Jyväskylä in Central Finland is a town of about 85 000 people and until today it has held a record they should not be proud of: for a long time Jyväskylä has been the biggest town in Finland that has never had a football club in Veikkausliiga, the top flight of Finnish football.
In Jyväskylä, football has always been hidden in the shadow of ice hockey. During the last two campaigns, however, things have been better for JJK. It was only in 2006 that they won promotion to Ykkönen from the third tier of Finnish football. Despite of that, 2007 saw the Jyväskylä team fight for promotion to Veikkausliiga and they sometimes got crowds of over 4000. This year they picked up where they left off and had decent crowds, and rumours are saying that today’s game against PS Kemi was played in front of almost 5000 people.
PS Kemi had nothing to win or lose before the game, but they still managed to cause some trouble as Denis Santos converted a penalty in the 35th minute to cancel out the lead Mika Lahtinen secured the hosts in the 18th minute.
JJK, unwilling to settle for anything but a win, eventually came out the victors. Not surprisingly it was Wusu Babatunde who scored the winner, netting his 23rd goal of the season. The former TPS player has attracted interest from some Veikkausliiga teams, but the promotion could make the Nigerian stay.
In the end, JJK wouldn’t even have needed to win. The only other team with a possibility to snatch straight promotion was Viikingit, who succumubed to a 4-1 loss against Jippo. JJK still did a professional job and ended their season in style, while Viikingit will face either IFK Mariehamn or KuPS in the promotion play-offs.
There are a couple of issues that won’t be solved before JJK kick off their first Veikkausliiga team in the spring.To start with, JJK will join the lengthy list of clubs that have to negotiate with the town in order to improve the stadium. Their venue, Harjun stadion does not quite live up to Veikkausliiga standards. It is only natural, as JJK have only recently been able to mount a serious promotion challenge after playing in Kakkonen for seven years.
Secondly, they will have to find a way to attract the crowds. The first few games are likely to make people move in numbers, but their first Veikkausliiga season won’t probably be easy. How to keep the people interested if the team is playing to avoid relegation or achieve a mid-table finish?
Having said that, JJK’s promotion will hopefully be an upheaval to the whole football community in Jyväskylä. A better team means more people and if everything goes right, more junior players. JJK’s promotion could be a route to increasing the popularity of football in Central Finland.