Mika Ojala and Wilhelm Ingves on trial at Heerenveen

These are two of the brighter young stars of Veikkausliiga, and they’re both heading over to Trond Sollien‘s little Nordic colony in Eredivisie. I spoke to Ojala’s coach Job Dragtsma this week, and he understandably feels that it would be a little early for Ojala to leave Inter Turku, but of course it’s a possibility with the kind of highlight reel Ojala’s agent can put together. He scores some blinding goals.

Wilhelm Ingves is two years younger, was playing in the Third division two years ago for Lemlands IF, and has been on trial at Ascoli this summer. He plays for what looks to be an exciting Finnish under-19 squad, including Teemu Pukki of Sevilla. David Eriksson from IFK Mariehamn fan site Green Mean Machine caught up with him this week, and has kindly allowed me to translate the interview and post it here.

You’re going to Holland and Heerenveen on trial. How did that come about?

A Finnish scout watched the game against Turkey in the autumn, and he’s the scout for a Dutch agent. They want to draw up a contract with me, but I want to see what they can sort out first, before I decide anything. That’s how it came about.

Great! When do you leave?

I leave on Monday the 17th, and will stay for one week.

Are you going on your own?

No, Mika Ojala from Inter is going too. So I can train in Finnish again.

Yeah, it’s nice to have someone to travel with. What do you know about Heerenveen?

That (Kalmar FF midfielder) Viktor Elm is going there (in January) and that Mika Väyrynen plays there. And that they have blue and white striped shirts with little hearts dotted around.

Yeah, just now they have seven Nodic players, including the aforementioned Elm and Väyrynen. Moreover, they have a Nordic coach. Nordic players enjoy it there, and the club has a good eye for spotting them. Do you think that’s why Heerenveen showed an interest in you?

It could be that they scout more in Scandinavia that other clubs, and therefore have a reputation for handling us well. It’ll be fun to meet the coach, he has a good reputation from what I’ve heard.

If Heerenveen offered you a contract, how close to a move would you be?

There are a lot of factors at play. I have some school left, and high school graduation exams begin next spring. So I’d have to sort that out somehow. Then if the city, club and players are alright, it’d be fun to try out the professional game. It would also depend on what they offer in their contract.

So if nothing comes out of this with Heerenveen, there’ll be no panic for you?

No, there won’t be, I still have a year left. And in one year I will be finished with all my studies, which will be nice to have out of the way.

You’re not wrong there! So staying at IFK for next season wouldn’t be strange for you then? Or are there other clubs you’ve heard from?

I’d gladly play for IFK next season, just now I’m the only striker in the squad with a contract so it’s also quite appealing to do that. Nobody else has been in contact with me, but IS Veikkaaja (Finnish weekly sports magazine published by Finland’s largest tabloid, that has a lot of transfer news and rumours and this week said that Ingves was on his way to Ascoli for another trial) might know more than me.

Hehe…. If you have nothing to add, then we’ll say thank you for your time and wish you good luck in Holland!

Thanks a lot. I should say that I often read your site. The previews are good, I must say.

Thanks, and good luck….. if you go, bring us back a big bag of money!

Haha, I’ll do what I can. But that’s mostly up to (IFK Mariehamn club director Peter) Matsson.

Lasha Chkaidze’s story

Lasha Chkaidze came to Finland two years ago, after a lengthy career including international caps and over 200 games in the Georgian top flight. He’s been something of a phenomenon in Kajaani, lighting up matches in Kolmonen with his class and composure, so I got in touch to see how he’s enjoyed his time in Finland.

Your career in Finland has been a little bit stop-start so far, and it’s surprised a few people that you started playing so far down the pyramid. Could you tell us a bit about your career in Georgia?

I started training seriously rather late, at around 13 or 14. My first contract was with TSU, Tblisi State University, and after a while I moved to Dinamo and then Locomotiv Tblisi, before I got a transfer to Arsenal Kiev in Ukraine. Unfortunately I got a leg injury and was out for about eight months, and really lost my focus and was thinking about quitting football. My Dad wanted to help though, and with his help I began training and I moved to the new club Mtskheta. That year we won promotion to the highest division in Georgia.

I was playing well, and moved back to my old club Locomotive Tblisi. Everything was going well, I was really enjoying my football, but for some reason things turned bad after a couple of years. In the winter holidays I went to Latvia, for a trial with FC Ventspils, I played one friendly game against Flora Tallinn. I don’t know what happened really (I think an agent made some problems), but I went back home.

Because of my trip to Latvia I had problems with “Locomotive” bosses and I changed my club. I signed a contract with Sioni Bolnisi, Then I got married and my new coach at Bolnisi put me on the bench. As I heard later, his stupid reason was that “a “newly married player” can’t play with 100% commitment.

