Finland’s capital city enjoys long summer days, making it the best time to visit. There’s also football to be seen when many other European leagues are in their close season. We went along to HJK Helsinki.
Helsinki is one of those “liveable” cities. Here, you can breathe in the fresh sea air as you ride along your dedicated cycle paths with the heavenly whiff of roasted coffee tantalising your nostrils. Finns drink more coffee per head of population than anyone else on earth. They also boast more heavy metal bands per capita too but I’m sure the two are not related…
You will be struck by the cleanliness of the city and equally impressed by citizens’ obedience of pedestrian crossing signs.
Onto football and Finland’s Veikkausliiga: I was in Helsinki for a wedding, and the Finnish side of the party had warned me not to expect too much quality when I caught a game. After all, Finns aren’t that great at football – 61st in the FIFA rankings at the time of writing – majoring instead on winter sports and outdoor pursuits.
But some Finns have broken into the big time in recent years: Jari Litmanen, Mikael Forssell, Antti Niemi and Jusi Jaaskelainen, for example.[Continues…]
Visiting HJK Helsinki
I walked around 25 minutes east of the city centre to the 10,770-capacity Sonera Stadium, home of two Helsinki clubs, HJK and HIFK. It’s a pleasant walk, with parkland to one side and trams squeaking past on the other.
The Sonera Stadium lies in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium with its distinctive tall white tower. This was built for the 1940 Olympic Games, which were postponed due to the outbreak of World War II. Helsinki eventually hosted the Games in 1952. The stadium is home to the national football team and its tower measures 72.71 metres – the length of Matti Järvinen’s 1932 Olympic gold medal-winning javelin throw. [Continues…]
The Sonera Stadium is a cosy little ground. I paid just less than €20 to sit in the sunny Itäkatsomo stand, along with the vast majority of what must have been a sub-5,000 crowd. Given it was a 6.30pm kick-off the sun was quite low and surprisingly warm on our faces, but with shadow across half the pitch you can see why they opted for an artificial surface. Given my local team is Maidstone United, who also use a plastic pitch; this is something I’m used to.
Despite the small crowd, fair play to the gaggle of 200 or so home fans behind the goal who sang familiar-sounding songs throughout, waved flags and generally tried to create an atmosphere. The words ‘Ragazzi’ and ‘Forza’ instantly gave Italian ultras away as the main inspiration for the HJK hardcore. The rest of the crowd only seemed to get involved at corners and free kicks.
HJK play in blue and white stripes and blue shorts. With a massive red sponsor’s logo on their shirt they reminded me a little of Deportivo La Coruña. The team comes out to ‘Blue is the Colour’, which – as a nominal Queens Park Rangers fan – kind of stuck in my throat. To the uninitiated, that’s Chelsea’s song.
The visitors were the charmingly named PK-35 Vantaa, which is an amalgamation of the club’s original name (Pallokerho), the year of that club’s foundation (1935), and it’s current location – Vantaa. Vantaa is the town where Helsinki Airport is, so they’re kind of like what Crawley Town is to Gatwick.
HJK were clearly the better team from the off. Even after HJK lost its centre half after just 26 minutes – the team were caught on the break and he committed a professional foul as the last man – the hosts still bossed the match. HJK were ahead on the half-hour mark via Gambian striker Ousman Jallow and two up on 56 minutes through a Jallow penalty.
The match was scrappy and PK-35 Vantaa lacked ambition, surprising given the lengthy one-man advantage, but maybe not so much when you consider this is their first venture into the top flight and they were bottom of the league at the time.
The Veikkausliiga runs from April to October and features 12 teams. Finland is an expensive country to visit, which is reflected in the price of the ticket, but Helsinki has some great sights. I recommend food in the Kauppatori Market Square washed down with beer from nearby brewpub Bryggeri.