Apollo FC: The Pink Dogs’ Noble Goals

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Season 1 Episode 16 Mikael & Jarl Matti proclaim Finland’s
‘Pink Revolution’
There is something in the air in South Ostrobothnia. In this episode, I speak to two members of a new football club in Seinäjoki, which has the noble aim of raising money for charity, while also providing a destination for retired footballers.

Guests: Mikael Muurimäki and Jarl Matti Antilla, Apollo FC players

Listen to the show  on your preferred podcast player  – iTunes or Stitcher radio or Feedburner

Download an MP3 file of this episode

Read the Show Notes

Apollo FC and Finland’s ‘Pink Revolution’

Season 1 Episode 16 Mikael & Jarl Matti proclaim Finland’s
‘Pink Revolution’

Listen to this podcast episode here

Guests: Mikael Muurimäki and Jarl Matti Antilla, Apollo FC players

There is something in the air in Seinäjoki. What started as a small idea among a group of friends is blooming into something altogether more touching, caring and beautiful – not words that you usually associate with the game of Association Football. That ‘something’ is named Apollo FC. It is the rebirth of a team that existed in Seinäjoki back in the 1980’s. Now with a purpose, a cause that has caught the imagination of everyone that hears about it.

It began when a group of former players from Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho (SJK), decided that they wanted to continue playing organised football with players of a similar standard. They cast around for team-mates, found that they had over 20 possible names, and so registered to play in the lower divisions of the football pyramid in Finland, securing a place in the 6th division.

This squad includes former fan favourites Mikael Muurimäki, SJK’s record goal scorer from it’s days in Kakkonen (Finland’s 3rd tier) and Luis Fernando, SJK’s oldest player who played in the 2014 Veikkausliiga aged 35. In fact, the age of the players in the squad ranges from 25 – 55 years.

Apollo FC club badge, resurrected from the 1980's and now in pink

Apollo FC club badge, resurrected from the 1980’s and now in pink

I spent some time discussing Apollo FC players Mikael Muurimäki and Jarl Matti Antilla.  Jarl Matti is also managing the team’s media work around his busy day job. The fact that a new team, playing in the Finnish 6th division needs a media manager says a lot. The first hint that they may have hit on something special was when they attracted 1000 Facebook ‘likes’ within the first week. No mean achievement.

Jarl Matti explained that Apollo FC ‘manifesto’ has now has two aims;

  1. to be a place for players of a certain standard (including some former professionals)  to continue competing alongside old friends.
  2. to use the interest in the team to raise money for charity.

Once they realised that there was interest in the team from around Finland, they decided to divert that coverage and exposure elsewhere. Somewhere it could do good. The charity they will support in 2015 is Roosanauha (http://oma.syopasaatio.fi/roosa-nauha/5-2013) the breast cancer charity that is identified by a Pink Ribbon. The team will play in bright pink shirts and have the nickname Pinkitkoirat, the Pink Dogs. In 2015, Apollo will also use the slogan ‘For All Womankind’.

www.roosanauha.fi – The Pink Ribbon, 2015-style

http://www.roosanauha.fi – The Pink Ribbon, 2015-style

This is what has really grabbed the attention of people in the Etelä-Pohjanmaa region. Encouraged businesses to sponsor the team. Made people buy merchandise for a team that has hardly played a game.  Look forward to seeing them play in the Regions Cup – like the non-league, FA Trophy in the UK! It is because ‘there is no good reason not to support the cause’. Everyone has a Mum, a Wife, a Daughter, everyone can relate to this cause.

SJK has worked hard over the past few years to build a real football culture in the town and Matti feels some of this is now reflecting on Apollo. This, and the fact that the Apollo squad also includes people in regular jobs, who have some ability but never played in the pro-game. That the squad includes a local bank manager, for example, helps build a connection with potential fans.

At the start of the season, Apollo FC decided it would aim to raise 5,000€ for the Roosanauha charity. That is pretty ambitious for year one, but after just two practice games, it seems they might have to adjust their sights. By the middle of April, only two months since launching the club, Apollo has raised 3,700€ and it shows no sign of stopping. Jarl Matti and Mikael were, unsurprisingly, proud and humble at what had been achieved so quickly, but they still have a ‘hundred’ fundraising ideas. The only limit is the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day.

