Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ETS 2015 - who to support...?

In 2015, the ETS family will be rolling into Finland by car for a few weeks in midsummer. I've previously mentioned the trip here complete with references to dogging... Anyway, Mrs ETS is fully aware that I'll be looking to take in as many games as possible (preferably with the dog), plus I've already committed to Finland v Hungary along with matches hosted by TPS, Union Plaani, KuPS and Roxbury JK, the football club devoted to the film A Night At The Roxbury. Seriously.

The VIP section at Union Plaani - I've been promised it for a match

I've had a few days off work over the Christmas period, with time on my hands to plan how ETS will be approaching the new year. So I've decided to do a lonely hearts advert, hoping to do some good lower down the Finnish football ladder. Essentially, I'd like to use my profile and work with one or two lower division clubs (who won't be direct rivals) to give them a bit more publicity, tell their stories, hopefully celebrate their successes and maybe make them a few Euros as well. I'd also like to visit these clubs during my summer visit and encourage others to do the same.

I opened the idea to my Twitter followers on Monday and already had some suggestions for clubs all over the country. Some of these have been very interesting, but I'd like to hear from anyone else, especially the fans of such clubs which would have a particularly good atmosphere.

Will we both be allowed into a game? Or is it because Woody is black?

I'm not after anything from this initiative, purely a chance to find out a little more about Finland, meet some new friends and hopefully get myself a replica shirt. As a board member of a seventh-division English club, I know the challenges of reaching new fans.

Feel free to let me know via any of the usual channels!

Riku

---------------------------------------------------------------

Edit 02/01/2015 - I've had several replies to this post, including the following clubs:

FJK (Forssan Jalkapalloklubi)
Kungliga Wasa
FC Vaajakoski
Salon Tervarit
FC Brändöpojkarna
Club Latino Español
FC Åland
AC Balls
Turun Weikot
Grankulla IFK
BET (Blue Eyes Team, Jyväskylä)
SC Kufu
Puistolan Urheilijat
Tam-UK
MPS (Atletico Malmi, Helsinki) 
PS Kemi
Jokerit FC
FC Melody
Warkaus JK  
SC Wolves 

Happy to receive more suggestions, I'm currently in the process of planning my trip... Hoping to make a decision soon!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Licences, cold money and Christmas

It's been an eventful December for a nation with a summer league system. The rarity of a Finnish team still in European competition, the sorting out of league licences for 2015 and some ups and downs for the Finns spread across Europe. In the absence of the usual weekly reviews, I've decided to do a recap of what has gone on recently.

Santa is an HJK fan?!

The 2015 season

Last week, Honka were denied a licence to play in Veikkausliiga in 2015. I've made several mentions over the last year or so relating to the money problems which have plagued the club. Despite new owners taking control of the club, they also assumed the debts, issues and promises. In a roundabout way to appease reformists, the eleventh-placed team was replaced by the club that came second in Ykkönen - FC KTP, who only formed a year ago in their current form due to a merger between KTP and FC KooTeePee.

In a less expected twist, MYPA have been given a deadline of January 8th to prove themselves worthy of a place in the top flight next season. They too have been cutting back on their finances, while they're looking to make up an estimated shortfall of 200k Euros, or else their place in the 2015 season will be taken by either TPS or Ilves, who have been asked to submit potential applications. MYPA are also in danger of potentially missing out on the Europa League - they were the highest eligible side in the Fair Play table, which could mean a spot for KuPS... Banzai!

Mixed fortunes

The most widely told story is that of Sami Hyypiä resigning as Brighton manager on Monday. It had been predicted for a number of weeks in lieu of their form over the season, but still a shame to see a young manager fail for a second time - his spell at Leverkusen was very much a case of Jekyll and Hyde.

In other news, Finland U21 midfielder Glen Kamara made the bench for Arsenal (but didn't come on) in the Champions League match against Galatasaray and spent a fair bit of time training with the first team ahead of the Liverpool league match. Lauri Dalla Valle returned to his former club Crewe Alexandra on a free transfer. Tim Väyrynen received an E grade in In Bed With Maradona's review of their 100 young players in 2014.

HJK finished third in their Europa League group, ending in a 2-1 defeat to Club Brugge. Niklas Moisander (Ajax), Markus Halsti (Malmö) and Roman Eremenko (CSKA Moscow) were eliminated from the Champions League.

Christmas

As the song goes, it's the most wonderful time of the year... So FC Santa Claus come out to play, Saint Nick visits pretty much every club in the country, while things tend to shut down a little bit. I've been a little guilty of over-promoting FC Santa Claus, I'll certainly cut that down. To be honest, if they ever replied to their emails, I'd be feeling a bit more festive.

If I don't blog again, hyvää joulua!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview with Nikolai Alho

In the latest in the ETS series of interviews, HJK and Finland U21 international Nikolai Alho tells me about qualifying for the Europa League group stage, his musical projects... And supporting Burnley?

You can buy Niko's latest single Gimme All Dat on iTunes - click here for more info, see below for the video.

Nikolai Alho 
After scoring your free-kick in Vienna, and qualifying for the group stage, how have you found playing in the Europa League compared to Veikkausliiga?

After scoring it felt amazing. To be part of making history in Finnish football was amazing. Of course the European games are a lot harder than Veikkausliiga games. The biggest difference is the tempo of the passes and speed of the game. But we have done very well with our team. In my opinion this is the best HJK team for a decade at least.

Niko celebrates HJK's win over Rapid Wien (photo via Faneille)

What was it like to line up opposite Barcelona in August?

Playing Barcelona was a dream come true, in it's own way. It was a great experience for the whole team, or at least us younger players. Barcelona players are pure class, haha. Never seen players that good on the ball!

HJK and Barcelona line up, Niko is front and centre

You’ve started your own media company, what are your hopes for the future for the company and as a recording artist?

