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.


  • 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!


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!


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 ◊◊◊

International Students in Finland, 1of2

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Season1 Episode 13 International Students Studying in Finland, Junyi, Betti & Miia Explain All, Part 1
In this episode, I meet Junyi Ding & Betti Csiba, who tell me about life as an international student at Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences (SeAMK). Many thanks to Miia Koski from SeAMK for arranging (and participating in) the recording.

Guests: Jinyu (Winnie) Ding & Betti Csiba – International Students. Miia Koski – Student counsellor, SeAMK

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: March 2015

This is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of articles on happenings at Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho (Seinäjoki FC, or SJK to it’s friends).

New players

As mentioned in my previous post about the Liigacup, SJK has signed several new players, in the closed season, to strengthen the squad;

  • Mehmet Hetemaj midfield – Mehmet is well known to some of his new team-mates already, having played at FC Honka with Jussi Vasara. He’s a strong, intelligent central midfielder who is both an aggressive, strong tackler and has an eye for an intricate pass. He has experience of playing in Italy, and should prove a valuable presence in the Europa League campaign, while also bringing extra quality for the Veikkausliiga.
  • Ariel Ngueukam forward – Known as ‘Tuco’ to his team-mates and fans, this is another player that will make a difference to the team, adding quality to the existing squad. Having seen him play, he has a style similar to Diego Costa, maybe not so aggressive (and b****y annoying!) but he is a real nuisance to the opposition, always battling for the ball and never letting his opponent settle. You will see him dropping deeper to collect the ball, switching wings, as well as pushing further forward. He’s a clever player who reads what his team mates are doing and adapts his play to them.
  • Bahrudin Atajic forward – Firstly the pronunciation, which I’m advised is ‘Aa-ta-chik’, Bahrudin was signed from Glasgow Celtic, having been based in Scotland from age 16-21. He is Bosnian but was born and raised in Sweden, so should ease into into both Finnish football and the Finnish lifestyle. A skilful, creative player he offer speedy combinations of passes to bring others into a game. Initially joining on trial, a tally of 3 goals and 2 assists in 4 Liigacup games led to him being offered a 1+1 year contract. Despite this recent scoring record, Atajic is not first choice as a striker and is more likely to play wide or as a number 10.
  • Jussi Vasara midfield –  Vasara = Hammer! Jussi is the former captain of FC Honka, a battling, utility midfielder, effective both in a holding position, or up-front playing off of the centre forward. He is known to pick off chances that fall from rebounds or loose balls at the box, and has scored two of goals during the Liigacup campaign.

Stop press!

  • As I’m writing this, it has been announced that SJK has signed Henri Aalto, vice captain of FC Honka. Aalto plays either at full-back (right or left) or centre-back. This gives SJK two good players in each position, and will provide competition and cover across the back four. He also managed to sign in time for the pre-season trip to Marbella – hopefully his tackles are as well timed as his signing!

Photo gallery (click on an image to enter slideshow)

Simo Valakari

As a player, Simo Valakari was an intelligent midfielder who spent several seasons overseas playing in Scotland for Motherwell, and in England for Derby County. As a coach, he displays similar intelligence and attention to detail.

Pre-match preparations include close analysis of the opposition using the InStat Scout programme, which allows his coaching team to focus on a particular opposition player, or passages of play from previous games. Simo will present video clips of the opponents and can select all the corner kicks of the opposition, or every key incident involving a certain player. Although he doesn’t tailor his tactics to the other team, he researches them and holds practice sessions with one team playing in the style of the opponents. During these sessions, he will regularly stop the game to discuss what certain players do during the game, and how SJK can counter this.

This is a feature of Simo’s sessions, he positions himself in the centre of the pitch (where he spent his time as a player) so he can see the whole game, and ‘conduct’ proceedings. He will regularly stop the session, getting the players to stop, close their eyes and point out where their team-mates are on the pitch. This helps the players understand, instinctively, where they should be and where their team-mates will be, Simo wants his players to be intelligent and adaptable in their thinking during different phases of the game.

