I've just got back from a two week trip to Finland with Mrs ETS, involving six matches of different levels, 2600km driven and far too much coffee for one man. Those hire car journeys need some sort of conversation, so I thought I'd share some of the points with you - feel free to comment on the usual channels with your views, it'd be nice to get as many opinions as possible.
1. The casual supporter isn't catered for
I'm almost a professional football watcher - I've seen hundreds of live games all over Europe, and always want to watch more. But Mrs ETS isn't, nor is her seven-year-old godson. Imagine having to explain to them that you can just pick any seat (but not those ones, they're for sponsors) and if you go to the toilet/bar, someone else may take it. There aren't enough female toilets too. I love that I can stand at a game, if I want - but what if the only seating is a wet wooden bench? I don't care, but I bet a lot of potential future fans would...
View from astroturf in Turku
2. A little decent merchandise goes a long way
The laugh of the chap in Pori's Intersport will stay with me for a while. When I asked if they sold FC Jazz jerseys, he cackled like a witch. Once he calmed down, he did say that the local department store had some. Which amounted to a screen printed t-shirt and a baseball cap. Maybe I've been spoiled with Premier League megastores, but is it too much to be able to buy a replica shirt? Something to make the boys at 5-a-side jealous? Even if it doesn't have the sponsors on, that's the international currency people recognise. Apparently HJK have sold a lot of jerseys in Japan - I bet those fans wouldn't buy some crappy thing made in a garage.
3. Saying "it's always been like that" is terrible
"But it's Finland" was another common phrase I heard. It's hard enough to explain to people why I follow Finnish football, beyond that it's a hobby... I know people prefer Barcelona and Liverpool to Honka and RoPS, but at least try. It's a phrase common in most workplaces around the world, and most football clubs too. But a bit of risk, a bit of ambition, a bit of innovation. Some clubs use social media well, some market very well. Dream big.
4. Engage with fans, not online gamblers
Some of the scheduling is weird. It seems that some fixtures are arranged with the main purpose of appealing to the people who like to stick a quid on the games in the summer when there's no other football on. Few top division fixtures are played at a weekend, making it harder to travel and establish a culture. The Ilves v HJK game last week was outstanding, a Friday night, full house, fans could relax a little bit with the working week over (for those who weren't on summer holiday) and the atmosphere showed, with the game ending early enough for people to go out after.
5. How many sponsors is too many?
This corner kick is sponsored by Yadda Yadda. Adverts for injury lawyers while a player is injured. Squeezing an extra logo onto socks. Calm down dear. I know times are tough, especially in the lower divisions. But please, sometimes, less is more.
6. If someone is trying to help, don't be rude
There's an old episode of the Simpsons where movie producers want to make a Radioactive Man film in Springfield. But the city take the piss so much that the filmmakers scuttle back to Hollywood after being levied a "leaving town tax". I don't get paid to do ETS. In real terms, it costs quite a lot, both in my time and arranging holidays, visiting family and the money I have to shell out to watch games. I've received quite a lot of hostility and a "take, take, take" attitude, with little in return. I reckon I probably do as much to market Finnish football as a lot of people who get paid to do it. I know I don't speak much Finnish, but please - a reply to an email or tweet, or even a thank you, makes it all worthwhile. There were times on the trip when I considered packing it all in due to the attitudes of some, it could be said that the trip to Tampere probably saved ETS. But then, what else would I talk to people about in the sauna?