Thursday, April 21, 2016

Taking a break

I've been doing ETS on my own for four years now. It's taken a lot of time and energy, I've enjoyed most of it... But I need a break. My day job is busy enough and I've got a new boss starting in a fortnight.

We've also got a baby girl coming in May, I want to be able to enjoy that precious time without thinking about clubs with funny names or counting the sponsors on a jersey. Plus I fully expect to be absolutely shattered.

I'll be back.


Rich, Hanne, Woody and baby.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Veikkausliiga 2016 predictions

The increasingly-contributing Henry has collated some predictions about the new Veikkausliiga season. These were written before the opening matches, just took me a while to put them on. Strongly recommend you follow them all for a wide range of views on Finnish football.

Henry Hakamäki - Twitter @huck1995

Champions: SJK. A couple weeks ago, I was feeling a lot more confident in this pick.  However, at the end of the preseason, SJK’s attack started sputtering and HJK made several good moves. If SJK can get their attack back on track, I still have them as the eventual winners though.

Bottom two:  Hard to pick, but I’ll go with Ilves and VPS. VPS didn’t score much last year and lost Juho Mäkelä, who scored most of their goals. Ilves, while I really like how scrappy and tough they are, just don’t have enough players to take the game into their own hands.

Player of the Year: If SJK retain their title, it’ll most likely be in large part due to the goals of Roope Riski.  He lost his strike partner Akseli Pelvas, so more of the goalscoring burden will be on his (extremely capable) shoulders.

Dark horse: Both promoted clubs, PK-35 and PS Kemi, will surprise people, I think. Of the two, PK-35 should be more able to climb up the Veikkausliiga table.  The top half is not out of question for Shefki’s boys if they can keep out goals as effectively as they should score them.

Biggest disappointment: In terms of team most likely to disappoint, it’ll be IFK Mariehamn, who will struggle to repeat the success of last year’s Suomen Cup winning side, after losing big players and not bringing in many reinforcements.  Player most likely would be Atom Tanaka (HJK), who with his value and talent must start showing that worth by salvaging points single-handedly.  If he isn’t one of the Veikkausliiga players of the year this season, it’ll be a disappointment.

Signing of the year: The player here could either be the most important signing or the biggest disappointment, depending on his commitment to getting into form, Alexei Eremenko (SJK).  If in form, he could be towards the top of the league assist charts, and he has so much talent left in him that if this doesn’t happen, it’ll be a big disappointment.

Young player: Urho Nissilä (KuPS).  The 19 year old attacking midfielder made a pretty big impact for an otherwise disappointing KuPS side last year, and he looks to take on more attacking responsibility this year with the team lacking other threats.  Expect him to bag several goals this season and climb into the top ten of the assists chart (if his teammates can put away the chances he creates at least).

Manager of the year: While I predict that Simo Valakari will defend the Veikkausliiga title with SJK, I’m going to be bold here and say Juha Malinen (RoPS).  RoPS lost a lot of good players from last season, but I think Malinen will help guide the team into the top half of the league table regardless, which would be a major accomplishment.

Most excited about: Shefki Kuqi and his PK-35 side. The Vantaa based team plays with an exciting style, but even if the team hits a rough patch, watching Shefki going ballistic on the touchline will make their fixtures entertaining regardless. He’s already been made to watch from the stands for several of the team’s matches in pre-season.

Least excited about: The same as every season, saying goodbye to one or two of the teams from the Veikkausliiga. Maybe it’s a bit sentimental of me, but I do become slightly attached to the teams over the course of the season, and knowing that at least one of them will not be back next year is heartbreaking.

Juhavaltteri Salminen - Twitter @jvsalminen

Champions: HJK. A very tough choice, not much between them and SJK. Right now I consider HJK marginally stronger, and after a disaster of last year they won't take anything for granted.

Bottom two:  Ilves aren't a terrible team, but I don't see them having the quality of their competitors. They've had a bad pre-season too. I'm picking VPS for play-off. This is a very tough choice too as the league seems very tight again this year, but VPS look like a very mediocre side to me.

Player of the year: Many good options here, but SJK's Roope Riski has been in fine form during pre-season and looks like he has a fifteen-goal season in him. So maybe it's finally Roope's year!

Dark horse: PK-35 are not your usual newly promoted side. Many are not very fond of the club, but there's no denying they have a good team that might ruffle some feathers.

