Showing posts with label liverpool. Show all posts
Showing posts with label liverpool. 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...

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Keith Armstrong's Day Off

I've been following Finnish football for a while now, it's provided me with an awful lot. Friends, excitement and some very odd stories which have to be seen to be believed. But one of the strangest events I can recall from Finland (or anywhere else for that matter) occurred on Sunday 4th October...

Ilves in Tampere are one of my favourite clubs in the country. The atmosphere at their ground is fantastic and I've enjoyed myself each time I've visited. They were promoted last season into Veikkausliiga after the demise of MYPA, they had a small budget and have performed well throughout. Their new manager was the Englishman Keith Armstrong, who has been involved in numerous clubs throughout the country and coaching HJK to three titles at the turn of the century.

Sunday saw them visit the league leaders SJK in Seinäjoki, Ilves still not mathematically safe from a relegation play-off. A big game affecting both ends of the table, so of course the players would need a Braveheart-style rousing speech before the match to inspire. So how did the coach motivate his team?

He appeared on television as a pundit for the English Premier League matches being played at the same time.

Admittedly these are huge games, Everton v Liverpool and Arsenal v Manchester United... The broadcaster clearly wanted an English perspective, but did it have to be Keke? Anyway, as Ilves said in a statement on Monday, his absence was a big surprise to the CEO and that his TV appearance had not been authorised.

Armstrong on TV, during his side's defeat at SJK

As a supervisor in my day job, I'd be severely concerned if one of my employees failed to turn up for work. What had happened to them? Were they ok? Could I do anything to help? Nah, they bunked off to dick about. Book thrown at him.

Ilves announced on Wednesday afternoon that Armstrong's contract would be terminated. The players had lost confidence in their coach, such behaviour was unacceptable. What next for Ilves? They go into the final three matches of the season without the man who led them to (probable) safety.

Meanwhile, K€k€ will go onto something else. His video diary with IS:TV earlier in the season was reminiscent of Brendan Rodgers on Being: Liverpool.

Being: Ilves

A sorry, amateur affair all round.

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, April 03, 2013

Liverpool v OPS (October 1980) - the programme

We continue the vintage programme reviews with our first club match, and it's a big one from 1980. Finnish champions Oulun Palloseura (OPS) visited European giants Liverpool at Anfield in the second leg of their first round tie. The first match in Finland ended 1-1, a late equaliser from Seppo Puotiniemi earning OPS a draw. We'll tell you how the second leg ended later on.

As programmes go, this is a world away from the internationals with England and Scotland in the mid-70s. The 'Anfield Review' sold for 30p, but is much nearer to the matchday magazines of today. There are 28 pages, but no colour other than the excessive pink and red throughout. The second leg took place two weeks after the first, so there are plenty of features and photographs.

The inside cover immediately throws at you Liverpool's array of trophies, at the time they had 12 league titles, 2 European Cups, 2 UEFA Cups and 2 FA Cups (they won their first of eight league cups that season). There are also small pieces by Chairman John W. Smith and manager Bob Paisley. The coach mentions the difficulty in playing 'supposedly weak opposition', but gave OPS a back-handed compliment in how they battled on a small and rutted pitch.

There is a feature about the Liverpool fans who travelled to Finland - all six of them (three from Birkenhead, one each from Netherton, Bootle and Ashton). By all accounts, it was quite the voyage in the days before low cost airlines. The 132 hour round trip started after Liverpool's previous home game with West Brom, ended in Oulu, and went directly to Southampton for Liverpool's next game at the Dell. The cost? £114 each.

It's on the page 6-7 spread that we meet OPS - an informal squad photo. Retro kit afficionados will appreciate the Hummel kits and Adidas football boots.

The writer of the section below reminds us of how OPS won their previous league title, narrowly edging out KuPS, and there is a laugh at how a 'mere 800' people turned up for a match between the league and cup winners, yet 14,000 attended the first leg against Liverpool.

