God damnit, I missed the game

Sometimes it pays to have the lergy. My head is full of snot and I did not want to get properly sick and miss some quite important stuff this week, so I gave the Oulu game a miss today. Extra time and penalties saw TamU go through after a 0-0 draw.

They now face GBK in the semi final on Saturday. The Kokkola club apparently turned down a merger with KPV recently, despite their drop into Kakkonen, but I think they will find it tough to get past TamU (bold prediction there). It’s funny how a small town can sustain two clubs at that level, and I’m sure it has to do with the local personalities and traditions as well as the linguistic issue (Gamlakarleby Boll Klubb are not as big or successful as Kokkolan Pallo Veikot these days), but maybe this will happen in a few years anyway. Maybe GBK will drop even further and KPV will become the only professional side in Kokkola on a more permanent basis, as i find it hard to believe that GBK will be able to pay their players in Kakkonen.

Whatever happens there will be a strong football presence in Kokkola. KPV were in the cup final last year and GBK made it to the semis this season, so it’s not like they have nothing at all. And football does seem to be much stronger in coastal areas.

EDIT-looks like I wasn’t the only one to have given it a miss, the crowd tonight was a whopping 680. Other TamU news is that they have signed a third Savolainen, this one called Vili, and Henri Scheweleff returns from Vaasa. He had the option this season but chose to go to his home town, and I bet he regrets that now.

HIFK Soccer

HIFK are kind of unique in Finland. A lot of Finnish sports organisations were originally established as multi-sport clubs, but many of them have over the years narrowed their focus and ended up specialising in one or two sports. HJK split from their hockey division in1972, for instance, and now Helsingin Jääkiekkoklubi play hockey and bandy as a separate entity.

HIFK, on the other hand, play everything from handball to bandy to football to hockey to salibandy. They are very much in the tradition of the European athletics associations, and remind me of the turn vereins that established organised sport in late 19th century Germany.

HIFK’s football division have had a bit of a time of it since they finished second in the championship and lost to Rosenborg in the UEFA Cup. They’ve won seven championships, just two fewer than FC Haka, who come close to qualifying for ‘powerhouse’ status.

Unfortunately, their strong tradition did not prevent them from succumbing to bankruptcy in 2003. They started again (changing names from FC HIFK to HIFK Soccer), and began to work their way up from the fourth division. They got promotion in 2005, and again this year, so next season they will play in Kakkonen, just two promotions from the top flight.

They have big financial backers, and chairman Gary Sundberg says that ‘2-3 years is the absolute maximum time we can spend in Kakkonen’.

This is great news, as Finnish football needs excitement and HIFK are a big club with very passionate fans. The Stadin Kingit group do tifos for hockey, bandy, handboll and even fourth divison football. That’s the fifth tier, and a lot closer to pub teams than the top flight – nobody has fans at that level.

Here’s a picture of their trip to Tornio to support the HIFK bandy team:

Again, I think fan groups are a rarity at bandy matches. It’s quite likely fans of any description are a rarity at bandy matches – I checked the bandy league’s website for fixtures in the upcoming season (usually starting in late November), and it promises that ‘fixtures will be available before the start of the season’. Which is reassuring, it’d be a bit confusing if teams just picked random clubs to play against.

The football club had a tremendous season, which included a cup run in which they fought valiantly but went out to Inter in the 7th round. Here’s a youtube video of the HIFK fans who made the trip to Turku, a taster of what they would bring to Veikkausliiga. For non-Finns: this is really quite rare in Finland.


Here’s a picture of the HIFK fans at a normal league game, away at Futara of Porvoo. Best of luck to HIFK for next season, we could do with a lot more of this kind of thing in Ykkönen and Veikkausliiga.

Partytime in Tampere!

Tampere United have planned a big celebration tonight in Keskustori. If you’re at a loose end after the Honka game why not buy a six pack and head on down to celebrate the championship? It starts at 7pm, and Tesoma’s finest Pate Mustajärvi will be playing. I cannot wait. Toni Lähteenmäki and Sami Hintsanen will also be there, but they are not on youtube and I do not know who they are.