SJK has been supportive of Apollo, but it doesn’t stop there. It has already been announced that there will be an event in summer 2015 involving Apollo, SJK and HJK Helsinki. That’s HJK who will be playing in Champions League qualifiers and SJK, who will be playing in Europa League qualifiers, taking the time to support the efforts of this new team from Seinäjoki.

That said, it is not just Apollo that is trying to redefine what a football club should be. Aki Riihilahti, the current CEO of HJK Helsinki, is one of the founder members and honourary ‘captains’ of Peace United. The former Crystal Palace and Finland player founded the club following a visit to the Za’atr refugee camp in Jordan, where he was inspired by the work of Finn Church Aid.

You can read more about Peace United here http://www.peaceunited.fi/en/, and the work of Finn Church Aid here http://www.kirkonulkomaanapu.fi/en/

Although Apollo FC and Peace United have different aims, they have a similar ethos, one of giving, one of doing things for others. A revolution? Well maybe not strictly speaking, but clearly there is something in the air, something rather refreshing in the era of £5 billion TV deals. You never know, there might even be a few good games of football as well.

If you want to learn more about Apollo FC or, better still, want to support the fund-raising efforts, you can contact them at any of the following places;

  • Facebook https://www.facebook.com/apollofi
  • Twitter https://twitter.com/pinkitkoirat   @pinkitkoirat
  • Instagram https://instagram.com/apolloseinajoki
  • Website http://www.apollofutis.fi/

You can find all of my previous content on SJK here https://explorefinlandpodcast.com/tag/sjk/

International Students in Finland, 2of2

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Season 1 Episode 15 International Students Studying in Finland
Junyi, Betti & Miia Explain All, Part 2
This is a continuation of a conversation, where we talk about experiences of moving to Finland, business culture in South Ostrobothnia, what Betti and Winnie do in their free-time and, of course, the weather.

Guests:

  • Jinyu (Winnie) Ding & Betti Csiba – International Students.
  • Miia Koski – Student counsellor, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences.

Listen to the show  on your preferred podcast player  – iTunes or Stitcher radio or Feedburner

Download an MP3 file of this episode

Read the Show Notes

SJK Update: April 2015

Article number two in the series of articles about Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho (Seinäjoki FC, SJK). You can find all the articles in this series here

Cup campaigns

Several eyewitness accounts suggest that SJK were unfortunate to exit the Suomen Cup (Finnish FA Cup)  to Kuopio Palloseura (KuPS) within weeks of being knocked out of the Liigacup. Popular consensus is that SJK dominated the game but, in failing to score more than one goal, they left themselves vulnerable, and KuPS took advantage with a penalty and a ‘worldie’ into the top corner, sending SJK out in the 6th round – SJK’s first game in this year’s competition.

This is a similar story to the Liigacup game against Rovaniemi Palloseura (RoPS), which RoPS won on penalties following a 2-2 draw. This is a habit that SJK will, clearly, be trying to get out of by the time the Veikkausliiga starts.

The video below shows highlights of the KuPS match, followed by an interview in English with Wayne Brown at 9mins 20.

Veikkausliiga season 2015

SJK’s new season kicks off  on Sunday 12th April with an away game in Turku against FC Inter, with a good crowd expected as Inter have marketed the game with lots of free tickets. 2014 was a challenging season for FC Inter, as they languished in the bottom half of the table before finishing 4th from bottom. That said, they fared better than some others. Of the 12 teams in the Veikkausliiga last year, three of them dropped out at the end of the season;

  • TPS (Turku Palloseura) finished 12th and dropped down into the 2nd tier, Ykkönen.
  • FC Honka, managed by Shefti Kuqi in 2014, finished 11th, amid legal disputes and financial problems. At the end of the season they decided to drop down two divisions, to where their reserve team plays, presumably to start over.’
  • Going one step better (worse?) was MyPa, they finished 8th but this wasn’t enough to stop them going bankrupt. There are two other teams from their area in Kakkonen, so they’ve decided not to continue. A sad demise for a the Veikkausliiga champions of 2005!

