Friday, July 27, 2012

The 1912 Finnish Olympic football team

Before World Cups and European Championships, Olympic football was the only major international competition which could determine the world's best team. But before the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, the Swedish Olympic Committee had to be convinced to include football in the first place. The Swedish FA put up the funds required to stage the event, with the Olympic Committee taking 25% of the gate.

The football tournament had already concluded prior to the opening ceremony, where eleven teams competed over a week, and the tournament even featured a spin-off consolation tournament for teams eliminated in the first and second rounds.

 The Finnish team at the 1912 Olympic opening ceremony

Finland entered the Olympics in some controversy. Still part of the Russian Empire (they were a Grand Duchy), the Finnish team entered the opening ceremony in Stockholm with no flag, in a bid to distance themselves from their Russian counterparts. Hannes Kolehmainen, winner of three gold medals for long-distance running, even went so far as to say he almost wished he hadn't won, after seeing the Russian flag lifted when he received his medals.

 The official football team photo

Finland's first match was in Traneberg against Italy, in front of around 600 people. The weather was described as unsuitably warm, and almost unbearably hot. The first half saw two goals for each team, but a goalless second half saw the game go to extra-time, the Finns playing with ten men after an injury in the second period. A goal in the tenth minute of extra time by Bror Wiberg clinched the win, and saw Finland through to the quarter finals. Italy had to console themselves by moving directly to the consolation tournament, where they beat the hosts before losing to Austria. The official report of the fifth Olympiad cited travel-related tiredness as the main reason for the Italian's defeat, due to them having the furthest to travel (all eleven nations competing were European).

Finland (dark shirts) v Italy, 29th June 1912, Traneberg

Finland's reward for their victory was a tie with Russia, maybe a blessing with regards to the future controversy between the two nations at the opening ceremony. The match kicked off less than twenty-four hours after the Finns' earlier match, whereas Russia had received a bye. It turned out that Finland actually started better, Artturi Nyyssönen scoring the only goal of the first half. The second half saw Russia wake up, and equalise, before a late winner from Jarl Öhman, the man who would become Finland's first full-time manager. Between 200 and 300 people got to witness the victory, unfortunately the lowest attendance of the main tournament. The Finns reached the semi-finals with the win, while Russia went on to lose 16-0 to Germany in the Consolation Tournament, where Gottfried Fuchs scored ten goals.

The opponents in the last four were Great Britain, who had won the previous tournament in 1908 staged in London. Like Russia, Britain had received a bye to the second round, where they faced Hungary, and defeated them 7-0, featuring six goals from one-time Arsenal forward Harold Walden. The British were anticipating a victory, resting forward Arthur Berry, and were keen to avoid any further injuries after losing Ted Hanney in the quarter-final. From the start, Jalmari Holopainen put a Sharpe cross into his own net, and another goal from Walden but the Brits 2-0 up after just seven minutes. The team in front could even afford to miss a penalty, before sealing victory with two goals in the final fifteen minutes, to entertain the 4,000 attending the Olympiastadion. The holders would go through to the final, while the Finns would face the bronze medal match against the Netherlands.

Finland try to prevent another British attack

The third place match was a one-sided affair. The Rasunda stadium hosted the meeting between the Finns and the Dutch, in front of an audience of a thousand people, but it seemed as the Dutch were expected to win at a canter. That they lost 4-1 in their semi-final to Denmark seemed to make little difference to the predictions, as that match had been described as one of the finest ever. The Finns only made one change in attack, but it was defence that perhaps required a rest - the Dutch scored nine goals without reply, including five by Jan Vos. The Finns had to make the short trip home, while the Dutch received bronze medals for their efforts. As a reward for their achievement, the Swedish FA presented the Finns with silver medals bearing their logo, also the prize award to the Hungarian winners of the consolation tournament.

