Showing posts with label Jaro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jaro. Show all posts

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Interview with FF Jaro manager Kristian Heames

In my day job, I've worked with a variety of different people. Some wonderful, some awful, most ok. One is a contestant on this week's Come Dine With Me (Mark aka Bobby), another is the spitting image of Giles from Gogglebox. I didn't ever think that one colleague, someone I have a lot of time for, would have a brother who would one day manage a Finnish football club I also have a lot of time for. But nonetheless, I should have twigged earlier that Sinead's brother is the new boss of FF Jaro, Kristian Heames. Through Sinead, I managed to get a few questions in, all for the price of some jelly popping candy chocolate. Even after all those times I bored her to tears by talking about the dog...

How did you end up at Jaro? Did you have previous links to the club?  
I have a coaching company in England called FDS, we work with West Bromwich Albion and have been coaching in Finland for nearly 10 years.  In that time we worked with Jaro and got to know people at the club and on the board.  After Nikolas Vidjeskog was coming to the end of his caretaker role they interviewed me whilst I was in Finland, I felt it went well and they offered me the job that evening with a three day start time which was a bit of surprise!


You've done a number of other roles in football, how have they prepared you for management?
I think spending time delivering sessions to many thousands of players over the last 16 years prepares you well for working with a new group.  Whoever you coach you have to earn their respect and give them what they need to improve and perform. Also having worked in strength and conditioning, scouting, coaching and business has given me a broad range of experiences which help when you have to cover a lot as a head coach of a small budget club.

Do you think the club can achieve promotion next season?  
Yes and that is what we are aiming for.  

The infrastructure of clubs varies hugely, how is Jaro looking below the first team?
There are many juniors playing and for the size of town and club they compete well in Finland. The ultimate success being the number of players making it through to play for the first team.

Jaro have a good recent history of bringing through young players (Öst, Eremenko, Atakayi, Skrabb etc), any more on the production line?
Samu Alanko was a big plus from this season. At 18 years old to score seven in eight at the end of the season and starting three games was obviously a success. Also local boy Joni Remesaho, who at 23 made his Jaro debut and a big impact even though it was his first experience of the Ykkönen. Going forward we have Adam Vidjeskog and Oskar Sandström, who I would expect to make good progress and an impact next season, with possibly some B juniors like Axel Vidjeskog moving up.

Joni Remesaho and Kristian (via FF Jaro Facebook)

What have you changed at the club since you arrived? Results suggest a big improvement. 
There were many good things in place already but I think confidence and team spirit certainly improved quickly when I arrived. I think this spirit is so important and we used that to win all types of games. When you win games the confidence comes. To achieve this on the pitch, we tried to play in a positive manner and also by increasing the tempo which we played at.

There's a big mix of nationalities in the squad - what is the team spirit like?
Really good, but it took some work. We are currently in the process of building next years squad. The local players need to be recruited first as you need at least 9 homegrown players. After that it is about selecting the right players from outside the club, whether they are Finnish or elsewhere.


What are your early thoughts on living in Finland? How much of a culture shock has it been?
I have been in Finland many times over the last ten years and spent a lot of time with Finnish people, so the culture shock was not that big, I feel quite comfortable here. I think the social media thing has already boosted the club, albeit in a small way. The club's Facebook page seems to have had a lot of new likes from England since I started!

Woody wearing my Jaro shirt - thanks Viktor!

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

A big thank you to Kristian for his time and Sinead for sorting it out. More interviews over the winter months. You can hear more from Kristian in an audio interview with local paper Österbottens Tidning, available from this link.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Veikkausliiga 2015 - SJK triumph

The curtain comes down on another season of Veikkausliiga, and it was a hum-dinger. Not many leagues in Europe reach the final day with all the play for a both ends of the season. The last round of 2015 got plenty of people excited, not just for the prospect of a different champions for the first time in since 2008. HJK had won six titles in a row, yet they still had a slim chance of retaining their crown.

The bottom end of the table still had unresolved issues too. VPS had looked in danger of relegation for most of the season, but a good run (after a change of manager) meant that while they could still be dragged into a play-off against PK-35 Vantaa, they just needed to better KTP's result. Jaro had slipped to last place after a rotten run with one win in fifteen games, they needed to win at SJK to have a hope of avoiding automatic relegation.

