We’re all going on a….. oh.

So, all the Finnish teams have played their second legs in the European competitions, and all of them lost. I only saw the Tampere United game, as the others weren’t televised.

TamU played as they should have done in the first leg – keeping things tight, roughing up Riseth, breaking with poise and speed. But unfortunately the referee was a bit of a homer and gave out silly yellow cards to tamU players, that will hurt the UEFA Cup challenge. The goals were well taken and showed the difference between the sides, but at least they weren’t as bad as the first two goals at Ratina. TamU got a bit of pride back and could have scored, but they played better and learnt more than they did in the first game.

It was interesting to see that Lindström mentioned European football as one of the pull factors in signing a new contract with TamU. He is 25 and a lot of Finnish players look to move abroad at this stage of their careers, but he has decided that TamU offer as good a chance to progress as any. That’s pretty rare in Finnish football.

In the UEFA Cup first round TamU will now face Bordeaux, a tough tie but not an impossible one. Bordeaux have had a mixed start to the season and Laurent Blanc may come under pressure if form doesn’t pick up soon. They won their first two games but have struggled for form a bit since then, recovering a little with a 1-0 win away at bottom club Le Mans on Wednesday. It’s a bit of a shame fr the second leg attendance that the away leg is first, but that may be how TamU like it if they can get the crowd to ‘turn’ by keeping things tight.

In Veikkausliiga there were some dodgy penalties and three home wins last night. Patrick Bantamoi had a storming game, saving two of the penalties, spoiled slightly by his silly rush to meet a cross that resulted in Mika Ääritalo’s winner. Lahti won the derby with KTP and Honka beat VPS as expected. Highlights here.

TamU 16 36
FC Haka 16 33
FC Honka 18 29
TPS 18 29
FC Lahti 18 25
FC Inter 19 23
HJK 17 23
MyPa 17 22
VPS 19 22
FC KooTeePee 19 21
FF Jaro 17 19
FC Viikingit 16 17
IFK Mariehamn 17 17
AC Oulu 17 14

Looking ahead to the weekend, KTP-MyPa looks to be the pick of the games, followed by TamU at Inter. The football will be better at Veritas, but KTP-MyPa is a bit of a derby and should have a good atmosphere.

One thing to note though – TPS got another 8,000 plus crowd yesterday, I think that is their third this season. That’s what happens when you have a proper team playing in a proper stadium. There has been some talk in the media about a new stadium for Tampere, and I am all in favour of it. At Tammela, at Ratina, hell, even in Hervanta – just get the thing built so that Tampere’s football teams can compete on a level playing field.

EDIT-and lastly, good luck to Jon Burklo who will be starting his new life in Northern karelia with a home game against the most mental coach in Finland on Sunday.

States will collapse, civilisations will end, but football remains!

And in Virrat, they’re well prepared – while you wait for the apocalypse, there is a kiosk (which probably doesn’t surprise anyone anymore).

I spent a nice four days in Central Finland, the first two in Keuruu and the second two in a cottage quite close to Virrat. Unfortunately I missed the KeuPa match on Wednesday and the FC VIP game advertised in the poster, but I did manage to steal the advert from the wall of KKK (that’s a supermarket in Finland).

On Saturday we went to Jyväskylä for some shopping. The stadium there is really not up to much, and if they get into Veikkausliiga because Rovaniemi doesn’t have a stadium good enough it will not look very good. Yes RoPs have had dispensations before and should have sorted it out, but if you’re saying dispensations have to stop, it makes little sense to promote JJK at this point. Unless they get firm plans for a new stadium, which isn’t completely out of the question.

Still, JJK’s good form this year has had an effect. There was a stall in the high street offering scarves and shirts from JJK, and selling tickets to Kiri’s matches too. Kiri are a Finnish baseball club, and traditionally they have been the sporting activity in Jyväskylä. The two young lads at the stall were both dressed in JJK shirts which look pretty good in the more restrained retail version, which only has the Peugoet sponsors logo. The knew nothing about Kiri either.

