The Finnish League Cup is a pre-season tournament played largely indoors between February and April. The Veikkausliiga clubs are divided into two groups, this year one was roughly south eastern, the other roughly north western. The games are played indoors on full size pitches, often with a decent crowd. Pirkkahalli in Tampere is a good facility with several halls, and Botniahalli in Vaasa is a very impressive place. It has a running track and an outdoor pitch, as well as seating for spectators.
England has nothing like these facilities, despite the terrible condition of most British pitches in January and February. Sunday Leagues are bedevilled by the Sunday morning ring-round, when you find out that you won’t be playing again this week. Then in April you start playing 3 games a week to catch up. What indoor facilities there are belong to the professional clubs, and women, young players and kids teams don’t get a look in. This may have something to do with our extraordinary obesity problem.
The teams are organised into two groups and then go into the knockout phase. Tampere United were impressive in both games I saw, beating TPS 4-0 and controlling the game up at Vaasa despite lacking several key players. However, the tournament has little credibility and doesn’t even offer a European place, unlike its English equivalent. I now know that Jarkko Wiss can catch the ball after it hits the ceiling, but there was little of use in gauging Veikkausliiga strength.
Last years winners were KuPs, who were relegated. The year before it was Allianssi, who went bankrupt. So winning the League Cup is something of a poisoned chalice, and the final contested last night by FC Lahti and Inter Turku reflected the ambiguity of the honour. It finished 0-0 and Lahti won on penalties. On this basis I predict them to be relegated this year.
Anyway, I didn’t watch it. I did a bit of Friday night manwhoring instead. I went to the pub, found a punter (championship football this time, but I’m not picky) and had my wicked way.
The players on display included internationals from Jamaica, Scotland, Northern Ireland, USA, Denmark, Ireland, Hungary, Slovenia and Senegal. This was all in the second tier of English football, and freely available throughout the world-I know of Wednesday fans who watched it in New Zealand, Italy, Romania, Pakistan and Australia.
Now how can Veikkausliiga compete with that? Most obviously by avoiding the competition, and playing in the summer. But still, the first month and closing three months are overshadowed for many Finns by the action they can watch from the rest of Europe. If you make direct comparisons, it’s extremely unflattering to Finland, but I don’t think direct comparisons are particularly useful.
In the next few weeks I’ll be following Wednesday and hoping they keep up their incredible run, but nothing beats a day at the football. So next week it’s a trip to Vaasa and VPS-Tampere United, with text updates on Wednesday-Birmingham. I wish more Finns would enjoy the real lived football experience, as well as the televisual one.