The three replacement teams in 2015 will be HIFK (Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna, Helsingfors) from Helsinki, who have a large, rowdy fan base which necessitates them playing home games at HJK’s Sonera Stadium – which will be busy this year with SJK also using this venue for Europa League games. HIFK won the Ykkönen division on the final game of last year and will be a useful addition to the Veikkausliiga. The two other sides are KTP from Kotka (runners-up to HIFK last season were) and Ilves from Tampere (Tampereen Ilves) who are managed in 2015 by Geordie, Keith Armstrong.

SJK, by contrast has bigger targets for 2015. The club has stated it’s aim of winning the Veikkausliiga and ending HJK’s (Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi) 6 year stranglehold on the trophy. In fact, the club inserted a clause in manager Simo Valakari’s contract that the team will play to win every competition it enters, something that fans of many mid-table teams would surely endorse! This is, clearly, a high ambition but after last year’s impressive 2nd place finish, this shows the board’s desire to continue pushing the club onwards and upwards.

SJK captain, Pavle Milosavljevic, modelling the new 2015 kit

SJK captain, Pavle Milosavljevic, modelling the new 2015 kit

The club will also make it’s debut in the Europa League at the beginning of July. While this always seems too early for British clubs, it fits right into the middle of the Finnish season, when they players should be at their peak. Unfortunately, SJK’s stadium is not able to host UEFA matches, so there will be a 4+ hours commute to Helsinki to play the match(es?) at HJK’s Sonera Stadium.

The excellent Escape To Suomi blog has a good overview of each Veikkausliiga team in it’s 2015 Season Preview

Which leads us nicely to…

A New Stadium in Seinäjoki

“Seinäjoki Council has unanimously approved the contract for the  construction of the football stadium with SJK.”

And so it was announced, by the Mayor of Seinäjoki, Jorma Rasinmäki, on 23rd April that SJK and the town of Seinäjoki had reached an agreement over the plans for a new football stadium. It is in a, slightly different location to the original plan, which would have been on the hillside near the Wallsport Areena, a tricky and more costly plan due to the need for explosives to make space for the stadium and building planning zones.

The new plan will see the stadium positioned closer to Wallsport and the Ice Hockey rinks, also closer to existing infrastructure. The area outside the main stand will be slightly lower than the level of the pitch, which should give the effect of the stand looming high above you when approaching the stadium. The stadium will be an all-enclosed design, with a capacity of 6-6,500 to fit in with UEFA requirements, at least for the qualifying rounds, and possibly the Europa group games (depending on the draw). The Champions League group games are have different requirements, and we shouldn’t try to run before we can crawl 🙂 It should, however,  prove to be a great venue for all those future European matches (especially if the teams does succeed in winning the Veikkausliiga this season!)

Freddy Adu

When I heard that Freddy Adu, the former child prodigy of football from the USA, had been released from his team in Bosnia, I thought ‘why not the Veikkausliiga?’ SJK manager Simo Valakari, having steadily built his squad through the winter, clearly had other ideas and passed up the opportunity. Adu was signed, however, by the aforementioned KuPS, not in time to make his debut against SJK, but he did have an immediate impact on the club’s online following, adding over 300,000 Twitter followers to KuPS.

Whether things work out for him remains to be seen but, surely, most football fans wish him well, and will look forward to seeing him in actions in 2015. You can see an interview with Freddy, in English, on the YLE Areena website here

Escape To Suomi also has some more detailed musings on Freddy Adu

Coaching in English and English Training

Something that Fredy Adu mentioned in his interview was something I’d also noticed on some recent SJK videos, which is that the training sessions are held in English. Apparently, this is another sign that English is becoming the language of international communication. So many overseas players coming to Finland already speak English, that it’s the easier for everyone to speak in this second (or third) language they have in common. No, it’s not because Finnish is too difficult for the average footballer to learn – I’ve heard SJK’s first-team coach Chris Cleaver give interviews in excellent Finnish – it just allows the team to focus on football rather than trying to overcome language barriers.

