What a strange weekend

Ilkka Mäkelä had hoped for 5-6,000, but in the end the attendance for Jari Litmanen’s return was 4,163. Seasoned football-watchers were unsurprised about that, given the history of football in Lahti. One told me that “hardly anybody in Lahti supports FC Lahti. The real clubs there are Kuusysi and Reipas.” A Reipas banner was displayed prominently at the game tonight, and the Lahti fans travelled to haka on a Kuusysi bus this season, so the two clubs still have loyalties in the city.

As is the way with these things in Finland, Kuusysi’s senior team has been revived and plays in Kakkonen as City Stars, and you wonder how FC Lahti would compete with them if they were in the same division. That’s not something FC Lahti management will be lying awake at night worrying about just now, as City Stars fight relegation to Kolmonen, and Reipas still don’t have a senior side, but Lahti face big challenges in establishing support in their city.

Reipas and Kussysi won 8 titles between them before they merged. Lahti managed to finish fifth in 2003, won the devalued League Cup last year, and typically attract a fraction of the crowds a big ski jumping event will draw to their home stadium.  Compare to Tampere United, formed two years later for similar city-unifying reasons and now with 3 league titles and a Finnish Cup under their belts. They’ve sold more season tickets (3,200) than Lahti’s average crowd (2,519), and despite a poor 2008 season they have the fourth highest average attendance in the league.

So FC Lahti need success. A title would give them a shot at establishing a fanbase and with their new signing it looks like they may have found a way back into the fight after disastrous defeats against HJK, Inter and Haka had seen them cut adrift.

Litmanen did not start against KuPS, and by the time he came on in the 56th minute his side were already 3-1 up. But with the King on the field they added another 5 goals to level Inter’s goals for and HJK’s goal difference, and more importantly provide a massive confidence boost for everyone involved with the club. Jonne Kempinnen beamed like a child after the game, as you would if you’d played with royalty.

On Sunday Haka got a gubbing at home to Inter. It was an Osuuspankki day, so anybody with a bank card got in free of charge, and the crowd was a healthy 2,881. There was an excellent turn out of Inter fans too, maybe maybe 150 if you include the Turku junior sides that were presumably playing a tournament nearby and stayed on for the game.

Dominic Chatto sounded bullish after the game. “Of course I knew we were going to win, we are getting better all the time and you can see it in our play. I think there will be something good at the end of the season,” he said when pushed about Inter’s title chances. “The new players have come from big leagues, Croatia and Holland, and I think that these games are fairly easy for them.”

Guilliano Grot in particular looks like a real handful. He came on in the second half and repeatedly left his marker for dead with an explosive turn of pace, at one point crossing for Severi Paajanen to blaze wide when shooting might have been a better option. Inter coach Job Dragtsma banged his fist on the dugout in frustration, a little surprisingly as his team were 3-0 up by that point.

Dragtsma has an air of steely determination about him these days. After inter’s disappointingly drawn MyPa game a couple of weeks ago he interrupted Jos Hooiveld during the post-match press conference to remind him of a wasteful miss by Mika Mäkitalo. It wasn’t a big thing, but many managers would go to great lengths to appear unconcerned by small matters like that. His perfectionism could be a vital asset in the run-in, but you do hope he will know when and how to lift the pressure on his players.

Oh yeah, and HJK won 1-0 against VPS at home. Their next game is against second bottom KuPS on Sunday, while Inter and Lahti play each other in Turku. It would take a brave gambler to bet against Klubi lifting the title.

Highlights here

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3 Responses

  1. It’s not all that great in Tampere either, this season is finished and Ratina will be quiet and empty (the season tickets are sold to sponsors who give them away and people don’t show up).

  2. Attendances have held up okay so far though, no? I can see decent turn outs for Haka tomorrow and HJK later this month, but after that the weather gets worse and the lack of a roof will affect things. We’ll see, anyway – I have been impressed in the last two years with the amount of people going to games and wearing colours, and this season will be a test for that support.

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