Finnish champions SJK (image via Facebook)

In the end, SJK scored in opening and closing minutes to win 2-0, securing a first ever league title and sending Jaro down. It was a nervy match, Jaro threatened but couldn't make it. A draw would have gifted the title to RoPS, who won 1-4 at Lahti, helped by a third hat-trick of the season from Aleksandr Kokko. HJK managed a hard-fought 0-1 win at KuPS but could only secure bronze.

All outcomes covered at Lahti (image via Risto Oksanen)

The relegation play-off will feature KTP, who lost 1-2 to Ilves but due to Jaro's loss, they finish 11th. VPS lost at IFK Mariehamn but will be relieved to open their new stadium in Veikkausliiga. The two-legged match between KTP and PK-35 Vantaa will be tense, but potentially entertaining if Shefki Kuqi's side come up.

So how was the league won and lost?

Well I saved the "HJK in crisis" blog until the season was over. I think better writers than I have done good work on this topic, while it feels like I'd just be sticking the boot in. Ultimately they were decimated by injuries to key players, but a transfer approach resembling a closing time trolley dash in Lidl was just as damaging. The shameless attempt at attracting Japanese fans resulted in Atom Tanaka (who did well) and Mike Havenaar (shockingly poor), African journeymen Taiwo, Jallow, Mendy, Moussi and Kandji were a mixed bag, and little confidence in goalkeepers. HJK had been so wonderfully run off the field, but this year has been a smack in the chops. Expect wholesale changes for next year.

SJK retained the majority of the squad who performed so well to come second last year. A solid spine of Mikhel Aksalu in goal, Savić and Gogoua in defence with Mehmet Hetemaj, Brown, Vasara and Tahvanainen in midfield provided solidity and some spark going forward, while the addition of Akseli Pelvas provided goals, but it was two summer signings who added the final solution. Brazilian midfielder Allan Souza joined on loan from Liverpool and Roope Riski added eight goals in 13 matches up front.

I doubt Allan is ready yet for Premier League football, but SJK have acknowledged that they may not be able to keep him for next season. But they too will move into a new stadium, with Champions League football and a championship trophy to show off.

Allan key to SJK title win?

Ultimately, SJK were the most consistent side over the season and were well deserving of their win - but what about the other challenger?

RoPS hadn't been great in 2014, finishing ninth in the table and hardly looking like title candidates. But it was already evident that coach Juha Malinen was building something. Faith Friday Obilor was one of the top defenders and continued to develop, attracting interest from big clubs in Turkey. Aleksandr Kokko had been out of contract but re-signed for the season, ending up as top scorer with seventeen goals (including three hat-tricks). The creative addition was Finland U21 midfielder Moshtagh Yaghoubi, who had been stuck in contract limbo between Latvia and Russia. Mosa provided a threat from set pieces (scoring a number of free kicks), a spark and a little bit more fire in the centre of the park. Of course he deserves to be docked points for taking a selfie after his goal against KuPS in October, but hey ho, he did well and will surely get a more solid move now.


Special mention needs to go to two of the promoted clubs, HIFK and Ilves. HIFK's entirely Finnish squad competed well at the top level, while their fans brought a lot of noise and smoke, making next season's Helsinki derbies the hottest tickets in town. Ilves came up after the demise of MYPA, against the wishes of some fans, and while they hit the headlines for strange reasons (the sacking of TV star Keith Armstrong), another great set of fans and solid performances ensured top flight football again in 2016.

Off the pitch, Veikkausliiga had a good year. The availability of every match live via Ilta-Sanomat was a huge hit, other than the matches where the technical gremlins prevented broadcast. State broadcaster YLE also showed games on terrestrial TV, including the "Futiskierros" format of showing goals as they go in from all the other grounds. Average attendances were good with a total of over 500k attendees, boosted by the three HIFK v HJK games and some good turnouts at Ilves. The league are still lacking a decent international broadcast partner, even I have to use less-than-legal means to watch games as the approved streams are via little screens on betting sites.

Ultimately 2015 was a great season, with plenty of drama and as always, eccentric moments on and off the pitch. I'll come back later with summaries, while I've no idea what I'll do until the new season kicks off in April. I'll leave you with a picture of my dog Woody in an SJK shirt. Perhaps next time I bump into Wayne Brown in a cafe at the top of my road, I'll get him to sign it...


Unfortunately SJK unfollowed me on Twitter (which I've yet to moan properly about), I suppose they've got better things to do. For shame.