After a reminder of Liverpool's record in European fixtures, pages 10-11 bombard us. Features on the two British players based in Oulu (Scotsman Hugh Smith and Englishman Keith Armstrong - who went on to be a key figure in Finnish football), young marker Leo Houtsonen and a strong defence compete for attention.

The Brits had previously played together in Hong Kong, and the piece is quite sure they were more likely to return to the Far East than play in England... Not a lot of information is known about Smith (feel free to let me know if you can help!), but Armstrong continues to be involved in Finland. While he never did return to England, he played for a variety of Finnish clubs until 1992, while he has won the Veikkausliiga as a coach with Haka and HJK. He is currently sporting director at Ykkönen club SJK.

OPS's banking on their strong defence refers to their strong defensive record, conceding 25 goals in 29 matches in the previous season. A quick profile of their players follows, and refers to Olympic team striker Juhani Himanka. Leo Houtsonen had apparently spent a week trialing with Norwich City. We're also reminded that "All the OPS players, of course, are part-timers".

The next pages are a 'player parade', with pen pics of each squad memeber. A fine collection of traditional looking Finns, but unlike a number of 1980 photos, there were no outrageous haircuts of facial hair.

A photo gallery of the first leg takes four pages, and we see a photo of future manager Kenny Dalglish in the cockpit, along with the pre-match band.

Pages 16-17 have two photos of the Liverpool goal, scored by Terry McDermott, hidden away in the masses.

There's a European quiz on pages 20-21, sample questions include 'how many British clubs have been in the final of the European Cup, and can you name them?', and 'where is this season's European Cup final to be staged?'. The answers were: Five (Celtic, Manchester United, Leeds, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest), and Paris.

Liverpool man Jim Kennefick, whose general brief according to Alan Hansen was 'handled the club's travel plans', has a page to himself and his viewpoint. Luckily it's not too controversial, he is grateful to OPS chairman Matti Heikkinen for their city tour, and such sights as 'a large power station'.

Jim also talks about how Liverpool took a large selection of LFC merchandise with them to Oulu, and sold all of it. The column gives a patronising pat on the head to the Oulu players, "what a great bonus it must be for their team to visit Anfield". Hmm.

The final page has the teams for the match, with a selection of household names for the home side, along with the details of the Icelandic officials. The scoreboard has the other fixtures around Europe that evening, with some big clubs involved - Real Madrid v Limerick, Ajax v Dinamo Tirana and Bayern Munich v Olympiakos.

And so to the match itself - and a landslide it was. Liverpool won 10-1 (11-2 on aggregate), and there were hat-tricks for Graeme Souness and McDermott, a brace for David Fairclough, and goals for Ray Kennedy and Sammy Lee. OPS did pull it back to 4-1 with a goal from Armstrong, but it was all in vain.

Liverpool went on to win their third European Cup that season, defeating Real Madrid 1-0 in the Paris final through a goal from Alan Kennedy.

The highlights of Liverpool 10-1 OPS are as below.

We hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane, the next in the series will be the international between Wales and Finland from 2003.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Competition - win a Jari Litmanen t-shirt by 8BitFootball

As part of a collaboration with the genius of, he has created an image of Finland and Ajax legend Jari Litmanen celebrating his goal against another European goal for Ajax.

For a chance to win a t-shirt featuring this image, we're running a competition.

To enter, just answer the following question:

Q: Who did Ajax defeat in the semi-final of the Champions League in 1995?

To enter, send an email to with your name, address, t-shirt size and preferred colour.
Entries must be received by 2359 on Monday 4th March 2013.
Winners will be chosen at random.

If you'd like to buy this top, or any other great merchandise featuring 8bitfootball designs, click here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kuningas Litmanen Part III - Barcelona, Liverpool and back to Ajax

Because of the timeline of the documentary, I've decided to separate the remainder of the film into club and country. This part will cover leaving Ajax, and the rest of his club career.

