Fanning the flames…

I’ve had a few requests to write something about the various fan groups in Finnish football. Before I start, a disclaimer: I am not an entirely impartial observer of Finnish fan culture. In my wallet I carry a Sinikaarti membership card. I have been to Kotka and Vaasa with them, and of course the HJK game last October when Tampere United won the league. They are, as Father Ted would say, a great bunch of lads. And they tolerate weak-bladdered Englishmen.

All clubs in Veikkausliiga have a group of active fans. The size of group varies-Sinikaarti and Forza HJK could reasonably expect to take a couple of hundred to a big match, and other clubs like KTP could expect a similar number to travel independently. Tampere obviously can’t expect to have similar traditions to the likes of HJK, KTP and Haka, but their fans make up for it with their enthusiasm and dedication.

A typical Sinikaarti match will involve a couple of big banners, some flags and smaller banners, and maybe a flare or two if you’re lucky. Not bad at all for the numbers involved. They are much more influenced by European fan culture than British, and I think that’s for the best really. I’m not overly enamoured of British ‘sit down, shut up’ policies that have made British crowds some of the wealthiest, oldest and quietest in Europe.

Forza HJK are probably the biggest and longest running group in Finland. They tend to wear the team shirt and congregate in the corner of Finnair stadium. They have good numbers and definitely follow the team-there were quite a few HJK fans at Ratina last season.

I think we will come back to a familiar theme here. There are ‘football towns’ in Finland, and there are places where football has to struggle to gain a foothold. Tampere definitely falls into the latter camp, with the two biggest clubs in Finnish hockey, the ice hockey hall of fame and the first ever purpose built hockey stadium. It’s striking that up until the 60s football and hockey were of roughly equal stature, but then hockey began to pull away. Maybe the capital investment in places like Hakametsä played a part? I don’t really know enough to make the link, but it is at least something that interests me.

And then you have the football towns. Anjalankoski, Valkeakoski, Kotka, Vaasa-all these places have good crowds and the football club is an integral part of the town. This is even more important now the ice hockey SM-liiga has become a closed shop. With no promotion or relegation for hockey clubs, football provides a chance for smaller towns to gain recognition on the national stage.

So these towns don’t have the competition from hockey that other clubs have to cope with, and I suspect they benefit from being taken much more seriously as a result. Certainly at Kotka the whole ground will shout at the players, not just a hundred or so people in one corner of the main stand. It feels more natural to an Englishman, but then I know a mexican guy who loves Ratina and thinks it’s the best ground in Veikkausliiga.

I suppose what makes football for me is the rivalry. This (English) season is being kept alive for me by the delicious possibility that both Leeds and Sheffield United might be relegated.

I’ve heard very good things about the eastern derbies (between KTP, Lahti and MyPa), and I definitely hope to go to one next season. Tampere United-Haka is one I missed last year but is definitely on my agenda, and then the Turku derby should be fun.


7 Responses

  1. Actually SM-liiga have been opened, unfortunately for football.

  2. ‘Closed shop’ is an expression from the days when trade unions were very powerful in Great Britain. Of course new members were welcome, so long as they did not prejudice the interests of those already within the protected group. But if any newcomer were to trouble the insiders, or even force one of them out of the group, there would be hell to pay.

    I don’t even know which teams are at the top of Mestis, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the likely candidate for promotion was a financially stable club in a biggish town. If there was a commitment that SM Liiga was going to implement promotion and relegation every year without fear or favour, then maybe ‘closed shop’ wouldn’t be appropriate.

    Whereas this is the default position in Veikkausliiga, and all those clubs outside the top flight in both sports know this.

  3. Thank you for correction. Again I have read too fast and careless.

  4. I really like your blog! I come here several times per week to see what you’ve been writing. The article about Finnish fans was also very nice, and it’s nice to see that you appreciate Finnish football and fans even though we (the fans) aren’t that many. There’s no gloryhunters though (like in England 😛 ), which is positive.

    Keep up the good work!

    // One of the lads supporting “The Islanders”. 🙂

  5. Thanks a lot.

    I’m always open to contributions, in case you feel like writing something about ‘the islanders’-there ain’t much about them in Finnish or English…..

  6. You’ve got a good blog here! It’s quite interesting to read how an outsider sees Finnish football. About fan groups, did you know that a certain American travelled around Finland with Geezers Hietalahti few years ago?

    And you really should see Pohjanmaa’s derby between VPS and Jaro.

  7. A certain american? Might I have heard of him, or be able to read of his exploits?

    I’ll certainly try and see something from Pohjanmaa, but my transport bills could get pretty large….

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