Then I changed clubs a lot but I couldn’t settle, it seemed that suddenly everybody had forgotten about my calibre as footballer. It should be noted, that football for me is still the only way to earn money for my family. I was close to ending my career when I met with my old friend Giorgi Nikuradze. We had played together for many years in youth teams before he moved to Finland. He had good contacts with Finnish football people. He took my video and CV to Tornio and TP-47 sent me an invitation.

KajHa v AC Kajaani

KajHa v AC Kajaani

And how did you end up in Kajaani?

For my first few games in Finland I played at a winter tournament in Tampere. TP-47’s management suggested I played for Kemi Kings, who were happy with my performances. After the tournament we went back to Tornio and I played my first friendly game in Sweden against Boden, where I scored the first goal and we won 2-1. After I played some other friendly games I signed a one year contract with TP-47. Then suddenly they changed their minds and sent me to Kajaanin Haka.

I heard many things, but I don’t know what the real reason was. I’m sure it was the coach’s decision, he had some of his own players for my position in central midfield (EDIT – this was confirmed by TP-47 manager Kari Vaalto when HT contacted him). But anyway I found my city, where I have many friends and fans, and I moved from Kajaanin Haka to AC Kajaani for the 2008 season .

Did the move to Haka’s local rivals cause any antagonism?

Some people said that I should have stayed at Haka, but I got much better conditions for life at AC and I made this decision first of all for my family. But this transfer didn’t cause me any problems, I still have many friends at Haka. I have one more season contracted to AC, and we hope that we can get promotion to the second division. We have new coaches now and they, with the club’s directors have really good plans for the next year.

You seem to have had a raw deal from agents when you’ve been looking for a new club.

Without a good agent it’s very hard to find a normal club in modern football. When I was a teenager there were no agents in Georgia, just some foreigners who were working with the main national team players. Then some agents appeared, who were working with young players, but I was 25-27 , so as I heard I was already too old!

I never met the agent who would tell me the truth and really wanted to help me. Those I met were trying to earn big money and thinking only for their pockets, so after some “deceivers” I didn’t trust anybody. But I still hope that I’ll get one more chance in my football life.

Lasha bossing the midfield

Lasha bossing the midfield

You have a strong footballing background. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood?

I was born in a small city called Lanchkhuti, which is on the Black Sea coast. My father, Teimuraz Chkhaidze, was a famous footballer in the old Soviet Union. He was captain of USSR Under 18s, he played for Dinamo Tbilisi and for 12 years he was captain of Lanchkhuti’s club, Guria. He played a big role for a small club when they won promotion into the highest division of the Soviet Union in 1987 and 1989. It was amazing-this small town was playing with the best clubs of 15 republics of the old Soviet Union.

Caucasian players have a reputation as tricky dribblers, and you are a skilful creative player yourself. Do you think this is the coaching, the environment, or something innate to people from that part of the world?

I don’t know about other Caucasian countries, but in Soviet times Georgian footballers were known as the “Soviet Brazilians”. We don’t have any special style of training, so it could be that the main reason is our mentality. We are similar to the Spanish, Italian, Brazilian, Argentinian and those kinds of “hot” people.

Maybe one reason for me personally is Diego Maradona, who was my childhood hero. In my football career, as Diego wasn’t playing any more by the time I started playing properly, my favourite player was Zinedin Zidane. His style of playing is similar to mine and I have heard from the AC fans that I am their “Zizou”.

One more thing. We always have a lot of talented young players, but for some reason – possibly our mentality, or poor football infrastructure – they are often “lost” during their teenage years. So our football bosses have to work a lot harder, if we want to keep our name in world football.

There are a lot of famous players from Georgia, players who have made it abroad. Do you ever try to help each other out to avoid the obstacles caused by poor infrastructure?

Players are not so powerful, but we talk to each other when we go back home. We usually have these street tournaments in the summer, when the big European leagues have a break. We have a lot of mini-stadia in Tbilisi’s streets and almost every evening we play “street soccer”. One good mini-stadium is near my house, and foreign-based and veteran players often play there.

When I was 18 years old me and my friends played against Shota Arveladze, Giorgi Kinkladze, Temur Ketsbaia and other famous players. The losing team had to buy Fanta for the winners, and we won! They were very surprised, and Shota Arveladze said to me that I HAVE to play big football.

Lastly, you were in Kajaani during the war in Georgia this year. How did you keep up with events?

I had daily contact with my family and friends. This war didn’t really get too close to Tbilisi, so my family was in a safe place. But many young people died in this Russian occupation of Georgian historical lands. Russian and Georgian people have very good memories of each other, I have many Russian friends.

