Helsinki JK 2 Inter Turku 1

Helsinki 01

Helsinki JK 2 Inter Turku 1 (27/07/2003)

FC Jokerit 2 Hämeenlinna 2 (28/07/2003)

Helsinki isn’t really known as a hotbed of football. Most crowds, even in the top division, wouldn’t look out of place in the Blue Square Premier. What would look out of place is the Finnair Stadium, newly (then) constructed next door to the Olympic Stadium.

The Olympic Stadium itself is very much an old style bowl of ground. Completely open at both ends, and much of one side, with black seats giving it a distinctive look. From the top of the 72m high Olympic Tower you get a fine view of this stadium, looking much larger than its 40,000 capacity, as well as the Finnair Stadium behind.

In some football cultures, fans like to arrive early to put on a display before the game. Finland doesn’t seem to be one of those. Arriving just over an hour before kick-off, for a match involving Finland’s most well-known club, I was a mite surprised to see the ground wasn’t even open yet.

It opened at 3 pm for a 4 pm kick-off, and I went into the main stand seeking refreshment on this surprisingly hot Finnish afternoon. A heat-wave had hit the region, and even Lapland was basking in 86 F heat. Most English grounds have beer available these days, but it’s usually served in a concourse that looks like an underground bus station. The Finnair Stadium was somewhat different. Not only did the bar look like somewhere where you might go for an evening out, it actually had a proper restaurant as well. It was a theme restaurant, although quite what the theme was was difficult to discern, with a seemingly random display of object affixed to the walls and ceiling.

Having a restaurant in the stand is all very well and good, but it does present the problem of missing the action while eating your meal. Luckily the Finnair Stadium people had thought of that too, with the back of the main stand’s lower tier being filled with tables as a beer terrace cum dining area. Sitting overlooking the pitch with a beer and full-size pizza is distinctly different to awaiting the teams at the Madejski with a weak coffee and some chips from the van outside. It gave a taste of the high life from the executive boxes, but for only fifteen euros rather than fifteen hundred.

The only negative thing about the fare in the main stand was that it perhaps made it too popular. With HJK’s crowds only around the 3000 mark typically, having half of them in one stand makes the others look a little bare. That’s a shame, because it is quite a nice little ground. Holding 10000, with perhaps half in the double tier main stand, a single tier of chocolate-brown seats eases round the other three sides. These sides were fully covered, but perhaps looking like it’d be a bit draughty if the wind blew. The main stand roof extends like aeroplane wings, way over the edge of either side of the stand, providing cover for those queuing to enter below.  Those who are queuing will observe the notice of forbidden items above them. Knives, guns and baseball bats aren’t really things people should need to be told are banned. Alcohol, be it in cans, bottles, or even by the wine glass, are also prohibited, and make sense. A third picture showed they also sought to ban those spherical black bombs only usually seen in Hanna Barbera cartoons, just in case Dick Dastardly or Wile E Coyote were seeking to sneak in with an evil plan to disrupt the game.

The game itself has slipped from the memory to a large degree. I can remember one goal thanks to capturing it on (rather blurry) film, and I know the HJK fans did their best to get an atmosphere going, but struggled through a lack of numbers. I must have enjoyed it though, as I went back the following evening to watch another match in the same stadium. The tourist information people insisted the second game would be played at the very basic training venue next door, but thankfully they were wrong. With Helsinki upstarts Jokerit only averaging 2000 at their games, the crowd was even thinner. Never mind. I saw four goals. The beer and pizza were again good too.

I journeyed home via Tampere thanks to a ridiculously cheap deal with Ryanair, via “Stockholm”. It was something like £20 including tax to fly from Finland to England, but it did necessitate a night in the not exactly vibrant town of Tampere. Being far enough north to not get properly dark in July was about the highlight of my night there.

It should have been better. I saw that FC Haka, from down the road in Valkeakoski, were due to play at home that night. A half hour or so bus trip from Tampere found me in the middle of the small town of Valkeakoski, and I walked the short distance to the stadium. As a stadium, I quite liked it. It reminded me a bit of Bury’s Gigg Lane, except that it only had three sides, and was smaller. Single tier stands on two sides, and a raised single tier on the other, just gave the place a real homely feel, and I knew it’d be a really fun place with a crowd in.

Sadly I had also long realised, mainly due to being the only person walking towards the ground, that there was no game on this evening. I’ve no idea what happened, but a home game was very definitely scheduled when I started my trip two weeks earlier, but standing there on my own at the flat end, there very definitely wasn’t one scheduled now.

I did have a look round Tampere’s ground, but it was just a dull oval round an athletics track. Extension of the seating round the oval sides has since made it into Finland’s biggest club ground, but you have to wonder how often those extra seats have been used.

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