I suppose the biggest thing I notice in Central Finland is the lack of people. This isn’t just a city boy’s aversion to the countryside, it is really quite depopulated around there. In Haapamäki there are so many boarded up houses you start to think you’re in a ghost town, and the average age of the local population must be nudging 60. People have to leave to get good jobs and an education which wasn’t necessary 30 years ago, and as a result the small towns are facing a demographic collapse. In Virrat cemetary there is a military graveyard containing around 360 fallen soldiers who died during the Second World War, nowadays it looks as though they’d struggle to find 360 male Virratians of military age.

One of Aapo’s other projects explores how declining populations may effect world politics, global financial markets and so on, but we have weightier matters to consider here.

Jyväskylä is a growing municipality, and football is gaining a foothold there that it didn’t have before. There has never been a top flight team in Jyväskylä. A fairytale rise from Kakkonen to Veikkausliiga has the potential to pull in a lot of new football fans.

On the other hand, will they enjoy seeing their team getting spanked every week? Has football in Oulu greatly benefited from having AC in Veikkausliiga? Would it not be better to let football grow more slowly and organically?

Another point is that if you’re going to engineer the league like this, why stop with the ground regs? Why not just pick the nice stadia and have teams there? It’s a short step really, as Veikkausliiga will look a bit ridiculous demoting one team for having a substandard ground and promoting one in their place, despite having a substandard ground.

Pohjolan stadium is in Vantaa, a fast growing urban municipality without a top flight team. They have a lot of immigrants who like football more than other more traditional Finnish sports, and to save money the council is going to put an artificial plastic pitch on the ground, which I’ve heard is one of the best in Finland. So why not give Vantaa a team in Veikkausliiga? It’s a nice easy journey too, not like Rovaniemi….

Highlights and tables

I’ve been in the forest chopping wood and sweating in a shed, and have neglected the football scene. Highlights of TamU-Oulu include two dodgy types harassing Ville Lehtinen before kickoff, but the big man couldn’t do much as Oulu lost 4-1.

Veikkausliiga table:

TamU 16 36
FC Haka 16 33
FC Honka 17 26
TPS 17 26
FC Inter 18 23
HJK 17 23
FC Lahti 17 22
MyPa 17 22
VPS 18 22
FC KooTeePee 18 21
FF Jaro 17 19
FC Viikingit 16 17
IFK Mariehamn 17 17
AC Oulu 17 14

In Ykkönen it looks like ground regulations will decide who gets promoted as Veikkausliiga stand firm. I’ll reserve judgment on this as I don’t know too much about the situation. I’d like to see RoPs go up, but if there’s any point in ground regulations they do sometimes have to be enforced. The best resolution would be for RoPs to get a new stadium as soon as possible and be allowed to get promotion. In this case RoPs being kept down might well lead to JJK going up, and they don’t even have floodlights, so it’s hard to see the rationale for the punishment unless Veikkaulsiiga go down the table as far as it takes to get a team able to play in a Veikkausliiga standard ground. Here’s the table, and it looks like PK-35 would be the beneficiaries of that policy. I’ll post a bit more about why that might be a good idea tomorrow.

RoPS 18 12 4 2 32 – 17 40
KuPS 18 10 6 2 33 – 14 36
JJK 17 9 5 3 34 – 16 32
TP-47 18 8 4 6 26 – 19 28
PK-35 17 7 6 4 26 – 18 27
TPV 18 7 5 6 23 – 27 26
FC Hämeenlinna 18 6 5 7 23 – 20 23
VIFK 17 5 6 6 18 – 25 21
KPV 18 5 6 7 17 – 32 21
Atlantis 17 5 5 7 20 – 22 20
PP-70 18 5 5 8 23 – 30 20
GBK 18 5 3 10 23 – 33 18
JIPPO 18 3 6 9 16 – 27 15
Klubi-04 18 1 6 11 16 – 30 9

Alexei Eremenko Jr, a man who travels light

I come from a country with the best tabloid newspapers in the world, Footballers Wives, and David Beckham. Some footballers in England don’t want to live anywhere but London as the shopping is so good there. So I have a keen eye for the celebrity detail that maybe isn’t very relevant to the game, but still adds to the colour and spectacle around it.

