In the second part of our look at some of the photos from 2009 in Finland, we focus on the fans. Click photos to enlarge.
One of the themes of Tampere football has been the struggle by supporters to get decent facilities in which to play and watch the game. The Veikkausliiga season was slated to start on 18 April, but the Ratina pitch had not yet been uncovered, or warmed via the heating system underneath it, and so the game was postponed until the grass could be left uncovered overnight.
This decision was not popular among Tampere’s football lobby. The fans organised the banner to make their displeasure known, using former Finnish president Urho Kekkonen’s memorable phrase ‘saatanan tunarit’, which roughly translates as ‘fucking fuckups’, to describe Tampere City Council’s maintenance department.
PoPa fans were in exuberant form this year, after promotion from Kakkonen in 2008. Their crowds have been very high for a club outside the top flight, averaging 1,087 in 2009, and their contingent of 30 or so supporters, who call themselves Siniveriset or ‘the blue blooded ones’, enjoyed the intimate atmosphere at Tampere’s Tammela Stadium.
Pori football entered the doldrums after the bankruptcy of FC Jazz in 2005, but PoPa have now taken on the mantle of number one club in Pori thanks to their flamboyant player/owner, the much travelled Antti Sumiala. If promotion follows their crowds should ensure a decent Veikkausliiga budget, but if they remain in Ykkönen it could prove difficult to keep the enthusiasm displayed in this photo. Their fans tend to be teenagers, as a lot of Pori people leave the town in their early twenties in search of educational opportunities, so maintaining their support will be crucial in the next few years.
The 1-1 draw at Inter ensured that HJK would start their final day game at home to Jaro with their fate in their own hands. While Inter were holding HJK in Turku, their city rivals TPS could only draw 2-2 away at Mypa, and so HJK ended up needing only a draw against Jaro – which they got. That HJK won the title with two 1-1 draws in their last two games says a lot about the cautious outlook of their coach, Antti Muurinen, who has been heavily criticised by the fans.
The HJK supporters are a disparate bunch, with more factions than Monty Pythin’s struggle for Judean freedom. There is Forza HJK, the official supporters group who tend to wear team shirts and colours, HJK Supporters since 2007, who have their own banners, Sakilaiset, who fancy themselves as quite the casual outfit, S140, representing those non-Sakilaiset fans who like to stand and sing, and often even a flag from a supporters club in Pori.
Sadly, these groups and factions usually only add up to less than a hundred away fans, but at least they now occupy the same section at away matches. This picture captures the disparate nature of the HJK support, united in joy at a crucial moment in their season. Photo by Tero Wester.
Tampere United played their cup games at Tammela this season, and announced a decision to move back to the ground as soon as the facilities can be brought up to scratch. Effectively this means improved VIP areas, as sponsors provide 80% of the budget for most Finnish teams, and Ratina Athletics Stadium offers clean and spacious facilities for corporate schmoozing while Tammela has a shed where they usually keep the lawnmowers. Unfortunately, there is no way for fans to get this close to the action at Ratina, and with no Tammela renovations planned before the start of next season, TamU will once again play their home league matches in a 17,000 capacity bowl, known to football fans as ‘concrete hell’. Photo by Petteri Lehtonen.
Here is TamU’s fan group, Sinikaarti, in the aforementioned concrete hell of Ratina Stadium. Even though Rafinha has sprinted forty yards to get as close as he can to the fans (compared to less than four at Tammela), they are still not within touching distance. The fans gloried in their slogan that ‘Inter never win’, one that seemed to be confirmed by Rafinha’s last minute winner in an enthralling 3-2 victory, but the Turku side was to have the last laugh by winning the Cup final. Rafinha signed for HJK shortly afterwards. Photo by Petteri Lehtonen.