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.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Jaro fans reunite Serge Atakayi with long-lost family

Lost among the transfer rumours, corruption scandals and kit launches last week was a truly heartwarming story that proves that there is still plenty of compassion in football, in this case coming from the fans of one club in the Finnish Veikkausliiga.

Jaro, who are based in the Western town of Jakobstad (in Swedish, or Pietarsaari in Finnish), have had a rather inconsistent season so far, unable to put together any sort of run - but the undoubted highlights have been the emergence of two sixteen year old prospects. Sergei Eremenko, son of coach Alexei is one, while the record-breaker of the pair is Serge Atakayi - who has become both the youngest ever goalscorer in Veikkausliiga and the youngest player to get sent off...

Jaro's two future diamonds, Eremenko and Atakayi (right) - photo Jyrki Johannes Tervo

Serge was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1999, and came to Finland in 2010 (aged 11) to take part in the internationally renowned Helsinki Cup tournament. With the opportunity of a lifetime, to escape an unstable country, Serge took the life-changing decision to claim political asylum in the country, leaving his family behind. He hasn't seen them since.

No fan wants to see a key player unhappy and without a crucial support network. But Jaro fans are a different breed. They raised funds amongst themselves and the local community to fund a trip for Serge to visit his family in DR Congo at the end of the season on a scholarship, meaning he won't have any problems returning to the place he's called home for five years, while he's represented various Finland junior teams.

Serge on international duty

They surprised Serge at the end of a training session last Wednesday, marching onto the pitch to present him with the relevant paperwork.



Jaro's media man Viktor Enbacka told me "This is what FF Jaro is all about. Everyone wants to help somehow, by volunteering or doing things like this." Club captain Jonas Emet said "We don't have the biggest group of fans, but they all have a big heart".

Meanwhile, Serge said on Instagram "Thank you Jaro fans, for the gift you have given me today. I'm so glad that I don't know how to thank you all, I will never forget you".

Heartwarming.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

2015 Veikkausliiga season preview

It's that time of year again - the new Veikkausliiga season begins on Sunday 12th April 2015.

It's been a winter of big changes, not least that we have three new teams joining us. HIFK (Helsinki) were promoted by winning the 2014 Ykkönen division after a last minute winner in their final match. Meanwhile, KTP (Kotka) were then themselves promoted when Honka were refused a licence after their financial chaos (they will now play in Kakkonen) while MYPA currently don't exist in any form, with Ilves of Tampere taking their place.


HIFK will play their matches at the Sonera Stadion (home of HJK), while KTP are scheduled to play their first two home matches at MYPA's ground as their pitch probably won't be ready. Needless to say, HIFK and Ilves have already had their first matches postponed, while Jaro's first home match will be played at an alternative pitch due to the weather.

For the first time, Veikkausliiga referees will be using 'vanishing' spray for free kicks, although I've not heard an alternative for the snowy conditions... Meanwhile all teams will now be using the Select Brillant Super football, after the expiry of HJK's deal with Adidas; with the referees rocking the 1980s finest in Patrick.

Once again, HJK will be the Finnish entry into the Champions League qualifiers, they join in round two. In the Europa League, SJK, FC Lahti and VPS will play in the qualifying rounds, while KuPS await confirmation that they will receive the UEFA Fair Play place.

I'll do a quick preview of each club, along with a photo of their new jersey. I must warn you in advance - I don't bet on football, so don't hold me responsible for any bets you place on the information I write... I'm completely independent! I will admit to being a supporter of KuPS, but there won't be any bias - I don't do predictions. Feel free to gawp at the kits, in all their sponsored glory. Most of the clubs have online shops, see the tab at the top of the page for links.

HJK (2014 position - 1st)

Champions yet again last year, but they started badly under coach Sixten Boström and he was promptly sacked and replaced by former player Mika Lehkosuo. Klubi made it into the group stage of the Europa League and didn't disgrace themselves, Robin Lod and Gideon Baah the star performers. They've made huge inroads into the Japanese market signing midfielder Atom Tanaka (left) and striker Mike Havenaar, along with experienced Swedish keeper Daniel Örlund and former Nottingham Forest midfielder Guy Moussi. Massive favourites to win a seventh consecutive title, and will look to make a more competitive tilt at the Champions League group stage. Won the pre-season Liigacup.
SJK (2014 position - 2nd)

