Finnish football haikus 2013

Tue, Apr 23, 2013

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I promised to send a copy of Jalkapallokirja 2013, the Finnish FA’s stats book, to whoever wrote the best football haiku. The entries are all of a high standard, but which is your favourite?

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TPS and Tahdon 2013: Political football?

Sun, Apr 14, 2013

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The old cliché that football and politics should not mix has taken a bit of a beating in the UK this weekend. It’s quite exceptional that a former Prime Minister is granted a ceremonial funeral without a commemoration from football, but no English club has risked inviting derision with a mark of respect for Margaret Thatcher. She was not popular in many of the football’s heartlands, and had a questionable relationship with the game to start with.

In Finland yesterday there were no such qualms about bringing a political campaign into Veikkausliiga’s opening match, when TPS fans unveiled a tifo in support of gender-neutral marriage. While nowhere near as contentious as Thatcher’s legacy in the UK, it was a brave move from fans often derided as simple hooligans in a sport perceived to be rife with homophobia. Fins aren’t generally keen on politics mixing with sport for sound historical reasons, but this was a different kind of politics to that practiced by some football clubs in the past.

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The Miracle of Gijon

Sun, Apr 7, 2013

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Finland is waking up after the long, cold and miserable winter, and that means three things: melting snow, lifting winter gloom and the start of the football season. There may be more attention than usual this year thanks to the ‘miracle of Gijon’, in which the national team snatched a 1-1 draw with Spain last month, shocking nobody so much as themselves and their fans.

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Honka’s payment problems set poor players free

Thu, Feb 14, 2013

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Finnish football players often earn small, irregularly paid salaries. They live in such such poverty that they cannot afford to buy houses, that they need to take second jobs, that they sometimes have to apply to state-run insurance to get their salaries paid. The idea of ‘player power’ and ‘contract rebels’ is a bit of a hollow joke to players whose clubs often pay their meagre wages late.

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Customer service

Sun, Jan 13, 2013

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Ask any Finnish football fan how to improve the game here, and the chances are they will at some point mention young players. You may well be told that they need to be given more playing time at earlier ages, to have better and more professional coaches and that they could, if the conditions are right, form a new wave of young talent.

It is an understandable viewpoint. People put their hopes and dreams into younger players, they act as an indicator of the possible brighter tomorrow no matter how grim the current situation is at senior level. But what if the system is more broken than that? What if the legions of Finnish players languishing in foreign clubs’ reserve sides indicate a fundamental problem in the youth football system?

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Cultural differences

Wed, Sep 5, 2012

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Finland’s football community is frequently engaged in an agitated discussion about about whether its culture is sufficiently impressive to nurture any kind of football worthy of respect. The presence or absence of something called ‘football culture’ might, to the casual observer, seem like a function of the league system (if there are football matches, bingo!) but to Finns, with their 8 month-winters in which to contemplate their shortcomings, it’s never so simple.

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Finnish fixture revamp raises standards, favours HJK

Tue, Aug 14, 2012

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The Finnish FA reorganised the league structure last season, taking the opportunity presented by Tampere United and AC Oulu’s licensing difficulties to reduce the top league by two clubs and introduce a 33-game system. Twelve clubs now play each other club three times, squeezing an additional seven games into the short Finnish season.

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Five Veikkausliiga players to keep an eye on in 2012

Sun, May 20, 2012

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Nordic Football News names five leading players for the Veikkausliiga 2012 season. The players represent both established names in the Finnish scene as well as talents who should reap their potential this season and go on to even greater things.

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Veikkausliiga season 2012: HJK will claim title, but a surprise is brewing in the relegation battle

Thu, May 17, 2012

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Veikkausliiga already kicked off a few weeks ago so this season guide is way overdue. But let’s not allow that insignificant detail put us off since, despite the first rounds offering some surprises, there are still almost 30 matches to be played, which means that the league’s power balance will even itself out in the end. So, better late than even later, here we go for another season of Veikkausliiga football.

