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.