Football on the television

Just a quick word in praise of YLE’s coverage, as I’ve been pretty darn negative about it for the matches I’ve actually been to. It’s a pretty good programme, and the MIFK win in Valkeakoski was covered very well. Good crowd shots, good interviews, good segments (Popovits’s kids need a new backyard, and the man himself needs to sort out his tracksuit top collection) and an interesting match. All in all, I’m glad I stayed home rather than ventured to the ground. Not sure that’s what Veikkausliiga should be pleased with or aiming for, but anyway – it’s not YLE’s fault.

On Saturday they’re showing HJK v TPS on TV2 at 4pm, which should be a decent game. TPS need to win to guarantee UEFA cup football next year, and HJK want to build some form ahead of the Cup games next week. Should be worth watching.

Any one from three

Oulu hung on grimly, despite losing 1-0 at home to HJK. Jaro snatched a creditable draw away at TPS while Viikingit got a point away at VPS. The bottom of the table now looks like this:

FC KooTeePee 25 7 5 13 27 – 37 26
FF Jaro 25 6 7 12 27 – 41 25
<!––> <!––> <!––> <!––> <!––> <!––>
FC Viikingit 25 5 8 12 25 – 42 23
AC Oulu 25 5 7 13 26 – 46 22

The bottom team goes down automatically, the second bottom will play off against RoPs. The final day fixtures are as follows:

Viikingit-Haka
Jaro-Lahti
MyPa-Oulu

It really does look like Oulu are doomed, as the only club to have an away game on the day, and Jaro probably only need a point to stay safe unless Viikingit win by three against Haka.

There is still no clear answer about RoPs, as Veikkausliiga are waiting for assurances from the council and club that the facilities will be built. They can be given an extra year, but only if they see concrete plans and receive guarantees that things will get done this time.

Highlights are here, scroll up

Viikingit’s task is made harder by the fact that Haka still have work to do to secure the UEFA Cup spot. If they don’t win it could let in TPS, who are currently in the Intertoto position. The other UEFA spot goes to the Cup winners.

The Cup has been pushed to the end of the season, with TamU’s european games playing havoc with the fixtures earlier on. They will play GBK in their quarter final next Wednesday, then Oulu in the semi on the 3rd (presuming they beat GBK, who were relegated to Kakkonen this year).

In the other semi final Honka travel to HJK (it’s funny how they get to play their semi finals at home, this happened last year too), neither club is in Europe and HJK have no other route, so it should be a keenly fought game.

TamU win the title

Despite the best efforts of a very strange referee, who disallowed a perfectly good goal from Daniel on Saturday. Haka couldn’t beat Lahti on Sunday so the title remains in Tampere.

Highlights here

Congratulations also go to FC Honka, who clinched the women’s championship with a barnstorming 3-3 draw at home to HJK.

The bottom of Veikkausliiga gets interesting, with everyone up to KTP in the mix. The second relegation team goes into a playoff with RoPs, who may very well not be allowed to start the season because of their stadium. They don’t have undersoil heating or decent floodlights, and that’s a problem if you’re in Lapland. In Ykkönen they play 7 home games in a row in high summer and start and finish with a road trip. I guess Veikkausliiga won’t stand for that. Rumours abound that they might play in Tornio or Kemi, but that’s a huge financial hit for them.

Ykkonen Wrap- Literally!

It was always going to be a entertaining day of football in the Ykkonen this weekend. Two were fighting it out for the championship and two were fighting it out to avoid the drop. RoPS and KuPS entered the final fixture with the Rovaniemi squad sitting on a 2 point lead. I don’t think anyone thought it would come to this nearly 6 weeks ago, when RoPS was sitting with a very comfortable 8 point lead after disposing of KuPS in Kuopio. But a succession of draws allowed KuPS to force themselves back into the race and make for a mouthwatering end to the season.

RoPS traveled south to take on FC Hameenlinna who have ended the year very strong after struggling early. It was a see-saw affair between the two with Hameenlinna taking the early lead before Nchimunya Mweetwa equalized. Hameenlinna would take the lead again on the stroke of half-time. But once again as has been the case all year, Mweetwa came to RoPS rescue. But it was all for not as Hameenlinna would get an injury time winner to shock their northern counter-parts.

In Kuopio, KuPS took on JJK. KuPS struck first in the 11th minute and took that lead into half-time. JJK would respond as the half began with a goal of their own to tie the match at 1 a piece. But in a true heroes performance, Ilja Venalainen recorded a second half hat-trick to put the matter beyond doubt and bring home a championship trophy to Kuopio as well as direct promotion to the Veikkausliiga.