But there are some politics on a governmental level, about who wants to take control of the Caucasus. Georgia is the link between Asia and Europe, so strategically it’s a very important place for everybody. Now everything is calmed down and we hope, that my country will keep our lands from “occupiers” once and for all!

Kai Kuokkanen

Jussi Kahola just missed out on getting elected in Tampere, but there were other football candidates in Finland. One successful football orientated politician was Kai Kuokkanen, who was elected on the Green Party list in Lahti. If you want to find out more in Finnish, or get in touch with him, you can do so via his website.

Kai Kuokkanen

Congratulations on getting elected, Kai! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Thanks! I’m 28 years old. Currently I’m working at Kesko where I’m doing my retail store trainee program. It’s going to take this year and hopefully I’ll be working near Lahti from the beginning of 2009. At the moment I’m working in Kotka.

My football career lasted 10 years and it ended at the age of 17. I was a goalkeeper playing for Reipas. I sometimes played also as a defender, few times I was stopping strikers with Lasse Lagerblom, who later played for FC Lahti and FC Honka. I just got bored with training and I thought I’ve got more to give for Finnish football on the terraces than on the field.

Tell me about your political career. When did you become politically interested, and what do you want to achieve in the council and on a personal level? Why did you pick the Green party?

I’ve always been interested in politics, but I joined the green party after the parlamentary elections 2002. I had met my girlfriend a year earliers and she had a huge influence on my thoughts. So in 2002 I joined the union of the Green Youth. When I moved to Kouvola for my studies, I got the idea to try to be a candidate in local elections. It was 2004 when I sent email to the boss of the Kouvola Greens and asked if I could became a candidate. That’s also when I officially became a member of the Green Party. I got 53 votes with a budget of 3 euros, so I was quite satisfied.

2006 came and I moved back to Lahti. I was elected as one of the candidates for the parliamentary elecions in the Häme election district. I got 550 votes (over 380 from Lahti), so that’s when I decided that I’ll have a run at the local elections in my hometown. Now it’s 2008 and I was a candidate and from the beginning of the next year I’ll be in the city council for the coming 4 years.

If you could choose where FC Lahti played, would it be Kisapuisto, Lahti Stadium, or an entirely new ground?

If I had the money, I would build an entirely new stadium. Kisapuisto is a legendary spot, but for old clubs, not for FC Lahti. For FC Lahti the Lahti Stadium is the home, it has been the home for the entire history of the club.

But as I don’t have the money, I’ll choose Kisapuisto. It must be totally renewed and built again. The location is the best in Finland for a football ground. Just in the middle of the city.

What do you think the council can and should do for football in Lahti?

The stadium is the best the council can do for FC Lahti. Of course council can give money for other things too, but the stadium is the most important. We have decent training facilities here for the youth clubs also, but of course if there is money left for football, it should go to the facilities.

When did you start following FC Lahti, and why? Did you follow another club before Lahti, and do you think they are now as popular in the city as Reipas and Kuusysi?

I started following FC Lahti from the first ever home match in 1997, against Ponnistus. Before that I was following Reipas and was strongly against the merger. But when the new season started, I decided that FC Lahti will be the club for me. I missed Reipas for a few months, but now there is only one club in my heart and I think FC Lahti is getting more popular year by year. The older people are strongly against it, but as the years go by, the new generation, who have only been following FC Lahti became stronger and stronger. After 10 more years we will be the number one club ever in this city.

Who is your favourite all-time Lahti player (excluding Jari Litmanen)?

Definitely Rafael. He’s the best player ever in this club. Hard working, goalscoring and a nice bloke. That’s all it’s needed to be a terrace hero! And I love the badge kissing every time he scores.

What’s your fondest memory of Jari Litmanen?

Of course his years in Ajax. The greatest FC Lahti memory is from his first ever appereance in Lahti shirt in the League cup final against Allianssi. When he came to the field, the whole stadium of 4500 spectators were standing and singing Litmanen. That was an unbelievable moment.

The current Lahti team have shown some real grit to qualify for Europe, but at one point they were considered title challengers. Are you satisfied with  the way the team has performed?

I’m totally satisfied. I was hoping for a top 5 finish, so us reaching the Uefa spot is more than I ever dreamed. I think it was in July or August, people started to talk about us finishing in top three, but I didn’t believe it before 94 minutes in Helsinki. Our manager Ilkka Mäkelä has done a fantastic job with the squad and I hope it continues.

Who has been the most influential player for FC Lahti this year? Who has improved the most? And who is most likely to move abroad?

I would say Konsta Hietanen. I played in all matches and was superb. He has also improved the most. And I think it will be he or Eero Korte, who will move abroad next.

Lahti fans have made an impression wherever they’ve gone to follow their team. What’s your favourite FC Lahti song?