Yup, 325 Media is a start up production company owned by me, Valtteri Moren and Jesse Joronen. Our aim is to do videography, photography and music production in out own style. It is something to do on our spare time from football. Hopefully when we are older and our football career is over we can then start doing more of it. For now its just a part time thing. As for my music, I'm releasing a five song EP in December. After that I won't be releasing music for a while. I hope to move next year and play somewhere in Europe.

 

On your Instagram, you post regularly of your latest clothes – have you any plans to do any clothing lines?

Yes, Instagram... I'm on it a lot and kind of addicted, to say the least! Yeah, I'm into fashion and clothing. But, I haven't really thought about opening my own clothing line!

Niko the fashionista

 Plenty of Instagram material

In the past you’ve mentioned supporting Burnley, what’s the story there?

Yup, my Mum is from Burnley, so that's the story there. Simple and sweet.

Is there any country that you’d love to play in during your career?

I would love to play in Central Europe or England. For the first move, I would also like to play in one of the top clubs in Sweden.

-------------------------------------------------------------

So that was Niko - make sure you follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

More interviews will be coming over the winter!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Interview with Finland international Tim Sparv

In the latest interview on ETS, Finland and FC Midtjylland midfielder Tim Sparv generously answered some of my questions. Make sure you follow him on Twitter and catch up with his regular column for Pohjalainen.

Tim in action for Finland v Hungary in March 2014 (Getty)

You're a well-travelled man. How is Denmark different from the other places you've played in? Would you advise youngsters to move abroad to sample new countries?

I'm lucky to have experienced so much already. Denmark and FC Midtjylland is a more laid back place than for example my last club in Germany. Not saying that they demand less from you, the work ethic and attitude in training is very good, but there is definitely a more relaxed atmosphere here. Quality-wise there's no real difference between Groningen, Greuther Fürth and FC Midtjylland. In my current club we have a great mix of experienced players having played abroad and our own youth players coming through the academy.

My advice to talented young players is to be at a club where you have good coaches and other talented youngsters to train with/against. If that's in Finland or abroad, it doesn't matter. There's also a difference between individuals. Some are mature enough to move abroad at a younger age, others are better staying closer to home. There's no right or wrong, you have to do what you think is best for your own development.In the end it's up to yourself. How much are you willing to sacrifice to become the best you can be. We can try and improve the facilities, coaching and so on, but if you don't have the will and discipline, you won't have a career in professional football. 

Tim in purple for Midtjylland v Panathinaikos (Getty)

You spent time at Southampton as a youngster. Does their excellent form in recent years surprise you? With Bale, Walcott and Lallana doing so well, were there any others there at the time who you thought would make it as far?

They're second in the table (at the time of writing), that surprises me of course. That they had to go down to League One, because of a few bad decisions, to re-build was also not something I expected. Saints are a Premier League club, so it did hurt a bit following their collapse. I'm glad to see they're back where they belong, and I'm especially glad for my friend and former team-mate Dusan Tadic and the way he's been playing since he arrived.

Along with the names mentioned, there were also Nathan Dyer (now at Swansea), Leon Best (Derby), Dexter Blackstock (Nottingham Forest), Matthew Mills (Bolton), Andrew Surman (Bournemouth) and a few more who showed potential. The player who stood out from the start was Theo Walcott. He was the youngster everyone was talking about back then.

 Tim the Saint in the 2005 FA Youth Cup final (Getty)
 
Do you plan on taking what you've learned into coaching at some point, perhaps in Finland?

That's possible. I can't see me leaving football, I love it too much. Coaching and scouting is something I'm very interested in. It would be nice to perhaps work in or around Vaasa one day, if we decide to move back. Maybe working with younger players as well. Time will tell.

What experiences do you remember most about being involved in the 2003 World Youth Championship and the 2009 European U21 Championship?

In 2003 I didn't play a minute in the actual tournament. I was a year younger and came in at a later stage. And to be fair I wasn't physically strong enough then. But the whole experience before the tournament, with trips to Chile and the US was incredible for a young boy coming from a small village on the west coast. It opened my eyes.

The U21 Euros was result-wise a disappointment. With Spain, England and Germany in the same group, we knew it would be difficult. But the whole two year project leading up to that tournament was in so many ways a dream. Winning the group and eventually beating Austria in the play-off game on penalties in Turku. And doing it together with the best group of players and staff was very emotional. Being the captain, having that responsibility, scoring goals and being a part of something so big was from an individual point of view a definite highlight in my career.

Tim scores a penalty against Joe Hart, Euro U21 championships, 2009 (Getty)

Have you enjoyed writing your column for Pohjalainen? What sort of subjects can we look forward to in the future?

I've enjoyed it for sure. I'm maybe not the typical footballer in that sense, then yet again, what is a typical footballer nowadays? But nonetheless I'm someone who likes to do things besides my work. To develop myself and to get my mind off football and maybe prepare myself for the future. It is a good way for me to get my thoughts out on paper and perhaps write a bit about things relating, mostly, to sport and people.

When you visited London last Christmas, what did you enjoy most about it?

Well, not the shopping in the city centre along with what felt like the rest of the world... Horrendous! The best was an Christmas Day when I met my Dad, who I didn't even know was in London, and had some wine and whisky. Me, my girlfriend and my Dad talked for hours until late at night. Good times. I'll be off to London again this Christmas, this time with friends. Spurs v United will be the highlight of the trip.

What time is it? (Tim's Instagram)

As a Manchester United fan, what do you think would improve their recent performances? Does being a professional player make it easier to see their failings?

One centre back and one defensive central midfielder. They've made some great signings, and Louis van Gaal is a good manager. His aura and tactical ability will suit Manchester United just fine. But they are nowhere near Chelsea, who I regard as the best team in the country at the minute. A place in the top four would be an OK start in his first season in charge.

You do see things in a game as a footballer that maybe someone else wouldn't. You see things happen a few steps before. Part of United's problem, if you don't count the individual mistakes, is that their balance in the team is off. Their attacking is a joy to watch but they're leaving to much space for the counter attacks. A bit naive and undisciplined I'd say.