Back at Helsinki

After leaving Ajax, we see Jari being unveiled at HJK in Helsinki in 2011 - and news footage about his statue in Lahti being vandalised. The head had been damaged, while the base had been burned and cracked. Litmanen said it was getting harder, and that Lahti had been another chapter in the road.

The first of several clips of Jari in hospital follow, with a doctor discussing the results of an MRI scan on his left knee...

We return to his later Ajax days, the failure in the 1996 Champions League final (despite Jari scoring in the match, and converting in the shootout), and his only red card for Ajax, at Volendam in 1997.

Sent off (around 2:30)

The red card was so out of character that Danny Blind went round to Jari's house after the game to ask if anything was wrong at home... Jari said he'd run into space, and straight into a fist. The defender had been harassing him, and decided to knee him in the stomach. Team manager David Endt talked of how often Jari was kicked, that this was the only time he reacted - was the solitary red card a sign of his sportsmanship?

Jari talks of his final days at Ajax being littered with injury. He may stay fit for a month, then be out for a month. Ronald de Boer called him the glass man, and recalls a time when Jari played a rare ninety minutes, then hurt his back getting into his Corvette. Louis van Gaal was of the opinion that Jari wasn't mentally strong during injury. Jari himself mentioned how constantly playing 2 games a week was crazy, and needed pain relief to focus more on games.
Jari receives treatment

Physio Jari-Pekka Keurulainen reckons Jari's right ankle should have been operated on in the 1990s, but it wasn't done until 2006. Jari's first operation was in 1984, yet he still carried on playing football with a cast on his right leg. Tommi Kautonen was told that it was fine, and laughs at Jari's insistance on playing on with it.

Ronald de Boer and Edwin van der Sar joked about how often Jari spent in the physio room, so much that he had his own bed - even the Ajax physio Pim van Dord joined in, saying there was one bed he wouldn't allow anyone else to use.

So Jari's final home game (also the final match of Danny Blind and van der Sar) was at home to RKC Waalwijk on May 16th 1999. A 2-0 victory, sealed with Litmanen tapping the ball into an empty net. At the final whistle, the three departing players were in tears, and Jari gave the crowd an emotional speech, thanking the fans for their wonderful support. David Endt had to withdraw himself to the dressing room in tears.

 Saying farewell

Jari described the changing of Ajax, that most of his former colleagues had left, and was left with a decision - sign a new deal and never leave, or see something else.

And so we see Jari in the Nou Camp, Barcelona...

Surveying his former stomping ground

At the Barcelona training ground, Jari is reunited with former team-mates (and current Barcelona starts) Carles Puyol and Xavi. Jari said he'd seen the Spanish league, and Barcelona as one of the biggest clubs in the world (remember Jari had trained with the club in 1992, see part 1). The coach Louis van Gaal wanted him, and he knew several of the players from Holland, as van Gaal had brought with him several Dutch players (Reiziger, both de Boer brothers, Cocu, Kluivert, Bogarde, Zenden).

Inside the Nou Camp, Litmanen uses his hometown of Lahti as a point of reference - Lahti's population was around 100,000, only slightly larger than the capacity of the stadium. He walks along the turf, commenting on the perfect pitch.

Carles Puyol said they knew of him previously, such a skilled player at Ajax. He even said he blew fire into the team. Xavi talks of being an 18-19 year old beginner, finding life under van Gaal difficult. Jari became a friend, always helping and becoming encouraging. Van Gaal suggested to Xavi to watch Jari play and practise, to learn his control and making space.

Carles Puyol                                          Xavi

Puyol recalls Jari staying after training to practise his shooting, Xavi remembered how he'd line up 7-8 balls and shoot them all into the net. Then the talk of saunas... Xavi remembered Jari having a sauna every day, walking in naked but for his football boots, advising how they mould to the foot better... Even Jari's cobbler back in Lahti remembers getting a bag of boots from Barcelona. Jari had a particular requirement for stud placement at the rear of the boot for more support, and he trusted Tuomo Rokka.

