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.
The reasoning goes something like this: Finland is a cold country. People ski, or play ice hockey, or fish through the ice, or carry their wives, or throw mobile phones, or do something solitary and serious that involves spending lots of time in the forests. They are not football people, and they never will be.
The proof is found in every small failure on the part of administrators, fans, players or coaches, which can be attributed to the lack of a genetic or cultural disposition towards the most popular sport in the world.
The latest outburst of angsty soul-searching was caused by slow ticket sales for the Respect match this Saturday, in which a phalanx of former Finland internationals will take on a World XI to give fans a chance to say goodbye to retired super-legend-hero-kings, Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä.
This match is scheduled for the day after Finland’s men’s national team takes on France in the opening game of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
That game kicks off at 9.30pm, presumably to suit French television, and was expected to draw a low crowd as a result. It’s a late night for kids and there’s limited public transport out of Helsinki after full-time, so people could be forgiven for skipping this one.
Only they haven’t. As of today more than 30,000 tickets had been sold and the game was heading for a very healthy crowd indeed. So why the brow-beating about the testimonial game and its significance to Finland’s ‘football culture’?
Tickets were not cheap, at 30-80euro (although SPL wisely decided to halve the prices because of slow sales), and it was always going to be difficult to persuade people to turn out two nights in a row. Why not just celebrate the optimism around the current team without trying to hit fans up for more cash to see yesterday’s men?