In that spirit, I in association with Nokia 3310 bring you Alexei Eremenko jr’s manbag:

Suomen Palloliitto sends it’s humblest apologies to Nursurltan Nazarbayev

It gets a bit boring when you’re the authoritarian president of a Central Asian republic. Shopping trips to London, discussions with oil companies, long holidays in the Cayman Islands (sometimes the last two overlap). Same old, same old.

Having scraped home in the 2005 Presidential election with 91.15% of the vote, Nursultan started looking for a legacy. What better place to look than at the Kazakh national anthem? And so he changed it, bringing in the new version in 2006. The lyrics:

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Golden sun in heaven,
Golden corn in steppe,
Legend of courage –
It is my land.
In hoary antiquity
Our glory was born,
Proud and strong
Is my Kazakh people

CHORUS
My country, my country,
As your flower I’ll grow,
As your song I’ll stream, country!
My native land – Kazakhstan!

I’ve a boundless expanse
And a way, opened in future.
I have an independent,
United people.
Like an ancient friend
Our happy land,
Our happy people
Is welcoming new time.

CHORUS

I can’t find the old version, but rest assured I am looking. Pekka Hämälainen has sent his humblest apologies, and we can only hope they are accepted.

The game was a bit rubbish, but at least they won. Tainio and Heikkinen played quite well, Alexei Eremenko was very good but he always thinks he’s playing with someone way quicker that Jonatan Johansson and as a result his flicks often come to nothing. He took his goal well though, and he took a knock which saw him limp out of the ground afterwards. I’m hoping somebody got picture of the fetching gold and pink trimmed ‘manbag’ he had casually slung over his shoulder, as it would surely do wonders for his troubled reputation in Finland. Alexei Eremenko-metrosexual. It’s only a matter of time.

Hodgson was full of praise for him after the game, saying that he’d never had any problems while they were working together for Finland games. This is obviously a reference to the nightclub fracas (what’s the plural of fracas?) he has been involved in, and the interview he gave to a Russian paper straight afterwards saying that he didn’t really ‘feel Finnish’. A bit silly, and I’n sure he didn’t mean it. His dad was sitting a few seats along, and he must have been very proud to see his two sons line up for Finland. Word is that the youngest, Sergei, is by far the best of the three. We’ll have to wait to find out though, as he’s only 8.

Roman wasn’t that good. His season hasn’t started yet and he’s unsure where he’ll be playing, this year, so he’s not as relaxed as he could be. Udinese have kept him there for their preparations but he could still be shunted out on loan, as he was last year in Siena. He looked tense and will benefit from having his future settled. Hopefully he’ll be better in September.

Sjölund came on at halftime and provided a better link between midfield and Eremenko. He’s having a great year at Djurgården and the Kazakhs couldn’t deal with him. The goal came from some awful defending at a corner, and the Kazakh keeper was so distraught he apparently had a little cry after the goal. The referee went up and asked if he was alright, he was, and the game continued.

I can’t find highlights anyhwere (even UEFA don’t have them up yet), so you’ll have to make do with the youtube link at the top. It’s great.

Finland vs Kazakhstan preview

Okay, so he’s going with Heikkinen in the middle. Fair enough, I can handle that, game’s about opinions and so on, and of course he’s playing with Roman Eremenko so there should probably be someone ‘harder’ there to look after him.

The team will be:

Jussi Jääskeläinen.

Petri Pasanen, Hannu Tihinen, Sami Hyypiä, Toni Kallio

Teemu Tainio, Markus Heikkinen, Roman Eremenko, Joonas Kolkka

Alexei Eremenko jr., Jonatan Johansson

One of the things Hodgson was saying was that many of the players played on Sunday and that as a result they’ve only had one training session, which makes preparation a bit difficult. Later on in the press conference somebody asked about Kallio not getting games for Young Boys Bern and Hodgson said that yes, it was terrible when some players are not playing for their clubs but this is what happens when young men go abroad.

If they lose it’ll take a miracle to qualify. Personally I’m not sure that delaying elimination for as long as possible is the best long term strategy for Finland, but that is the mandate Hodgson has been given and that is what he has to do. It’s clear that after he goes a new coach is needed to bring on the youngsters who are showing some promise, but Hodgson cannot take risks at this point. He has to go with the old heads or risk the wrath of his employers who recognise that this is the last chance saloon for Hyypia and Litmanen.