Back to Jari on the pitch, he admits not scoring many goals, but a special one from a Kluivert pass. He said there were 3 to 4 internationals in each position, and when fit he'd need to compete with them, but the first season was difficult with injuries.

A candid van Gaal admits that Jari found it hard, the system was set for him with two number 10s, but the pace of Spain compared to Holland didn't help. Van Gaal was replaced by Llorenç Serra Ferrer, and Jari was told he'd need a new club. Then teammate Marc Overmars said it was due to the club having no structure on or off the pitch. In January 2001 Jari moved to the club he supported as a boy...

"We always touch the sign"

Litmanen was signed by Gerard Houllier in the season Liverpool won three trophies (FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Cup). Jari admitted that as boy he had supported Liverpool, and that this was the third time they had tried to sign him. We also hear Jari speak English for the first time, at the first press conference, talking of his favourite players being Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish as they'd played in his position.

He chose to wear the number 37 shirt (3+7 = 10), as Smicer had the famous 7 shirt, and Michael Owen had the number 10 jersey. His new boss enthused about Jari's different qualities, and how they'd compliment his current strikers (Owen, Robbie Fowler, Emile Heskey).

Current Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was in the squad when Jari arrived, and like Xavi was full of praise for Litmanen's way with younger players, being supportive. But it was his skill in training that amazed Gerrard, his movement and skill a class apart.

The heavy Scouse accent required subtitles

We see some footage of Jari scoring his first Liverpool goal, a penalty at Sunderland, while Edwin van der Sar recalls how he misjudged a bounce while playing for Fulham at Craven Cottage, and Litmanen beat him and rolled the ball into an open goal, although he was hoping that the producers of the DVD wouldn't find footage of the goal. 

Jari spoke about the difficulties he found at Liverpool with the management. Houllier became ill, and was replaced for a number of months by assistant Phil Thompson. Jari was playing well at the time, and used the English saying "Never change a winning team". But Thompson did, and tolf Jari he wouldn't be playing much again. Even when Houillier returned, Jari found appearances hard to come by.

Highlights of Liverpool v Roma, 2001/02 

There's footage of a match between England and Finland at Anfield in 2001, where Jari broke his arm after a challenge with Rio Ferdinand (we'll cover this match in part 4), but it was here where his inury problems started at Liverpool.

Gerrard wishes Jari had stayed longer, to offer more to the club, and he was frustrated that Jari would sit unused on the bench, as he could create things from nothing. Sami Hyypiä was also surprised his compatriot didn't feature, as Jari was the best player in training and 5-a-side matches. Finland goalkeeper Antti Niemi recalls reading FourFourTwo magazine, where the president of a Liverpool supporter club said he wished Jari would leave the club, if only so that other people would get to enjoy watching him play.

So Jari came to the end of his Liverpool days in 2002 - so he decided to return to Ajax. But it wasn't straight-forward - he said he was offered a laughable contract, but thought it wasn't about the money. But the negotiations hurt his pride, and he eventually decided to go anyway.

In his second spell at Ajax

But quite simply, the move didn't go very well. Ajax weren't the club they were in the mid 90s, and some of the younger players didn't take Jari seriously, despite him being the first for training, and the last to leave. David Endt randomly names two players in particular "let's call them Wesley and Rafael" as laughing at him behind his back. Conveniently it was as Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart were celebrating a goal which Litmanen assisted.

The only then-player to give good feedback on camera was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then a raw 18 year old who had signed from Malmo. Zlatan (in English) said "He played behind me, he helped a lot and helped me improve. He was a quality player, easy to play with him and the combination was fantastic."

Zlatan played with Jari for Ajax

Endt described Zlatan as hungry to win and improve himself, he was big and wanted to show the world how good he was, but he had a small heart. Jari explains that the end of his second spell was very one-sided, he had no input and in 2004 he was released.

Antti Niemi remembers an international for Finland in Amsterdam, where their coach was halted by 500 Ajax fans trying to say farewell to their hero. They had flares, signs and it was a fantastic, emotional moment.

