Literally, the lightning of Musa. These boys are a football team from a suburb of Pori, a middling club whose situation is a good illustration of how Finnish football is structured. Musa is a quiet place, full of little cottages and houses built for soldiers returning from the second world war. There is a pub and a football ground, which pretty much covers all bases in my opinion. The game in Finland relies on volunteers and communities, not big professional organisations, and Musa epitomise this spirit pretty well.
With 100,000 registered players, football is the biggest participation sport in Finland. This is hardly surprising when you think about how much it costs to kit out an ice hockey player, and the rate at which kids grow out of skates, pads and sticks.
This means that football is still overwhelmingly a participation, and amateur, sport in Finland. The corpses of pro clubs litter the scenery here, from Allianssi to FC Jazz, and Jokerit to Atlantis. The income is small and the costs are large, so clubs here have to fight to keep their heads above water. Another consequence is the prediliction for mergers that occur in an effort to provide a more secure financial base, although this strategy isn’t always successful-two of the merged clubs had success on the pitch last year, but still suffered money problems.
Tampere United lost nearly 300,000 euro last year, but won the championship, and AC Oulu’s financial travails resulted in a spat with the local council when they won promotion last year. The club demanded more subsidy and threatened to declare bankruptcy, so they got a bit more for their first ever season in Veikkausliiga.
So the backbone of Finnish football is the smaller clubs, as the bigger ones are often fleeting presences. A club like Musa aims to be the number one choice for young footballers in their area, and to provide those players with the opportunity to play in a national league and be spotted by scouts. This was why their relegation in 2005 was such a disappointment, and why they were so desperate to get promoted last year.
This year they will play in Kakkonen, which is the third tier of Finnish football and the lowest level before you hit the regional leagues. It’s organised into three conferences, with a playoff to decide promotion to Ykkonen and relegation to the local leagues.
They will thankfully remain at their home ground, rather than moving across town to play at the bleak and windswept Pori Stadium which is the home of the bigger team in Pori, Porin Pallolijat(or PoPa in the acronomised version beloved of Finns) .
I think it’s safe to say that they will retain the personal touch that often makes smaller football clubs friendlier, more welcoming places. Musa are certainly a family club-Juha Helander is 20 this year, and his grandfather was a founder member. His mother sells tickets to the games and his Dad (another former player) coaches the reserves. The Helanders live 300 yards from the ground. The current chairman Mikko-Tapio Mattila retired from playing last season, just a few goals short of beating his father’s scoring record. In his late twenties, Mattila feels it’s time to let the younger generation take over and have a crack at competitive football.
Musa have a strategy for the future, based on becoming an excellent junior club rather than a professional entity. Participation and development are the keywords here, and Musa get a lot of satisfaction from producing players who can make a living from the game. One of Mattila’s contemporaries at Musa was Sampsa Timoska, now at QPR. Two others from the same cohort have played professionally, Mikko Salo at Tampere United and Lahti, and Mika Kouhi at VPS. They have both retired to pursue more lucrative opportunities, Salo as a fireman and Kouhi in business. This gives some indication of how little money there is in Finnish football.
Even so, you sense Musa wouldn’t be too devastated if none of their players made it. They have 400 footballers and their youngest are just five years old. Many of them are from the suburb of Musa, and certainly most youngsters in the area play at Musan stadion at some point. For many clubs in Finland, this is the point of football-pleasant physical activity out in the fresh air, with makkara grilling and maybe a beer or two. Finns love to exercise, and love summer-football combines the two well, and so what if their pro clubs aren’t the best in Europe?