Showing posts with label Arsenal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arsenal. Show all posts

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...

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...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Interview with Carl Jenkinson

Ahead of England's U21 games against San Marino and Lithuania, friend of the blog Simon Peach spoke to Carl Jenkinson on behalf of the Press Association. Simon has very generously allowed me to host the interview here, while some of the text will have been seen elsewhere in the British Press.

Carl in Finland action

How is the season going for you?
"On the team front it has been great so far. I'm really pleased with how we're doing as a team and personally I have played quite a lot of games, which has been good for me.
"I think Bac's out for two to three weeks so hopefully I'll have a couple of games here and then maybe get a little run of games.
"That's good for me because I always play my best football when I've had a little run. So it's so far so good."

Is it good to drop down to the England Under-21s then?
"Yes. Hopefully I'll get games and playing for England at any level is an honour.
"When I was given this opportunity it was a no brainer for me.
"At the end of the day I want to play for England and this is a very close step to the senior side. "Of course you have to be doing well for your club, but if you're impressing for the Under-21s I am sure the message gets back to Roy Hodgson.
"So it's good for me all round. It's good to get games and they're not friendlies either, they're qualifiers. It's going to be good for me and I'm really looking forward to it."

Not many have won Under-21s caps for different countries?
"I know. It's really strange. And it's mad to think I could be playing against Finland next month. It's crazy, but football's a strange game.
"It's weird how things work out, but it would be a nice experience for me to play against some of the Finnish lads I played with before. It would be good."

Have you still got friends in the Finland team?
"Yes. They are in my age group so I've played with not all of them but a fair few of them. I've got quite a few friends there and I know the manager as well.
"I played under him, he's a guy I've always spoken very highly of so it would be a great experience and I'd really look forward to it."

You got a good reception in Finland on the pre-season tour with Arsenal?
"It was amazing and something I really didn't expect.
"I was worried I might get booed and I was prepared for that. Then to go out there and get the response I did when I went on, it blew me away to be honest with you. It was a day I will always look back on very fondly. I wasn't expecting it and it was a great feeling.
"Playing at a club like Arsenal I know I am never going to be the lad fans are always cheering. "That will always be a Walcott or a Giroud or an Ozil, but on that occasion I was the main man and it was quite a nice experience to be honest."

Carl soaking up the ovation in Helsinki (August 2013)

What is it like facing the likes of Raheem Sterling, Ravel Morrison and Wilfried Zaha in training?
"They're fantastic. They were the ones who stood out in my first session, Sterling scored loads of goal but they were all fantastic. They showed why they are at the clubs they're at.
"I didn't kick them. I didn't face them in the games at the end. We need to keep them fit for the games. I would have got a few stern words off the gaffer had I kicked them.
"They're fantastic players and an asset to any side, especially at under-21 level.

What are your memories of Finland?
"I look back on it as a fantastic experience. I played for England Under-17s and I was third choice at the time. I then had the opportunity to play for Finland. At the time I went there and was playing regularly.
"I was in Charlton's reserve and youth teams and playing international football and there weren't many people in my team getting the experience I was.
"In terms of my career at the time it was great for me. I enjoyed my time there but at the same time when England came knocking, I had to follow my heart. I've always felt English at the end of the day."

Did Mum or Dad try to sway you?
"I was lucky. I have a supportive family so there weren't too many digs or trying to sway me one way or another. My mum was very supportive of my decision which was nice.
"I am sure she would have loved me to play for Finland but she was very supportive and I'm grateful for that."

Carl in Finland kit

Finland U21s will be playing at Milton Keynes next month. Last I heard, MK had only sold three tickets in the away end. Feel free to come and join us, and make some noise.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Arsenal 3-1 Manchester City - thoughts (and photos)

After all the hype, all the money, all the dissent... Arsenal won their final pre-season friendly against Manchester City by three goals to one. The game was obviously still pre-season, nothing particularly meaty or controversial. The match was entertaining, with a few sideshows, and most of the attendees will have gone home happy.

At the final whistle

I'd started the day early, breakfasting at a BBQ diner in an abattoir in Kallio, with a Karhu of course. Shortly after the real boozing began, with €2.80 beers going down a storm. After a spot of bar-hopping, we found that the Olympiastadion had a fan area open, with plenty of bars, live music and people... At that point it was obvious that there were a lot more Arsenal shirts than Man City - the clear tone for the evening.