The team from Seinäjoki surprised many by claiming the silver medal in 2014, their first season in the top flight. They are in a stronger financial position than most, perhaps performing at par with the budget table. A new stadium is on the way, but will play their Europa League games in Helsinki. They brought in English midfielder Wayne Brown (left) from TPS last autumn, while former Celtic striker Bahrudin Atajić will be the key man up front. Manager Simo Valakari is constantly improving the side, who last year looked intelligent and progressive. Hard to see anyone beating HJK to the title, but they'll be chasing hard. I interviewed their Welsh defender Richie Dorman over the winter, well worth a read.
FC Lahti (2014 position - 3rd)

Another side who had an indifferent start to 2014, but sufficiently rallied to make their first European campaign in their current form. They were led by the veteran Brazilian striker Rafael, who scored 13 goals in 28 matches and will turn 37 this summer. They have lost promising midfielder Matti Klinga to HJK, but former Werder Bremen man Pekka Lagerblom replaces him. They too have stadium issues, a campaign led by Jari Litmanen to refurbish Kisapuisto is taking a long time, while the famous ski jump stadium is in a poor state of repair. They have extended the Brazilian contingent at the club to include Fluminense loanees Leandro Motta (left) and Matheus Alves. Europa League is likely to be the most realistic aim for this year.
VPS (2014 position - 4th)

More pitch updates (their new stadium has been approved, their Europa League games will be played in Oulu) but still making the top half last year. They won the first leg of their tie with Swedish club IF Brommapojkarna but were defeated 3-2 on aggregate, qualifying for this year's competition after HJK won the Suomen Cup, ensuring they took the final place. They aren't the biggest scorers, awful luck with Jamaican striker Steven Morrissey being ruled out for most of 2015 with a knee injury, after missing most of last year with an arm injury. Pictured left is new signing Jerry Voutilainen, a graduate from the KuPS school of midfielders. Talismanic captain Seba Strandvall has moved to Austria, will be a huge miss.
IFK Mariehamn (2014 position - 5th)

The entertaining Islanders from Åland have started their pre-season in their usual style, with 17 goals (SEVENTEEN) in their two Suomen Cup ties at the time of writing, Jamaican striker Dever Orgill with seven of them. They had re-signed former hitman Aleksei Kangaskolkka but he was struck down by injury. The mean looking man to the left is Kenyan midfielder Amos Ekhalie, who provides plenty of power along with a goal threat. Their key man continues to be Petteri Forsell, who'll shoot from anywhere but resembles a younger (slimmer) Tomas Brolin. His move to Turkey in 2012 didn't work out, but he'll surely end up elsewhere if he continues.
FF Jaro (2014 position - 6th)

The latest in the Eremenko dynasty, 16-year-old Sergei (left), looks set to take centre stage this season as my friends in Pietarsaari take the field. His dad, coach Alexei, remains in charge despite being previously linked with HJK, while the team are one of the most inconsistent in the division. The loss of Hendrik Helmke to Al Ahly and Shahdon Winchester to the United States leave big shoes to fill - but they kept last year's top scorer Jonas Emet, who did have a trial with English club Fleetwood but remains. They have one of the more cosmopolitan rosters, with players from Guyana, Canada, Kenya and Brazil. I will put on record I'm not keen on the Sagafurs sponsor on the jersey, you can probably figure out their business without Google...
KuPS (2014 position - 7th)

Now world famous after their capture of former prodigy Freddy Adu, there is plenty else to be excited about in Kuopio. Former maalikuningas (league top scorer) Irakli Sirbiladze joins from Inter Turku, with ETS interviewee Dani Hatakka arriving from Honka and the "Savon Riquelme" Petteri Pennanen from RoPS. They looked doomed at the start of 2014, but Esa Pekonen was soon replaced by Marko Rajamäki and fortunes picked up. A likely tilt at the Europa League beckons, assuming the almost-guaranteed Fair Play place comes to Finland as per usual. The new shirt sported by Juha Hakola (left) will be emblazoned by a rather large cockerel from a drink manufacturer.
FC Inter Turku (2014 position - 9th)

A disappointing couple of years has seen Inter drop from title contenders to flirting with relegation. Job Dragtsma continues as manager, they reached the Finnish cup final and lost on penalties to HJK after a dreary 0-0 in normal time. Sirbiladze is gone, but the so-called "Finnish Zlatan" Vahid Hambo (left) will take his place up front, having previously been at Ilves and Sampdoria's academy side. The other major arrival was former TPS keeper Jukka Lehtovaara, greeted at the Turku derby cup tie with a banner saying "Once our captain, now a traitor - fuck you Lehtovaara". The tie also saw Hambo get a red card for a tasty retaliation. If this is a sign of things to come, Inter could be rather fun to watch this season...
RoPS (2014 position - 10th)