This is why Hodgson picks Niemi not Petrescu, and Wiss not Savolainen. The guys he has picked are better, but they will be marginal figures. Hodgson is against ‘dismantling’ the current side until qualification is an impossibility, but maybe then he will be in a new job anyway.

If results go well tomorrow then Finland will go into the Serbia match with a fighting chance. There are tickets available and kickoff is 7pm at Ratina.

I had a chat with Mikko Kavén after the press conference. He’s a fan of Tammela.

‘Two years ago I thought it was a mistake for TamU to move to Ratina, but now I think that TamU have to play there,’ said the former Motherwell keeper. ‘Of course the atmosphere on Sunday was electric and you will never get that when people are 100 metres from the pitch, but there are other things to consider.’

‘The facilities at Ratina are better. The grass, the VIP facilities, the changing rooms – for all these reasons a club like tamU needs to play at a stadium with better infrastructure than Tammela. One thing is clear though, after the last couple of weeks. We need a football stadium in Tampere. There are plans for Tammela I know, but money is the problem.’

I beg to differ here. I think bringing Tammela up to scratch, with a new VIP and changing room block next to the main stand, and a levelled and relaid pitch, wouldn’t cost too much. If the new facilities helped TamU avoid losses like last season, they might pay for themselves in less than 5 years. It would certainly increase support for TamU, and that has to be an immediate aim for the club.

Home at last


I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Tammela is the best stadium in Finland. On a dark night with the floodlights on and fans singing in the stands it feels as football should, and you can be sure that any kids who went to their first game last night are now football fans in a way they wouldn’t be if they’d gone to Ratina. We’ve previously covered Veikkausliiga’s strange aversion to getting new fans, but the build up to this game took it to new levels. I will go deeper into how TPS, TamU, Veikkausliiga and the Finnish FA managed to turn a game for which 8,000 tickets had been sold into a 1,900 attendance, but first I should talk about the football as it was actually really good.

You should probably watch the highlights first. The game was every bit as bad tempered as it looks, and I have to say that TPS seemed to be the culprits. They wanted to kick TamU into next week, and seemed to think they’d be scared of getting injured. It must be said that they tried this stuff in Turku and it didn’t work there either – maybe Mixu needs to get back to the drawing board. He certainly has some good players, but with Armand One coming back from injury and Paatelainen unproductive, they didn’t create much.

You’ll notice the big away following for TPS. They brought around 200 fans, and made the game a much better spectacle. Their tifo beforehand read ‘tusen takk rosenborg’, showing that at least some people in Turku were not 100% behind the attempts to help Finnish teams in Europe. On the video you can see some flags with weird NATO-like off centre crosses. No idea what they’re meant to be, maybe some of the sissi rhymä can enlighten me?

I missed a lot of action after halftime because we went to Finland’s oldest pub, which is about 20 metres from the Sinikaarti end at Tammela. I would have bought a beer at the ground but they didn’t have a licence and an opportunity to visit Sahlojankadun should never be passed up. Anyway, it meant we missed Lindstöm’s red card and a curious incident when a few TPS fans came down to the Sinikaarti end giving it wanker signs and generally acting like idiots. They were removed from the area without help from the stewards, and apparently were surprised when people were angry with them. I don’t understand this ‘hooligan’ attitude that doesn’t survive the slightest physical confrontation. If you can’t handle the reaction, don’t provoke people.

There were more than a few chants about TPS paying for their tickets, as TPS fans enjoy some subsidies from the club. I wouldn’t want to criticise them for it, I think it’s a great idea and everyone should do it – the atmosphere was fantastic yesterday. I couldn’t decipher any chants about TPS owner Seppo Sairanen’s time in prison for fraud, but there may have been some. It seems like too easy a target, like Armand One and Mikko Paatelainen’s mullet.

One is a true gent, btw. He is aware of this site and was fairly sanguine about the stick he takes for his size – I suppose he must be used to it, and I think he recognises he will be a better player when he gets into his best shape. I hope he does well in Finland, the league needs players and characters like him.