For the Finns, there was no shame in losing to the eventual champion. The official report provided interesting opinions on the tournament as a whole, and with a hundred years of history and stories, seems quite timely to mention now. The British style of play was described as relying on science, combination and agility, whereas Finland were lumped in with Germany, Austria and Hungary as playing with speed and hard rushes, and without brain work, accusations that would have been herecy against future German and Hungarian sides. Finland went on to qualify for three further Olympic tournaments, including the 1952 Games in which were held in Helsinki, but never made it past the first round. 

The Finns

Memorable sports teams are made as much by the characters within as the results, and not just a collection of blue shirts swarming towards the goal. The most famous of the 1912 vintage was Algoth Niska (below), the left winger in the Finnish attack. Not only did he represent his nation at the games, but he became known as a bootlegger during the prohibition era. Bringing alcohol into a dry country became an adventure, meeting Estonian and German ships in international waters before heading back to satisfy the urges of the Helsinki elite. But it wasn't just alcohol he smuggled - he claimed to rescue over 150 Jews from Germany prior to the second World War, using stolen passports. Niska even found time to fight in the Winter War of 1939-40 against the Soviets. Niska died in 1954, yet he still goes by the names of the Gentleman Smuggler and the Moonshine King - and will always be the name that is synonymous with that Finnish side that came so close to an Olympic medal.

 Algoth Niska

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Money, money, money - European prize money 2012/13

Let's be realistic. It will be a long time, if ever, before a Finnish club lifts one of the big European trophies. As I touched upon in the piece about the Road to Wembley/Amsterdam, it's all a great big dream served with a healthy dose of realism. There is some glamour to be had, with HJK taking on former European champions Celtic in the third qualifying round, while current Veikkausliiga leaders Inter Turku came away from recent Dutch champions FC Twente with a draw and an away goal.

But these days, football clubs need to be run as businesses as much as clubs. In order to be competitive, they need to earn money. The chance to be involved in games where a single goal could be worth millions of euros. European football is a huge earner. The arguments can rage on about it separating the rich from the poor, but at the end of the day, it's a prize.

All about the Benjamins

With five Finnish clubs still involved in European football (at the time of writing), here is a breakdown of what they have already earned, along with the potential bounty on offer. (These figures are based purely on the prize money that UEFA have indicated will be on offer for the 2012/13 season.)

Champions League

HJK have benefitted from Finland's standing within the game enough so that as Finnish champions, they enter the competition directly into the second qualifying round, and receive a payment of 200,000. Their prize money for that round is 140,000. As a result of they 9-1 aggregate win over KR, they will go through to the third qualifying round against Celtic. So far, a tidy little sum of 340,000*. Defeat to Celtic would see HJK receive another 140,000.

The next step however, is huge. If they were to defeat the Scottish champions, then they would receive around 2.1million just for reaching the play-off round. After that, a win takes them through to the lucrative Champions League group stage (no Finnish side has gone this far since HJK in 1998/99), where a defeat would lead to direct entry to the group stage of the Europa League.

So in total, losing to Celtic would earn HJK 480.000, while losing in the play-off round would earn them around 2.44million. Quite the difference.

(* if HJK were to qualify for the group stages, they would then lose the 340,000, although the participation bonus, including matches played, for reaching the group stage in 2011/12 was 7.2million, so I'm sure they wouldn't lose any sleep.)

 Chelsea received an estimated 59m (including TV money) for winning last season - figures via Swiss Ramble

Europa League

The supposed poor relation of the Champions League, the Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup, Inter-Cities Fairs Cup etc) is still a fair provider of funds, and the four Finnish participants will be looking to earn some big bucks, along with extra co-efficient points and air miles.

The distribution of funds is slightly more straight-forward in this competition. KuPS, JJK and MYPA have all earned 100,000 for winning their first qualifier ties, while Inter Turku lose out. The prize money for winning both the second and third qualifying ties are also 100,000, so qualifying for the play-offs alone will earn them 300,000.

In addition, the sides that lose in the Europa League play-offs will take home another 100,000. Although the winners don't earn any extra money, they do enter the group stage directly, which last season had a participation bonus of 1million.