Tim v France in Euro qualifying, September 2012 (Getty)

Finally, would you agree with the argument that more teams qualifying for Euro 2016 means that more teams are genuinely confident of making it to France? With sides like Iceland and Northern Ireland starting so well, does that inspire the Finnish squad even more?

Yes. More teams qualifying means a bigger chance for everyone. Even the smaller teams now have a realistic chance. It's great to see so many upsets already, now it's our turn to start upsetting some of the bigger footballing nations out there.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Many thanks to Tim for such insightful answers. Coming soon, we have an interview with HJK's singing winger Nikolai Alho, who has just launched his own media company. Hopefully over the winter there'll be a few more chats as well, I just need to pull my finger out...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 33 - farewell 2014

Due to a busy weekend at work, I've not got a lot of time - I'll do a full season review blog after next weekend's Cup Final.

Saturday saw SJK confirm their silver medal in their debut season, while Lahti finished a very good third and VPS ended in fourth - which will put them into the Europa League, if HJK complete the double against Inter on the first.


Saturday

IFK Mariehamn - TPS 3-1
SJK - MYPA 3-1
FC Inter - FF Jaro 0-1
KuPS - VPS 0-1
FC Lahti - FC Honka 2-0

Highlights of Saturday's games

Sunday

HJK - RoPS 0-3

Highlights of Sunday's game

Monday, October 20, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 32 - Au revoir TPS

They made it to the penultimate weekend, but ultimately drop. TPS had prepared for a season of struggle by cutting their financial cloth accordingly, releasing/selling several first team players while blooding youngsters and (cheaper) alternatives.


Their closest rivals Honka, who were in money problems of a different kind, managed to claim a point at home to KuPS which condemned the Turku club to relegation. They drop to the Ykkönen in 2015, where they will be joined by EIF and PS Kemi, who won their promotion play-offs from Kakkonen.

The weekend's top division games were spread over Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday:

RoPS - SJK 1-2
FF Jaro - IFK Mariehamn 1-0
FC Honka - KuPS 2-2
TPS - FC Lahti 0-1


Sunday:

MYPA - FC Inter 2-2
VPS - HJK 1-1

Thursday, October 09, 2014

HIFK promoted in thrilling end to Ykkönen 2014

I've had a few people moaning in the life of ETS that I don't give enough time to the Ykkönen (officially division one, the second tier of Finnish football). Fair enough, I probably don't... But this weekend saw the final round of fixtures, and what a finish.

The HIFK fans celebrate (photo via Tomi Leivo-Jokimäki)

It all started with KTP and HIFK fighting out for the one promotion place. KTP have led the table for virtually the entire season, while HIFK had been promoted from Kakkonen and were usually floating around the top half. KTP had lost their previous three games, while HIFK had won the last three (and had a superior goal difference). KTP needed to win, HIFK needed to better their result.

So what happened?

4200 people squeezed into Kotka's Arto Tolsa Areena to see KTP surely clinch their promotion at home to already relegated JIPPO. But that game ended goalless! Meanwhile in Helsinki, HIFK hosted FC Jazz - and were losing 1-2 with twenty minutes to go... But they fought back to win 4-2 and clinch promotion to Veikkausliiga for the first time since 1972.

Finland's capital gets a genuine derby match in 2015 (three of them to be fair!), these will be well worth a visit. Hopefully my friends at the ivory towers will sort out the fixtures to coincide with my visit... But KTP were also superb for large parts of the season, although that was largely due to the scoring of Jussi Aalto - when he stopped scoring, so did KTP. He ended up missing out on the top scorer prize after being overtaken by Haka's Kalle Multanen.

This graph by Lari Vesander shows how HIFK caught KTP after their meeting in early August, when KTP led by twelve points.



The highlights of the superb final round are below, which also include Ilves hitting double figures again Viikingit and Haka scoring six against PK-35.

Results:

Ilves - FC Viikingit 10-0
JJK - AC Oulu 1-2
Haka - PK-35 6-0
KTP - JIPPO 0-0
HIFK - FC Jazz 4-2

Highlights of Saturday's Ykkönen games

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 31 - Honka deliver fatal blow

After 31 rounds of football, it took one injury time goal from Honka to essentially condemn TPS to relegation. Honka were trailing 1-0 to champions HJK, while TPS were losing by the same score at KuPS. With two games left, it gave TPS at least some chance of salvation, but Antti Mäkijärvi's equaliser meant that they are six points ahead of TPS with two games to play, with a goal difference of eleven more.

Photo by Jussi Eskola

So Honka, despite a shambolic season led by Shefki Kuqi, will remain in the Veikkausliiga for another season, unless their awful financial state goes against them when applying for a 2015 licence. TPS spent the early part of 2014 preparing for a year of difficulty, and cut their cloth accordingly. Hopefully their foundations will give them plenty to build on, should they end up in next year's Ykkönen. I'm looking forward to visiting them next summer.

Below are the highlights of Sunday's matches, which also saw Lahti and SJK confirm their places in the early qualifying rounds of next year's Europa League. The remaining guaranteed place will be decided on November 1st, when HJK face Inter in the Suomen Cup final. An Inter win will give them the last berth, but UEFA's recent rule changes mean that an HJK win would ensure a place for the team finishing fourth, either IFK Mariehamn, VPS or KuPS.

SJK - VPS 0-3
FC Inter - RoPS 4-1
KuPS - TPS 1-0
FC Lahti - IFK Mariehamn 1-1
HJK - FC Honka 1-1
MYPA - FF Jaro 2-1


Highlights of Sunday's matches

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 30 - HJK are the champions (again)

As predictable as a Friends repeat or a courier leaving post under my car tyre, HJK were confirmed as Finnish champions for the 27th time after their win at TPS (and SJK's draw with Honka). Anyway, here's how it all went down.


