Sunday, December 29, 2013

Escape To Suomi 2013 - A Year In Review

At the end of last year, I put together a top five list of the most popular posts on this site throughout 2012. Well, I'm off work and thought I'd do the same - hopefully this will be helpful for some of my recent followers (hello!), and a chance to reminisce over the past twelve months.

Pretty much a beginners guide to the league, the purpose to help new fans into which clubs were involved, the European place allocations, and the best (legal) ways to watch games. It was posted on the league's official Twitter and Facebook, and a few other forums that I could see. Fortunately I didn't make too many predictions, other than HJK being favourites as they won the league by twelve points. Will put together a 2014 guide in due course - the season begins April 6th.

Ahead of Carl's debut for England U21s in October, Press Association journalist Simon Peach generously allowed me to host his interview with Arsenal right-back Jenkinson on the site. Needless to say, Carl's switch from Finland to England is still a discussion point, after he'd represented Finland's younger age group teams on a number of occasions (Carl has a Finnish mother). Carl did play against Finland U21s in November, where he was quite soundly booed by the small Finnish away section!

Another season preview, but this time looking at the threads each side would be wearing. Most sides had new kits, while the main highlight was Lahti's Tommi Kari looking FABULOUS. The Jaro kit pictured was in fact a training kit, but hey ho. Several clubs have already signed with new kit suppliers for next year, so look forward to another repeat.

On Monday January 14th 2013, the superb Football Weekly podcast featured Gregg Bakowski talking about how he met former Liverpool legend Sami Hyypiä in a Merseyside sauna... The conversation moved onto whether Finnish women were heavy-set, something Mrs ETS took great exception to! Anyway, it appears that putting pictures of an attractive woman on the site works, so here is the current Mrs Hyypiä, Susanna Rissanen.

Number 1 - Arsenal v Manchester City aka "Super Match"

One of the more controversial football matches in Finland this year was between two big English clubs - should Helsinki have been used as a stage, or could a Finnish side have been involved? Some people made a lot of money from the game, and some of it was pretty cringey - both sides walked out to the theme tune from the Superman movies. But Arsenal won, and had a huge majority in the crowd. Another post, with my photos from the day, is here.

Anyway, that was 2013 - 2014 will be more of the same. Stay tuned, we'll be looking to get bigger and better, feedback is welcome as always.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

From England to Finland - changing your national team

Earlier this year, When Saturday Comes published a piece written by a fan who had changed allegiance from (probably) Manchester United to another English club. The author raised several issues about whether he could cheer players he didn't like, pay money to owners he didn't agree with, or put up with supposed managerial mind games.

Club sides are something that are usually either chosen or inherited, forced upon by pushy parents, the subject of peer pressure, and perhaps a lottery based on where you grow up. But are national sides any different? If players can change their nationality for reasons of politics or convenience, surely a fan should be able to?

The Finland players saluting the Finland fans

I was born in, and grew up in, North London. My parents aren't English, and weren't particularly into football so there was no prompt in the direction of their respective nationalities. In the mid 1980s, when I first started watching football, the only international football matches I remember on TV were World Cups (1986) and the Euros (1988). I ended up supporting England because that was the done thing. I got the 1988 home shirt, remember being taunted on family holidays to where my parents hailed, and just got on with it.

But the club I support (Arsenal) changed, not in a bad way, and the days of five or six Gunners in the England squad dwindled into the later 1990s, where half of our squad would end up playing for France or Holland. I found it increasingly difficult to go to an England match (or watch on TV) and support Sheringham, Neville, Shearer or Ince. Suddenly enjoying France winning the 1998 World Cup didn't feel so dirty, or hoping a Bergkamp-inspired Holland would win Euro 2000 would be good for the club.

I don't know if it's part of a general nationwide malaise with the whole England side that led to a drift in support, but meeting and marrying a Finnish woman would no doubt play some part - I'm slowly picking up the language, visiting Finland fairly regularly, and started my very own Finnish football website. Does that mean I support Finland?

You've got to hold and give...

Probably, yes. Not even for the selfish reasons that Finland reaching a World Cup would probably mean plenty of interest in me and the site… Perhaps it's the novelty of supporting the underdog (in most games). I'm not sure how it'd work if the Finland squad had players from Spurs, Manchester United or Liverpool, they may do better after all, but I'd be back to one of the reasons I didn't enjoy watching England. Fickle indeed.

At the recent England v Finland U21 match, I was sat in the miniscule Finland allocation, wearing a Finland jacket generously sent by the Finnish FA, with Mrs ETS wearing a Finland jersey. Despite my obviously Celtic features and London accent, I was called a "Finnish c**t" by some of Milton Keynes' finest minds, but I felt more part of the singing Finns than the grumbling yoof sat behind us.

Milton Keynes, from the Finland end

I still want England to do well in competitive games, and I'll be wearing an old England top in the summer, desperately angling a BBQ for an 11pm kick-off in June. If any Arsenal players get picked, that's a bonus… My mate still sorts me out for the occasional ticket for Wembley, and transport issues permitting, I'd go along with him. I suppose I'm still English by birth, but like a work colleague of Indian descent who said she'd support England in everything except cricket, I'm in a delicate position. At least she admitted supporting India at cricket because they're good at it.

In my case there is a caveat - I've supported my club side through thick and thin, travelled throughout Europe to see them play, spent thousands of pounds watching, and brainwashed family members in the process. I've travelled from South to North London to watch England, bought a couple of jerseys, and queued to get in pubs. 

But I know full well that if myself and Mrs ETS ever have kids, they'll be bi-lingual, as proficient with YLE's child output as CBeebies, and hopefully preferring Dumle to Mars. If Finland get drawn with England in any qualifiers soon, I'll be in the Finland end, with my white and blue Adidas trainers, Suomi jacket, and perhaps a minor split loyalty. 

Until Ashley Cole's name is read out...