The pure sums are that qualifying for the group stage will earn 1.3million for reaching the group stage (Inter would earn 1.2million as they entered the second qualifying round).

2011/12 winners Atletico Madrid won around 6million in prize money

It seems like a soulless thought, the prospect on entering a competition purely for money. But clubs are seeking to gain a legal advantage over their rivals, and it's likely that APOEL, BATE Borisov and Viktoria Plzeň will benefit hugely over their domestic rivals by virtue of their recent group stage participation.

Does success breed success? Yes. Does it stop clubs dreaming of the big away ties in the play-offs to the likes of Internazionale, Liverpool or Marseille? No. The board can count the pennies, but the fans will have the memories.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Veikkausliiga week 18 - goals on Sunday

The weekend started slowly. After good results for the Finnish clubs in Europe, it seemed like a hangover was the order of the day. Jaro hauled themselves off the bottom with a point at home to VPS, and remained there at the end of the weekend, we'll come to the reason why later on.

HJK, after their 7-0 thumping of Icelandic champions KR on Tuesday, struggled to a 1-0 home win over Haka. To paraphrase new signing Mika Väyrynen, "not the greatest game, but three points in the bag, happy with that but next week we have to step it up a notch". The result took HJK top, for twenty four hours at least.

Juho Mäkelä's goal got the three points for the champions

To Sunday, and we'll get this one out of the way - MYPA came back from Romania to draw 0-0 with Honka, a result which leaves both side rooted in mid-table. Footage from the match is available on YouTube if you're so inclined...

The first game of Sunday was a cracker. IFK Mariehamn were still sniffing around the top of the table, and were at home to a JJK side fresh from a thrilling Thursday night victory in Europe. Mariehamn twice threw away leads, but when JJK striker Eero Markkanen scores a hat-trick against you, perhaps a 3-3 draw was a fair result all round. The result leaves IFK five points off the top, and JJK in tenth spot.

Hat-trick Eero Markkenen (not pictured, hat)

TPS kept themselves on the outskirts of the title race with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Lahti, two goals in each half, including a late brace from substitute Juho Lehtonen. The side from Turku are now fourth, six points behind their local rivals Inter but with a game in hand. The derby on August 12th will have some extra flavour.

And now for the big result of the weekend, in the game between the sides which achieved arguably Thursday's finest European results, KuPS and Inter Turku in Kuopio. 1559 people witnessed a massacre - Inter sentenced KuPS to a 6-0 home defeat, which has big consequences. Inter are now top of the table again, and KuPS are a point adrift at the bottom, and the swing in goal difference could prove crucial.

KuPS players hit for six (via the awesome Futisblogi Puoliaika)

KuPS are in danger of neglecting their domestic form at the expense of a European run, as they take defend a 2-1 lead this week, although Inter's splendid 1-1 away result at FC Twente shows that the two can be combined. Inter were exceptional again on Sunday, and have now put together a great run of three wins in a row, after not winning in five.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A European adventure - HJK 1998/99

It seems timely, in the midst of HJK's 7-0 Champions League qualifier victory over KR of Iceland, to re-visit the Helsinki club's longest run in Europe, where they reached the group stages of the tournament, and so far the only Finnish side to do so.


Back in 1998, HJK entered the first round of Europe's premier competition, having won the Veikkausliiga the previous year with a ten point lead over VPS. Their 'reward' was a two legged tie against Armenians Yerevan - with a 5-0 aggregate win (2-0 at home, 3-0 away), that was about as regulation as it gets.

The next round was a whole lot tougher, with a tie against French side Metz, who had lost out on the Ligue 1 title the previous season on goal difference. The first leg in Helsinki provided a narrow 1-0 home win, courtesy of an own goal by Jeff Strasser. The return remained goal-less, until Vesa Vasara scored the crucial away goal midway through the second half. A late Metz penalty wasn't enough to keep the Finns out of the group stage.