Look familiar? It's Hradecky, but not as we know it. Midfielder Tomas, brother of Finland keeper Lukas, is the poster boy. The team from the North reached the Liigacup final in pre-season before losing to HJK, but have added one very exciting asset - U21 midfielder Moshtagh Yaghoubi was finally freed from his Latvian contract purgatory and was snapped up despite interest from HIFK, where he was training. That is a tremendous signing which could easily propel the club a few places higher. They were pretty solid in defence last year, while keeping Aleksandr Kokko up front is also crucial. Not going to threaten the European places, but I reckon they'll do better than last year. Don't quote me on that...
HIFK (2014 Ykkönen position - 1st)

Their dramatic promotion saw scenes of jubilation, from more than just the HIFK supporters - the prospect of a proper Helsinki derby in the top division will be a welcome return. The club have taken great pride is assembling an entirely Finnish squad, picking up plenty of experience, such as former MYPA captain Tuomas Aho (left), along with former HJK prospect Fredrik Lassas and Youness Rahimi, who once had a trial with PSV Eindhoven. Surely the sole aim will be to consolidate their Veikkausliiga status, but they could certainly upset the applecart - they didn't reach the semi-finals of the Liigacup for nothing, including a 6-0 pumping of Inter Turku in the group stage. The games against HJK will see a tremendous atmosphere, well worth catching if you can get a ticket - the first meeting will be on April 23rd.
KTP (2014 Ykkönen position - 2nd)

A proper Devon Loch job after leading the second tier for the vast majority of the year, with just three wins in their last ten league matches. They benefit from the demise of Honka, recruiting with quality in Joel Mero, Tamás Gruborovics and Nosh A Lody. They too have existed in various forms in the past, they seem to have a new name almost every week (the latest incarnation was a merge between FC KTP and KooTeePee). Ville Oksanen is the man to the left giving the Blue Steel look, while this year's jersey is sponsored by SteveCo, I imagine NigelCo, DaveCo and SebastianCo were already taken. Their April fool joke of changing their colours to orange and green fell foul of the club president, who had a public moan on Twitter.
Ilves (2014 Ykkönen position - 3rd)

Taking MYPA's place at the top table, despite the wishes of some of the fans who felt the club weren't ready, the top division returns to Tampere. Former HJK boss Keith Armstrong has come out of semi-retirement to manage the side, who will have the smallest budget of all twelve clubs. Early indications are that the club will struggle to compete, even the pitch isn't ready to host matches with the first game against KuPS being postponed. Nigerian forward Chido Ugwunna is giving the thumbs up to our left, he joins from Haka. Ilves' final match of 2014 saw them defeat already relegated Viikingit 10-0, just enough to see them finish above AC Oulu... Would Oulu have even been allowed back? I'm sure the Ilves fans will provide plenty of noise at their games, the Tammela Stadion is a rustic little ground, well worth visiting.

So that's my effort for this year - I'm still waiting to find out what the plans are for hosting footage of matches, as I've previously been allowed to provide highlights on the site. I'll update as and when. Every game will be available live on ISTV Extra, with a few select fixtures throughout the season free to air on YLE TV. Be sure to follow ETS on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest information.

Good luck to all of those taking part - it's going to be a fun six months, see you on the other side.

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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tulos: Things you may have missed

Some family friends of ours were visiting from Finland this week, the topic of social media popped up. They work for a online sports channel focusing on extreme sports, EpicTV, and were more than happy to talk about their experience. Essentially, Kirsti and Panu said that I should be looking to focus more on Facebook. Twitter is excellent for instant and current news, but hardly a place to catch up at your leisure. As such, I post and link to several stories which may be missed unless you're on at the time.

So I've decided to summarise the stories of interest with one blog post, I think the term is 'ICYMI'. Anyway, here's what has happened in the last couple of weeks. Future blogs will be shorter, covering perhaps a fortnight at most - the below covers most the year so far. Feedback, as always, is welcome!

Cricket scores in the Helsinki futsal third division...