RoPS will now go into a play-off with the second from bottom club in the Veikkausliiga (yet to be determined), but will go into the fixture knowing they will be without 3 key players. Stephen Kunda, RoPS’ tower of steel in the back, was red carded in the Hameenlina match. Dejan Godar, the link-man for RoPS, picked up his 6th yellow card. Worst of all, RoPS will lose their leading goalscorer, Nchimunya Mweetwa who picked up his 3rd yellow card of the season. Things certainly look bleek in Lapland.

At the bottom of the table, things were just as interesting. GBK and TPV sat tied on points with TPV in the relegation zone with a worse goal differential. It would appear on paper that GBK would have the easier fixture as they traveled south to play bottom dwellers Klubi-04, while TPV would host PK-35. But the Klubi-04 team is very very far from untalented (in fact they may have the most talent in the league), and have suffered from a severe lack of experience in the squad as they have used a mix of youth the entire season.

And youth would prevail as Klubi would shock GBK with a 1-0 victory, only their second of the campaign. Meanwhile in Tampere, TPV would come out 1-0 victors leaving the Ykkonen with a Tampere representative. And I think most people will welcome this result. The Ykkonen needs a Tampere presence.

In the other results, JIPPO ended the season with a 2-2 draw going 5-2-1 in the seasons last 8 games. TP-47 and Atlantis tied 2-2, and KPV lost a 1-2 decision to relegated PP-70. Here’s your final table.

KuPS 56
RoPS 55
JJK 41
Hameenlinna 41
TP-47 37
VIFK 36
Atlantis 34
PK-35 33
JIPPO 32
KPV 31
TPV 30
GBK 27
PP-70 25
Klubi-04 15

So that’s all from the Ykkonen for this year. Thanks for playing!

Liverpool’s new scout

As if they didn’t already have enough of a stranglehold on the Finnish replica shirt market, those loveable scamps from Merseyside have been in the news this week. The first story was that Simon Skrabb, a 12 year old from Pietersaari, had been to Melwood on trial. Simon had a whale of a time, apparently:

“Everything was so much better than here at home – and bigger. There were ten perfect full size pitches in a row. When I went to the changing rooms all our kit was on the bench, all I had to take with me were my pants, shinpads and boots.”

Which is nice.

HBL then announced that Tor Sparv, father of Halmstad midfielder Tim, had quit as coach of Kakkonen team Norvalla FF to take up a post as Liverpool’s Finland scout.

So the scousers now have a man in Finland, and I can’t help feeling it’s a bit much. Alright, Liverpool are going to be great for the youngsters, and they are doing this ‘on the offchance’ that Skrabb turns into the kind of player they’d be interested in by playing well for the national team’s younger age groups. By that stage they’d have a pre-existing good relationship with ‘the lad and his Dad’ (the cornerstones of British junior football recruitment) and thus have stolen a march on their contemporaries.

More of a problem might be lesser clubs taking lesser players abroad at ever earlier stages in their development. Lauri Dalla Valle has been resistant to moves abroad so far, and Teemu Pukki got at least a season in Veikkausliiga before moving abroad, but it seems the trend is for players to go abroad, come back, then go abroad again. In twenty years time it might be possible to draw conclusions about it.

Researchers required

Got a mail from a company that must have already stolen several months of my life, and led me to the conclusion that Henri Schewelleff and Heikki Aho are both worth £5m. Anyway, they want researchers for their new game:

A games company developing the latest football manager simulation game are looking to recruit reliable volunteers to help research real life football information and statistics relating to our game. If you’re a football fan, have a passion for the sport, are reliable and most importantly have some time to spare to report back then I would be interested in recruiting you. You need to have a knowledge of Finnish football down to at least the Ykkonen. You would need to provide reliable, up-to-date information on a continuous basis regarding squads, transfers, club staff, player positions and abilities/attributes/characteristics, team colours and managers.

If you feel that you could provide this, please e-mail me at
StevenM@bgstudios.co.uk

and I will get back to you with further details.