Biggest disappointment: IFK Mariehamn have a good team on paper, but their pre-season doesn't convince me one bit. Furthermore, it's always tough succeeding a coach who's been around for ages so in many ways it seems like Kari Virtanen and Peter Lundberg have their work cut out for them. It doesn't look too bright for KuPS either.

Signing of the year:  Many good options again. You could pick almost any HJK or SJK signing really, but I'm going to dig a little deeper and go for Pape Habib Sow (FC Inter). He's already a commanding prescence at the back for Inter, I expect them to be difficult to score against.

Young player: Lauri Ala-Myllymäki looks set for a big role at Ilves. He shows a lot of promise and already has some Veikkausliiga experience under his belt, so maybe this is his breakthrough year?

Manager of the year: HIFK haven't changed much, but they're a very well coached team quite ready to make life difficult for the bigger sides. The patient, long-term planning of Jani Honkavaara has been key to their success over the past few years, I think he deserves some credit.

Most excited about: We seem to be in for a genuine title race (not a given in Finland), and overall it seems very even throughout the league. So many teams can challenge for European places with a good run and just as many teams might face a relegation battle if things go wrong. It was very hard for me to pick my relegation candidates, that's what Veikkausliiga is about!

Least excited about: We have one of the longest pre-seasons in the world and still clubs are struggling to put their teams together just weeks before the league starts. That's of course due to lack of money. Finances are a big issue for Finnish clubs and a serious obstacle for European successes.

Mark Hayton - Twitter @FCSuomi,

Champions: SJK, Simo Valakari has strengthened slightly, but the main reason is that the major contenders HJK and RoPS are weaker now than when they ended 2015, behind the team appropriately dressed in gold.  

Bottom two: VPS (R). Take away Juho Mäkelä’s 16 goals (about half of VPS’s) in 2015 and VPS would have been bottom by some distance, his departure will massively impact Vepsu’s season. Veli Lampi’s arrival may slow the decline but his presence didn’t lift HJK last season. Ilves (PL). Once Ilves secured their Veikkausliiga status, the 2015 season ended with 6 defeats in 10. Mika Lahtinen is the sole provider of attacking threat and he hit double figures last year for only the second time in his career, while at home the re-emergences of TamU threatens to dilute the vociferous home support Ilves enjoyed last year.

Player of the year: Roope Riski – 8 goals in 11 games put the most unexpected title on a plate for SJK last year. If he hits similar form he may not stay in Finland, particularly if SJK advance in the shop window of European competition. Even if he plays only half a season in Finland, he’ll still be the best player in the league.

Dark horse: PK-35, Ilari Äijälä, Pablo Counago, Lucas Garcia and Njadzi Kuqi are the kind of reliable players that will grind out results, that and the combative style of the latest Shefki Kuqi still could push them to the upper echelons of the table.

Biggest disappointment: Inter Turku, whatever happens in the league, Inter will finish 4th. Always well-organized with talent, their problem is how quickly that talent is shipped out. I don’t expect anything exciting at the Veritas stadium, and if something comes up, they’ll sell it.

Signing of the year: Mikael Forssell, HJK. Roope Riski will keep SJK at the top but Miklu’s arrival in Helsinki was needed far more. He’s the only player in the HJK squad where you can reliably find the goals Klubi need to keep pace with an improving SJK.

Young player: Robert Taylor (RoPS), the Kuopio native has moved to Rovaniemi charged with one simple task: fill Mosa’s boots. Unlike the current star of the Latvian league, he’ll more likely do his talking on the pitch.

Manager of the year: Simo Valakari, he’s already on the shortlist for some British clubs, if Simo progresses in Europe, which SJK’s signings could accomplish, this will be his last season in Finland.

Most excited about: Nikolai Alho is back after a long injury, he’s only 23 and has an outside shot at making the national side, if he can find the kind of form that got HJK to the Europa League in 2014.

Least excited about: Incessant referee and media focus on Shefki Kuqi. Yes, he swears and shouts, most managers do… get over it!
Keke Mylläri - Twitter @kekemyllari

Champions: HJK

Bottom two: PS Kemi and PK-35, both of the newcomers.

Player of the year: Roope Riski (SJK)

Dark horse: VPS

Biggest disappointment: The Finnish National Team.

Most important signing: Alexei Eremenko (SJK)

Young player of the year: Robert Taylor (RoPS).