Scores:

TPS 1-4 HJK
Jaro 0-4 Lahti
VPS 1-0 Inter
RoPS 0-0 MYPA
Honka 1-1 SJK
IFK Mariehamn 3-1 KuPS


Highlights of Sunday's games

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 28 - Inter leave TPS black and blue

Four fixtures this midweek, the Turku derby being the highlight, which had almost everything. A hat-trick, red card, Panenka penalty... I'm visiting Turku next Monday for the Inter v Honka game, hopefully there are some goals left in the tank.



TPS 1-6 Inter
Honka 2-0 MYPA
IFK Mariehamn 2-2 SJK
VPS 2-0 RoPS


Highlights of Wednesday's matches

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 27 - Kuqi the clown

Not too many movers or shakers this weekend, although plenty of interesting developments as usual. Comedy defending, some lively fan behaviour and Shefki Kuqi showing off what he learned from Alan Pardew at Newcastle.


Anyway, with six weeks left of the league season, here are the scores and highlights of what's gone on...

Friday

HJK 2-2 KuPS

Highlights of Friday's match

Saturday

SJK 1-1 Lahti
Inter 0-2 IFK Mariehamn

Highlights of Saturday's matches

Sunday

VPS 3-3 Jaro
MYPA 2-1 TPS
RoPS 2-1 Honka

Highlights of Sunday's matches

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 26 - TPS bash RoPS

Not a high scoring day on Sunday. HJK returned to domestic action after their Europa League feats with a win, TPS are still gaining on Honka after beating RoPS, and I'll think of something else that happened as well...

We're walking in the air (via FF Jaro's Twitter account)

 Lahti 0-0 Inter
KuPS 0-0 SJK
TPS 4-2 RoPS
Honka 1-2 VPS
IFK Mariehamn 3-1 MYPA
Jaro 1-4 HJK


Highlights of Sunday's matches

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 25 (part one) - HJK finally lose

Sunday saw four matches, affecting both ends of the table. HJK lost in the league for the first time since April, their first domestic defeat under Mika Lehkosuo. Honka were winning 0-3 at Jaro after 45 minutes, only to concede an injury-time goal to make it 3-3. Here are the highlights of those matches, with Monday's games coming in a separate post.

RoPS 1-3 IFK Mariehamn
MYPA 2-2 Lahti
SJK 2-0 HJK
Jaro 3-3 Honka


Highlights of Sunday's games

PS Thank you to all my new followers on Facebook - I'm not quite sure how you happened to land on the site as I don't really promote it, but welcome anyway!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 24 - RoPS park the bus

Some good entertainment this week. The RoPS team bus broke down on the way to Lahti, so they arrived 15 minutes late, then rushed into a two nil lead...


The broken down RoPS bus (photo by Juha Malinen)

TPS 2-1 Honka
KuPS 1-0 MYPA
IFK Mariehamn 1-0 VPS
HJK 2-0 Inter
SJK 1-0 Jaro
Lahti 3-4 RoPS

Highlights of Wednesday's games

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 23 - Lahti getting closer

HJK's match with MYPA was postponed so that the leaders could be pumped 0-6 by Barcelona and make an awful lot of money. Meanwhile, the league continued and Lahti closed the gap at the top to just four points.

Lahti's returning Petri Pasanen on his second debut

Here are the goals from the weekend.

Saturday

Inter 1-1 SJK

Highlights of Saturday's game

Sunday

Lahti 4-1 VPS
IFK Mariehamn 4-1 Honka
KuPS 1-0 RoPS
Jaro 1-1 TPS

Highlights of Sunday's games

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Interview with Matt Acton

You may wonder why ETS is hosting an interview with a goalkeeper in the Myanmar National League. Matt Acton was born in Australia and recently played for A-League side Brisbane Roar, but is eligible for Finnish citizenship through his father. Friend of the blog Jaakko, better known as @barbaricfooty, interviewed Matt and has generously allowed me to host the interview here in English, with Matt's consent. The original interview (in Finnish) is here on Kymppipaikka. Thank you Jaakko and thank you Matt.

Matt Acton (r)

1. When did it become clear that you're leaving Brisbane Roar? How did you feel about it?

I found out that I would be leaving Brisbane Roar in late January. At the time I was really disappointed as I felt I had shown enough ability in the games I played to be offered a new contract. As I got used to the fact, it became more acceptable but still hurt a little bit knowing that I had to leave the club that I loved.

2. Brisbane Roar won the double in your last season. How did it feel and how big was this to you, the club and the city?

Winning the double was something that as a group we set out to do from day one of the pre-season and to do it was reward for a lot of hard work. We worked for eleven months straight, sacrificing a lot to be where we were on the final day. For the city it was a massive buzz, to sell Suncorp Stadium out for the third time in our third final, shows that the city of Brisbane is very passionate about the club. On a personal note it was a dream come true, to play a role throughout the season and to win was massive and no one can ever take away from us what we did as a group.

3. What are your best memories from Brisbane Roar? Do you regret anything?

Since I was 15, all I have ever known is Brisbane Roar. In seven years at the club, I've seen a lot of highs and lows. My best memories are being part of such a successful club with all the trophies we won and to become the 100th player to play for the Roar. Keeping a clean sheet on my debut in front of my family and friends was another memory that sticks in my mind. I don't have too many regrets, I would have liked to have played more games but this was out of my hands. I believe I supported the team 100% in every game even when I wasn't playing and I can be proud of that.

4. Soon after you left Australia and signed for a Burmese club. Did you have other options at the time?

I've since joined Myanmar-based club Yangon United FC. They have been champions of Myanmar for the past three seasons which was a big draw for me, coming from a successful club in Australia as I wanted to win more trophies. I had a few other options that I could have looked at but the club showed me that they were very keen on signing me and I liked what they had to offer. Ever since I have arrived here they have made me feel very welcome and will go head over heels to make me happy which I'm really appreciative of. I received a phone call from my representatives asking if I would be interested. We waited for an offer and then made a decision, everything ran very smoothly and I'm happy to be here. For me it wasn't too much of a risk, only playing a few games in Australia I had nothing to lose but everything to gain. I have since played every week I have been here which as a footballer is what I want.