Clearly, a manager on his way up in the football world, let’s just hope he’ll be in Seinäjoki for a few seasons yet.


Although it started with a set of impressive results in the group stage, SJK’s defence of their Liigacup title ended in the first knock-out round. A 2-2 draw at home to Rovaniemen Palloseura (Rovaniemi FC or RoPS) was decided with a penalty shoot-out, which RoPS won 4-3. Although they avoided a potential clash of dates for the next round match, which may have coincided with SJK’s trip to Marbella and would have made defending the title an even greater challenge. So all planning and training is now focused on the Veikkausliiga campaign which starts on Sunday 12th April.

Here are SJK’s stats from the five Liigacup games this season;

  • Played 5, Won 4, Drew 1 (lost on penalties)
  • Goals scored 14, goals conceded 5
  • Goalscorers:
    • Akseli Pelvas 6
    • Ariel ‘Tuco’ Ngueukam 2
    • Bahrudin Atajic 3
    • Jussi Vasara 2
    • Marco Matrone 1

You can read my previous article about the Finnish Liigacup here.

Pre-season training in Marbella

SJK’s Liigacup disappointment will be soothed by their pre-season training camp in Marbella, a week of warm weather training, on grass(!), which includes two friendlies, against Icelandic team FH on Monday 16.3  and then against Spanish third tier team, Marbella FC. After several months of indoor training, during the dark Finnish winter, this will be a welcome change of scenery and climate for the squad – the chance to warm the bones after the winter freeze sounds good to me.

This is a short video of day one of the training

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 ◊◊◊

High-speed Motor Racing On Ice at Botniaring

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Season 1 Episode 12 High-speed Motor Racing (on ice!) with Kristiina
In this episode, I speak to race organiser Kristiina ahead of the VillaAPR Icerace at the Botniaring race track in Jurva, Etelä-Pohjanmaa. Listen as she tells me about the meeting, the track and the facilities, before I visit the APR Icerace in February 2015.

Guest: Kristiina Vaalasmaa

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

Introducing: Ostrobothnia In English magazine

I just wanted to take a moment to introduce the Ostrobothnia In English e-magazine, something of a kindred spirit to the Explore Finland Radio Show; both take a similar premise, taking Ostrobothnia to a global audience, but via very different mediums.

I’m delighted that Teija Tynkkinen, the Editor of OIE, has included a ‘few words’ from me for the first edition of her magazine. I hope that this will be something on which we can cooperate over the coming months and years, so if you’re more of a reader of, than a listener to, the Explore Finland Radio Show, then you should probably check it out.

And if you are a regular listener (bless you!) you should probably follow the link below and have a read as well. Let me know in the comments what you think.

◊◊◊ Mark ◊◊◊

Salibandy* in Seinäjoki (*Floorball, Unihockey…)

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S1 Ep11 Tuukka talks SPV, Salibandy & Success
In this episode I get an introduction to the game of Salibandy (Floorball; Unihockey; Innebandy) from Tuukka Kiviranta, who plays for the high-flying SPV team from Seinäjoki. Tuukka explains the rules and tactics of the game, and tells me about the history, and recent success of SPV.

Guest: Tuukka Kiviranta, Floorball player

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

Finland’s Olympic Training Centre, Kuortane

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Season 1 Episode 10 Training for Olympic Success with Olli-Pekka:
It will take more than a 30 minute podcast to get me into peak fitness, but this week I get a guided tour of the Olympic Training Centre in Kuortane.

Guest: Olli-Pekka Karjalainen, European Gold medal winner

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

Download an MP3 file of this episode

Continue reading

The Finnish Liigacup is Underway

Find my podcast on the history of SJK here

The League Cup in Finland is a curious competition. Played as a competitive series of games, it serves as a pre-season competition for the 12 teams in the Veikkausliiga (Finland’s Premier League) but, as it kicks off in mid-February and Finland is mostly under a metre or two of snow, it is played indoors.