Metz v HJK, August 1998

Group F

As far as group stages go, it was never going to be smooth sailing. The competition format was such that even second place in the group would not be guaranteed to qualify, with only the two top runners-up going through to the quarter finals. The draw wasn't particularly kind to HJK, but it was unlikely to - their opponents would be Kaiserslautern, Benfica and PSV Eindhoven (the latter two former European champions).

It was in Eindhoven that HJK were first in action, at the Philips Stadion. A 32nd minute goal from Mika Kottila put the Finns ahead, before the Dutch side equalised after half time. A very good point looked on the cards before Arnold Bruggink broke Helsinki hearts with an injury time winner.

Arnold Bruggink scores the winner against HJK

A fortnight later, in Helsinki, Kaiserslautern were the visitors. A goalless draw was a better result for the Germans, leaving the Finns with just one point from their opening two games, and an uphill battle from there.

 Aki Riihilahti challenges for the ball

It was Matchday 3 before they got a win on the board, with a 2-0 victory over Benfica. A twentieth minute penalty from Mika Lehkosuo gave the champions the lead, before Mika Kottila scored his second goal of the tournament to seal the win. A famous victory, and vital to keep in with a chance of getting through to the knockout stages. HJK were second, but still three points behind Kaiserslautern, and not doing great for the all important runners-up race.

Benfica victory from 26 seconds in...

The return match in Lisbon was a tense affair - HJK went ahead early after a fifth minute own goal by Englishman (and now Sky Sports presenter) Scott Minto. They kept their noses in front until the 78th minute when Nuno Gomes scored, followed quickly by a goal by Calado. Luckily, Brazilian star Luiz Antonio stepped up and scored a beauty with six minutes to go, which sealed a valuable point.


Unfortunately for HJK, it turned out to be the last point they earned. Matchday 5 saw PSV Eindhoven visit Helsinki, and they too were struggling for points. PSV also brought with them the prolific striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, and he was to prove the difference, scoring a hat-trick which virtually condemned HJK to elimination. A late consolation penalty from Mika Lehkosuo did little but assist the goal difference.

The final game of the group was a hum-dinger. Kaiserslautern were almost guaranteed qualification, while HJK were pretty much just playing for pride. The game saw seven goals, but unfortunately five went to the Germans. Another hat-trick by a Manchester legend, this time Uwe Rosler, saw to HJK's night.

 Seven goal thriller

It was the last time continental competition was played in December by a Finnish side, and may yet be the last for a while. There was certainly no shame in finishing fourth in that group, and the defeat of Benfica was an outstanding result.

No matter what Michel Platini says, it's harder for smaller nations to provide Champions League entrants, and perhaps what happened with APOEL in 2011/12 is an exception to the rule. Stiffer tests than KR await in round three. But there may yet be another Finnish fairytale, and the UEFA music piping through Helsinki again - could this side repeat the feat?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Finnish hat-trick in Europe

The first qualifying round for the Europa League has been and gone, and half of the teams involved will have to go back to dreaming... The winners have moved onto bigger things, and the next round will bring bigger challenges.

Let's start with the game I went to, Llanelli v KuPS. The Finns won the first leg 2-1, and came to Wales knowing a clean sheet would see them through. The first half was a scrappy affair, KuPS had more openings but barely made the keeper work, while Llanelli had a few long range efforts that Hilander dealt with comfortably. An early second half penalty took Llanelli briefly ahead (on away goals), but substitute Paananen levelled by rolling the ball into an unguarded net. KuPS now go on to face Israeli's Maccabi Netanya, who came fourth in their league last season.

Pre-match rituals at Llanelli v KuPS

Fellow Veikkausliiga strugglers JJK Jyväskylä were in action against Norwegian fair play entrants Stabæk. The first leg in Suomi was 2-0 to the Finns, and this game had plenty of action - the Norwegians drew first blood, but the game was levelled just before half time with an away goal from Jordi van Gelderen. A goal deep into first half injury time by Mads Stokkelien lifted the spirits, but with another goal for each team in the second half, the game finished 3-2 to Stabæk, so 4-3 to JJK, who go on to face Montenegro's Zeta, who eliminated Armenian Pyunik.

