Helsinki Times column: Does Finland have a football culture?

The question is often asked. A lot of people think that Finland has no football culture, that this country does not understand or properly appreciate the game, that its players are unloved and it’s teams ignored. To those people the mere phrase “football culture” is anathema, something that happens elsewhere, irrelevant to Finland.

Of course some manifestations of Finnish football culture are allowed. Watching English Premier League matches is something almost everyone does, and supporting the national team is damn near unavoidable for most Finns, whatever the sport.

But Finland fans have taken things to another level in recent years. During the last qualification campaign their tifos invoked the national epic, Kalevala, as well as paying tribute to Jari “the King” Litmanen before the final home match of the group.

The latter display nearly moved Litmanen to tears, and more recently the Under 21 coach Markku Kanerva has thanked Finland’s fans for their support during the crucial Euro 2009 qualifier against Denmark.

Finland’s fans are at present seen as a positive thing, and the flares they use before and during matches are always featured in media reports on the support given to the national team. They look cool, so of course they get in the papers.

Unfortunately this tolerance is not extended to every fan group. Tampere United’s supporter group Sinikaarti were recently thrown out of the ground en masse after letting off smoke bombs, and those incidents always result in fines for the club involved.

Whether or not this tolerance lasts, Finland’s fans should be proud of a good display against Germany. They showed a side of “football culture” that is often misunderstood and derided based on perceived problems in neighbouring countries.

Stamping on these problems before they happen is pointless and counter-productive, so lets hope the national team’s supporters can introduce Finns to a new way of watching football. They make the game a hell of a lot more exciting and should be encouraged as much as possible.

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