“ohi syyskuun läpi repaleisen lokakuun, sarjapaikasta me taistellaan, ei tuu kultaa, eikä tule hopeaa milloinkaan”. We didn’t sing it a single time this season. We used to sing it more when we were shite! But I love it!

Lahti took a hell of a lot of people to HJK on Sunday. By all accounts it was a tremendous atmosphere and they did the team proud, as away fans always aim to do. Do you follow Lahti away, and if so can you tell us about your best memories of Lahti away games?

I try to follow them away as much as I can. This season was quite a difficult, when I was living in Kotka (so all the home matches were also away matches for me), so I didn’t travel a much. Next season I’ll hopefully be living in Lahti or Helsinki, so travelling away will be a lot easier.

The best memeries are from the season 2001 when I travelled to all away games (including two trips to Rovaniemi). Those Lapland trips are the best. Of course those heavy drinking sessions to Maarianhamina are also something to remember when I’m 70.

HJK win cup

Here’s what Helsingin Sanomat has to say about it.

Pathetic attendance, due to the poor scheduling, terrible marketing and general disinterest in the worst of the Finnish domestic competitions. The League Cup at least attracts some interest because it gives an indication of how teams will play in the next season, whereas the Cup just gives a second chance to teams who aren’t good enough to qualify for Europe through the league.

I just discovered that the Finnish Volleyball Cup finishes a full three months before the end of the season, and is not always played in the same place. Maybe it’s time the HJK-obsessed people of Töölö had to travel to see their team win the game’s ‘showpiece occasion’. I can’t think of a stadium in Finland that could not have accommodated Saturday’s crowd, and I can’t think of a reason to keep this game as a home match for one club above all others.

Suomen Cup Final Preview

The women’s cup final between Lahti club Kuusysi and HJK Helsinki will be an attacking game, according to Kuusysi coach Jukka Makelä. “The pressure is on HJK, they are the leading cup team in Finland. Challenges are nice and we’ve played the whole season with the attitude that we don’t play for a draw. We know that the game won’t be easy, but at the same time we believe we can win.”

“We tried during the season to change our play a little bit, so that we defended slightly further forward. Th idea is that we attack and try and score goals, and then try to stay together in defence as well. We’re not going to change anything for this game, as it has worked. We trust our own game.”

Kuusysi finished sixth in this year’s Naisten Liiga, whereas HJK came second to runaway champions Honka. The winning margin was 13 points, and this year’s Cup will not provide HJK with a route into Europe unless Honka manage to win the UEFA Women’s Cup, since only one club qualifies for that tournament from each country.

HJK changed coaches in August, after Jarmo Österlund and Maria Virolainen’s stint in charge failed to dislodge Honka from the top of the table, and the new boss is Gary Williams. And Englishman who played for Chelsea’s academy before attaining his UEFA B and C licences and coaching in the USA, Williams was in charge of HJK’s under-15 girls before being handed the top job.

Antti Muurinen’s men will take on Honka three and a half hours after HJK’s women kick-off against Kuusysi. TV coverage of the finals starts on YLE 2 at 14:50 Finnish time, and you can watch a stream of the men’s final at least here.

“We hope that we can continue in the same style we showed against VPS. But that will be harder because now the opponent is much tought,” said Jarno Parikka. We lost third place in the last match against FC Lahti but then we showed what we are made of against VPS.”

Haapala is injured for HJK, but Aho and Mattila might play. Otaru is out for Honka. If the crowd is above 1,500 I will be very surprised, but if you fancy a day out in Töölö there are plenty of tickets available at Finnair Stadium. HJK-Kuusysi starts at 11:30 am, while HJK-Honka kicks off at 15:00.

Who cares about the Cup?

The two semi finals were played last night, and to be honest I was embarassed for all four teams, everyone that went to watch them, and the competition itself. The game I saw was Haka v Honka, and finished 1-0 to the Espoo side, but it was a travesty of a match.

First the positives: Rasmus Schuller, a 17 year old midfielder with a calm head, played his third game for Honka. He did not look out of place, he was composed, and I think he will play a much bigger role for Honka next season. Jaakko Lepola also played, and his quick feet and brain will stand Honka’s midfield in very good stead over the next few years. That’s it for the positives, sorry.

Playing for Haka were Toni Lehtinen – rumoured to be on his way to Honka for next season – and Cheyne Fowler, who will be wearing a HJK shirt in 2009.

I did wonder whether Lehtinen was likely to do his best to score against possible future team mates, and when he inexplicably missed the target in a one on one during the first half, eyebrows were metaphorically raised in the Haka stands. If you can call a shout of ‘fuck off Lehtinen’ a ‘ metaphorically raised eyebrow’.