Th structure of the Liigacup is also unusual. The first round sees the teams divided into four groups each consisting of three teams, who all play each other twice in the group stage. At the end of this stage the top two from each group progress, providing eight teams for the quarter finals. From here it is a straight knock-out competition through to the final.

There’s one more quirk to this competition, though, as progression through the rounds of the Liigacup, also gains a better seeding in the Suomencup (Finland’s FA Cup), whereby those that get knocked out in the group stage of the Liigacup, start the Suomencup in the 3rd round, and those progressing to the Semi-final of the Liigacup, join the Suomencup in the 6th round – so there is an incentive to treat this as more than a pre-season warm-up series.

And so this weekend I found myself in Seinäjoki’s Wallsport Areena to watch the second of Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho’s Liigacup games. After a close victory against local rivals VPS Vaasa (1-0 on Wed 11.2), today’s match ws against the other team from the Pohjanmaa region, FF Jaro from Pietersaari.

A crowd of 504 saw a close first-half, Jaro played neat, passing football but lacked a creative spark to make any chances for their strikers. SJK looked more dangerous, with Richie Dorman & Akseli Pelvas creating chances down both wings, although it wasn’t until the 41st minute that the first goal was scored, with Pelvas rounding the Jaro goalkeeper, having latched onto a through ball from new striker Ariel ‘Tuco’ Ngueukam.

The second-half  was not easy for SJK, although the scoreline suggests differently. The second goal early on, Sarajärvi feeding Tuco, allowed us (the supporters) to relax, but it wasn’t until the final 10 minutes that the scoreline became overwhelming for Jaro. Firstly, a long, mazy run from fans’ favourite, Cedric Gogoua, saw the ball fall to Bahrudin Atajic, a former Celtic youth player, currently on trial at SJK). FF Jaro went down to 10 men after a sending off for a lunging challenge on SJK’s Wayne Brown, before the final goal was scored by captain Marco Matrone in the 88th minute.

An impressive final score, which is only enhanced when you consider that the SJK team was without regular goalkeeper Mikhel Aksalu, recent Finnish national team selection Johnny Laaksonen, & star striker Toni Lehtinen plus new signings Jussi Vasara and Mehmet Hetemaj. Next up are the away games against the same two teams, VPS on 18.2 and then FF Jaro on 28.2.

It looks like SJK are in for another good season!

◊◊◊ Mark ◊◊◊

Distilling, Prohibition & Koskenkorva Vodka

Season 1 Episode 9 Jaakko & Martti’s Tour of Koskenkorva Museum:
Join me as I visit the Koskenkorva Museo and learn about the history of distilling in Koskenkorva, as well as the distinctive local clocks, Könnikello, and we take another, brief tour around the saunas at Koskenkorva Trahteeri, until we end up at the ‘vodka tap’! Intrigued?

Guests: Jaakko & Martti Koskenkorva

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

A Tour of the Aalto Centre, Seinäjoki pt.2

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Season 1 Episode 8. Part 2 of 2
I continue my guided tour of the Alvar Aalto centre in Seinäjoki, by visiting Aalto’s theatre (with it’s collection of glass and porcelain by Alvar & Aino Aalto) and the new Apila library next door to Aalto’s original. (Episode 1 can be found here. )

Guest: Marianne Holma, Seinäjoki City Guide

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

A Tour of the Aalto Centre, Seinäjoki pt.1

Episode 7 – Marianne’s Guided Tour of the Alvar Aalto Centre in Seinäjoki, part 1

Episode 7 – Marianne’s Guided Tour of the Alvar Aalto Centre in Seinäjoki, part 1

Season 1 Episode 7: Part 1 of 2.
Marianne takes me on a guided tour of the Alvar Aalto centre, in Seinäjoki, a cluster of six, civic buildings that form its iconic centrepiece. Alvar and Aino Aalto are arguably Finland’s greatest designers and, in part 1, you can hear Marianne describe the Town Hall and Lakeuden Risti Church.

