Showing posts with label Jari Litmanen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jari Litmanen. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Crossing the Finnish Line - guest blog

This is a guest blog written by Greg Matthews, who got in touch by email after reading my article in Football Weekends magazine. He, his wife and his son travelled to Finland at the start of August and watched a few games. Greg has written an account of his trip and included some photographs. Many thanks Greg!


Football is more akin to a marathon than a sprint. Each games lasts 90 minutes and a season lasts months. However, if you're having fun, they can fly by without you catching breath. Having booked my family holiday to Finland (with a brief sojourn in Estonia), I wondered if five matches in five days could result in my marriage 'hitting the wall'.

My 12 year old son Joel and I could manage it no-problem. It's in our DNA. We'd been training years for this - aimlessly watching not only our local team, Swansea City's first eleven, under-21 and youth levels, but also supplementing these with games on TV and the Welsh League. Mrs M on the other hand had come to football late. Although both knowledgeable and enthusiastic for the Swans, I feared this enthusiasm may not extend to travelling one hour out of Helsinki to sample the delights of FC Lahti v Jaro on a wet Sunday night. 

Our first fixture was the Champions League qualifier between HJK and FC Astana of Kazakhstan. A glorious Nordic summer's evening spent in the impressive Sonera Stadium right at the start of our holidays. What more could we want? HJK are the Manchester United of Finland, however, their club shop wouldn't look out of place at FC United of Manchester. Still, Joel was happy as he got a pin badge and we took our seats in the North Stand. 

That initial exuberance was tested as it turned out to be one of the worst games of football I'd ever witnessed, and I can assure you that I have quite a back catalogue of no-score bore draws. Neither team created any meaningful chance until late on in the first half, while HJK's Japanese pairing of Tanaka and Havenaar ran around like headless chicken. What surprised me most was that the Helsinki side's coach, Mika Lehkosuo, must have been very happy with the performance because he only made one substitution and that was not until the 92nd minute. Just shows that football is all about opinions. 

Things could only get better. Unfortunately, they didn't, as two days later we went to Estonia and viewed the Tallinn derby between FC Flora and FC Infonet. Suffice to say another goalless draw and some pretty uninspiring football was beginning to test even my resolve. The only saving grace was when the three of us accidentally made it onto Estonian TV after taking a wrong turn in the stadium and stumbled into the players and officials in the tunnel as they made their way out of their dressing rooms and on to the pitch. 

As we made the 90 minute ferry ride back across the Baltic Sea the next day, I hoped our luck would change soon as an already flagging Mrs M would likely declare herself unfit to continue if she didn't at least see one goal. If I could get through today, then we were nearly home and dry. At 4pm was Helsinki's other team, HIFK v Ilves at the Sonera Stadium and then, after refuelling at a nearby pizza restaurant, a friendly between HJK and Liverpool at 7.30pm in the Olympiastadion. 

Luckily, over 90 minutes sat in the North Stand (Pohjoinen) of our first offering saw our love for the beautiful game reignited. The HIFK fans sang, bounced and flag waved, whilst the players tried their best to match the entertainment in the stands. Joel bought a HIFK badge and shirt and Mrs M came out saying she'd "been thoroughly entertained". The game ended 2-2, after HIFK had been 2-0 up, and the true acid test of a good atmosphere is when you are still humming the terrace anthems the next day. It was then decided that HIFK would be our 'Finnish team'.

The reason why the Finnish domestic league (Veikkausliga) struggles was best demonstrated at the evening kick off between HJK and Liverpool. There were over 20,000 in attendance and the vast majority of these were sporting the red and white of the Merseysiders, yet speaking Finnish. I find it bizarre when any football fan picks a glamorous foreign outfit over their local team and the sad reality is that I'd probably visited Anfield more times than many of the Liverpool shirted Finns in attendance. The Olympic stadium is an impressive venue. However, having hosted the 1952 Olympics it was now looking it's age and the open stands are exposed to the elements, whilst it's running track didn't exactly make it spectator friendly. The flat atmosphere and uninspiring football of this friendly were in sharp contrast to that witnessed a couple of hours earlier in the HIFK match. The game ended 2-0 to Liverpool and although I was now beginning to dislike HJK after two moribund games, I secretly willed them to win, if only to shut up the Finnish Reds sitting around me.

Our final encounter made me a little wary. FC Lahti v FF Jaro was taking place in a city that had been nicknamed the 'Chicago of Finland,' due to its somewhat dodgy reputation and not because it's a particularly windy city. As we took the train from Helsinki, I figured that in such a peaceful nation being labelled hostile probably amounted to no more than raising your voice at a waitress if your rye bread was a little stale. We needn't have worried, having had a knife pulled out on me at Millwall v Swansea in 1990, Lahti was more Cheltenham than Chicago. Everyone was welcoming, my son picked up a FC Lahti shirt and badge for €19.50 and the game was enlivened by two teams trying to play football in rather damp and difficult conditions. 