Fowler put in a decent performance, but you can understand why he might not want to put himself about too much. When he got a knock late in the game he went off straight away, presumably so as to avoid jeopardising his HJK contract.

There was another dimension to Fowler’s game. A Honka victory means that their opponents in the final will qualify automatically for the UEFA Cup, as Honka already qualified through league position. That means HJK, Fowler’s new club. It’s quite a dilemma for a player, if losing a game can guarantee he plays in Europe for his new team.

This kind of thing is unavoidable to an extent, as the final is the last game of the season and players will always agree to move before it is played. But the semi finals should be done and dusted a long way before, in order to avoid the farcical situation we had last night. Haka put in a performance very similar to many others this season, but the ability to calculate European qualification at the Semi Final or even quarter final stage (TamU and Honka played theirs last week) should not be available to teams, players, agents and managers.

This is a scheduling issue, and it will only get worse next year. The Under 21 European Championships will necessitate a break in the domestic schedule, as Finland qualified, and the UEFA Europa League will have 48 teams in the group stages, a big expansion on the current 40. Tampere United and FC Honka have both come close to qualifying for the UEFA Cup in recent years, and Honka will be aiming to get there this time. If they do, the Finnish Cup will probably not be played until the following March.

It looks like the 2009 Veikkausliiga will once again have all the rythmn of Mohamed Al Fayed. Two games a week will be played in May, there will be a month long break, and then the final rounds of the Cup will be played once everyone knows the final league table.

2008 Veikkausliiga – the changing of the guard

The biggest disappointment this year has been HJK Helsinki. They started with high hopes, big signings, and a fluent attacking style, but things have fallen apart for them since the 3-2 win over Inter that seemed to renew their title hopes back in August. Their strategy – big money signings combined with the cream of Finnish youngsters – has failed, as they finished fourth in this year’s Veikkausliiga and will now rely on the Finnish Cup to qualify for Europe.

The cream of Finnish youngsters is a particularly wasteful part of the strategy, as Finland is full of ex-HJK players. Not just the pros, but amateurs who played for a while and then left the club as juniors, along with guys like Antonio Inutile who never really got a chance there.

Whereas Inter’s policy is that young players need a chance in the first team as soon as possible, because otherwise you will never know what they could have achieved, HJK’s seems to be that a place in their line-up needs to be earned, and can’t be wasted on just anyone.

Next year’s bright young hope for HJK is Akseli Pelvas, who moved to HJK from EsPa when he was 14. Pelvas has impressed, scoring 24 goals for HJK’s farm club Klubi 04 in Kakkonen this season. He was shipped out to IFK Mariehamn on loan to get a taste of Veikkausliiga, and then scored twice for HJK to give them a 3-2 win at FC Haka last week, but the 19 year old is going to have to compete with Paulus Roiha, Jarno Parikka and probably one new signing in 2009.

They have annoyed a lot of people in other Helsinki clubs with their magpie-like transfer policy, and I get the feeling that whichever Helsinki club manages to identify itself as the anti-HJK will get a lot of support and have a good chance of establishing themselves.

Compare that to Inter, who spent a large part of the summer without proper strikers after Timo Furuholm got injured. They eventually signed Gulliano Grot and Domagoj Abramovic, but the coach needed to demonstrate the desperate need, and potential rewards, before he was given the go-ahead to offer them contracts.

There’s been some disappointment about the drop in attendances for Veikkausliiga games this year. The average for Veikkausliiga this season was 2,631, down from 2,976 in 2007. I don’t really share the pessimism, as Veikkausliiga is not the only thing in Finnish football, and further down the pyramid there are some small rumblings of change.

Quality not quantity is what matters, and the big away followings and developing rivalries are what will make Veikkausliiga stronger in the long term. I’ve seen or heard about away followings of at least 100 fans from Inter, HJK, TPS, Viikingit, Honka, Tampere United, Lahti, PoPa and HIFK this season. Those are a lot of clubs to have taken so many people away, the kind of followings that usually only occur when there is something big to play for.

Once you get that many people travelling and chanting, then people will want to go to see the fans and the rivalry, as they have been doing at Turku derbies, and so people should maybe worry a little bit less about KooTeePee getting 1,700 rather than 2,200 people.

It’s a slow process, but as PoPa, HIFK, and whichever of the Oulu clubs comes out on top get their act together, the long term trend is upwards. Last season’s Veikkausliiga figures were most likely inflated anyway, as everybody talks about phantom spectators in Finnish football (the phenomenon of clubs picking a number and doubling it rather than counting the number of people through the turnstiles), but this season there was a bit of an attempt by the league to clamp down on the practice.