Stabæk v JJK on Thursday night

MyPa had the most to lose in this round - after a surprising 0-0 draw at the Welsh second division side Cefn Druids, a repeat would have led to serious questions being asked. Luckily the team who are currently fifth place in the Veikkausliiga hit a five-star performance, and progress to the second qualifier where they will face Rapid Bucharest, where they won't find things so straight-forward against a team who reached the group stages last season.

Olajide Williams puts number three past the Druids

Inter Turku's opponent was confirmed as FC Twente, 9-0 aggregate winners over Andorrans Santa Coloma. Twente recently re-appointed former England umbrella user Steve McClaren as coach, and will be hoping to repeat the form that won them the Dutch title in 2010.

While I won't be attending any of the ties in the next round, I'll be writing about them, and also HJK's Champions League tie against KR. The draw for the subsequent rounds is also to be made next Friday, so will also provide some views on that.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Veikkausliiga review - sweet 16 (with video highlights)

Week 16 has gone, another week with dropped points at the top. This week's main offenders were HJK and IFK Mariehamn. The Champions have now gone five games without a win, and lost 2-0 at Inter Turku. Goals from Joni Kauko and Mika Ojala moving Inter up to second, within a point of HJK.

Highlights of Inter v HJK

IFK missed their chance to go top - a win over VPS would have taken them clear at the top, but they had to settle for a 0-0 stalemate. VPS will be happier with the result. They now have an identical record with MYPA, and are fourth. IFK's recent good form (one defeat in nine) is keeping them in contention.

'Highlights' of IFK Mariehamn v VPS

Jaro pulled themselves off the bottom of the table for 24 hours with a vital win over Haka - Frank Jonke with the goal in the 54th minute. Haka are still only two points off the bottom.

Highlights of Jaro v Haka

In a convenient piece of scheduling, the two clubs with Welsh opposition in the Europa League met on Sunday. KuPS travelled to MYPA, and rested several key players. The visitors went 1-0 up just before half time, before Riley O'Neill equalised early in the second half. Both go into Thursday's ties in awkward positions - MYPA conspired to draw 0-0 with Welsh second division side Cefn Druids, while KuPS conceded an away goal to Llanelli, and travel to South Wales with a narrow 2-1 lead. The point keeps KuPS above Jaro on goal difference, with the Kuopio side having played a game more.

The weekend's other games featured JJK finally returning to winning ways with a 3-1 win over FC Lahti, and Monday night saw TPS beat Honka 2-1.

Highlights of TPS v Honka

Friday, July 06, 2012

In profile - Joel Pohjanpalo

On 15th April 2012, HJK Helsinki opened the defence of their Veikkausliiga championship at home to IFK Mariehamn. A new season, a chance to stake their claim for the new season. HJK started slowly, and with 70 minutes gone, the visitors were leading 0-1. Up stepped 17-year-old striker Joel Pohjanpalo, making only his second start for the club... 162 seconds, and a perfect hat-trick (head, left foot, right foot) later, Pohjanpalo was on the map.

Joel's hat-trick

Joel is a product of the HJK youth system, and played for the reserve team (Klubi-04), scoring 33 goals in just 26 games at the third level of Finnish football (Kakkonen Eteläinen, Southern section) in 2011, before making his full first team Veikkausliiga debut against RoPS.

That seems to have attracted the attention of some of the bigger clubs in Europe. Joel had trials with AS Monaco and Liverpool, where he reportedly turned down the offer of a contract in order to stay in Finland.

On international duty

His scoring record in 2012 has been excellent, scoring three goals in the Liigacup (including one in the final), and scored the winner in the top of the table clash with Inter Turku back in May. He's also made his Finnish under-21 debut this summer, and scored in a 1-2 home defeat to Ukraine.

What next for Joel? He's clearly shown that he's prioritising minutes on the pitch than a big money move, which for a seventeen year old is vital. HJK open their Champions League campaign this month, another big experience, even if they don't reach the play-off stage.