TPS had the highest average attendance in 2009, thanks mainly to massive investment in discounted and free tickets, heavy advertising in the local media, and a comprehensive talent-spotting and community programme, Southwest United. All junior clubs that join the scheme are given assistance, player appearances, ticket offers and coaching help from TPS, and that has ensured they have a lot of young fans.
The financial investment Southwest United requires is underwritten by the Sydän Pelissä group, who own TPS’s professional football operations. More than half of their €3m budget goes on administration and marketing, and the huge losses are covered in the hope that fans like the one in the picture will grow up to be loyal, generous supporters of the club. Photo by Petteri Lehtonen.
Inter fans regard themselves as the bohemian side in Turku, compared to the bourgeois, establishment-friendly TPS. In reality both clubs are run by and for rich benefactors, but the building mythology helps fuel Finnish football’s most keenly contested local rivalry. Photo by Tero Wester.
This banner required a good deal of co-ordination and organisation, and the stewards also helped out. Practice runs had taken place earlier in the day on the Kupittaa pitch, making sure that Finnish football’s biggest ever banner was displayed correctly at the Turku derby on 8 August.
The banner display went like clockwork and looked very impressive indeed, but the limits of Finnish football culture were clearly evident when no singing took place, and the only audible noise was an irritating Veikkausliiga ad for a chain of garages.
Many Finnish grounds rely on goodwill to ensure people pay for their tickets, and PJK’s home is a great example. The fence in the background is the perimeter, that has to keep out the hordes trying to gain entry, and this man seems bewildered at being caught inside of it. Photo by Neulainen Jerkunen from ff2.
Another problem for Finnish football clubs is that many of them play in stadia designed for other sports. In Lahti, the elite football venue hosts cross country skiing, ski-jumping, athletics and swimming, as well as football, and the result is a predictably strange and unsatisfying experience when crowds struggle to hit 3,000. There is no denying how spectacular the ground can look though, as this picture – taken before Tampere United’s game in Lahti on 27 June - amply demonstrates. Lahti won the game 2-1 with a late winner from Eero Korte.
Finland’s singing fans moved from their previous home in the South eastern corner to the North end of the Olympic Stadium for the Germany game last September, and have grown exponentially since then. The national team’s games have become more interesting as a result of the move, but for some reason the enthusiasm has not yet really trickled down to the domestic game.
Finnish football grounds often lack roofs, toilets, turnstiles, decent football and nice weather, but I have never known one to lack sausages. Mikkelin Urheilupuisto’s hot dog stand is put to good use here by a group of MP fans, although the hardcore prefer to stand in the teeming rain.
The Mikkeli side, best known for being Jussi Jääskeläinen’s former club, gained promotion to Ykkönen this year after relegation in 2006. It is difficult to get promotion from Kakkonen, with only the winner of each regional group going up, and these fans must have thought there was a long season ahead of them at this game against promotion rivals Warkaus JK on 21 May, which they lost 3-0.
MP’s player-coach Juuso Kangaskorpi whipped them into shape, however, and they overtook Warkaus and Gnistan in the last weeks of the season to win their group. Mikkeli football has traditionally been divided along political lines, with MP the ‘white’ club and MiKi the ‘red’, and it will be interesting to see if that distinction fades away a little in the next few years, as the Finnish civil war nears its 100th anniversary.
Helsingfors IFK have a large an active fan group, despite playing in the third tier of Finnish football. The club started again in the lowest division in 2003 after financial difficulties forced them to abandon their Ykkönen place, but they have retained their fanbase. Many HIFK fans prefer football and bandy to ice hockey, and the Stadin Kingit group usually make games they attend a colourful spectacle. They are traditionally a Swedish speaking club, and their banners and chants are bilingual.
HIFK and KTP have had a feisty rivalry in recent years. IFK fans have set off smoke bombs and flares, invaded the pitch, and met with a robust response from the Kotka supporters. This year there was almost a Finnish version of a ‘bubble trip’, with only IFK fans on buses from Helsinki allowed into the away end, and the game passed off relatively peacefully.