Lesbians going down?

Well, I’m suitably tanned and relaxed and can see that Aapo’s done a fine job here while I’ve been away. Finally we know who is responsible for the rise of Islamism in Keski-Suomi.

Okay, the title is a bit crap, but it’s relevant, and I love a cheap joke. If you’re worried about the transparency and accountability of football administration, Greece would be a great place to start to feel better about your own country’s administrators. The match against Apollon Smyrnis was still in doubt up until the day before, as Aiolikos were trying to get a court injunction to postpone it. The reason being that Apollon had a points deduction for crowd disturbances and were appealing against it, and Aiolikos wanted to settle that before playing the game. That way they’d know what they needed to do.

Not to be, however. The game was filled with very slow players including a sweeper behind each defence. It finished 1-1 with both goals coming late on through defensive mistakes, the referee sent off three players and now the last relegation spot will be decided in the courts. It was a massive crowd of around 3,000, and everyone was gutted at the end. There was a great deal of pessimism among the Aiolikos fans that a remote island team whose prefecture usually elects communists would win a decision against Apollon Smyrnis, self styled ‘oldest sports club in Greece’.

The Aiolikos players theatrically threw things at the floor at the final whistle, and there would be plenty for conspiracy theorists to chew on if they viewed a tape of the match. The players don’t earn much at that level.

Still, it was a lovely day out. The fans kept up a constant barrage of flares and firecrackers, to the point where it became difficult to breathe because of the smoke, and the singing was much more melodic than it usually is in England.

The half time entertainment was quite brilliant, with a gap toothed fellow who spent most of the first half mouthing ‘I love you’ at my girlfriend being given a ball and told to go out on the pitch and entertain everyone. His coordination was terrible, his frame gangly, but his shots were surprisingly accurate. His impersonation of the histrionics that usually precede penalties was very well observed. After his performance the guy with the microphone handed over a packet of cigs and a few coins as payment. An idea for other clubs to follow, maybe?

Roy’s boys against Serbia, Belgium

Finland will play Serbia on Saturday and Belgium on next Wednesday, and Hodgson has picked these lads. There’s one player from Veikkausliiga, and he’s a rookie – Hannu Patronen (CD/DM, 1984) of Honka is getting his first taste of national team.

[Correction: Sorry, two from Veikkausliiga; Mika Nurmela has become such a mascot for our national team that it’s dangerously easy to disregard his entire existence. “Who could ever replace Nure?”, as the saying goes…)

Jussi Jääskeläinen, Bolton Wanderers FC – 34 / 0

Peter Enckelman, Blackburn Rovers FC – 7 / 0

Magnus Bahne, Halmstads BK – 2 / 0

Sami Hyypiä, Liverpool FC – 82 / 5

Hannu Tihinen, FC Zürich – 55 / 4

Petri Pasanen, Werder Bremen – 36 / 1

Toni Kallio, BSC Young Boys – 28 / 1

Toni Kuivasto, Djurgårdens IF – 66 / 1

Veli Lampi, FC Zürich – 3 / 0

Ari Nyman, FC Thun – 13 / 0

Hannu Patronen, Honka – 0 / 0

Jari Litmanen, Malmö FF – 107 / 28

Teemu Tainio, Tottenham Hotspur FC – 35 / 5

Joonas Kolkka, Feyenoord – 75 / 11

Jari Ilola, IF Elfsborg – 28 / 1

Markus Heikkinen, Luton Town – 27 / 0

Mika Väyrynen, PSV Eindhoven – 27 / 2

Mika Nurmela, HJK – 66 / 4

Peter Kopteff, FC Utrecht – 39 / 1

Alexei Eremenko jr, FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast – 27 / 10

Roman Eremenko, AC Siena – 0 / 0

Mikael Forssell, Birmingham City FC – 45 / 16

Jonatan Johansson, Malmö FF – 76 / 13

Shefki Kuqi, Crystal Palace FC – 48 / 5

Six points from these matches, and the Baku mishap is (almost) forgotten – less than that, and things do get quite tricky…

In praise of Sükrü Uzuner

One day I bumped into this weblog, Tundra Tabloids. It’s run by some American expat who’s been living in Finland since the 1980s, and is a site which is “keeping tabs on the most outrageous happenings in the Middle East, Islamist extremism and Islamist hegemony in Scandinavia, and on the political correctness that allows them to flourish”.