There was a good atmosphere, but with no amount of cringe. In the seats, under the big screen in the Pohjoiskaarre (north end), the teams came out... To the theme tune from Superman. Oh dear. From where I was, there were red and white shirts everywhere, and plenty of noise. Some of the older Arsenal chants were sung, in heavy Finnish accents. The jerseys had Wilshere and Cazorla on the back, while even Mrs ETS donned a 1970s home shirt.

Arsenal's early goal helped proceedings, Theo Walcott beating Joe Hart after Ramsey's great pass. It gave the crowd some momentum and kept the few City fans quiet. By half-time, everyone was thirsty for a beer, and although the option was Carlsberg, they did good business at €7 a pint. In the second half, goals from Ramsey and Giroud were lapped up, while Negredo's goal pointed out where the blue fans were (there weren't many).

Cameo appearances from Samir Nasri (booed heavily) and former Finland U21 international Carl Jenkinson added some more pantomime to the proceedings before the final whistle. The photo below will help cheer up any Gooner.

At the final whistle, the customary presentations were made on the pitch, to some music from Rocky IV... Walcott won man of the match, and the players trudged off - but there was time for Jenkinson to do a lap of honour before heading off. Carl had spoken to the Arsenal website about his difficult decision in choosing England, but was warmly cheered by the spectators. He threw his shirt into the crowd, and seemed pretty moved...

The aftermath of the game revealed some of the feeling in Finland - an attendance of over 39000 football fans who could have been elsewhere, especially as the much-hyped SuperMatsi in Jyväskylä got JJK's second lowest attendance of the year. There were even noises in HS that Finland would love to host a 39th game, if the Premier League ever rebooted that idea (surely not).

For me, it was nice to see my team in Finland, and a nice way to spend a weekend. There were a few familiar faces, and nice to catch up with friends and family. I was asked if I'd fly over just for Finnish matches, and of course I would - not this year though, I've seen four matches in Finland in the last 9 weeks and I'm skint.

Who's that handsome chap in the shades at the top of the group shot?

A nice weekend. Hopefully Arsenal will be back for real next time. Preferably in Kuopio!

In case you forgot

Highlights of Arsenal 3-1 Manchester City

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Arsenal v Man City aka "Super Match" - some thoughts

This Saturday sees a friendly between English clubs Arsenal and Manchester City - billed in Finland as "Super Match". Now there is nothing to play for in theory, for both clubs it's the last pre-season friendly and the end to a summer of several miles covering the US and Asia.

The clubs played prior to last season as well, in Beijing, which saw City win 2-0. Arsenal even pandered to their prospective sponsors and fans by wearing their shirt sponsor Emirates in Chinese script. This year will be a chance for City fans to see their new signings Navas, Jovetic and Negredo, while Finland-based Gunners supporters can see, er, part Finn and baseball cap designer Carl Jenkinsn.

Now the match has received huge publicity in Finland, but not all for the right reasons. There are huge sums involved in hosting the game, which are of course covered by some outlandish ticket prices. Other than a handful of tickets available at £30, the majority of tickets in the Arsenal end went for £60 - almost as much as a ticket to watch a category A game at the Emirates.

Another issue is about why should it be a match between two English sides? Surely it would be more interesting for Arsenal (for example) to play a Finnish club? Despite the partisan nature, it would at least be more of a novelty to see them take on HJK or Honka for example, or even make it an exhibition by fielding a team of Veikkausliiga players.

I'll admit I'm not helping the issue by flying over from London to watch the match, but then I've got an Arsenal season ticket and I've seen Arsenal play all over Europe - I had always said I'd love to see Arsenal in Finland, but I'd hoped it'd be in the Champions League.

The other point of note is the impact on domestic Finnish football. This weekend sees a full round of matches, and Saturday sees the Veikkausliiga match between JJK and Jaro, billed as "Super Matsi". It promises to be well attended, with various other fan-led activities taking place in Jyväskylä. Friend of the blog Egan Richardson wrote about it for Supporters Direct, read here.

Thursday also saw JJK release a video they made, highlighting the impact of Super Match on Finnish football - would the 36,000 odd attendees go and see any of the league matches at the weekend? Do the English clubs need the money?

I appreciate the fact that if it wasn't Arsenal playing, I'd probably be slating the Super Match, and cursing the teams involved. Having only just been to Finland (in June), to fly back so quick is both expensive and pretty inconvenient - maybe I should save my money and go to the Champions League play-off instead?

I'll be in Helsinki on Saturday (drinking in Kallio before the game), cheering on my team. Hopefully it won't do too much damage to the league and culture I've come to call my own...