Guest: Marianne Holma, Seinäjoki City Guide

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

Just Why Is The Sauna So Important To Finns?

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Season 1 Episode 6
In this episode I speak to Jaakko and Martti Koskenkorva about the most recognisable Finnish word in the world, Sauna. I visited them at Koskenkorva Trahteeri to talk about the history, the traditions and why the sauna is so important to the Finns.

Guests: Jaakko & Martti Koskenkorva

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

Buying & Selling in Finland’s Flea-Markets


Season 1 Episode 5
I speak to Henna about the significance of the Kirppis in Finland. We attend an event to sell some clothes and I then visit a few other types of Kirpputorit in Seinäjoki to compare & contrast.

Guest: Henna Rantasaari

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

Softengine, Luritus Choir & Alvar Aalto. In concert.

Many of you outside of Europe may not fully understand the Eurovision Song Contest, not everyone inside Europe takes it that seriously, and the recent balkanisation of European counties has led to countries ‘voting for their neighbours hasn’t helped that, but the viewing figures are huge and many a star has been born at Eurovision.

In 2014, Finland was represented by Softengine, a rock band consisting of five young guys from Seinäjoki and their debut tune Something Better. They managed an impressive 11th place and, in the process, amassed Finland’s second best-ever score of 72 points (heavy metal monsters Lordi actually won  the competition in 2006 with 292 points) Following this performance, Softengine’s profile in Finland has risen pretty high and late last year they released their debut album, We Created the World; Caleb Followill’s roaring vocals, the melodies of Coldplay and fashionable, rave-synths are pretty good signposts to the album’s sound.

There was a story in Ilkka, the regional, daily newspaper, on Sunday 11.1.2015 about a slightly different gig for Softengine, one that covers a few local touchstones; rock music, choir-singing and Alvar Aalto!

On 15th March 2015, Softengine will be playing a concert in Seinäjoki at the iconic Lakeuden Risti church, which was designed by the iconic Alvar Aalto. At this show, the band will be backed by a local youth choir, Luritus, with whom Softengine have a longstanding connection.

Luritus is not a traditional, church choir, they describe themselves on Facebook as a choir for ‘…both boys and girls – children and teenagers. Luritus isn’t a traditional choir. Besides singing, the performances include varied instruments, body percussion, drama, poetry and dance.’ The YouTube video below gives a good idea of what that invloves.

Full disclosure, my son Olli is a member of Luritus, and the Choir Leader, Hanne Orrenmaa, really has them well-drilled both with their singing and their movement. Every performance is different and well worth your time. I have my ticket, and I’m already counting the days. See you there?

◊◊◊ Mark ◊◊◊

The Veikkausliiga season gets started…

Well, in a manner of speaking.

Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho (SJK) have a had a busy week, that culminated with the (now traditional) match between the first team and the supporters club (Klopit), who hold the honourary position of 12th man at SJK.

The match was played in a friendly, light-hearted atmosphere, indoors at the excellent Wallsport Areena in Seinäjoki, and although SJK are clearly the stronger team, the inclusion of a few SJK ‘old boys’ playing for Klopit evened things up and added a little frisson. The match ended 5-4 which was suspiciously close, and on investigation, it was discovered that the Klopit ended the game with 15 players on the pitch, a tactical innovation that Klopit ‘head coach’ Lari Paski should be proud of 🙂

This kind of activity only helps to cement the strong bond between the club and the supporters, so a big thank you from the Klopit to everyone at SJK.

