Showing posts with label scotland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scotland. Show all posts

Monday, April 08, 2013

Does the Veikkausliiga need changing?

Quite the debate has been raging over the winter, on Twitter and in the media. Does the Finnish league need to evolve to compete? The matter has reached the mainstream on Sunday, where Veikkausliiga CEO Timo Marjamaa's comments about providing more meaningful domestic games was discussed on YLE.

Marjamaa's theory is that if the league is to improve (in comparison to other European leagues), then the Veikkausliiga matches need to be at a higher level, that the games are more meaningful, and that the players are developed as a result.

But to what end does the league need to change? In 2011, the league moved from a straight 14-team, 28-game league, to a 12-team, 33-match division. The current structure is inconsistent, and while it's financially advantageous (more games to earn money), it's unusual and can be accused of being advantageous to certain teams.

KuPS fans watch from above the snow (photo via Vartaloharhautus)

The climate is the major obstacle to an extension of the season - April to October is fine when the weather is fine, but it's still snowing in April, to the point where KuPS are looking for volunteers to help clear snow in the stands prior to the season opener against MYPA. Not every club can afford to install artificial turf, and even when they do, there's no guarantee that it's perfect. The synthetic turf at MYPA's home didn't cope well with being heated, to the point the turf raised 50cm off the ground in places.

The Kymenlaakson Sähkö Stadion turf resembling a golf course in March

So what are the alternatives? Playing within six summer months is restrictive, but here are some of the other alternative league structures used in Europe. Bear in mind most of these formats are used in the winter...

Poland (current UEFA ranking 21st)

The Polish Ekstraklasa has recently announced a change for the 2013-14 season. Sixteen clubs will play each other twice, then split into two sections of eight. Each team will play seven matches, and start with half of their already accrued points. Each team will finish the season playing 37 matches, and the likely scenario that 9th will have more points than 8th.

Belgium (10th)

The Jupiler Pro League also has 16 sides, and after the thirty matches, it gets confusing. The top six enter play-off 1, play each other twice, the top team wins the league. Teams 7-14 enter play-off 2 (split into two groups of four), and the winners of each group play each other over two legs for a chance to play the team which finished 4th or 5th in play-off one, with the winner getting a Europa League place. A bit too complicated I think.

Scotland (24th)

Twelve teams play in the Scottish Premier League, and the teams play their rivals three times. After 33 matches, the league splits into two. The SPL seeds teams in a way that they are likely to play teams twice at home and twice away. Again, the team in 7th is likely end with more points than 6th. There are currently steps to restructure the whole league set-up, but the clubs cannot come to an agreement at this time.


Obviously the Veikkausliiga will start this coming weekend as planned. But it seems the discussions on how to improve the structure will roll on. Finland are currently ranked 33rd by UEFA - not far from 32nd (Azerbaijan), but a long way behind Georgia in 31st.

I don't think expanding the top division would work, certainly to more than 14 teams. The gulf between top and bottom appears to be large enough already. A play-off at the end of the season would certainly bring some drama, but would make a mockery of the 'marathon not a sprint' ethos. A team consistently better over the season could lose the title to a team who hit a freak patch of good form.

It's hard to judge a league other than performances in Europe. Last season's Finnish competitiors all got through at least one round, but mostly against teams from weaker leagues. As Scotland show, even one team outperforming the others only goes so far (Celtic reached the last 16 this year).

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Scotland v Finland, September 1976 - the programme

The next piece in our series looking at old programmes featuring Finnish clubs looks at the international friendly between Scotland and Finland at Hampden Park in September 1976, purchased from eBay for a bargain 99p.

As discussed in the programme for the England game, qualification for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina was underway, for Finland at least. As part of the now very small qualifying period, Scotland were in a group seven with only two other teams (then-European champions Czechoslovakia and Wales) and were yet to start. Finland meanwhile had lost their only game, at home to England.

So the programme for this friendly international...

Very 70s

The programme was available for 10p - about half the price of a loaf of bread. But poorer value for money than the England edition - this was only eight pages long, including two full page adverts in the rear.

The cover itself is a quirky design, seemingly merging some Bay City Rollers-esque font with a stylised Nordic cross design, covering images of Scotland's recent match against Northern Ireland in the British Home Championship.

The inside cover

Page 2 goes straight into the Finland squad (with profiles) - after a short paragraph including a quote from manager Aulis Rytkonen talking about the "mature and experienced Scots". Pen pics of Goran Enckelman (whose son Peter would sign for St Johnstone and Hearts), Erkki Vihtila, Olavi Rissanen and Pertti Jantunen.

The profiles are fairly in depth, with age, position, club, caps, height and weight. It had some interesting facts, such as Enckelman being a gymnastics teacher at Turku Classical College, and that four of the squad were firemen.

 Surprisingly thorough

Page 3 stunner is Ian Archer of the Glasgow Herald, with some facts and figures about Finnish football, as well as the impact of World Cup revenue on the Scottish FA (Scotland earned around £200,000 from the 1974 World Cup). Some stereotypes are bandied around - Finland is a gritty place, severe climate and of Spartan character.  Basic numbers include that there were 800 clubs, and that Finnish baseball is a popular pasttime.

We're even treated to a quiz about the previous World Cup - answers to follow!

Finland in sky blue

Page 4 gives a splash of colour - the Finland squad pose in their light blue kits, and if you look closely... You can see a blue top randomly discarded on a bush in the background, while a very 70s yellow football (with black panelling) sits to the side of the group.

Underneath are some figures, with Finland's results under Rytkonen, and previous results between the two sides (Scotland had won all three). The previous fixture in 1965 was in Helsinki, and Scotland won 2-1 - there's a list of the Scotland players from that day, including famous names like Denis Law and Billy McNeill.

Next is the squad list, with the match details.


The Finland squad has already been covered, but there are also several recognisable names in the home team. Archie Gemmell (before that goal in 1978), future Arsenal manager Bruce Rioch, a young Andy Gray, and their star player Kenny Dalglish, still of Celtic.

According to the page, Scotland had pre-informed that they will use no more than two substitutions, while Finland could use three "if they so desire". Certainly none of the full team changes in some friendlies these days.

Supporters were also advised to exercise the utmost care when leaving the ground. There's no qualifying statement, perhaps an indictment of conditions of 1976 Hampden Park. The notice below states that the entertainment (other than the game of course) would be provided by the military band of the King's Own Scottish Borderers...

The lone pro (Arto Tolsa)

The final page of interest (the other two pages are ads, and nothing exciting) is by Ken Robertson of the Scottish Sunday Express. It opens with interest in Finland's belief that they can qualify for the 1978 World Cup, from their group with England, Italy and Luxembourg.

In Finland's previous encounters with Italy in qualification for 1976, they drew 0-0 in Rome and lost 1-0 in Helsinki. The piece continues talking about Finland's only full-time professional in those ties, defender Arto Tolsa of Belgian club Beerschot. Apparently known as Finland's Franz Beckenbauer (praise indeed), he was missing from the squad to face Scotland due to knee injury. There's humour in remembering Kai Pahlman, who was a musician as a day job, and Juhani Peltonen, who played for (West) German club Hamburg.

The answers to the quiz above are here too!

The match itself ended 6-0 to the hosts. Unfortunately I couldn't find video highlights. Goals from Rioch, Don Masson (penalty), Dalglish, Andy Gray (x2) and Eddie Gray led to a convincing victory. Scotland did get to Argentina in 1978, losing to Peru, drawing with Iran, and beating eventual runners-up Holland.

1976 Scotland (celebrating their Home Nations Championship)