The great thing about 2008 is that Finland has three new ‘medal winners’ (that doesn’t make much sense in English, but it’s a very common phrase here) this year, and they all have reasons to be cheerful. Lahti finally showed their town a reason to support them, and took a huge, 500+ following to HJK for their final game. That is the kind of support that matters, not an extra few hundred juniors getting pisswet through and hating every minute of a home game they didn’t pay to see. They also have Jari Litmanen, who will surely finish his career there now and is just about the best marketing tool any Finnish club can hope for.

Inter have the best young players of any Finnish club, they own the best stadium, and they will compete in the Champions League next year. Job Dragtsma is hopeful that they would keep Dominic Chatto, which would be a major coup for the club. With Joni Aho, Mika Ojala and possibly Chatto as well, they will again be at the top of Veikkausliiga. Europe is another thing, but their style of play might help them there.

Honka did well in Europe this year, but their victory over Viking Stavanger and narrow defeat to Santander just failed to get them into the UEFA Cup group stages. Vasara and Kokko have been very good, but the middling playerslike Weckström, Peltonen and Kokko have been the real revelations this year. Nobody expected much from them, indeed Kokko was rejected by TamU when he was at their farm club, but Mika Lehkosuo has really gotten the best out of them. That’s a trick HJK have not yet mastered.

They really need a new stadium, and I was worried by the councillors I spoke to in Espoo talking about ‘private finance’ for it. That might be difficult to find in the coming recession, during which building costs will be cheaper and the owners of the ground will be able to get more for their money. We’ll see what Espoo council comes up with.

The biggest fiasco of the season has been Tampere United. That deserves a post of its own, and even then  you could only scratch the surface of what has gone wrong since the double win last year. Speaking to a member of their fan group a couple of weeks ago, the only source of pride he could come up with was that his group had fewer glory hunters, as their numbers have held up pretty well no matter how shit the team has played. And the team has played, very, very shit at times this season.

Inter Turku 2 FF Jaro 0 FT – Inter are 2008 Veikkausliiga Champions!

Watch the match from YLE’s stream here(click the link)

Full time: Inter win the league, and Mika Mäkitalo does a tremendous sliding tackle on Stefan Håkans, Inter owner who always stands next to the bench. Celebrations in full swing now, I need that hot rum to warm my frozen fingers….

88 mins: Ojala tried twice to throw his shirt into the crowd, and failed, swinging it behind him onto the pitch. People are celebrating now, with the people behind me banging their tables and pint glasses. I’m going to get myself a drink.

87 mins: Timo Furuholm is about to come on, after warming up for the entire second half. He celebrated the goal wwell, maybe that’s what persuaded Dragtsma to bring him on. Ojala to come off.

85 mins: Abramovic cuts in from the left, and scores in the bottom left corner with his right foot. Cool finish, and it looks to be all over now, surely?

82 mins: Inter are still looking for the clincher, and Ojala floats in a free kick that just whistles over the top.

77 mins: portin is booked for a late challenge on Chatto, and Ojala blasts the free kick out of the ground. Inter are getting stretched at times by jaro. At the moment Hooiveld and Corpache are coping well, but it only takes one clearance into a puddle for Jaro to get a chance, and they are well capable of taking it.

74 mins: Roiko misses the target from ten yards out. Grot gets the ball in space down the other end but his shot is then deflected for a corner.

72 mins: My fingers are falling off here, it’s freezing. Might have to go get a hot rum. Lahti are now leading HJK 1-0 in Helsinki, which would mean they finish third and push HJk out of the european places.

68 mins: Mannström limps off, but he will surely stay on and stand still rather then reduce his side to ten men. Ojala puts in a good shot but it’s straight at the keeper. Inter need another goal before they can really relax here.

62 mins: It’s not so much a swamp now, as an extension of the Baltic sea. Hyyrynen decks it and water sprays everywhere. It’s not football, it’s a slid tackle contest.

61 mins: Another correction, Roiko came on for Koivisto, and the new keeper is Koljander. WLAN is playing up a bit now too, so updates might become more sporadic.

59 mins: Correction, it was Mäkitalo who slid into Karnio, not Ojala.

57 mins: And Karnio no comes off for Roiko. It was always going to happen, lets just hope he’s not seriously injured.

55 mins: Jaro fans don’t often sing in Finnish, but they prefer to let the referee know in his own language (rather than Swedish) that he should give a red card when Ojala goes in hard on the keeper Karnio. Bantamoi has changed into a nice clean shirt at half time, the prima donna. Substitution for Jaro, Tuomanen off for Kosela.

52 mins: Grot plays in Mäkitalo, who overruns the ball for the first time in the game. Hyyrynen grins a bit when he’s heckled from the stands, but I don’t think he is fooled by the advice that ‘the goal is in the corner’.

50 mins: It’s 2-2 in Mariehamn – this one ain’t over yet.