Finland U21s reached the final of the Commonwealth Cup in Russia, losing 2-1 to South Africa. Their semi-final win over Turkmenistan saw two moments of bravado from the Finns. Moshtagh Yaghoubi and Dani Hatakka were involved, well worth remembering.

 


Finland played two internationals in Abu Dhabi - they defeated Sweden 1-0 and drew 0-0 with Yemen. The sides were mostly made up of Nordic based players, but outstanding performers in the Sweden game were Lukas Hradecky and Petteri Forsell, with a debut international goal for Roope Riski.

Former Chelsea youth player Nortei Nortey had a trial with Jaro, but failed to earn a contract.

The 2015 Liigacup began, wins for Ilves and Inter and a draw between IFK Mariehamn and HIFK. Make a note of the fixtures and results here.

The farce/saga over Veikkausliiga places rumbles on, as MYPA were denied a licence to play in the top division in 2015, Ilves promoted in their place. They have since applied to play in Ykkönen but have also appealed the decision. At the time of writing, this is still to be decided. KTP meanwhile took Honka's place - Honka will now play in Kakkonen going under the name of FC Esport Honka.

In the annual FIFPro tournament in Norway, Finland's team of free agents lost both of their matches on penalties against Ireland and Norway. Player of the tournament was former RoPS striker Aleksandr Kokko, who spoke about his desire to play abroad.

Finland defender Markus Halsti signed for MLS club DC United. He played in this season's Champions League for Malmö.


Despite several media reports of tedious speculation, Niklas Moisander confirmed that he would remain at the club until the end of the season, where he is likely to move to a Serie A club, possibly Lazio or Roma.

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

Friday, March 28, 2014

Veikkausliiga 2014 season preview

It's been a long winter since the end of the last Finnish football season. Saturday 26th October saw the final round of fixtures, which had little bearing on the final outcome. HJK had sewn up the title, the silver and bronze medal positions were already decided, while JJK were long since relegated (they finished twelve points behind eleventh placed RoPS).

So this season starts on Sunday April 6th 2014, with a staggered schedule. Six teams get their seasons started, the three matches being played at grounds with artificial pitches. HJK host Jaro, RoPS play VPS and MYPA take on Honka. In fact HJK start with four home games in their first five... The rest of the sides join in a week later. The teams that finished in the top six last year will play seventeen home matches in 2014, while those in the bottom half will play sixteen.

The 2013 Veikkausliiga champions

The pre-season Liigacup (league cup) was won by newcomers SJK after a 1-0 win against VPS, who had been drawn together in group four, both matches ending in a 2-3 away win. HJK fielded a youth side in their semi-final against SJK and were beaten 1-0, while Inter Turku had the best group stage record with three wins out of four.

The European contenders this year will be HJK in the second qualifying round of the Champions League, while Honka, VPS and RoPS will enter the Europa League at qualifying round one. MYPA were elected as the Fair Play representative, and are also set to enter in round one, and will find out in May. Honka's entry isn't confirmed yet, as their ongoing financial problems have led to IFK Mariehamn being invited to apply to take their place. After last year's abysmal showing, where every participant was eliminated at the first stage, the Finnish clubs will need to pull their fingers out to improve the co-efficient.

For any UK-based Veikkausliiga fans, there was good news this week with the news that VeikkausTV, the Finnish betting site, will be showing fifty live matches this season, starting with the opening day match between HJK and Jaro. I'm not aware yet of pricing or whether the site is viewable in the UK. If not, I'll recommend some sites that allow your computer to think it's in Finland... Don't forget that ETS is the only English language site authorised to show match highlights!

New boys SJK celebrate their Liigacup victory

Last year, I did a page looking at all the new kits for the season. Unfortunately, some of the clubs are yet to release any decent photos of their wardrobes, while some appear to be using the same kits as last season. I'll try and put a page together at some point as plenty of clubs have moved onto new kit manufacturers.

So what can we expect this year? Some of the young talent has moved abroad, there have been plenty of managerial changes and new faces could make big names for themselves. Below we'll look at the twelve teams taking part, along with a brief update on the changes at each club. The teams are listed in order of their final position in 2013.



HJK

A fifth consecutive title came, but it was fairly underwhelming in the end. Rumours that manager Sixten Boström would be replaced subsided, but the question remains if whether HJK can push on in Europe after feebly falling to Estonians Nomme Kalju. Zeneli, Pohjanpalo and Sumusalo have gone, but Baah, Lampi and Heikkinen will shore up the rear. Mikael Forssell and Demba Savage are likely to remain the key threats up front, and they have signed Danish goalkeeper Michael Tørnes. Something has to go horribly wrong to prevent another championship.