Four Drink Too Much and End Up in a Belgian Gay Bar

Oh that Belgium – the land of waffles, fiscal suicides and women as hot as they were sculpted of the flames of hell. It was my first time there, and I was positively surprised. My love affair with Eastern Europe usually dictates that I must routinely associate the western travel potential with factors such as excessive sophistication, stable governments, high prices, and an uninspiringly high standards of sanitary facilities and overall hygiene -translating into an inevitable lack of all those small things that I like about Europe’s eastern territories and that I would most accurately define simply as “random incidents”- but as a matter of fact, and this between only you and me, the Old (I usually grant myself the right to dub it “senile”) Europe is by no means a belt of boredom. All you need is a good local guide and a little bit of liquid effort, and in Brussels we had the luxury of the both.

The Channel Tunnel disappointed me, though. I don’t know what exactly had caused me to think that it would have been a submarine, yet I was indeed expecting to see colourful fish species and other marine animals, swimming calmly in midst of numerous wrecks of Zeppelins and Man-O-Wars, from the windows. But no, apparently it is just a train and its windows open into nothingness. I would say “dog’s bollocks”, but during our road trip I also learned that it is actually a positive expression and thus won’t be able to elaborate my sense of disappointment any further. Nevertheless, if you have put too much liquid effort within the previous sixteen hours, having also, say, “overkilled” the abdominal symptoms of that effort by taking too many lactic acid capsules into your empty stomach in the morning, and must stare into that nothingness when at the same time listening to how your Finnish travel companions are trying to teach your British travel companion how the alphabet and the numerals go in their native tongue, and if the toilet is reserved, you can feel how your mental well-being is slowly starting to evaporate and escape through the train’s ventilation system, though with no success, for the strait that makes Britain an island is narrow, and the train, Eurostar, is fast.

Brussels came across a Bohemian, laid-back and cosmopolitan city. It’s a place where people from many different backgrounds meet and mix and mingle. In Brussels you can see people from virtually every place and culture, and when I say “every place and culture” it’s not a joke and I do mean it – and for example last weekend there was Tommi Läntinen, from Turku. Usually appearing where there is football, even on television wearing an AC Milan shirt, Tommi had a gig on Friday night and that sort of events typically attract Suomifans like Ms Pacman attracts the ghosts. The result was – I was described – a musical equivalent of pitch invasion, that you might have wanted to see yet not to hear. Indeed like that infamous Youtube clip where yours truly sings Katyusha in an Azerbaijani cover band, i.e. for our ears only.

They’re a refreshingly dodgy club, those Suomifans. Finland is a relatively small country and generally not that passionate about the sport in question, so the aura of devotion and freakness that gleams around footy jaunts to places such as Armenia or Kazakhstan is probably stronger than in more established football societies. As a good Marxist, I will never be a member, but let me anyway share one story from their trips. I was reminded of it some time ago, when my Finnish alma mater’s student newspaper featured a similar story, probably referring to the same case.

After Shefki Kuqi’s miscalibrated antenna had transmitted the signal towards that fatal direction and Finland had lost in Teplice, the fans had a night out in Prague. Their bus to Via Baltica and all way home, was to depart very early in the morning, so this was a pretty convenient solution for everybody – forget the game, drink over it and sleep on the coach – minus one. One fellow had decided to have one beer with Teplice locals and by turning that beer into more than one, his Nokia’s battery life having turned into a battery death, he had got out their bar in Teplice when the ensemble in Prague had already departed and reached the latitudes of the Czech-Polish border. Thus he enjoyed the sights of Bohemia a little bit longer than he had initially planned, starting with an allegedly very hilarious telephone conversation with his wife: “So, honey, you’re still at home? Good, because if you were now driving to the port to pick me up you might get really angry…”

But back to Belgium. Heysel (aka Stade Roi Baudouin aka Koning Boudewijnstadion, just take your pick) is a big stadium, far too big to be half-empty, and the Belgian audience literally didn’t make much noise of their team. There was a distant drum and some silly foghorn that was howling through the match. It’s doesn’t make an impressive audial scenery to mix a massive stadium, silent spectators and a lone, if zealous, siren. That was the bad thing about the venue. The good thing was that they sold beer and let you take it to the stand.

Of the actual ball game event I don’t write much because I don’t remember much. For being a nil-nil it was surprisingly entertaining, the police were fewer than in Baku, the pitch was green and Jeremenko Jr (when I was at your age, Pluto was a planet and Eremenko was Jeremenko) looked really, really pissed off after the whistle. One night in Brussels proved long, boozy and slightly unforeseeable. Then we came back to London.