Liverpool probably isn't the best choice anyway, certainly not for the moment. A new manager is settling in (again), and it's likely he'd get no further than reserve team football and maybe a loan spell. Perhaps in a few years. Even Monaco would have been a better option, certainly less pressure.

Whatever happens, whether Joel goes on to become a world class star, or goes on to do nothing in the game. He'll always be the player who hit a perfect hat-trick in two minutes. I know you want to see it. Here it is...

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The road to Wembley/Amsterdam

Football is back! So cry the masses who fill Twitter at least... The various Northern and Southern hemisphere leagues which play during the summer will have something to say about that. But just a couple of days after Spain retained their European crown, the focus returns to club football, and the first round qualifiers for the Champions League and Europa League.

2011 Veikkausliiga champions HJK Helsinki fly the Finnish flag into Europe again, in their second qualifying round tie against Icelandic champions KR Reykjavík. HJK made it into the third qualifier last season, being defeated by Dinamo Zagreb, after an earlier rout of Welsh team Bangor City. They then dropped into the Europa League, and snatched a first leg victory over German heavyweights Schalke, before losing the return. HJK will be hoping for at least a win over KR, and the chance to mix it with the likes of Anderlecht, Basel and Celtic.

HJK v Dinamo in 2011

There are also four teams heading into Europa League battle, dreaming of a May date in Amsterdam. Three enter at the first stage - out-of-sorts JJK drawn to Norwegians Stabæk, while MYPA and KuPS both face Welsh teams (MYPA vs Cefn Druids, KuPS vs Llanelli). Inter Turku enter the second qualifier, but face a tough match against the winners between recent Dutch champions Twente and Andorrans Santa Coloma.

MYPA discovered that they would have to travel to Wales without their three African players (Olajide Williams, Hassan Sesayta and David Opokua), as they were unable to obtain visas. Such logistics could prove fatal. KuPS managed to pull themselves off the foot of the domestic table on Monday with a win over Jaro, and will seek to carry on the momentum with a good first leg result against Llanelli on Thursday. For those who aren't away, I've been lucky enough to receive an invite to attend the second leg in Wales on July 12th, and will hopefully come back with good news and tales of a good performance.

All will be realistic and would be overjoyed to get anywhere near the group stage. But every game is crucial, with the complicated mathematics behind UEFA's co-efficients, seedings and allocation of places. A win here could mean the difference between being seeded or not next year.

Will we see a Finnish team lifting the famous European Cup at Wembley next spring? Probably not. Could a Finnish player? Unlikely. But that's why we dream...

From the 1995 archives

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Veikkausliiga round 15 review

Another week, another exciting round of fixtures, and the top division remains tight. After Tuesday's fixture, ten points separate the top eight teams. IFK Mariehamn are now two points behind leaders HJK Helsinki, with a game in hand. The champions again failed to win, conceding a late goal at home to MYPA which now means they haven't won in four games, yet remain at the summit.

Mariehamn themselves relied on a late show, with a 2-2 draw away to Honka. An own goal from Sampo Koskinen saved them a point, as they went deep into injury time losing 2-1. The fact that Honka themselves remain only nine points off the top shows how close things are, and at the moment every point is vital.

Honka's Sampo Koskinen, own goal hero of IFK Mariehamn

Inter Turku are now without a win in five games, being on the wrong end of a seven goal thriller in Lahti. VPS are two points behind in fourth after a 2-0 victory over hapless JJK, who've lost five in a row. Haka pulled themselves further from danger with a 1-0 win over TPS, a late goal from Jarno Mattila claiming the points.

The final game was a basement battle between KuPS and Jaro. The Kuopio side were bottom, and trying to prepare for their upcoming Europa League qualifier with Llanelli of Wales (first leg on Thursday). A 60th minute goal from Miikka Ilo was the decider, and KuPS are now off the bottom, with Jaro taking their place. Jaro do have a game in hand on KuPS, but JJK are now being sucked into the battle.