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Paatelainen’s Finland revolution – phase one completed, tactical consistency achieved (part 1 of 2)

Tue, Feb 21, 2012

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After half a decade spent going through the motions and hoping for a miracle with quick fix coaching appointments, the Finnish Football Association finally took the inevitable leap of faith in 2011 and set forth on a long-term project with the national team. The first step was taken in March with the appointment of Mixu Paatelainen as head coach in place of the largely unpopular and unsuccessful Stuart Baxter. This was a bold move, but bravery is always needed when striving to cast off reactionary tendencies and pave the way for the future.

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HJK in 2011: the double, transfers and near-success in Europe

Wed, Nov 23, 2011

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2011 was a season to remember for HJK. Not only did ‘Klubi’ won their third consecutive title and the Finnish Cup (overall their 24th league championship and 11th cup victory), but they did this in a swashbuckling fashion. The Helsinki team finished the season with a 24-point lead to second-place Inter and scored a whopping 86 goals in 33 matches while conceding only 23.

As testament to their superiority, HJK, time and again, ripped the other title contenders apart. The season highlights included a 4-2 home victory over Inter (a result that flatters the visitors greatly), 2-0 win away to Honka and 6-2 and 6-0 demolitions at home to TPS and JJK respectively. HJK also exorcised any Honka demons they may have still harboured by collecting 7 points from three games (two away) against the Espoo team (as they did against Inter). The only flaws in the season’s makeup were the two defeats inflicted by TPS (both away).

HJK had the title in the bag already in late summer, but, despite a non-existent title race, HJK fans experienced a season’s worth of drama in Europe. (more…)

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How will lively transfer window affect HJK?

Thu, Sep 15, 2011

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It has been a highly eventful start to the autumn for HJK. First, maintaining their devastating form in the league, the Helsinki club all but secured the Veikkausliiga title already in August. Then, ‘Klubi’ gave Schalke a proper run for their money in the Europa League play-offs, beating the Germans 2-0 at home until imploding in the second half of the away leg as the hosts ran rampage with a 6-1 victory. After being knocked out of Europe, and with only a few days to go in the transfer window, they sold three of their key players for a truckload of cash.

Euro-sensation Teemu Pukki (or “Euro-Pukki” as Bild dubbed him) transferred to Schalke on a Veikkausliiga transfer fee record of approximately 1,5 million euros while Dawda Bah and Rafinha found new homes from Augsburg and Gent respectively (Juhani Ojala had already transferred to Young Boys in mid-August). From the sale of the quartet, HJK got an estimated total of 3 million in transfer fees. This may not seem like much in the context of the mad modern football economics but the sum actually exceeds HJK’s annual budget (about 2, 2 million).

HJK show foresight in transfer policy

HJK’s dominance has been staggering this season in the Finnish league. With nine rounds left to play, the reigning champions have a 16 point lead to second-place FC Inter. Therefore, despite a quality dip in the squad caused by the sale of four leading players, it is safe to assume that HJK’s title claim will not be at stake during the rest of the season. A more relevant issue, however, is how the transfers will affect their overall playing and tactical strategy. (more…)

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HJK-Schalke 2-0: hosts earn hard-fought victory

Thu, Aug 25, 2011

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It was a night to remember at the Sonera Stadium last Thursday as HJK recorded a historical victory with a battling performance over the German giants Schalke in the Europa League play-off first leg. Teemu Pukki scored two fantastic goals to cap a magnificent team performance by the home side which put the Finns on the threshold of the group stages of the competition.

Despite their illustrious domestic history, the Helsinki club haven’t enjoyed too many European nights like this. After HJK made it to the Champions League in 1998, they have only beaten Celtic (2-0 at home in 2000) from the bigger European clubs. The Champions League adventure not only started a whole new period in the club’s history but also acted as the springboard (with players such as Mikael Forssell, Shefki Kuqi, Aki Riihilahti, Hannu Tihinen and Jarkko Wiss) for the emergence of the ‘golden generation’ in the Finnish national team. Today HJK have a similar, unique chance to start a new era in Finnish football if they manage to negotiate the away leg in Gelsenkirchen.   (more…)

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It’s just like watching bowls

Mon, Aug 22, 2011

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It is a tedious cliché that Finnish football is small-time and insignificant, but it is unfortunately also kinda true. Precarious finances and a disinterested public make the professional game here seem lower profile than, say, crown green bowls in the UK, or cricket in the United States.