Point taken? One of those Robert Spencer loving neocons/Zionists, who have a bad knowledge of European history and who have disstressedly concluded that the so-called clash of civilizations isn’t proceeding fast enough and are thus doing their own bit. Eurabia, dhimmis, the sinking west and all that raving. The blogosphere has seen many of them, believe me, and this Sikorski fellow seems to be their highest nasal in Finland – yet let me remind you that we don’t have that many, due to a simple fact that we don’t have many Muslims. Or any other foreigners either, for that matter.

This lack of cause and conflict makes our Islamophobes, nationalists and gene pool defenders of course rather frustrated and anxious – as it indeed does sound a little bit amusing to preach about “Islamist hegemony” if you live in a country where the religion in question has approx 40 000 believers, let alone how many of them make an ism out of it. If you ask me, it makes you sound like quite an idiot.

But then again, every man needs a hobby and to my personal delight the author of Tundra Tabloids is apparently pursuing his from Suolahti. That’s a town in Central Finland, about 50km north of Jyväskylä. It used to be an independent municipality but with 5000 inhabitants such made no sense in the long run, and so it was merged with its two neighbours, Äänekoski and Sumiainen (a village where my parents live, where I lived sixteen years and from where I’m posting right now, should you find that interesting) in January 2007.

I was born in Suolahti, and I can assure that it is a home to maybe four or five Muslims; in the last municipal election there were 19 non-EU foreign residents eligible to vote, and then there’s a kebab place anyway, so I guess the size of their population must be four, maybe even that five. I can’t tell how it stimulates Mr Sikorski’s counter-jihad, yet must anyhow concede that if there has ever been a hegemony caused by a Muslim immigrant in Central Finland then it all has started surely from Suolahti. We opened the gates and let in Sükrü Uzuner.

Sükrü Uzuner is a Finnish football player, born in Turkey, and ever since the early-90s he has had an absolute hegemony over the Central Finnish football scene. On and off the pitch, so to speak. He reminds me of Shefki Kuqi. He has got Shefki’s strength and inherent pervasiveness, but unfortunately only half of his skill, which is the reason why he hasn’t been blessed by an international career.

Sükrü is a great man, nevertheless. He started his Finnish career in Äänekosken Huima, like e.g. John Allen, the second coach of today’s TPS, but a story (as told by my mates, who I trust in this case, out of narrative purposes) has it that he was supposed to come first to Suolahden Urho – just before our cheeky neighbours snatched him. Huima played in the 2nd division at that time (now in the 3rd) and Sükrü’s next, most logical step was a transfer to JJK of Jyväskylä (then in the 1st division and now, after a painfully long 3rd-tier diaspora, back there).

Sükrü is a striker, and has alwas known how to score goals. That trait took him to play in Veikkausliiga – first for (now sadly deceased) FinnPa, then for HJK, later also for KTP and FC Hämeenlinna. I don’t know how many goals he scored in total but, praise the Lord, they were many. [Update: they were 15.] KTP he saved from relegation and Hämeenlinna he lifted to Veikkausliiga. HJK never really deserved him.

Now he’s back in Jyväskylä and, at least for the time being, has found a home in FCJ Blackbird, the city’s second best club coached by Nelu Petrescu – Tomi Petrescu’s father. As for his age, Sükrü is now more than 30 but certainly less than 40 [corrected, by ap], so personally I don’t see a quick end to his hegemony. In religious and political terms he, at least to my modest knowledge, is a somewhat secular foreign-born citizen, but football he has always taken very seriously. Mr Sikorski and the region’s other survivalists are advised not to leave their bunkers.