I went to the press conference after the game, my first Veikkausliiga media event. I úsually only go to things where people will be speaking in English or I will be able to meet foreign journos to ask them questions, but I was keen to speak to Mixu about Finnish football and his plans at TPS, and to Zico Hjelm about how brilliant Tammela is.

I asked Mixu first, and he said that he was very disappointed, that this wasn’t TPS, that he needs a bit more time to develop the younger players and build the team he wants to have in Turku, and took a sly dig at Veikkausliiga by moaning about ‘long holidays in the middle of the season’, more of which in a second. I was going to ask Zico about Tammela, but he got up and left while Mixu was still speaking, so never mind.

All in all, a very exciting game, a good advert for Veikkausliiga, an excellent atmosphere and a lot of smiling people. It should have been a massive success, but unfortunately that’s not how it happened.

The game was played yesterday because TamU requested a postponement as they didn’t want to play the game before the Rosenborg home leg. They already had Ojanpera suspended and another defensive injury would have been disastrous. It’s easy to say now that they should have played it then, the break did them no good and they maybe had too long to think about the game, but at the time everyone more or less accepted the footballing rationale for a postponement, and was publicly committed to doing what they could to help TamU in the Champions League.

Then there was a controversy with Ratina Stadium. They had a Toto concert on the 18th and the Finland-Kazakhstan game on the 22nd, and were committed to not having anything else on the pitch in between. The game was still announced for the 19th at ratina, but then Pekka Hämälainen, the SPL boss, mentioned that it might look like a ‘potato patch’ if the pitch had to bear so much stress in the lead up to the Kazakhstan game.

So there was a stalemate, and it seemed like the sensible thing would be to postpone the game again. After all, 7 players have international commitments this week: Jukka Lehtovaara, Tomi Petrescu and Kaspar Hämälainen in the Under 21s and Jarkko Wiss, Jari Niemi, Mikko Kavén and Mika Ääritalo in the full squad. Such a physical game three days before the internationals wasn’t a good idea, and I don’t think Hodgson was particularly happy about it.

But then TPS said that if this game wasn’t played on Sunday the 19th, they would go 5 weeks without a game in the middle of the season. This is of course the fault of Veikkausliiga, as the Finnish season started weeks after the Swedish season and the rate at which games were played was very slow. The Finnish Cup is on hold for now, it looks possible HJK and TamU will have European games into September and later, and the season looks like a race to get games played before winter sets in. Bit of a shambles, really.

Of course, the solution should have been to play the game last week, or once it was postponed to announce it at Tammela and market it properly. the problem was that 8,000 tickets had been sold. Around half of these had been sold to a Finnish burger chain for them to use as a promotion, and as they are a Turku firm they were insistent that the game should be TPS. As it was, TamU dillied and dallied too much and in the end announced the game as some kind of embarrassment, rather than the wonderful marketing opportunity it was. Announcements from the club indicated that you shouldn’t try to come without a ticket, that lots of people will miss out, that Tammela is a small ground and it cannot meet demand. They seemed to neglect the fact that people with free tickets often don’t use them, and their safeguards (come to the ticket office and change the ticket, once we’ve changed 6,000 there won’t be any more and you can have a refund or a ticket for a different game) were more than adequate to prevent overcrowding.

I think the problem here is that TamU had so many things to deal with and not enough people to do them. They’re playing Rosenborg next week. Rosenborg have a budget of €25m and an administrative staff of 63. TamU’s budget is €1.5m, and I think they have 3 full time admin people. To get games marketed, played and advertised properly needs more than that if you’re going to compete in Europe, and TamU will be expanding now to meet the needs of their business plan and the ‘problems’ of success.

One thing is absolutely, crystal clear though. Tammela is completely adequate and much more appropriate for most TamU games, even without extra capacity. Once they sell more than 6,000 tickets they should play at Ratina, but upto that point Tammela should be home, as the tifo in the picture at the top of this post says. The council basically forced TamU to move to Ratina after they renovated it, and now they’ve shown that they’d rather have some crappy band playing there than the club that bears the city’s name. If it isn’t a football stadium, it doesn’t deserve a football club.