Manager of the year: Jani Honkavaara (HIFK)

Most excited about: SJK playing in Europe and a new stadium.  Also, Ilves fans pyro shows.

Least excited about: Klubi winning once again.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Interview with HJK fan Aachi

In a slight change from my usual interview subjects, I've spoken to Arto "Aachi" Ihatsu, who is one of the most well known football fans in Finland, who follows HJK home and away. He has given some great and impassioned answers, well worth the wait.

As one of HJK's biggest fans, how did you get into supporting the club?
It all began on August 12, 2004, when I was twelve years old. I went to see HJK v Inter with my father. HJK lost the game 0-1, but I was hooked and I got a season ticket for the 2006 season. The first match was in Kotka, I had just turned 14 and it was my first away trip alone, although Klubi lost 2-1 (to KooTeePee) and I continued from there. As soon as I knew I was part of the fellow supporters, they became my a family.

What was it like being in an away end on your own in Kazakhstan?
I wasn't in there by myself, as two HJK senior supporters were there as well and I spent a lot of time with them. It was slightly scary when I was there moving about in the stadium by myself, such as when I went to get some beers, and also in the stand when the sound was coming from all directions and I was missing my fellow Klubipääty crowd. It was such a shame we didn't get into the group stage that we were supposed to end up in, but luckily there were still fans greeting us at the airport and supporting the team in a weak moment.

A photo posted by @akiriihilahti on

Have HJK looked after you (and other away travellers) on European trips?
Not really, I've done it myself and organised things including away tickets. Everything has always been sorted by ringing Markku Peltoniemi. For the Besiktas game in Turkey there was some confusion as I couldn't at first find him and get the tickets. I think Klubi should have a controlled amount of tickets at their office for each Euro away game to be sold, whether it be in Andorra in the first round or one of the group stage matches.

What job do you have which gives you such flexibility for travel? Do they enjoy seeing where you go?
I work at a port terminal. My boss is a keen HJK supporter as well as another colleague of mine who is also a member of the Klubi family. We take most of the match days off. You wouldn't necessarily always have the energy to go to every game but one of the perks of the job is being able to go to the games so I wouldn't change this for anything.

2015 saw HIFK return to Veikkausliiga - was the atmosphere at derby games the best you've been to in Finland?
Derby days have always had special atmosphere, whether it's a friendly being played in the hall or at the Sonera stadion, which is very special, especially for the players and the supporters.

What more can clubs do to make fans feel more involved in their clubs?
Perhaps a bit more involvement in the day to day business - co-operating to build a community between players, the staff (coaches etc) who are working at the club, along with the fans.

The image of you falling out of the stand in 2013 was shared all over the world - what exactly happened?
I was celebrating a goal scored against FC Lahti and I flew over the railing in style. Fortunately, I was sober so it didn't hurt too much!

Aachi taking a tumble (thanks to Mika Laakso for the photo)

Video of the HJK goal referenced above - go to 09:20 for the fall

How did you feel when HJK postponed the IFK Mariehamn game to play Liverpool last summer? Had you already booked travel?
It was really bad because everyone was waiting for that match in Åland. The news of the Liverpool game came while I was in Tallinn on a cruise - I was full of anger and the cruise was ruined. I genuinely think my blood pressure rose from zero to one hundred. I can honestly say I was pretty shocked. I think these matches should not take priority over competitive domestic matches, especially on a Saturday ahead of Mariehamn away. Fortunately we were away to IFK Mariehamn in the Suomen Cup two weeks later and the club sorted us out. When the league game was moved to October, only eleven fans made the trip, but it warmed the heart because it was HJK's first away win for months.

What do you think of HJK's chances in Veikkausliiga this year?
We have a truly superior team compared to last year, some extremely interesting names arriving such as (Anthony) Annan, (Alfredo) Morelos, (Vincent) Onovo, (Ivan) Tatomirovic and Medo will all be a big help for the coming season. We hope the results of each game go well, and the title is settled in before the start of the Europa League - we can focus on the end of autumn and spring, knowing the final is being played in Stockholm (Friends Arena). There is a possibility, at least in my imagination...

Which club would you most like to see HJK play in Europe? Or is there anywhere you wouldn't go?
I would love to see HJK play against Arsenal, they are my favourite team in England. I could never go to Dubai - there are only a few places where you can get alcohol, not in the stadiums...