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HJK-Schalke 04 pre-view: defensive worries for hosts

Wed, Aug 17, 2011

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HJK entertain Schalke tomorrow in the play-off round of the Europa League. Despite the undeniable fact that HJK are marching towards the Veikkausliiga title, the home tie against the German giants is an event that eclipses their whole season (unless they make it into the Europa League group phase of course).

The match created a huge buzz as the demand for match tickets caused a meltdown in the online ticket shop. The match is sold-out but it is an unfortunate affair that probably only half of the crowd come to the Sonera Stadium tomorrow to watch the home side, and that even fewer are audacious enough to dare to dream of HJK getting something more out of the game than another ‘respectable defeat’.

On the face of it, it does seem that HJK are without a prayer against Schalke who have the likes of Raul (who doesn’t play tomorrow), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Lewis Holtby and Christoph Metzelder on their books. But then again, who cares, HJK have Aki Riihilahti. As much as Schalke can be described as a near-world-class team that knocked Champions League holders Inter from the competition last season, they can be characterised as a bunch of over-paid has-beens and never-wasses (although they do have some interesting young players this year as well).

Schalke’s inconsistent start to the season has been nothing out of the ordinary. The perennial underachievers were demolished 3-0 at the hands of Stuttgart on the opening day of the season, but then bounced back with a 5-1 trashing of Köln last weekend, with Huntelaar bagging a hat-trick. The fact that the Dutch striker seems to have struck form doesn’t bode well for the injury-ridden HJK defence.

HJK beat FC Honka 2-1 at home with a make-shift squad on Friday with a performance that was far from spectacular. Injuries have started to plague the team at the worst possible time (while Valtteri Moren was just recently ruled out for the rest of the season, Rami Hakanpää has already been out for most of the season and one can rightfully question the decision to sell star centre-back Juhani Ojala before the European qualifiers are over) and because of this the hosts have no other choice but to start new signing and Finland U21 centre-back Timi Lahti alongside Mathias Lindström in the heart of the defence. Lahti arrived from FC Haka last week and is yet to make his debut in a HJK shirt. The home fans can only hope that the 21-year-old will showcase a can-do temperament and approaches the occasion as an once-in-a-lifetime chance to make his mark; the other choice would be to bottle it even before the match has started. Whatever the case, it is an unfortunate situation, but one that needs to be negotiated. (more…)

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HJK-Dinamo 1-2: visitors win match in midfield

Wed, Aug 3, 2011

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There was a real sense of expectation in the air at the Sonera Stadium last Wednesday as HJK took on Dinamo Zagreb in the first leg of the Champions League third round. Few HJK fans may have pinned their hopes on actual UCL qualification, but many regarded the home team having at least a solid chance of beating the Croatian champions in the two-legged tie.

HJK started the match brightly, testing the visitors’ defence with a couple of rapid counter-attacks. Then on the 14th minute, the feeling of anticipation turned into euphoria in the stands and on the pitch as Alexander Ring slipped clear from the Dinamo defence, picked up Dawda Bah’s excellent through pass, and coolly lifted the ball over the hesitant keeper Ivan Kelava.

The bliss didn’t last for long, though. Five minutes later, the visitors countered through the right, Fatos Bećiraj drilled in a cross inside the penalty area that, for the puzzlement of all, Rafinha clipped into his own net. Obviously the situation came suddenly and the Brazilian was running flat-out towards the goal, but, nevertheless, the decision to try to clear the ball was blatantly the wrong one since the nearest opponent was a good few meters behind him. Rafinha, who was one of HJK’s stand out performers, failed to adhere to one of the most fundamental defensive lessons: always know where the nearest opponent is. (more…)

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