SJK feels this is an important life skill for young, Finnish players coming through the ranks at SJK. That learning English will prepare them for a future career overseas and it’s the duty of the club to help them develop as people, not just as players. That said, it does sound strange to hear that SJK has arranged for at least one overseas player to have English lessons, rather than Finnish, since they arrived in Seinäjoki, so as to better understand the training, tactics and match day instructions!

You Want More?

Here are a couple more links if you still want to learn more about Finnish football

  • The new, online magazine Ostrobothnia in English delves a little deeper down in the Finnish league, introducing teams for the Ostrobothnia region
  • You can see more videos on the SJK TV YouTube channel.

 

Many thanks to Lari Paski, Supporters Liaison Officer at SJK for his help on this article, and his contribution to my podcast episode on the history of SJK. Many thanks also to Antti Huhtamäki and SJK for the use of the photos.

◊◊◊ Mark ◊◊◊

The 2015 General Elections in Finland

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Season1 Episode 14 On The Election Trail with
‘Henna Rantasaari #135’
In this episode, I speak to Henna about the upcoming elections here in Finland. She explains how the political system works, how the Parliamentary seats are allocated and how the Government is formed.

Guest: Henna Rantasaari, Green Party Candidate

Listen to the show  on your preferred podcast player  – iTunes or Stitcher radio or Feedburner

Download an MP3 file of this episode here

Read the Show Notes

Easter in Finland: The Season of the (white) Witch

Easter traditions in Finland

Easter in Finalnd involves as much chocolate as my Easters growing up in the UK, but here they work a lot harder for it! My experiences below are based on my observations living in Western Finland, these differ from Eastern Finland.

Growing Grass

Approximately one week before Easter, the children plant grass seeds in dishes and excitedly watch them grow throughout the week. This is symbolic of the reawakening of the lad after Winter and, sometimes, is the first time grass has been spotted during the year!

Easter grass

Easter grass

Decorating Pajunkissa

This work starts in the week leading up to Easter, when the children go out to collect Pussy Willow twigs (Pajunkissa) which are just starting to sprout small, fluffy buds. These are then painstaking decorated with coloured pipe-cleaners, feathers, ribbons and small chicks. These will become vital ‘currency’ at the end of the week.

Decorated pajunkissa

Decorated pajunkissa

Practising the Virvonta Rhyme

During the week, the children will also practice the all-important Virvonta rhyme, which will be oft-repeated on Easter Saturday;

“Virvon varvon, tuoreeks terveeks tulevaks vuodeks. Vitsa sulle, palkka mulle!”

Which translates as;

“I wave a twig for a fresh and healthy year ahead: A twig for you, a treat for me!”

(Thanks to Fran Weaver on This Is Finland for the translation.)

 

Dressing-up as Witches

Traditionally, the Finnish Easter-witches, or Trulli, look more like wise, old women or maybe white witches, brightly dressed in head scarves and apron with freckles painted on their faces. That said,  the influence of Halloween has been evident in recent years with an increase in the number of witches dressed in black – in fact, this year we were also visited by a skeleton!

Virvonta

Easter Saturday finally arrives and all of the preceding preparations come together for the tradition of Virvonta. The children gather together their decorated pajunkissa, they dress-up as witches and take a basket or bag for collecting treats; usually chocolate eggs, small chocolate bars, sweets etc.

They then hit the street, similar to Halloween traditions, they go knocking on doors, reciting their rhyme while waving a twig (in our case, driving Boris the Dog crazy at the same time!). The homeowner will then offer a treat and take the twig form the children. Meaning that the kids accumulate sweets, while the homeowners accumulate decorated twigs!

Boris the Dog, keeping a lookout for witches!

Boris the Dog, keeping a lookout for witches!

Bonfires

In the evening, many people will gather around large, communal bonfires. These are designed to ward of evil spirits… or maybe to burn excess wood left over from winter.

Hyvää pääsiäistä! / Happy Easter!

◊◊◊ Mark ◊◊◊