Plus I hate Carlsberg.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Escape To Suomi - A Year In Review

This site was born in June 2012, not long after the start of the Finnish league season and something to do while watching the European Championships. As the year has gone on, we've provided summaries of matches, the hot topics of the moment, and some other pieces which have required a lot of work.

As is tradition, it's time to look at the five most read articles on the site since it's inception, and hopefully gather some feedback.

Number 5 - Suomen Cup final preview

Written the night before the final, the blog previewed Honka v KuPS. Both sides were unlikely to qualify for the Europa League through league placing, and Honka were looking for a first cup win, with KuPS not having won it since 1989. In the end, Honka won the final 1-0, however the aftermath was dominated by controversy after both clubs were fined due to over-zealous support from the travelling fans.

Photo courtesy of Vartaloharhautus

Number 4 - The 1912 Finnish Olympic football team

Conceived during the London Olympics, and some cursory glances through the record books showed the Finland came fourth in the men's football event. Not bad given that they've never qualified for a World Cup or European Championship. More interestingly, it brought the tales of smuggler Algoth Niska and journalist Eino Soinio to a wider audience after the article was picked up and adjusted for esteemed football site In Bed With Maradona.

Eino Soinio

Number 3 - King Litmanen - The Movie

Kuningas Litmanen was the documentary released this autumn about Jari Litmanen. The movie was a big success, reporting big takings for a documentary and also getting an airing at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. The film is out now on DVD, and features talking heads from such luminaries as Louis van Gaal, Steven Gerrard and Dennis Bergkamp. A full review of the DVD will appear on this site in the new year.

No mention of what the deleted scenes are

Number 2 - Carl Jenkinson

One of the big talking points amongst Finnish football fans and writers was about Arsenal full-back Carl Jenkinson, who had represented the Finnish U21 team, via his Finnish mother. After a fantastic start to the English season (standing in for the injured Bacary Sagna), the debate soon hit English shores. Under FIFA rules he was allowed to change allegiance once, and after being invited to train with England, he then made his full debut as a substitute in a friendly against Sweden.

 England's Carl Jenkinson

Number 1 - European prize money

As Finnish clubs progressed in European qualifiers (well, HJK and KuPS at least), the financiers were rubbing their hands at the prospect of the money on offer, as well as the potential for the lucrative group stages. KuPS made it as far as the third qualifying round (losing to Bursaspor), while HJK lost to Celtic in the Champions League qualifier and then Bilbao in the Europa League play-offs. Both will have done reasonably well, KuPS in particular grateful for the money as they posted 2012 losses of 200000. Financially challenged Honka could benefit from a decent run in 2013/14, it was only confirmed last week that they have met the UEFA licensing conditions.


For 2013, I'll be continuing the weekly Veikkausliiga reviews, and inviting submissions for articles about Finnish football or Finns abroad. I'll be attending the World Cup qualifier against Belarus in Helsinki in June, and against France in Paris in October, so hopefully more about the international team as well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Carl Jenkinson - stick or twist?

Arsenal right-back Carl Jenkinson is at something of a crossroads in his young footballing career. A year after his big move from Charlton, there have been several noises made about whether he will declare a full desire to play for England at full international level. Despite his appearances at England U-17, and Finland's U-19 and U-21 teams, it's believed that he wants to represent England at senior level.

Jenkinson trains with Finland

With a Finnish mother (Swedish-speaking), of course he is eligible for both - but would he risk a potential career with the Finns for the prospect of England? England seem to have a vast reserve of right-backs these days, with Kyle Walker, Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly in contention, as well as Micah Richards, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones with recent international appearances. Jenkinson isn't even a regular starter, being the understudy to France's superb Bacary Sagna.

The likely option would need to be a loan move to a top club - but he'd need a monumental season, like Walker had in 2011/12 when he was voted young player of the year. There is potential there, but he'd need to take huge leaps to get into Roy Hodgson's plans. He's a good crosser of the ball, maybe don't rule out a right-sided midfield role.

If he were to go down the Finnish route, perhaps he would have more of a chance. Exposure to Premier League and Champions League (he played four games in Europe last season) would enhance his profile and experience, while benefitting from learning from one of Europe's best right backs. Of course he wouldn't expect to walk into the Finnish defence either, with Petri Pasanen and Ari Nyman already there.

Carl in his old bedroom

My prediction? I have a feeling he'll turn his back on Finland in the hope he'll get a shot with England. It's not like he grew up in Finland, he's an Essex boy really. But he'll need to get himself a good run with the Gunners (or on loan) to have a decent shot with either. If it's true that he rejected a call-up for last year's Finland match against San Marino, that may already be the answer.