Finland new-boy Johnny Laaksonen (right) and Mikael Muurimäki, SJKs record goalscorer Picture: Antti Huhtamäki

In other news, earlier this week SJK announced a partnership agreement with FC Jazz from Pori, which will involve structured loaning of players between the clubs from the youth development through to first team squads. This will give players at both clubs the opportunity to progress and find their level as SJK are in the Veikkausliiga (Premier), FC Jazz are in Ykkonen (1st Division) and SJK ’07, the reserve team, play in Kakkonen )2nd Division.) This will support SJK’s future policy to develop more Finnish players.

It was also announced that Johnny Laaksonen, SJK’s midfield playmaker has been selected to join the Finnish National sqaud that is travelling to the UAE next week to play Sweden in Abu Dhabi and Sudan in Dubai. This is a well deserved reward for Johnny who was voted the Players Player of the Year in the Veikkauliiga 2014.

SJK have also been busy in the transfer market signing Jussi Vasara​, attacking midfielder and former captain at FC Honka​​ in the Veikkausliiga, Cameroonian ​goalscorer ​Ariel “Tuco” Ngueukam​ and​, announced today that, subject to a couple of contractual matters, Mehmet Hetemaj who is returining to Finland after ​several years playing in ​the ​Ital​ian lower leagues for ​AlbinoLeffe, ​Reggina​ & Monza, he is a tough-tackling, ​defensive ​midfielder who ​has play​ed for the Finnish National team and should fit in nicely alongside Laaksonen ​at SJK.

If you want to do some homework on the new players, then what better way than a YouTube highlights video;

The club has promised there will be additional, strong signings later in January, and based on the​i​r actions so far this winter, who would doubt them. SJK aims to offer a real challenge to HJK Helsinki in 2015 and give a decent account of themselves in their first Europa League campaign, in which SJK will play their home games in Helsinki, at HJK’s Sonera Stadium – a return trip of 710km, 8 hours, from Keskuskenttä, SJK’s home ground!

If you want to learn more about SJK, listen to my podcast episode 3 where Lari tells me about the history of the club and Finnish football culture.

Evie Goes to Restaurant Day in Vaasa

Restaurant Day

Season 1 Episode 4
Restaurant Day (Ravintolapäivä) originated in Helsinki, so I travel to nearby Vaasa, with my daughter Evie, to visit some of the pop-up restaurants and speak to some of the restaurant organisers about their experiences.

Guests: Heimo Oksanen, Walter Syö, Malin Holm and Evie Wiltshear

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

5 Steps to ensure you see what you want on Social Media

How to take control of what content you see using Google+

We all take time to decide who to follow, now you can take control over what you actually see! I’ve recently learned a little more about Google+, which allows you to prioritise what you see and notifies you when new content is available. The following steps are not difficult or time-consuming, but not everyone knows how Google+ works, even those that already have a G+ profile!

1. Click here to find Explore Finland Radio Show on Google+.

2. Click ‘Follow’ to add to a circle. On the pop-up box, you have two options;

  • Click on ‘Following’ to my page to the others that you follow, or
  • Click  ‘Create new circle’. Give it a name, e.g ‘Explore Finland’ (I’ll also add you to my circle ‘Explore Finland Followers’)
Add to a Circle. Name this Circle.

Add to a Circle.

3. Click on the drop-down menu on the left hand side. Select ‘Home’ this will take you to your home page or ‘stream’.

Select 'Home' from the drop-down menu.

Select ‘Home’ from the drop-down menu.

4. On the options bar (of your Home stream) click on ‘More’ then click ‘Explore Finland’ this will show you the content posted by anyone in this circle. Tip – if you find the G+ stream looks confusing, you can also change the layout of your stream here.

Select the 'Explore Finland' stream

Select the ‘Explore Finland’ stream

5. Above any posts, there is a box called ‘In this Circle’ where you will find a grey bell icon. Click on this so it becomes red.

In This Circle

In This Circle

Notifictaions off.

Notifictaions off.

Notifications ON!

Notifications ON!

