So, I’ve been thinking a bit about the outsiders in Finnish football. Most obviously this is the Swedish speakers, and even more obviously it’s IFK Mariehamn, whose home games are played halfway to Sweden. The islands have a special status within Finland, being entirely Swedish speaking-the rest of the country is officially bilingual.
They haven’t had much to shout about in sporting terms, but in recent years IFK have really caught the imagination of their fans. Big crowds and an excellent atmosphere have given the team a real boost, now the challenge is for IFK to maintain the momentum. They are a great addition to Veikkausliiga and provide an opportunity for travel that has been popular among Finland’s football supporting fraternity.
The ferries that ply the Baltic are notoriously alcohol sodden vessels, and many of the journeys undertaken in them are very much in the spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson. For fans on the mainland, a game in Mariehamn is a chance to go for a lengthier and more exciting trip, and of course pick up some cheap booze.
It’s clear that Mariehamn are a great success story in Finnish football, and that their fans are very proud to have a club representing them on the national stage. I asked ‘Manager’ to give Football in Finland an IFK fan’s perspective on the coming season:
Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna Mariehamn, or IFK Mariehamn as it’s more commonly known, is the only club from the Islands of Åland to play in Veikkausliiga. The club is from the capital of Åland, Mariehamn, which is a popular destination for Finnish and Swedish tourists in the summertime.
‘Grönvitt’ (GreenWhite), as the club is known among the fans, won promotion to Veikkausliiga in 2004 after only one season in Ykkönen, and became the first team from Åland to play in the Finnish top flight. Before this IFK had played several years as one of the top teams in Kakkonen.
The whole island went football-crazy, and in the first season of Veikkausliiga, IFK had crowds of almost 5,000 spectators in a town with only 11,000 inhabitants. The official supporter club, Green Mean Machine was also named ‘The supporter club of the year’ in the official Veikkausliiga-gala.
In the second season in Veikkausliiga IFK achieved a fifth place in the table, which is quite good for a semi-professional team from a small town. IFK finished ahead of big clubs like FC Lahti, Myllykosken Pallo and Turun Palloseura.
Well known players to have played for IFK Mariehamn are Daniel Sjölund, currently playing for Djurgårdens IF in Sweden and also a member of the Finnish national team, and Mikael Granskog who played for the national team in the 1980’s.
This season the team is aiming for a place among the top teams and the possibility to play in the European cup-competitions. This would be quite amazing, because Pekka Lyyski, the manager of IFK, has been in charge of the club since the time IFK played in Kakkonen. From Kakkonen to a European Cup competition with the same manager in only 5 seasons would be fantastic for any club, let alone a small team like IFK.