 Honka

Another winter of financial troubles with talk of big debts, but this time they lost their manager too. Finland legend Shefki Kuqi has taken his first manager job, but will be taking over a much different side to the one that challenged for the title. Väyrynen,Yaghoubi, Palazuelos, Meite and Baah have left - it's hard to see any real challenge. They have some decent young players, and may survive by virtue of teams in bigger struggle... If they are granted a licence to compete in 2014.



VPS

A surprising (but well deserved) third place finish brings Europa League football, and perhaps an outside bet for a higher finish this season. They have retained key players Sillanpää, Strandvall and Morrissey, and signed Timi Lahti from HJK. They reached the Liigacup final, with captain Strandvall the key man, and if Morrissey can score like he did in 2012, they'll have a good league season.




IFK Mariehamn

Possibly the side with the most exciting attacking options, if they stay fit... Petteri Forsell is back, Luis Solignac and Josef Ibrahim ended 2013 scoring hatloads, and they were the second top scorers in the division (with the second worst defence). Red card magnet Darren Purse has left, Duarte Tammilehto has joined, and at the time of writing, they're second favourites for the title.




FC Lahti

After a poor start to 2013, Lahti recovered with a great run including seven wins in nine games under Juha Malinen. They're now under the guidance of former MYPA coach Toni Korkeakunnas, and with a mostly unchanged squad, they'll do fine. Elder statesman Rafael (35) scored sixteen goals last year, and could well carry the burden again.




MYPA

Sexy football is back! Former Finland manager Antti Muurinen has taken the reins, and will be trying to bring a Brazilian flavour to the league after signing a partnership deal with Fluminense (borrowing three young players). Several squad members have signed new deals, but Muurinen will need to work hard to inspire more than a top-six finish.





KuPS

Surprisingly ended 2013 in seventh after a mediocre season, with rare highlights including a win at HJK and reaching the Suomen Cup final. The retirement of top scorer Ilja Venäläinen will hit hard, while various attempts to recruit replacements have fallen through. There's a decent crop of youth players, but the club will be hoping not to have to rely on them too heavily. Also heavily in debt, but it's unlikely to affect league status.




TPS

A major budget shortfall after poor performance in Europe and over-extending the wage bill has led to mass player departures and uncertainty. Wayne Brown has remained, but several youngsters and untested imports will fill out the squad. A good win over AC Oulu in the Suomen Cup will need to be built on in order to avoid a year of struggle on the pitch as well as off it.




Inter Turku

Another turbulent year, with poor performances, a lack of goals and little creativity. But the return of Mika Ojala and Joni Aho will make Inter resemble their 2012 silver medallist position. Irakli Sirbiladze can be dangerous on his day, but last year seemed disinterested while the signing of Tamas Gruborovics didn't create as much as was expected. Unlikely to trouble either end of the table.




FF Jaro

2013 started well, with Hendrik Helmke on top form and Shahdon Winchester settling in well, but it tailed off dangerously in the autumn. Now Alexei Eremenko's side have those two players back, but they have lost others (Banner, Skrabb, Jonke). Goalkeeper Jesse Öst can be superb on the right day, but will be very busy. Will struggle.




RoPS

The Cup winners are now managed by the well-travelled (and well-respected) Juha Malinen and are looking to build on a solid defence. They will need to improve the forwards, after only scoring 25 goals in 33 games last year. Their home form was decent, but hopefully Europe won't prove too much of a distraction, where home games are likely to be played in Oulu.


SJK

Their first season in the top division in their current guise, SJK have recruited well ahead of the campaign, signing several experienced players with top flight experience. Winnig the Liigacup final is a grand start, but they'll face far greater challenges. They have a large British influence on the staff, and are coached by former Derby midfielder Simo Valakari.




So that's the line-up for 2014 - don't forget to check back every week for updates. Day job depending, I still plan to do weekly round-ups with highlights. Follow us on Twitter for the latest updates and scores as well. For those of you who like a bet, good luck!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 33 - over for another year

Six months on, everything is sorted. While last week confirmed the final major issue of who would get a medal, there were still farewells, trophies and places to deliver. Several managers move onto new clubs, HJK received the championship trophy, and several clubs still had places to play for.