That’s it! You will now receive notifications when Explore Finland posts new content on Google+.

Let me know how you get on by adding me to a Circle and keeping up-to-date on Google+.

◊◊◊ Mark ◊◊◊

What I Learned at #slush14

Although I risk ‘crossing the streams’ with this post – brining my day job into the Explore Finland world – this article is about an event in Finland, so it’s not completely off-topic.

Slush is a fast-growing ‘trade show’ in Helsinki for Investors and Companies to meet, talk business and party a little. Below is a post that I recently shared on LinkedIn…


2014 was my first time at the Slush event. I’d been to several trade shows in the past and this couldn’t be so different, could it? Below are a few observations and lessons-learned at Slush 2014.

Arrange investor meetings in advance

Even if you only want a brief catch-up meeting or conversation. There were over 10,000 tickets sold, the chances of bumping into the right person are small, and the chance of them having time to see you at the last minute, smaller still. I tried for two days to meet with a friend, we both wanted to, we tried, but it just didn’t happen. I’m sure we’ll get-together someday soon Berit!

Don’t expect to close a deal

Slush is a dark, noisy event. a brilliant atmosphere but maybe not the place to discuss the minutiae of your business, so probably not the place to seal a deal. Use it as an opportunity to initiate a new business relationship, or to nurture an existing one.

Prepare your pitch

Whether you are in the competition, meeting a potential investor or exhibiting on a booth, make time in advance to prepare your presentation, so you’re ready to answer the question ‘Tell me about your company.’ Also, ensure everyone in your company is telling the same story, you don’t need a rigid script more like a structure, so that everyone tells the same story. Visit to learn more about our new service, in partnership with PNP Crossing Borders, which will help you develop your performance at all types of exhibition & trade shows

Be clear about the amount you want to raise and how you will use it.

Or don’t.

Contrary advice and contrary examples were in effect at Slush. One investor said he wanted to know what the money would be used for, someone else said they’d been advised ‘Ask for help and you will get money, ask for money and you will get advice.’ Many of the early Slush100 pitches didn’t mention how much they wanted raise, some of those in the later rounds did.

So that’s clear then!

Minimalist booths

There is less structure to the booths than a traditional show. As befits an event that attracts a great number of start-ups, they were mostly simple roll-up signs and a table. There are a few different ‘exhibition areas’ where the booths are located, and they are positioned side-by-side, close together. This created a real buzz around these areas, but it’s not always easy to get close to the booth although it does ensure no-one hides behind a table – there is nowhere TO hide!

Make the most of the Keynote speakers and product presentations

Take the opportunity to watch some of the different presentations. Learn, be inspired, be entertained;

  • Slush 100 competition: see how they are structured, learn from the mistakes you see
  • Guest speakers: covering every possible industry as well as investors explaining what they want/expect to hear in a pitch
  • Product/service launches: Nokia N1, Jolla tablet

Remember the #Hashtag

The idea of using #hashtags to promote your live event (see my previous article) was in full effect at Slush. We were encouraged to use the hashtag #slush14 before the event started and there were signs all over Messukeskus reminding you. If you search #slush14 on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ you’ll find that it was well-used.

Xport & Jakamo in action at #slush14

Xport & Jakamo in action at #slush14

What an atmosphere!

Slush is unlike any event you’ve ever been to, darkly lit, dry ice and energy drinks – and that’s during the day. At night they simply replace the speakers with live music! Oh yeah, and the evening party included beer for the duration of the night.

Many thanks to the organisers at see you next year.