5. What were your first impressions of the country?

I arrived here in mid-May after the celebrations died down in Brisbane. My first impression was a bit of shock, it's a complex culture here, different from anywhere else in the world. I have grown to familiarise myself with the culture and I love the diversity of the country. It's a place that has remained untouched for so long and still has all of it's natural beauty. I can say that reading about Myanmar doesn't do it justice, people from the outside are a bit critical of the country, but until you come here and experience it I don't think you can judge it. The people here are so friendly and always have a smile on their face. They put life into perspective. My fiancé is joining me in August until the end of the season. She had to stay home for a few business opportunities we hope to take up, but now is the right time for her to join me and experience what I have.

6. What kind of a club is Yangon United?

Yangon United is a great club with massive pressure and expectations. As a foreigner you face the pressure head on and have to perform in every game. The facilities here are the best in the country which was another big carrot in coming here. We have two Brazilians and a Macedonian. The team, like everyone here, have been very welcoming from the first day. There are no big egos here and everyone just gets along which is fantastic. As a new player I had to gain respect from everyone but I think I have done that through my performances and how I have presented myself off the field.

7. What can you well us about the league, coaching and club conditions?

Like I said I have played every game since arriving here. The standard of the league is growing, I wouldn't say it's as high as the A-League in terms of broadcasting and stadiums. It's a different style of football here, very direct and a lot of transition. There are a lot of naturally gifted players here who I think can make a good career abroad. It's hard for me to judge the coaching of the league but here at Yangon we have an Australian coach which is great for me personally. We have a fitness coach and a goalkeeping coach, all full time so the standard of coaching at this club is very much the same as the A-League.

8. What about the local football culture?

Football is the number ond sport here. Every time I go into the city I see kids and adults playing in car parks or under overpasses using bottles or shoes as goals. They love football here. Everyone recognises the football players here which is great. Attendances aren't the greatest but the thousands that do come make a lot of noise and they really show you their passion. To say the World Cup is big here is an understatement, the locals flock to tea shops to watch the games every night of the week at 10:30, 2:30 and 4:30. They're crazy!

9. What does the future hold for you?

My contract finishes here at the end of the season in September. At this stage I am here just to get game time, if I wasn't here I would be doing a pre-season somewhere so for me it's a no-brainer. As for me staying on longer, I'm not to sure at this stage, I will sit down with the club in the next few months and see what their plans are for me going forward. If they feel I have offered them enough then we will definately talk! Expectations are to go as far as we can in the Cup, qualify for the AFC Cup and to finish as high as we can in the league. We have high expectations so to not win would be seen as a failure.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks again to Matt and Jaakko for the interview. You can follow Jaakko on Twitter here while Matt is also on Twitter, follow him! He's verified you know...

Monday, August 04, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 22 - RoPS win the KuPS

Week 22. Screw Celtic v Spurs, this is the real deal.

SJK v Inter

Saturday

MYPA 0-1 HJK

Highlights of Saturday's game

Sunday

SJK 2-2 Inter
RoPS 3-1 KuPS
VPS 1-3 Lahti
Honka 1-1 IFK Mariehamn

Highlights of Sunday's games

Monday

TPS 2-2 Jaro

Highlights of Monday's game

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 21 - MYPA get their sexy back

All twelve teams in action, and a couple of games with plenty of goals. Are HJK's eyes on Europe too much? Their lead is down to seven points, ahead of their Champions League tie with APOEL in midweek. MYPA meanwhile put five past KuPS, recovering from their Europa League exit.


Saturday

Jaro 0-1 SJK
Inter 3-3 HJK


Highlights of Saturday's games

Sunday

VPS 1-2 IFK Mariehamn
Honka 1-1 TPS
MYPA 5-3 KuPS
RoPS 0-1 Lahti

Highlights of Sunday's games

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Eero Markkanen - Real Madrid's new Galáctico

Watching young Finnish footballers develop abroad, with various degrees of success, has become a national pastime for Suomi. Litmanen, Forssell and Tainio have all gone abroad with varying degrees of success before returning home. Now it is time for a true giant. At 197cm tall and weighing nearly 100kg, twenty-three year old striker Eero Markkanen has taken a huge step towards stardom.

Eero Markkanen, July 2014

So with the latest batch of young Finns plying their trade in Europe (Teemu Pukki, Joel Pohjanpalo, Tim Väyrynen), another has spread his Eagle-Owl wings. Markkanen had already left Finnish shores to make the short journey to AIK of Stockholm, but his performances in the Swedish capital have earned him a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid, bringing the opportunity of a lifetime. Eero joins Real's development side Castilla, who play in the Spanish Segunda División B - and will be coached by one Zinedine Zidane.

Part of elite European football these days sees the big clubs hoover up young talent from all over the world and retain them via loans or partner/feeder clubs. To avoid being known as a one-time prospect, Eero will certainly be up against top competition for a shot in the senior squad - thankfully he has lofty ambitions and high standards to match his physique.

Eero for JJK in 2013

In an interview with Maalipotku blog in 2013, Markkanen said he watched Thierry Henry and (Brazilian) Ronaldo when growing up, although his large frame has seen several comparisons with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But on the differences between himself as a gentle giant and the Swede, he said "you have to be mean". Eero rose through the ranks of JJK Jyväskylä, announcing himself on the scene in July 2012 with a perfect hat-trick (right foot, header, left foot) in the league match against IFK Mariehamn. He spent the end of 2013 on loan at HJK while his parent club struggled financially, and were ultimately relegated.

Some of Eero's goals have already become YouTube sensations, with his goal for AIK against Djurgårdens in April a particularly fine effort. See the clip below.

