Grounds for concern?

Those with a keen eye will have noticed that other ‘summer’ leagues have already kicked off. Norway and Sweden started this weekend, while the Russian Premier League began way back at the start of March. There are a few reasons for the late start, like the differing length of winter most years, but the main one is the standard of Finnish stadia.

There are very few grounds in Finland with undersoil heating. Probably the best equipped for winter (or rather, Finnish autumn and spring) is the Finnair Stadium in Helsinki. It has a plastic pitch though, which isn’t ideal. It’s not like the old Kenilworth Road field and there is a much reduced risk of grass burns and no absolute need to wear trousers, but it’s still plastic. Even with the high-tech surface they use at Töölön, the ball still skids and bounces higher than it would on grass.

Then you have Ratina Stadium in Tampere, which has underoil heating. It just doesn’t work properly. This is a particular hobby horse of mine, as I don’t really like football in athletics stadia.

The problem is that Tampere city council spent a lot of money on ratina for the 2003 World Under-17 championships, and they wanted a team to show for it. So they persuaded Tampere United to move from Tammela Stadium, a 6,000 capacity ground in a neighbourhood with lots of good pubs. 6,000 is all Tampere United need really, they very rarely get more than that, but the facilities are much better for VIPs at ratina and they are the people that bring in the money.

Even so, you wonder how teams can build an identity when they have such impersonal stadia. Tammela has a lot of history behind it. Bits of the stadium were built by prisoners after the civil war, and I think the protection of a perimeter fence they built is one of the obstacles blocking the redevelopment of the ground. But if Ratina doesn’t have workable undersoil heating, you have to wonder what the value of the City Council’s investment really is. They added permanent seating to increase the capacity, but clearly this wasn’t for Tampere United’s benefit.

Clubs like Haka and KTP have tight little grounds with a good atmosphere and an intimate feel. They also have some of the longevity Finnish clubs strive for-KTP have been going since 1927, Haka since 1934. Maybe it’s a little bit chicken and egg, that you don’t get a stadium like that without a strong football culture, but it seems to me that well meaning politicians might be causing more harm than they realise.

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