Nordic Football News

Football in Finland now has a plush new home over at Nordic Football News. You’ll still get your Veikkausliiga fix, as me and Juha will be running the Finland section there, which will have all the stuff we’ve been posting here and more. The new site will have all kinds of interesting stuff, covering Allsvenskan, Norwegian Tippeliga, international and women’s football across the Nordic countries and some football photography.

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Veikkausliiga transfer update

The new year has seen a flurry of confirmed transfers, as well as a few trials that might lead to permanent moves. Some clubs are busier than others, with one in particular seemingly in the business of fire-fighting rather than planning for the future right now. Tampere United have seen chairman Jari Viita depart, after a season in which they lost around €200,000. Viita’s company lost €2.7m last year, and he is not in a great position to bail out TamU.

Winter recruitment has therefore been a painful process for TamU, with 17 year-olds Johannes Mononen and Juha Pirinen joining the club from Jippo and Haka respectively, and Aleksei Kangaskolkka signing from MyPa. While the chance for youth to shine is welcome, the somewhat frantic efforts to offload TamU’s saleable assets point to a less settled strategy.

Tomi Petrescu has signed for Ascoli on a loan until the 15th of April, with the option to make the move permanent at that point, while Henri Myntti is bewilderingly spoilt for choice as he ponders which club to sign for. Myntti is a freakishly tall player, who used to be a blunder-prone centre back but was converted last season into a Veikkausliiga goal machine, playing up front for TamU and heading everything that came his way and bagging 13 goals in 23 league games.

Myntti went to FC Saturn on trial at the end of last season, signed an improved contract with TamU, and is now on trial at Hansa Rostock after apparently turning down a move to Romania. More on the fun and games at Ratina Stadium later in the week.

HJK full back Jukka Raitala is on trial at Newcastle United. Raitala had a good season with HJK, playing 23 games and impressing with Finland’s successful under-21 side, and has attracted attention from Greece as well as West Bromich Albion, where he had a trial in the autumn.

Other current trials include FF Jaro’s central defender Jonas Portin, who is currently at NEC Nijmegen, and Brazilian midfielder Luiz Vanderlei, who MyPa are looking over. Vanderlei has been at Tornio club TP-47 for the past two years and adds a touch of class to teams in need of a playmaker.

Tomi Jalo 1958-2009

This week ended with a sad piece of news from Turun Sanomat, saying that Tomi Jalo had died on Wednesday at the age of 50.

Jalo was one of the few Finnish footballers to take part in the olympic games, being a part of the Finnish team in Moscow 1980.
Jalo played two games for Finland’s senior team and 11 games for the national youth teams.

The midfielder was an integral part of TPS for years. He played 309 games in the Finnish top flight between 1976-1989 and helped his team finish league runners-up of the three times. TPS also finished third on two occasions during Jalo’s career. Jalo’s most famous achievement, however, was captaining the TPS team that upset the odds at Inter with a 1-0 away win in 1987.

After ending his career, Jalo stayed in the game. He started as TPS head coach in the middle of season 1993 and helped the relegation-threatened team stay clear. He was unable to do the same with Inter in 1997, but he remained at the helm and led his team back to Veikkausliiga for season 1999. Jalo spent his last few years coaching TPS’ youth teams.

Tomi played most of his career in the same team with his brother Timo. His big brother Juha-Pekka played one game for Finland’s youth team, but had to end his career prematurely due to back problems. J-P is well-known as a commentator.

Jalo is survived by three sons.

Yrjö Asikainen, 1928-2008

Yrjö Asikainen was a strong, bustling forward who scored vital goals for Finland in their first important victories after the Second World War. A 2-0 win over Denmark in Copenhagen on 11 September 1949 was greeted with gleeful disbelief back home in Finland, where Asikainen got a memorable reception in his adopted home town of Tampere.

I got off the train and walked down Hämeenkatu,” Asikainen told me when I interviewed him in 2007. “People stopped and looked at me, and slowly people began clapping because of what we’d achieved in the match.”

In 1950 Asikainen scored in a 4-1 win over Holland and a 3-2 victory against Yugoslavia, and he looked set to become a fixture in the national team for years to come. His football career had begun in his birthplace, Vyborg, where he played for ViipurinIlves up until the outbreak of the Second World War. He volunteered to help defend the town at the age of sixteen, serving in an anti-aircraft battery before being evacuated in the early summer of 1944.

Life as an evacuee was precarious, with a spell living in Jyväskylä before Asikainen reunited with his former ViipurinIlves team mates in Tampere. The team, now called IlvesKissat, was to win the Finnish championship in 1950 with nine Karelian evacuees in the starting line-up. Asikainen was their figurehead, winning the golden boot with 20 goals in 1949, and again with 15 goals in 1950..

Like most evacuees, Asikainen found life outside Karelia hard. The attitude of the host population was indifferent and occasionally hostile, but sport offered a way for them to integrate and gain acceptance. Asikainen described IlvesKissat’s championship as “our gift to Tampere”, and it was an important event for a town that had not previously won a football championship.

Asikainen became a single father in the early fifties with the death of his wife, and money matters became more pressing for him. Despite trials at Arsenal and Werder Bremen, injury prevented him from moving abroad like his friend and strike partner in the national team, Aulis Rytkönen, but he still had to earn a living in an era when professionalism was still frowned upon, and “shamateurism” flourished.

Rytkönen was not selected for the national team during his time at French club Toulouse FC, and Asikainen had to make do with banknotes stuffed in his boots in the changing room when he returned to football with Helsinki club Kiffen. Even when he started playing in Vyborg, he received cinema tickets as an incentive to sign for one club over another, a practice that now seems rather quaint in modern football, where 16 year old Finns can earn hundreds of thousands of euros by moving abroad.

Despite winning a championship with Kiffen in 1955, he never moved to Helsinki and played only two seasons for the club, but was nevertheless one of the most celebrated players when Kiffen celebrated their centenary last autumn.

In later years he became a coach for IlvessKissat and the junior national teams, and a journalist for Aamulehti and the Swedish-language newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, where his upbringing in multilingual Vyborg proved helpful. He returned to his birthplace every year after travel became possible, usually with former players, officials, fans and family members of IlvesKissat.

Asikainen will be remembered as a legend of Finnish football with a phenomenal success rate, a man who only played five seasons in the Finnish top flight but was top scorer in three of them, a striker who only played nine internationals but scored five goals for Finland. He died at the beginning of last month at his home in Ylöjärvi.