◊◊◊ Mark ◊◊◊

Christmas 2014, Finnish-style

I don’t know how Christmas is celebrated in your country, but in Finland it is a peaceful, reflective time. People send greetings like “Rentoa ja Rauhallista Joulua ihan kaikille!” (A Relaxing and Peaceful Christmas to everyone!), or “Levollista joulua teille” (A Restful Christmas to you all”). This attitude is reflected throughout the festive period. Also, Christmas is celebrated on 24th December in the Nordic region, which is presumably to fit in with Santa’s busy schedule; he starts with the closest countries on the 24th and finishes on the 6th January in Spain 🙂

This is how we celebrated Xmas 2014 in Seinäjoki…

The family were all awake by 9:00 and had a quick breakfast. It was a chilly minus 12 degrees outside when we took Boris the Dog out for a walk in the nearby woods, while the sauna was warming-up for our return. The Xmas Eve sauna is not compulsory but many families do it and I wasn’t going to miss out. I couldn’t convince everyone to get involved but Evie joined me.

Leena then made sure she watches the ‘Declaration of Christmas Peace’ at midday. This traditional announcement dates back to medieval times, 1320, and is made from Turku the former capital of Finland. It is read in Finnish and Swedish and is considered the beginning of Christmas;

“Huomenna, jos Jumala, suo, on meidän Herramme ja Vapahtajamme armorikas syntymäjuhla.”

“I morgon, vill Gud, innefaller vår Herres och Frälsares nåderika födelsefest.”

(Tomorrow, God willing, is the grace-filled celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour.)

You can read more on the YLE News site here

Leena was also preparing the first of the traditional meals of the day; Riisipuuro (rice porridge, or rice pudding) is a traditional way to start Xmas, with an almond or two dropped in to bestow good luck on the person who finds it in their bowl (similar to the British tradition of sixpence in the Xmas pudding). We ate this at midday rather than for breakfast, and I was lucky enough to get two almonds in my bowl – the kids complained bitterly, then declined to eat those found in their bowls! After eating and getting dressed we set off on the trip to Mummilla (Grandma’s home).

Xmas dinner is something of a feast in many countries and Finland is no different. What IS different is the food that is served. The most ‘Finnish’ part of the menu are the various ‘laatikko’ dishes – literally ‘box’ dishes, these consist of various mashed or pureed vegetables baked in trays in the oven – we had carrot, potato and swede, along with a liver & rice combination, all of which are quite sweet and very more-ish! The main meat served is a roasted ham, plus boiled potatoes, green salad, pickled herrings, coleslaw, and a seasonal, spiced bread ‘Joululimppu’.

Dessert was served two hours later allowing everyone to make a little room for various cakes, biscuits and chocolates as well as the mince pies and Xmas pudding from the UK. In the meantime, we all took a short walk to the nearby cemetery for the tradition of lighting candles in honour of our ancestors. The sight is quite something to behold, with hundreds, thousands(?) of lit candles, the photos really don’t do them justice! It allows you a time-out from all the feasting to think a little about previous generations, and maybe what they would have thought about the concept of a blog or a podcast.

When we returned home the kids found out that ‘Joulupukki’ (Santa Claus) had been. Evie wasted no time putting her ‘tonttu’ hat on, a red elf-hat with a bell on the end, and attacking the pile under the tree. Many Finnish families arrange for someone to visit dressed as ‘pukki to give out the presents, with the children singing songs for ‘pukki. This could be a family friend or someone raising money for their sports club (you can see the photo from our Xmas in 2013) – that said the younger children often find this a little scary and Leena has bad childhood memories of Santa being a little too merry at the end of a long day delivering gifts! We didn’t have anyone come this year, but that didn’t dampen the excitement – those presents didn’t stand a chance!

After the presents came dessert, after dessert came wine and board games. Neither were compulsory, but we tried a couple of the new games that Olli & Evie received, Splendor (Olli) The Magic Tower (Evie). Sadly though, it was soon time to head home and light the fire, the kids promptly fell asleep in bed, and Leena and I promptly fell asleep in front of the TV – well some things never change…

Hyvää joulua / Merry Xmas

◊◊◊ Mark ◊◊◊

Finnish Football Culture and the Rise of SJK

Season1 Episode 3
Lari talks about the origins of football culture in Finland, and the history of Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho (SJK)

Guest: Lari Paski, Supporters Liaison Officer at SJK and football fanatic

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

Foraging for Mushrooms in Finland’s Forests

k: http://explorefinlandpod

Season 1 Episode 1
Foraging for Mushrooms with Mari. An introduction to ‘Everyman’s Rights’ and the art of finding wild mushrooms.