Eero's goal for AIK v Djurgårdens

Eero made his full Finland debut in May 2014, coming on as a second half substitute in a 1-0 Baltic Cup defeat to Lithuania, but certainly impressed boss Mixu Paatelainen - and provides a different option for the squad ahead of the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers.

A strong, powerful striker unlike anything that Finland have produced in recent years. With the right coaching, Markkanen could genuinely become a world class forward. At just 23 years old, he has a long career ahead of him and where better to grow? If he impresses under Zizou, the pressure will be enormous, following in the footsteps of di Stefano, Hugo Sanchez, Raul and both Ronaldos.

Can Eero be the Hero? He has the strength. We'll have to wait and see if he gets the chance.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 20 - Jaro spank Kuqi

One game on Saturday (HJK v SJK) and the rest on Sunday. Most of the headlines were taken by Shefki Kuqi and Irakli Sirbiladze. Honka coach Kuqi was sent to the stands again for swearing at the ref, while Sirbiladze was sent off for also swearing, this time at KuPS fans (although he was also reported to swear at the referee). Meanwhile HJK were gifted a penalty, and RoPS won despite making eight changes.


Saturday

HJK 2-0 SJK

Highlights of Saturday's match


Sunday

TPS 0-0 VPS
Honka 0-5 Jaro
KuPS 4-2 Inter
Lahti 3-0 MYPA
IFK Mariehamn 2-4 RoPS


Highlights of Sunday's games

Monday, July 14, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 19 - RoPS shoot down TPS

Split over three days, here are the highlights of the latest fixtures.



Saturday

SJK 0-0 KuPS
RoPS 3-0 TPS


Sunday

MYPA 3-0 IFK Mariehamn
VPS 3-1 Honka


Monday

Inter 0-1 Lahti


See you next week!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 18 - HJK stumble at KuPS

Sunday's Veikkausliiga action:



Honka coach Shefki Kuqi moaning again

Honka 0-2 RoPS
IFK Mariehamn 3-1 Inter Turku
KuPS 2-2 HJK
Jaro 1-2 VPS

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 17 - SJK in seventh heaven

Busy at the mo, World Cup, meeting Finland players for coffee, getting promoted at work... Sorry for the lack of updates. Anyway, Wednesday saw four Veikkausliiga matches (it's a European matchweek), here are the highlights. SJK won their seventh league match in a row and there was a Turku derby.



 Highlights of Wednesday's games

Monday, June 09, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 11 - Buses and rainbows

Brief summary of Sunday's fixtures. Some KuPS flair went viral, while TPS were left black and blue.

 
Admir Catovic celebrates (photo via Juha Poutanen)

Inter 2-1 TPS

The first Turku derby of the season provided more drama than most of these sides' games so far this year. TPS had lost star man Wayne Brown 24 hours earlier, in a swap deal with SJK's Felipe Aspegren, and were rooted to the bottom of the table. But in front of a big crowd of 5063, they took the lead via Eero Tamminen, heading in his first goal for the club on 24 minutes. But Inter rallied, and new signing Francis Suarez capped his debut with a close range finish after 58mins. 2012 top scorer Irakli Sirbiladze sealed the points with a scrambled injury time winner. Inter up to eighth, TPS remain bottom.

KuPS 4-0 IFK Mariehamn

The flick heard around the world, or something. But it was a masterclass, and a universe away from the feckless KuPS of the early season. A 16th minute breakaway goal from Nigerian Francis Chibuike, another fine discovery by the TopSpot boys, opened the scoring, before the big turning point. Mariehamn keeper Otso Virtanen flew out of his goal after 28mins, and brought down Catovic, earning a red card. Harsh? Maybe, he was running away from goal and defenders were coming back... 

But on came 16 year old sub keeper Marc Nordqvist, and was quickly into the action, saving a free kick, but picking the ball out of the net after Colley slotted home the rebound (31'). Chibuike sneakily scored his third goal in two games after 40 minutes after the Mariehamn defence lay down, a fine flick at the near post. Catovic scored a fine fourth, chipping the keeper from outside the box two minutes later.

Then came the moment. In the second half, Catovic was on the by-line on the left wing, his path to goal blocked by Tommy Wirtanen. Did he cross? Turn back? No, he did what those thieving goons at 101 Great Goals call a "rainbow flick". We've all done it on the playground, he rolled the ball onto his heel, flicked it over his and Tommy's head, and continued. Luckily, your intrepid reporter was sat with the laptop watching the game while waiting for dinner, and caught it on Vine. If you're on Twitter, I'd gratefully appreciate a RT of this, and not of the hundreds of other tweets hosting it... Much obliged!


KuPS move up to seventh place, above ninth placed Mariehamn.

Honka 1-0 RoPS

A few chances, and almost a spectacular goal... Fulham loanee Alex Brister's 25 yard shot cannoned off the post midway through the second half (68th minute), and dropped perfectly for Finland U21 international Anyamele, who headed home. I wish someone would put a 90 minute camera on Honka coach Shefki Kuqi, who was (apparently) his usual animated self and moaned afterwards about the ref. Anyway, Honka are sixth in the table, while RoPS are eleventh, and have no points or goals from their last four away fixtures.

Lahti 1-1 VPS

VPS defender Keithy Simpson made his Jamaican international debut the week before, but was called back by his club prior to matches against Egypt and France. While his new teammates were getting pumped 8-0 in Lille, he found the tightest space to squeeze the ball in from a corner in the sixteenth minute. Lahti's Kimmo Hovi was making his first start for the side after being promoted from the academy side, and remained cool in the 49th minute to equalise. Lahti are third, VPS fourth.