Ahead of the loooooooooong winter break, there'll be posts looking at the best bits of 2013, statistical trends, and plenty of other things related to Finnish football - some will be appearing on other websites (follow Twitter/Facebook for more info). Meanwhile, here is the summary of the final round of fixtures.

HJK 4-2 KuPS

A fifth consecutive title had been confirmed a couple of weeks ago - but they finally got their hands on the trophy after a pretty open game against KuPS. The teams had previously faced each other in Helsinki in June, and KuPS came away with a 1-2 win. This time, Mikael Forssell's hat trick (6, 54, 89 mins) was decisive, although goals from Hakola and Paananen had given KuPS the lead. Mannström had scored the other (39').

Ville Wallen with the trophy - don't drop it!

HJK were unbeaten in their final twenty league matches after an indifferent start, including ten wins in the last eleven. It's lazy to assume the European exit was a kickstarter, as Honka were providing a solid challenge at the time. The key match was HJK's 4-2 win over Honka in August, from which Honka never recovered. KuPS meanwhile say goodbye to a mixed 2013 - inconsistent league form, a third cup final defeat in a row, and more financial loss. But with decent young players in the wings, some of the pieces are already there.

Highlights of HJK 4-2 KuPS

HJK finish the season top with 73 points (average 2.21 points per game). KuPS came seventh, with 41 points (1.24pts).

MYPA 3-0 JJK

JJK say farewell to the Veikkausliiga with a comprehensive defeat at MYPA - who ensured a top flight finish and an extra home game for 2014. Goals from Sihvola (62'), Sesay (66') and Anttilainen (76') sentenced JJK's young side to a fifteenth game without a win, and a fitting send-off into the second tier.

Highlights of MYPA 3-0 JJK

MYPA end in sixth place with 47 points (average 1.42pts). JJK were last with 22 points (0.67pts).

Inter 1-2 Honka

Tim Väyrynen's late winner ensured a winning finale to a good season for Honka, with a golden boot as the top scorer in the division. His seventeen goal of the season (86mins) delivered a thrilling comeback, after Guy Gnabouyou had given Inter the lead on 55mins, only to be equalised by Väisänen on 81mins. It was probably Tim's final game for Honka, whose silver medal was their highest finish since 2009.

Highlights of Inter 1-2 Honka

Inter end the season with 40 points (average 1.21 per game). Honka came second with 61 points (1.85pts).

IFK Mariehamn 4-1 VPS

VPS's bronze medal party was brought down to Earth, but they won't be too fussed in the grand scheme. Goals from Trafford, Wiklöf and Hradecký gave Mariehamn a 3-0 lead, before Tomi Ameobi's ninth of the season made it 3-1. Byskata's injury time penalty made it 4-1 - good for Åland, which sees a historic season for the club end on a high note. VPS head into Europe next summer, but will remember the day for the bronze, not the result.

Highlights of IFK Mariehamn 4-1 VPS

IFK Mariehamn end the season in fourth place with 49 points (1.48pts per game). VPS were third, with 51 points (1.55pts).

Lahti 3-2 TPS

A fantastic second half of the season for Lahti ended with a win over TPS, who will be glad the season is over... Lahti's goals were scored by Hertsi, Rafael and Nganbe Nganbe. The TPS goalscorers were Riski and Lehtonen. A tremendous push from Lahti under RoPS-bound Juha Malinen, who took over a team destined for a relegation struggle. TPS meanwhile failed to live up to pre-season medal hopes, although injuries did take their toll - and budget cuts mean that 2014 could be just as challenging.

Highlights of Lahti 3-2 TPS

Lahti end the season in fifth place with 48 points (average 1.45pts). TPS ended in eighth, with 41 points (1.24pts).

Jaro 2-0 RoPS

The meeting of the teams in 11th and 10th was resolved early in favour of Jaro - Banner (6') and an Emet penalty (19') provided their first win in 13 games, after eight straight defeats. If you'd offered RoPS 11th and the Suomen Cup in March, I guess that would have been a good result... They only won one of their final ten games, and rumours of several player changes for their new coach could make things interesting - although I'm a big fan of Malinen. Watch this space.

(pending)
Highlights of Jaro 2-0 RoPS

Jaro's win took them to tenth, ending with 37 points (1.12pt average). RoPS finish in eleventh place with 34 points (average 1.03pts).