Salary caps and football – incompatible?

Tampere United, at top of the table:

TamU – FC Lahti 1-0 (attendance 3117)

As I wrote last week, the EU is about to release its white paper on sports in July. Among the illnesses it is expected to address are the difficulties related to clubs’ financial and leagues’ competitive imbalances – in other words, the clubs are spending too much money and the leagues are being dominated by too few clubs. The former makes European football economically unsustainable, the latter makes it boring to follow.

It is also widely acknowledged that the root of the problem are salaries – which have skyrocketed ever since the Bosman ruling. Independent Sport Review 2006 (PDF, check e.g. the page 73) prescribed the introduction of salary caps as a cure, and everybody from the UEFA to the game’s oligarchs seems to agree. So the caps are good, aren’t they?

Well, not necessarily. It really depends on which form they would take. The G-14 proposal, for example, would stop the arms race by tieing the wages to the clubs’ overall budget – which would certainly ease the financial conditions of the clubs (including the G-14, of course) are facing, yet, as academically proved by this economics paper, just worsen the meritocratic side of things, by entrenching the existing hegemonies. So don’t take their views at face value, at least if it’s more balanced sport that you’re after.

Perhaps there’s something to learn from the other side of the Atlantic, for salary cap is after all an American invention. In the NBA such has been applied since 1980s, and also the NFL has had one for quite a while; the NHL introduced its a couple of years ago, after a season-long labour dispute, whereas the MLB uses a different type of balancing restriction, i.e. a luxury tax, under which the big spenders must pay a compensation to a league’s fund. The NBA cap is “soft”, or the one with several exemptions; the NFL and the NHL are using “hard”, or uniform, limitations. All the caps are absolute, having no relations to budget sizes.

A much more traditional intervention in all of the league’s then is the draft system – which has it that the young prospects from junior leagues, and from Europe, are reserved in an annual draft event where the previous season’s losers are generally let to pick first and the winners last.

The systems aren’t flawless but it’s nevertheless safe to say that they have secured more volatile competitions for the spectators – as a glimpse on the recent playoff trees of any of those leagues can confirm. Dynasties are very challenging to create and uphold.

Many reasons prevent the Europeans from doing the same with football. The North American leagues are closed from relegation and promotion – and all of them are also enjoying a prestige monopoly over their game, having no other competitions to match their appeal. The European football leagues are understandably built in the shape of a pyramid, and have their top players spread across several countries – meaning that if there’s a group of leagues to agree on a wage restraint, there’s also a very strong incentive for one of them to opt out and snatch the best players. The national leagues are largely autonomous from their UEFA umbrella, which causes coordination to be pretty challenging.

And then there is taxation. Capped gross wages would give British (let alone Russian) leagues an advantage over their Italian and French counterparts – or, when speaking of the Championnat, what about AS Monaco vís-a-vís Lyon or PSG? There have been occasional musings about EU-wide tax harmonisation but that is (most fortunately, if you ask me) out of options. So the same gross will never mean the same net, not either to footballers.

Nonetheless, the review I linked speaks quite optimistically about the pay regulation plans. It points out that, through its licensing power, the UEFA did manage to unify different leagues’ accounting methods, thus forcing mainly the southern clubs to play by the same balance sheet rules as the northerners. So where there’s a will, there might be a way; as for the form of possible regulations, the paper is in favour of luxury/payroll tax, a scheme that would punish the exceedings but still allow them.

You were many

Honka – HJK 0-0 (attendance 6657)
KTP – Haka 1-2 (3052)
IFK Mariehamn – Inter 2-0 (1603)
AC Oulu – MyPa 1-1 (3538)
TPS – VPS 5-1 (5822)

Mixu’s gang gave undeniably good value for ticket money in Turku, whereas Honka’s record audience can’t say the same. HJK haven’t won for four games and some of their fans start to be out of love with the Geordie in charge. The season’s first three points for Mariehamn.

Watch the highlights.