The rest of his club career is somewhat glossed over. He signed for FC Lahti in 2004, and quickly moved to German side Hansa Rostock in January 2005, who had fifteen games to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga. Despite his arrival, Rostock were relegated, but teammate Marcus Allbäck remembers Jari's enthusiasm, "he played with the football like a small child plays with a favourite toy".

Rostock against Bayern Munich

It was at Rostock that Jari received one of the strangest injuries - in the dressing room after a game, he asked someone to open a bottle of drink for him. An unnamed teammate attempted it with a snuff box, and the cap of the bottle went straight into Jari's eye. Even now he has problems seeing in bright sunlight.

The rest of his club career gets glossed over. A spell at Malmo gets a brief mention, but no mention of his spell with Fulham (0 matches), and nothing additional about his return to Lahti or HJK.

So that's the end of the club part of the DVD. We'll return soon with the final part of the summary, about his international career.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Guardian Football Weekly - Sami Hyypiä's wife

Frequent listeners to the Guardian's Football Weekly podcast may well tune in as much for the conversation about random everyday stuff as much as the latest football news.

This week's pod eventually landed on the conversation about the relative height of players, where contributor Gregg Bakowski talked about a meeting with former Liverpool captain Sami Hyypiä in a Merseyside sauna. After a brief chat, Gregg carried on about a 'pale, heavy-set woman' who had an argument with Sami in Finnish, and wondered if that's what Finnish women are like.

Needless to say, the other pod guests guffawed at the sweeping generalisation. It also caused quite the conversation at ETS HQ, where Mrs ETS (from Kuopio) then quizzed me for several minutes about whether that's what I thought. The general sort of chat where women usually win.

Anyway, to clear things up, I don't think Mrs Hyypiä (aka model Susanna Rissanen) could ever be described as heavy-set, and here is the photographic evidence.

In the interests of balance, here is Mr Bakowski, in his sauna outfit..

Football Weekly is recorded on Mondays and Thursdays. This week's episode can be found here.

Friday, July 06, 2012

In profile - Joel Pohjanpalo

On 15th April 2012, HJK Helsinki opened the defence of their Veikkausliiga championship at home to IFK Mariehamn. A new season, a chance to stake their claim for the new season. HJK started slowly, and with 70 minutes gone, the visitors were leading 0-1. Up stepped 17-year-old striker Joel Pohjanpalo, making only his second start for the club... 162 seconds, and a perfect hat-trick (head, left foot, right foot) later, Pohjanpalo was on the map.

Joel's hat-trick

Joel is a product of the HJK youth system, and played for the reserve team (Klubi-04), scoring 33 goals in just 26 games at the third level of Finnish football (Kakkonen Eteläinen, Southern section) in 2011, before making his full first team Veikkausliiga debut against RoPS.

That seems to have attracted the attention of some of the bigger clubs in Europe. Joel had trials with AS Monaco and Liverpool, where he reportedly turned down the offer of a contract in order to stay in Finland.

On international duty

His scoring record in 2012 has been excellent, scoring three goals in the Liigacup (including one in the final), and scored the winner in the top of the table clash with Inter Turku back in May. He's also made his Finnish under-21 debut this summer, and scored in a 1-2 home defeat to Ukraine.

What next for Joel? He's clearly shown that he's prioritising minutes on the pitch than a big money move, which for a seventeen year old is vital. HJK open their Champions League campaign this month, another big experience, even if they don't reach the play-off stage.

Liverpool probably isn't the best choice anyway, certainly not for the moment. A new manager is settling in (again), and it's likely he'd get no further than reserve team football and maybe a loan spell. Perhaps in a few years. Even Monaco would have been a better option, certainly less pressure.

Whatever happens, whether Joel goes on to become a world class star, or goes on to do nothing in the game. He'll always be the player who hit a perfect hat-trick in two minutes. I know you want to see it. Here it is...