Jaro 0-2 HJK

A huge crowd of 2364 crammed into the Pietarsaari ground, and saw a resolute HJK rack up a seventh straight league win since their managerial change. An early goal from Mac Kandji gave them something to defend, he made it look a bit too easy when riding the challenges. Strong defending and some questionable tackling from Jaro kept it tense, until Demba Savage's 95th minute clincher, sent clean through and beating the keeper. HJK have yet to concede a goal under Lehkosuo, and are already seven points clear with a game in hand over MYPA.

Highlights of Sunday's fixtures

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 9 - RoPS draw blanks again

Some Friday night lights this week, with five fixtures and plenty of tension. Here's what happened... Plus your patience will be rewarded with two howlers in the final game by KuPS to gift MYPA three points.

RoPS struggling again (photo via Eetu Sillanpää)

Lahti 2-0 TPS

A decent start for Lahti continued with the most regulation of home wins over bottom club TPS. Goals in each half, a volley from Loorents Hertsi (18') and Rafael's bustling finish (80') secured three points - and condemned TPS to a seventh league defeat in nine games. Lahti sit in fourth place, four points from third. TPS have six points from nine games, and only four goals scored.

SJK 0-1 Jaro

Jaro continue to rule the Ostrabothnia mini-league after a win at SJK to add to their previous win over VPS. The game was sealed early, Shahdon Winchester heading in from the edge of the box after just fifteen minutes, his third of the season. SJK's fans were noisy and created quite the atmosphere, but it wasn't enough. SJK are ninth with nine points from eight games. Jaro are third, with nineteen points from ten matches.

VPS 2-0 RoPS

Another blank for RoPS, and their fans are wondering where the next goal in coming from as they're now goalless in four, and missing Boris Kokko. A deflected effort from Keithy Simpson opened the scoring on 32 minutes, and Timi Lahti scored his first for the club after 55 minutes, following tremendous work from captain Strandvall. VPS are fifth with fifteen points, RoPS sit eleventh with seven points.

Honka 2-2 IFK Mariehamn

Alas Honka manager Shefki Kuqi took centre stage again with his antics, overshadowing a tense match. Ilari Äijälä's strike (38') took the hosts into the break with the lead, but Brazilian Diego Assis scored at the far post just after half-time to equalise. Top scorer Roni Porokara restored the lead after a corner in the 81st minute, but the lead was short lived, as Lucho Solignac punished poor defending three minutes later to secure a point. 

Kuqi meanwhile is under the spotlight, for kicking a bottle and ranting after Porokara was booked - Inter coach Job Dragtsma received a touchline ban last year for the same thing. Honka are sixth, with 13 points from ten games. Mariehamn are seventh, with eleven points from nine games.

MYPA 2-0 KuPS

MYPA returned to the top of the table by inflicting a first defeat on new KuPS coach Marko Rajamäki. The first goal will belong to the finest blooper reels - after 21 minutes, KuPS keeper Tomi Maanoja came out to clear a long ball, only to kick it at his own defender Omar Colley, and the ball rolled perfectly into the path of Stefano, who rolled the ball gratefully into the empty net for his fourth goal of the season. The second goal was another Maanoja howler, substitute Aleksi Ristola chased a long ball deep into injury time, played it past the on-rushing keeper and into the empty goal. MYPA go top, twenty points from ten matches. KuPS stay tenth, with eight points from nine games.

Highlights of Friday's games

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dogging in Finland

Excuse the somewhat sensationalist headline, which is no doubt bound to attract plenty of the 'wrong' sort of visitors, or maybe even a certain Mr Collymore. But nevertheless...

Myself and Mrs ETS are planning a longer stay in Finland in Summer 2015, which would give us an opportunity to bring young Woodstock along, our very lovely Labrador, who'll be three years old by then. Since he joined us in 2012, our visits to Finland have been limited, and shorter in length (from a weekend to just over a week), and the cost of flying with a large dog are incredibly prohibitive, with BA charging a price per kilogram - as he weighs over 40kg, we've left him with a boarder.

Woodstock

So what for next year? Well assuming I can get a larger car, and the time off work, the plan is to drive from London (via Denmark and Sweden), booking a holiday home for 2-3 weeks, and setting up camp. Mrs ETS hails from Kuopio, while there are family dotted all over from Helsinki to Kalajoki and in-between. My football travels will take shape from there, although I'm not planning on just visiting Veikkausliiga grounds, but any club which will host me and the boy, who is very much a fan of Finland and Arsenal.

On a visit in 2013, we took in the sights of Pietarsaari to see Jaro 3-0 JJK. One of the more intruiging sights of the day, other than the number of Manchester United jerseys, was an elderly lady watching the game with her dog. Now I know in England that most grounds would bar entry to our canine friends, but is this true of most Finnish clubs?

Jaro supporting dog

Seeing as the majority of clubs follow me on Twitter, it'd be nice to get an idea of whether we'd be welcome to visit in 2015. I wouldn't expect him to be appreciated in food serving areas etc, but at least within the complex to watch the game? At the moment we don't know where we'll be staying, and it's unlikely we'll get as far north as Rovaniemi. This autumn we're visiting Turku and Tampere, so there may be clues there.

All help is gratefully received, as we'd love to visit as many different clubs as possible, and make plenty of new friends. Thanks!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 8 - Sexy football is the winner

A top two clash that didn't disappoint (for one side), worth all the hype perhaps... Meanwhile the rest of the table is beginning to bunch up. Here is the latest from Finland's top division.

Lahti scorer Tuco (photo via Mirja Hussain)

HJK 4-0 MYPA

Billed as Sexy Football v Sexy Football, or Bana v Ana (HJK coach Lekhosuo v former manager Muurinen, now in charge of MYPA)... The visitors were the early season leaders, and top scorers, but were but in their place by the defending champions, who returned to the top of the table with a thumping. Macoumba Kandji's second goal for the club on 31 minutes started it, sweeping in from inside the six yard box, before Veli Lampi scored the second, pouncing on an indecisive defence on 42 minutes. Nikolai Alho's first time finish just after half time made it 3-0, before Rasmus Schüller coolly made it four with ten minutes left. HJK go top with nineteen points, MYPA are second on seventeen.

