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 ◊◊◊

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