockey championship to their name and if you’re in Tampere for any length of time you’re almost guaranteed to see somebody wearing their colours.

There are Kakkonen games all over the place tomorrow, use the link to your right to find them. The alphabet soup is a geographical minefield I’m afraid-I aim to blog something about this at some point, but in the meantime the excellent footiemap.com is your friend.

On Sunday Ykkonen starts, and there are games in Hämeenlinna, Joensuu, Kokkola, Helsinki, Kuopio and Tampere. I’m not sure where PK-35 play, but they’re at home to TP-47. I’m sure there’s a reason for their names, maybe someone will enlighten me….

Rules are rules!

So, Tampere United won’t let me speak to away fans. Or rather they will, but only across a fence. What the hell do they think is going to happen? Am I going to go across there and batter all 50 KTP fans to a bloodied pulp? Does this happen at ice hocket games? I think the answer to both questions is no.

After the game, in O’Connells, Sinikaarti and KTP fans met up and chatted, discussing the national team, the game we’d just seen and the state of Finnish football. It’s possible someone was stabbed to death, but I have to say that I missed it.

So why do the stewards at Ratina say ‘rules are rules’ when I ask to go and say hello to the kotka fans? It’s ridiculous. There were maybe 3,500 fans at Ratina, and nobody wanted a fight. Except the steward. She seemed to be itching for a rumble. I denied her the pleasure, though.

Seriously though-what does Finnish football expect to achieve when they treat their fans like criminals?

I’ll write some more about the first two rounds when I’m less drunk and less pissed off.

Start as you mean to go on

I’m massively hungover today so can’t write too much, but it was a good start for Tampere United yesterday. They drew 1-1 at VPS, which is a decent result given their record at Hietalahti and the players they were missing. HJK won 3-1 at KTP, an impressive result, and the new boys drew 1-1 at Castren.

I’ve just seen Armand One miss a header from a metre out (no, he didn’t have to jump) on Urheliuruutu, and I think I’ve discovered what TPS are doing with the missing million-it seems to be stuffed down their players’ shorts. They must be strong contendeers for fattest team in the league even at this early stage. Mixu Paatelainen will have some running planned for them, surely. Even if it’s only down the shops to get some more makkara.

You can see highlights of yesterday’s games here-keep checking back because todays matches should be up soon. Lahti seem to be living up to my predictions-a 4-1 defeat at home to Jaro today. MyPa went down 2-1 at Honka despite Saku Puhukainen’s best efforts, and TPS drew 0-0 with Mariehamn.

To bet or not to bet?

In the spirit of my predictions, I’ve decided to place a few bets on the games this weekend. Finns will know all about the match fixing scandal involving Allianssi and a Chinese-Belgian coalition of gamblers and coaches. And the scandal is probably one of the only things that non-Finns know about Finnish football.

Now in that case, the Chinese guys were betting in the far east and the Belgian coach made sure his team did what was required. Betting in Finland is run by a monopoly, just as selling alcohol is. But the betting takes place in newsagents and bars, not in the single use-only betting shops where British gamblers congregate.

The range of sports to bet on is OK, but I can’t be the only Brit to be disappointed with the horse racing they have here. Trotting is like chariot racing without the weaponry, like horse racing without the excitement. I know the Grand National isn’t great for animal welfare, but if you were a horse would you rather meet your end at Becher’s Brook or in a sausage factory?

Anyway, back to football. The odds are sometimes a little strange, and not just because they’re always decimal. For instance Tampere United are 1.70 to win tomorrow at VPS, who beat them home and away last year. The draw is 3.35 and a VPS win is a mighty 4.00. Very tempting when you consider that Tampere will probably be without Kaven, Kuoppala, Wiss and Niemi. Not that i think they’ll lose, just that they’re underpriced-if I was to bet impartially on this match it would be on VPS or the draw.

I’ve had a little look at Ladbrokes’ odds for the coming round of games (isn’t globalisation wonderful?), and for every match there is a difference in one of the odds, always in favour of the customer.

I can’t help thinking this is another nice little cashcow for the Finnish state, just like Alko. There has been a lot of propaganda about raising alcohol taxes recently, because last time they were cut there was a big rise in alcohol related health problems. The fact that they reduced the taxes on hard liquor (made in Finland) rather than beer (foreign muck) apparently had nothing to do with it.

Once again, the Finnish consumer gets a raw deal. And people will accept it, because gamblers and alcoholics are scum, aren’t they?

I don’t know what the law says about gambling on the internet in Finland so I hesitate to advocate it. But anybody thinking about betting on football here should check out Ladbrokes, William Hill, Coral, Paddy Power or any number of other sites to see what a great deal foreign gamblers get in comparison.

Counting those beans

In England you often have to wait up to a year after the season finishes to find out how much each team has spent. Not so in Finland. Here we have the annual accounts for all the teams in advance of the season, a helpful development given the temptation to overstretch-an extra 100,000 euros goes a lot further here than it does in many countries.

So, those who may have been mystified by Paatelainen’s return to Finland can worry no more. TPS are the moneybags of Veikkausliiga, with EUR2.5m for this season. Seppo Sairanen is their benefactor and he evidently has deep pockets. Next are HJK, some way behind on EUR1.75m. Then you have Tampere United, MyPa and Honka. The lowest spenders are unsurprisingly FC Viikingit, who seem to play in a forest somewhere on the eastern edge of Helsinki. They will have to make do with just EUR 530,000.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is the discrepancy between total budgets and playing budgets. TPS have a whopping EUR1.5m on top of their playing budget. Where’s it all going? I hope their non-football investments are wise, the last thing the game here needs is another bankruptcy.

No club has a wage bill of more than EUR1m, giving the impression of massive contingency funds-TPS apparently allocate 60% of their season’s money for unplanned expenses, whereas Viikingit have just 20%. Unsurprisingly it’s the poorer clubs that are least prepared for hard times.

The Veikkausliiga website also includes a table of what are apparently break even attendances for all the clubs. Tampere United can realistically hope to get 4,100 and have a good chance of milking the corporate market, but that option is not so well exploited by other clubs. Here are the figures:

Total budget for 2007

2,500,000 TPS
1,750,000 HJK
1,547,000 Tampere United
1,400,000 MyPa
1,400,000 FC Honka
1,170,000 FC Haka
937,000 VPS
931,000 FC Inter
850,000 FC Lahti
840,000 AC Oulu
784,000 IFK Mariehamn
742,000 FC KooTeePee
741,972 FF Jaro
530,000 FC Viikingit

Playing budget for 2007

1,000,000 TPS
1,000,000 HJK
900,000 FC Honka
886,900 Tampere United
860,000 MyPa
746,500 FC Haka
550,000 FC Lahti
550,000 AC Oulu
514.300 VPS
497,100 FF Jaro
490,000 FC Inter
452,000 IFK Mariehamn
420,000 FC Viikingit
400,000 FC KooTeePee

Average attendance target

6000 HJK
4500 FC Honka
4100 Tampere United
4000 TPS
3350 AC Oulu
3300 FC Inter
3000 FC KooTeePee
2900 VPS
2600 FF Jaro
2500 FC Lahti
2375 FC Haka
2300 FC Viikingit
2100 MyPa
2000 IFK Mariehamn