The score was 1-1 at the end of play, but we saw two superb goals, a controversial disallowed effort and it really was a fitting end to a footballing extravaganza. The Finnish people we encountered were all friendly, and Helsinki is a beautiful place. We hired bikes, kayaked, went stand-up boarding, shopped and drank lots of coffee. I love the way the fans get over-excited at every set piece, but frustrated at Clubs lack of merchandise and appalled at their need to stick advertising on anything and everything. I will have wonderful memories of a marvellous country, my son will have the kudos of having the only FC Lahti and HIFK shirts at football training and my wife - well, she deserves a medal.


Many thanks again to Greg for taking the time to write this fine blog and for allowing use of his photos.

If you'd like to write something for the site about a trip you've made, or to share your photographs, then please get in touch via the usual channels.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Tulos: Cup draws, interviews and Japan

Been a fairly slow few weeks in the Finnish football world since the last update. Part of the joy of a summer league perhaps... Anyway, here is a little recap.

Sexypöxyt celebrate their 30th anniversary this year

The Suomen Cup fourth round draw took place on Monday, pitching some potentially very interesting ties. TamU-K will host IFK Mariehamn, PEPO play KuPS and Sexypöxyt will play Gnistan. Meanwhile, our partner club Atletico Malmi defeated NuPS to reach the fourth round for the first time, they will play the winner of JanPa and Jomela IK. I'm still waiting to hear on the availability of Malmi replica jerseys.

I've spoken to Dani Hatakka of KuPS and Richie Dorman of SJK, who were both very interesting and pretty open about life in Veikkausliiga. Dani spoke about his scoring prowess for the Finland U21 side, while Richie was grateful to Finnish football for the chance to become a professional, having spent time at Blackburn as a youngster. Sent a few emails for further interviews, hopefully will have some more soon.

HJK's attempts at world domination continue with rapid speed - they announced the signings of Japanese international forward Mike Havanaar and Swedish goalkeeper Daniel Örlund, who join fellow Japanese Atom Tanaka and former Nottingham Forest midfielder Guy Moussi. HJK CEO Aki Riihilahti spoke to MTV3 about the club's ambitions - while admitting that they had sold more Atom shirts in a week than any other player sold in the whole of 2014, while over forty thousand people watched highlights of the win over RoPS, while the usual figure is in the hundreds.
Jari Litmanen's 44th birthday passed by on February 20th with the usual fanfare and ticker tape. He keeps his usual low profile, making personal appearances in pubs etc.

MYPA appear to have folded in their present form, the club administrators have applied for bankruptcy. While it's likely that the various junior clubs will continue in some form, it's a shame that over-spending and poor financial management have enabled to club to wither. Watch this space for future news.

The latest Eremenko talent, sixteen-year-old Sergei, scored twice for Jaro in their Liigacup defeat to SJK. He has already spent time training with Internazionale's youth set-up, while those ITK lot reckon he could potentially be as good as brothers Roman and Alexei.

Anyway that's it for now - I'm trying to push the ETS Facebook page a bit more these days, so make sure you like that for some more slow-time updates. Twitter is so flimsy and instant...

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Tulos: Litmanen, licences and flare fines

It's been another eccentric week in Finnish football - in case you missed any of it, here is a summary.

It's been sixteen years since Mikael Forssell made his Chelsea debut

A Helsinki court found that a fan who threw a flare during the Finland v Spain match in 2013, which cost the Finnish FA a fine of €7000, is liable to pay the fine. Needless to say the majority of the public has sided with the fan, while there have been suggestions of crowd-funding in order to pay the fine on their behalf.
Jari Litmanen has been keeping his fitness up with Estonian club Nomme Kalju - he does spend a lot of time in Estonia, while it's more likely that it is just keeping fit for further legend games. Doesn't stop the speculation about a comeback!

We finally had confirmation about the line-up of the 2015 Ykkönen (second tier). The ten teams competing are AC Oulu, EIF, FC Haka, FC Jazz, JJK, MYPA, PK-35, PS Kemi, TPS and VIFK. Strangely, Atlantis were denied a place due to the FA believing their player development systems weren't up to scratch. Atlantis of course were the side that turned a reluctant sixth-division forward into a 40-goal striker last year. Weird.
Former Jaro midfielder Hendrik Helmke, who had moved to Iran in December, was released from his contract after suffering a knee injury and has signed for Egyptian club Al-Ahly.
In some evidence that goalscorers don't necessarily translate into other places - 2012 top scorer Irakli Sirbiladze has left Inter Turku and signed for KuPS, while 2013 goal king Tim Väyrynen has signed an 18-month loan with Viktoria Köln, still remaining on the books of Borussia Dortmund B.

Finally, I spoke to Finland and Real Madrid Castilla forward Eero Markkanen about a variety of topics, ranging from Grand Theft Auto to wrestling with Perparim Hetemaj.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Caption competition - Win an Escape To Suomi mug!

Jari Litmanen played in a charity match in Geneva on Tuesday evening against a team of Swiss legends... Doing the rounds in the Swiss media are a number of photos (you can see them on our Facebook page), but one picture in particular is begging for a worthy caption.

If you feel like stretching your comedy muscles, let me know on Twitter/Facebook or email (see contact tab for information) by Sunday 19th January 2014. I'll pick the best one then, and the winner will receive a very limited edition Escape To Suomi mug. Entries in English or Finnish please!


Good luck!