Show and tell

Haka – MyPa 0-0
Inter – Viikingit 0-1

Four teams, one goal. I can show you the highlights and tell that it was the season’s first away win for the suburb Vikings. The match in Valkeakoski had a Juuso Walden centenary theme, honouring the late paper tycoon and football federation chief who was born precisely 100 years ago – probably most appropriate, as neither the town nor its football club would exist without paper industry; the same goes for MyPa and their Anjalankoski. But today they played nil-nil anyway.

An informative Wikipedia anecdote has it that when Mr Walden’s son once won the region’s sprint games, in 1964, his father sang him a congratulation song together with a group of three gentlemen who where visiting him that evening – namely Urho Kekkonen, Ahti Karjalainen and Josip Tito.

Not awfully exciting to you, I admit, yet gives me a perfect excuse to leap to another topic and tell you what is my first live football experience. It took place in Väinölänniemi, Kuopio – as for its location, probably one of the nicest stadiums in this country, next to the lake and all that – and was a friendly match between Finland and the crumbling Yugoslavia. A brief googling reveals that the date was August 23, 1989; the result was 2-2 and Olli Huttunen, the current coach of Haka, was Finland’s goalkeeper.

This is actually rather embarrassing. Up to date I’ve been under the confident impression that Davor Jozic had scored both of the Yugo goals but now I can see that he didn’t even play there. One by Pancev and one by Savicevic, and one first-minute own goal by Predrag Spacic. Mika Lipponen was the only Finn to hit the net. So where the hell did I get that Jozic from? Was he even on the bench? Last year I was boozing with a group of Serbs and Bosniaks, my uni mates in Italy, and in the bar we met one or two AC Cesena fans; in the course of the discussion it turned out that among their all-time favourite foreign players there was Jozic, a Bosnian Croat – and I, as I’m admittedly very opportunistic with these sort of fortunate occassions, naturally wanted to raise a toast, or two, or thirty, to “my childhood idol” and his two goals. Hah.

He didn’t appear in the game either, but I also wonder whether Zvonimir Boban had travelled to eastern Finland. Within less than a year from the Kuopio friendly he was already kicking heads instead of footballs, in that famous match between Dinamo and Crvena Zvedzda which pretty throughly pictured things to come. Those who tend to travel to Finland’s away matches might want to ask about Mr Otila about it, for he was there in the stadium, whereas to the other readers I recommend this fine book by Jonathan Wilson.

Thanks for listening – if there’s one corner of Europe that fascinates me, it is the Balkans. And I do find it difficult to stop once I have started to discuss it.

The lineups from that website state also that some guy named Jervinen came in as a substitute. That must be Petri Järvinen, and if I’m not terribly wrong – and do correct me if I am – he started his career in Äänekosken Huima, the only proper football club of my home region. Äänekoski is like Valkeakoski, a town built around a paper mill, and that brings us back to the square one and allows me to go to sleep. If someone is desperately longing for more prattling about the Balkans, my own blog has e.g. a recent glimpse of their charming music scene.

Mixu Paatelainen, Scotland’s goodwill ambassador to Finland

HJK – TamU 0-2
Jaro – Honka 1-2
AC Oulu – TPS 1-3

A solid victory over HJK to Tampere United, Toni Järvinen is playing well right now. Two goals against Inter on Sunday, and two assists today, almost identical to each other.

Honka scored on injury time and Ääritalo’s two goals made the Turku boys’ home journey through the ever-lovely Ostrobothnia supposedly a bearable experience. Their next match will be against VPS on coming Sunday and, as far as we have been informed, will be played in front of some special guests. Nine members of Cowdenbeath Supporters Club will make a demarche to Turku, meeting Mixu Paatelainen and witnessing a coastal football clash.

And yeah, if you lads fancy a Saturday excursion to Tampere, there should indeed be some third tier footy in the fine football ground of Tammela. It can’t be, and won’t be, watched sober.

Welcome to Finland, Cowdenbeath!

(Highlights here.)