Highlights of HJK 4-0 MYPA

Inter 0-0 VPS

Hardly high octane stuff, but then an entirely predictable scoreline. Bless Tuomas for compiling some action, but with no goals or even a booking, I hope the paying customers at least got to the nearby theme park afterwards. Inter are eighth on ten points, VPS in sixth with twelve.

KuPS 2-0 Honka

The Rajamäki revolution continues, as KuPS climb out of the bottom two and are unbeaten in four games under their new coach. After a goalless first half, Catovic finished across the keeper into the bottom corner to open the scoring on 54 minutes, before Finnish U21 international Aleksi Paananen made it two in injury time, running through the Honka defence to slot home. KuPS are tenth with eight points, Honka fifth with twelve (this was their first defeat in five games). This was KuPS's first victory at home to Honka in ten years, including eight consecutive defeats.

Jaro 2-0 TPS

Jaro's impressive start to 2014 continued against bottom club TPS. Trinidadian Shahdon Winchester headed his team in front before the break, after some crafty shoulder charging by Svanbäck. Argentinian defender Carlos Fondacaro made it two on 63 minutes with a neat turn and shot on the edge of the area. TPS defender Alex de John was sent off seven minutes later for pulling back Winchester outside the area with just the keeper to beat. Jaro are third on sixteen points, TPS remain bottom with six points.

SJK 3-0 IFK Mariehamn

Just a second league win for SJK, but it was convincing. Justin Moose scored the first goal from close range after 17 minutes, after Simon Nurme failed to hold a shot. Mariehamn had chances, before an effort from distance by Laaksonen in first half injury time found the bottom corner to make it 2-0. Mariehamn went down to ten men after a horrible two footed tackle from David Ramadingaye just after the break, before Toni Lehtinen scored the sort of goal you see on FIFA regularly, slotting into an empty net on 63 mins. SJK are now ninth with nine points from seven games. Mariehamn are seventh with ten points.

Lahti 1-0 RoPS

RoPS coach Juha Malinen took over at Lahti last season and led them from bottom to fifth. This year he returned with cup holders RoPS, but despite early chances, they conceded the only goal to "Tuco" Ngueukam after 71 minutes. Lahti move up to fourth with twelve points, while RoPS drop to eleventh with seven points, and just four goals in nine games.

Highlights of Saturday's games

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 7 - Muurinho and absent Kuqi

Leaving it late (damn these Monday fixtures). Here are the highlights of the latest round of fixtures. The next round of fixtures is on the day of the FA Cup final, which I'm going to, so it may be a similar case of short but sweet for that as well!

MYPA continue to lead the table after their come-from-behind win against Jaro, while HJK needed an own goal to win 0-1 at RoPS. HJK host MYPA on Saturday, a much anticipated clash between the new boss of the champions against their former leader. Should be entertaining.

HJK plugging the forthcoming top of the table clash

Highlights of Monday's fixtures

Latest Veikkausliiga table

dd

Friday, May 09, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 6 - Sliced fingers and sexism


Highlights of Thursday's games

HJK 1-0 IFK Mariehamn


In Mika Lehkosuo's first home game in charge of the champions, they left it incredibly late. So late in fact, that it was nearly eight minutes into the (minimum) seven added minutes before Demba Savage scored the only goal, aided by a hefty deflection. Mariehamn had played well, and were good value for at least a point, their dynamic attack creating a number of chances while HJK had plenty of the ball. Three wins out of three now for Bana, while their visitors make the journey home wondering how it all happened.

Jaro 1-0 VPS



After a high-profile launch in the week of a mini-league for the Ostrabothnia clubs (Jaro, VPS and SJK), the first match ended with Jaro keeping up their impressive recent form with a hard-fought win. Jonas Emet's 68th minute goal made the difference, assisted by the superb Hendrik Helmke. VPS are now winless in three games, and are struggling for goals in the absence of Steven Morrissey, although they did have a late penalty saved.

SJK 0-0 Honka



A niggly game, with very little in the way of talking points on the pitch. Afterwards however, Honka coach Shefki Kuqi of crying to the referee, saying "I thought I was at a women's game" before taking to Twitter to apologise. Honka gave a debut to on-loan Crystal Palace midfielder Ghassimu Sow as a second half substitute, but that's about it.

KuPS 1-0 RoPS


Another solid result for new KuPS manager Marko Rajamäki, taking his side off the bottom. Gambian defender Omar Colley got the only goal on 65 minutes, volleying in a corner, but the game will unfortunately be remembered for the wrong reasons by RoPS - they lost both Juuso Majava and Petteri Pennanen to serious injuries in the first half, and both are unlikely to play again this season. Their lengthy injury list grows, and they face HJK in their next game.

MYPA 4-1 TPS

High-flying MYPA continue their impressive start, putting four past bottom side TPS. Denis Abdulahi headed the opener before half-time (41'), and Pekka Sihvola made it two with a neat place on 57 minutes. TPS pulled one back through Englishman Wayne Brown's fine effort, but then Brazilian ace Stéfano Pinho grabbed two goals (69' and 86') to round off a fine win. Antti Muurinen's side had their Europa League place confirmed in the morning, and celebrated in style. TPS meanwhile have only the win at HJK to enjoy this year, and are in danger of losing touch with the rest of the table.

Lahti 0-0 Inter


Played on an agricultural potato field in a decaying stadium, the game didn't promise much. Both sides had some chances, but again, something else took centre stage. Joining the 'hilarious' injuries hall of fame was Inter goalkeeper Magnus Bahne, who after warming up and changing his jersey in the locker room, sliced his finger open on a fluourescent light and ruled himself out. Youngster Jere Koponen was an able deputy while the gruesome finger was stitched up. I've been assured that it was a laughing matter, perhaps not for Bahne...

Lahti's pitch on Thursday (taken by the official Inter Turku Twitter)