Guest: Mari Dawe, Mother Nature’s ambassador to Seinäjoki

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

Magic mushrooms

Well, maybe not ‘magic’ mushrooms, but the way these sprang up almost overnight was quite something to see. There’s a small trail through the woods near our house, a loop of about 400 metres – perfect for early morning walks with Boris. One morning in late-August, we entered the woods and I was struck by the sheer variety of mushrooms that had appeared.

These were snapped on my phone, as I don’t often take the SLR out with me for the morning walk! I have absolutely no idea what they are, or which might be edible, but I intend to cover that on one of my podcast episodes, so watch this space. In the meantime, if you know what any of these mushrooms are called, why not let everyone know in the comments?


Located just south of Etelä-Pohjanmaa, Helvetinjärvi couldn’t be named less appropriately. It’s name translates as Hell’s Lake and comes from an old story containing a warlock, an argument and cursed fish supplies, naturally! We came to visit on a Saturday in late-September and brought the kids’ cousin Siiri along for a walk through the woods to the lake and the gorge. Boris was able to come with us, so long as we kept him on a (flexi-) leash.

We parked near the Helvetin portti restaurant at Kankimäki, had a quick picnic in the car and then headed off to follow the 4km track. It was immediately clear that the terrain here was different to Seinäjoki. On the first part, the gravel trail wound through a wooded area, where the moss covering the rocks was so thick that the kids bounced on it like a trampoline, and the narrowest stream I’ve ever seen – you could hear the babbling, with no sight of the brook.

After a consistent incline, we came to a significant structure of wooden walkways and steps, the former taking us safely across the rocky cliff top with lovely views of the lake, to Helvetinkolu, a natural gorge in the rock that leads down to the lakeside. The stairs taking a slightly easier route down to the same area, with a toilet and wood-hut and not much else. Perfect, it seemed, for the group of Scouts to cook their lunch over open-fires.

After negotiating both the stairs and the gorge we, again, followed the path away from the cliff top through the woods with many fallen trees, unable to take root on the rocky ground. Suddenly, the forest environment ended and gave way to the breathtaking sight of long, golden grass swaying in the swampland. The sturdy duckboards weaving their way through the swamp helped us negotiate our way through, although a couple of mis-steps showed the benefit of wearing waterproof shoes 🙂

We we soon on the home straight, heading towards the car, the restaurant, hot coffee and ice cream – rewards for everyone!

Although we only walked a small fraction of Helvetinjärvi National Park, the 4km trail was perfect for these kids (ages 11, 8 and 6) although it would be difficult for baby strollers or wheelchairs. Challenging enough to be interesting, tiring enough that we all (except Leena) slept on the journey home, but short enough that no-one was bored. I’ll finish by quoting Olli who said “I never knew this trip would be this much fun!”

Helvetinjärvi in pictures (courtesy of Leena Wiltshear)


Welcome to Hell

There’s an interesting law in Finland called Everyman’s Rights, which basically allows anyone to pick any flowers, berries, mushrooms etc. that are growing in the wild. You even have free access to angling and ice-fishing in many places. Unlike back in the UK, you have rights even if you’re not the landowner and if you’re just in Finland to visit.

I’ve only started taking advantage of this in the past year and I still don’t trust myself with mushrooms – I was brought up fear the poisonous varieties e.g. anything that doesn’t come in a plastic box from the supermarket – but berries are a bit easier, so here are a few pictures from when Evie, Boris and I went out recently…

Picking Lingonberries