48 mins: Karnio is quick out of his goal to take the ball off Ojala’s toes, but Inter waste the throw in.

Finnish people really don’t know how to behave in crowds. If you bump into someone, you should say *something* – it doesn’t have to be ‘sorry’, but some acknowledgement that you didn’t intend to barge them out of the way is only polite. I am always saying ‘anteeksi’ at big matches, and no other fucker does…. The teams are back out and we’re about to get underway. I expect Furuholm to come on for Grot soon.

Half time: Good performance from both teams, in the circumstances. I’m still amazed that the game is taking place, and would not like the championship to turn on the ball stopping dead in a puddle, but Inter seem to be doing the job so far.

44 mins: Anbramovic is showing good strength in neotiating the swamp outside the box, but his shot after a one-on-one is saved. Inter will be glad to attack the other, less marsh-like half after the break.

42 mins: Paajanen turns his man, but can only chip his cross-shot over the bar. It is still absolutely pissing it down.

38 mins: This really is utterly ridiculous. Grot wins the ball in a puddle-based scrum, goes forward, but slips and falls on the edge of the D. Mannström then has a shot from the corner of Inter’s box, forcing a brilliant save from Bantamoi, and from the resulting corner Inter clear off the line.

36 mins: IFK go 2-1 up in Mariehamn!

34 mins: Ojala goes down clutching his right knee after a heavy challenge, but no booking is given. Paajanen does the same, and Chatto has also been kicked a bit.

31 mins: Jaro seem to be making a better fist of playing in these conditions, with Seba Manströmm in particular causing problems down the left. Bantamoi is is usual eccentric self, with sometimes erratic distribution combining with great saves.

21 mins: Jaro are having a good little spell, aided by the difficulty Inter are having clearing the ball along the ground. Grot demonstrates this with a move that breaks down when the ball stops dead in a puddle, as the announcer lets everyone know that Honka have equalised.

20 mins: I think so, ralf, yes, but I will check and report back.

15 mins: The referee seems to bottle a penalty decision as Ojala gets fouled in the box, giving a free kick right on the edge instead. Ojala leathers it in, and it skids out for a corner. It’s still pissing it down, and I would like to reiterate my concern that one of these players (including some of Finland’s brightest young talents, on both sides), might get injured because the referee decided to play in unsafe conditions. It’s not football, and I’ve seen games on better pitches postponed, as had coaches from Inter and Jaro before the game.

12 mins: IFK go 1-0 up against Honka.

8 mins: MyPa lead TamU 1-0 with a goal from Neemelo. Abramovic seems unsure what to do with the ball down the left, but eventually wins a corner. ojala to take, but it is eventually cleared by Hyyrynen.

6 mins: Goal for Inter! paajanen heads in from Ojala’s cross.

4 mins: Hyyrynen beats Sanevuori and fizzes the ball across goal, but there’s nobody there. It’s impossible to pass the ball out of defence, so hoofing it will be necessary.

1 min: This is farcical. Players are slipping and sliding all over the place, and the ball just does not move along the ground. If anyone gets an injury today, the referee of the year might face a lawsuit.

16:00: We’re ready to kick off, but the referee is waiting for a signal from YLE that the shipping forecast (or something) has finished. And they’re off. Inter kick left to right as the ball skids out of play in the corner with Ojala chasing.

15:59: The pre-match presentations include an anti-racism demonstration and awards for Ojala, Hooiveld, Bantamoi and Chatto. Inter really should win the title this year, given how well they’ve played up to now. As the Inter team has a photo taken the photographer – who looks like a fisherman lost in a storm – makes them turn round so they’re not in front of the Olympic Stand.

15:58: Here in Turku the players are entering the field, while there is momentous news from Åland – Aleksandr Kokko starts on the bench for Honka, leaving the field clear for Henri Myntti to take this year’s golden boot…

15:55: The Veikkausliiga anthem starts up, and the weird looking Inter mascot is waiting for the teams to come out. There is a decent crowd standing behind the goal to my left, and a great turnout from Jaro in the Olympic Stand. It takes some dedication to turn out for a game like this, as you’re very likely to get piss wet through, and I hope the numerous children behind that goal are not put off Veikkausliiga football for life.

15:50: There seem to be big queues at the ticket office, but they are unlikely to delay the start to ensure everyone gets in. The Olympic Stand looks about one third full, and for some reason the dugouts are on the near side – Inter have had them on the opposite side every other time I’ve been here. It looks a bit weird…

15:30: It’s still raining here. I’m thinking it could be very embarrassing if the title is decided by the ball stopping in a puddle in the penalty area, or the referee has to call it off halfway through. The Inter team are warming up in the wetter half of the pitch, and occasionally kicking at the puddles, and they seem to be acclimatising to the conditions. The Inter fans shouted something about ‘bad pitches’ when they came in, but have since settled down and sung a few more positive songs….

