Espoo

Great car parks of Espoo

Cities tend to have a distinguishing feature, something that sets them apart from their rivals. Venice has canals, Barcelona offers weird looking Gaudi architecture, New York has sky scrapers. In Espoo – second biggest municipality in Finland, and home to Nokia headquarters – the main feature of the landscape is the car park. Multi-story, dirt-track, fenced off fields – they’re absolutely everywhere.

People live in Espoo because they want to pretend the Greater Helsinki conurbation does not exist, and that means they all have a car so they can get from place to place without interacting with anybody else. This helps make Espoo a disturbing suburban mix of cars, roads, fields and housing, with no centre and next to no public transport.

It’s not absolutely diabolical. They have a Veikkausliiga team, for starters, and they’ve done very well this year. They hope to get a new stadium soon, and by crikey they need it. Honka play at a Sunday league ground. They seem to have stolen the seats from a primary school and nailed them to benches, covering the stands with some plastic sheeting. You can see the priorities of Espoo decision makers by comparing the Länsi Auto areena – a hockey rink sponsored by, what else, a car dealership – with the Tapiola football ground:

Espoo's hockey and football facilities

Honka did well to hold Finnish Champions Tampere United (for another three days or so) till extra time, when they scored twice to get the win. The game was a bit dull, and Jonne Hjelm should have won it for TamU when he hit the bar, and again 5 minutes later when the referee inexplicably failed to give a penalty when he was scythed down by Ville Jalasto. The headline in HBL was ‘Honka win the wrong game’, referencing their 4-3 loss to TamU in the league on Saturday.

Honka now travel to Haka in the semi final next Wednesday, after playing IFK Mariehamn away in their final league game this Sunday. Honka can win the league if they beat the Ålanders and Inter fail to beat Jaro at home, but it could end up being another near miss for Mika Lehkosuo’s men.

The attendance was not announced, probably as it was so small, but it was swelled by one Tampere United fan from Moscow. Vladimir has followed the club for 4 years, since he bet on them and started playing Championship manager as TamU, and he made the trip to Espoo with 100 or so TamU fans. Here’s Vladimir with his post-match pint:

Vladimir the TamU fan

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European draws

Friday’s UEFA Cup and Champions League draws could have shown the participating Finnish clubs a bit more mercy.

TamU’s dreams of making it to the Champions League group stage are pretty much ruled out. They need a perfect performance and some help from the heavens above if they want to cancel out Artmedia’s 3-1 aggregate lead and three away goals in their second qualification round second leg game next week. Even if they do qualify for the next round, they will need another miracle when they take on Italian giants Juventus.

In the UEFA Cup, FC Haka will play Brøndby IF from Denmark, while FC Honka face a challenge from Norway’s Viking Stavanger.
Veikkausliiga teams in general are not much weaker than Norwegian or Danish premier league sides. However, other Scandinavian sides usually have more experience from European games as opposed to the Finns, and the quality of their routine performance is a little bit higher, owing to them getting so many challenging games in their domestic leagues.
It cannot be said that Haka and Honka stand no chance though. The Scandinavian clashes are usually even affairs, but Danish, Swedish and Norwegian sides always seem to have the upper hand. Most likely Haka and Honka will have to put in a performance of their highest standards.

It is interesting to see how the clubs will react, if any leading persons in the organizations come out publicly to discuss the draws. In the past, Finnish clubs have sometimes been so pessimistic about their team’s chances of qualifying that they have wanted to be drawn to play a big European club, the logic behind being “we won’t qualify anyway, so let’s hope we get a big team to play against so we can cash in on the home game”. FC Honka could have drawn Manchester City and FC Haka had a chance to play Aston Villa. Both English teams would have probably beaten their Finnish opponents, but they would have attracted huge crowds. Playing Brøndby IF and Viking Stavanger will provide the Finns with a better chance to qualify, but in case they lose, will the clubs grieve over the money they “lost” when they didn’t get to play European giants?

Honka sell Maanoja

Gone is their best defender/defensive midfielder, and their goalkeeper will follow. Honka have announced that Tomi Maanoja will hop on the ferry and move to Stockholm’s AIK. Thursday’s UEFA Cup game against IA Akranes in Iceland will be “Psyko’s” farewell. The transfer fee has not been made public, but rumours are circulating that Honka will get about 300 000 € – roughly the same amount of money they got for Hannu Patronen.

Honka fans are not exactly praising their club for selling their important goalkeeper while their team is trying hard to make it to Europe next year – possibly through winning the title. Moreover, selling two important players is an interesting move from a club which in 2006 made no secret of their dreams of playing in the Champions League group stage in 2012, or attracting over 10 000 people on average to their home fixtures in 2010.

I don’t think Maanoja’s arrival at Gnaget is going to make Honka supporters much happier. Most likely he will not make his debut for the first team in a while, with Daniel Örlund being the man he has to compete with. I do not see people on the streets of Espoo dancing when they realize they sold an essential part