The teams are in:

Inter Turku: Bantamoi, Aho, Sanevuori, Corpache, Hooiveld, Chatto, Mäkitalo, Ojala, Paajanen, Abramovic, Grot.

FF Jaro: karnio, Storbacka, Kullström, Tuomanen, Matrone, Koivisto, Laurikainen, Simpson, Hyyrynen, Mannström, Jonas Portin.

15:00: When I had my first look at the pitch today, I didn’t actually walk on it, just dipped my toe into a puddle from the running track round the edge. Job Dragtsma wanted to make sure I saw just how crap it was though, and led me back out to show the huge areas covered in standing water. He’s been pacing around on and off ever since then, and just now showed Jos Hooiveld some areas at the ice rink end that he should be particularly wary of.

Everyone says it will be difficult to play football on this, indeed Inter people are saying that ‘it won’t be football’, and it was amusing to see the officials trying to find an area where the ball would roll rather than stopping dead during the pitch inspection. I’m not sure quite what would be necessary to get the game postponed, but it will certainly be a memorable occasion.

14:25: Pitch inspection completed, the game will be played. The standing water will be brushed off the pitch and they will cross their fingers it stops raining. Inter coaching staff are not too happy with the decision.

14:00: I just arrived at the ground, and the pitch looks a state. There is standing water, and the referee is about to make a pitch inspection.

Veikkausliiga last day

I’ll do a live blog of Veikkausliiga’s last day tomorrow. It will begin a couple of hours before the games start, as I’m a bit too tipsy to write a preview now. I’ll be in Turku watching Inter v Jaro, which is hopefully not going to be postponed, while Honka travel to Åland to take on the already safe IFK Mariehamn.

Political Football

There are local elections taking place tomorrow, and Football in Finland has nailed its Tampere colours firmly to Jussi Kahola’s mast. He is candidate number 610, and I really hope you vote for him if you can.

There are a lot of candidates who claim to care about football when elections come around, but you never know just how important it really is to them, or what they are going to do about it.

With Finland using the D’Hondt system for local elections, even voting for a football obsessed candidate could mean giving your support to someone who hates the sport, as votes cast for a party’s candidates are added together and all of them go to the top ranked candidate. The second ranked candidate gets half, the third a quarter, and so on and on down the list.

This means that all parties try to have as many candidates as possible, and attempt to exploit social networks and individual popularity as well as ensuring that at least someone on their list seems ‘a bit like me’. Parties use all kinds of campaigning methods, the weirdest for me being the Centre party’s offer of free carrots:

Keskusta Carrots

I was sceptical about voting for anyone in the established parties, as they have done nothing to get a heated outdoor pitch for Tampere, or renovate Tammela Stadium, or provide proper, civilised conditions for people to watch Veikkausliiga football in Tampere. Something new was needed.

Jussi is standing almost solely on a football platform. He plays Fifth division football for Lappro, and has a clear understanding that more pitches will mean more people get to play more often, and that will have beneficial effects for social and health issues. He also loves Tammela, which is the most important thing.

His final campaigning event was today, and involved playing football in Keskustori (Central Square), where all parties have their main campaigning activities. The idea was to drive home the point that there are not enough facilities to play football in Tampere, and we need more.

Eye on the ball

A sunny day in Tampere

Interruptions

After a while we decided to ask some politcians other than Jussi to come and join out game. Only two accepted, Imdat Uludag from Keskusta and Tiina Elovaara from Perusuomalaiset, but they both put in good performances. Uludag was a deep-lying sweeper, the kind of player who dominated Italia 90 but has fallen out of fashion since. He is also a magistrate and teacher, and his candidate number is 57. He would like to see more football pitches in Tampere too, and jumped at the chance to play with us when we asked.

Elovaara was more of a playmaker in midfield, threading through balls to the strikers and putting in strong tackles when necessary. Perusuomalaiset (‘True Finns’) have a reputation as a populist nationalist party, and Elovaara was keen to explain that her themes are social exclusion and mental health. She said the party in general attempts to look after ‘those who don’t have so much’. They have had racists among their candidates, but they are being weeded out as the party gains more support and comes under closer scrutiny – euro-scepticism and improved social services are their favoured themes these days, and Elovaara was keen to emphasise how she would like more football fields to help integration.

But then, she was talking to a foreigner who wants better football facilities, so she would say that wouldn’t she? Sorry to be cynical, but if football is the most important thing in the elction for you, then voting for Jussi Kahola is the best thing you can do. Tiina and Imdat are both nice people, and I hope they get elected, but they and the rest of the council could really do with a football man asking the right questions and prompting them to make the right decisions.