SJK into Europe 2015-16: Episode #2

Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho Team 2015. Photo courtesy of SJK.

The draw for the latest Europa League competition was made on Monday 22nd June, and Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho were drawn against Fimleikafélag Hafnarfjarðar of Iceland.

In this episode, recorded 22.7.2015,  you can hear me speak to Wayne Brown and Bahrudin Atajic about SJK’s defeat to FH and looking forward to the remainder of the 2015 season. Read the Show Notes here

Guests:Wayne Brown and Bahrudin Atajic, SJK

Listen to the show  on your choice of podcatcher; iTunes or Stitcher radio or Feedburner

Download MP3 file of this episode here

http://wp.me/p51MGe-at2

 

 

 

SJK into Europe 2015-16: Episode #1

Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho Team 2015. Photo courtesy of SJK.

The draw for the latest Europa League competition was made on Monday 22nd June, and Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho were drawn against Fimleikafélag Hafnarfjarðar of Iceland.

In this episode, recorded 23.6.2015,  you can hear me speak to Chris Cleaver, and Richie Dorman about the upcoming SJK vs FH fixtures. Read the Show Notes here

Guests: Chris Cleaver and Richie Dorman, SJK

Listen to the show  on your choice of podcatcher; iTunes or Stitcher radio or Feedburner

Download MP3 file of this episode here

 

 

 

SJK Update: May 2015


You can find all previous articles about Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho (Seinäjoki FC, SJK) here

The season gets underway

The league season is now near the 33% stage, so it’s a good time to have a look at how things have played out so far.

For SJK it has been an effective, if unspectacular start to the campaign. Defensively they have been very solid, conceding only 4 goals in 11 league games, and they have lost only 2 matches so far. Following an impressive season in 2014, and the fact that 3 of the 12 teams are new to the Veikkausliiga in 2015, it has been noticeable that many opponents have tried to frustrate SJK by sitting back and playing a defensive game. This is assisted by a narrower-than-average pitch at Seinäjoki’s Keskuskenttä ground. Only RoPS from Rovaniemi, though, turned this into a dark art; their anti-football tactic of fouling and over-acting any physical challenge spoiled the season opener in Seinäjoki.

This has led to many scrappy first-halves, which have required SJK to play with patience before finally breaking down their opponents. They have scored many of their 16 goals in the second half, including 3 against Ilves, 2 against HIFK and 4 against KuPS. These three were all in the past two weeks. Away games have proven trickier for SJK with two draws, one defeat and a solitary win in the four games on the road, so far.

Another factor must be the incredible schedule in recent weeks. This has seen SJK play seven league games in the past three weeks. In May, SJK’s routine reads like this; Sunday – Friday – Monday – Thursday – Sunday – Wednesday – Sunday. This includes five home  games, which is a strain on supporters’ budgets, as well as a physical strain on the players. This is made even more bizarre by the fact that there is not a single game scheduled for SJK on Saturday in 2015, the traditional match day in Finland, neither home nor away!

This probably works for the gambling business of  Veikkaus, but doesn’t do the players any good, and isn’t helping the attendances at Keskuskenttä, which average at 2,066 in 2015 down on the 2014 average of 2,297.

League Table 26.5.2015. Courtesy of Veikkausliiga.

League Table 26.5.2015. Courtesy of Veikkausliiga.

Richie Dorman – the Welsh Messi

04. Richie Dorman. Picture courtesy of SJK.

04. Richie Dorman. Picture courtesy of SJK.

With the signing of new players in the close season, there seemed to be direct competition for Richie Dorman. He’s been at the club for four years and is a vital component of the spirit and heart of the team. It has been a pleasant surprise, therefore, to see that manager Simo Valakari has found a new position for Richie in centre midfield. Whether that is a free, roaming role is not clear, but that’s how Richie has been playing! He’s been winning tackles, playing incisive passes to create goals and, against Ilves, went on a mazy run from the halfway line before firing past the goalkeeper. A goal that will live long in the memory of those that saw it, in a game in which he also hit the crossbar from inside the centre circle!

Here to see highlights of SJK vs KuPS including Richie hitting the bar and scoring ‘that goal’

Toni Lehtinen, record-breaker

It has also been pleasing to see the regular appearance of Toni Lehtinen in the starting line-up. Having made his SJK debut in 2012, and helping the club to climb into the Veikkauliiga, he is heading towards ‘veteran’ status. Toni has now scored 68 Veikkauliiga goals, making him the 14th top scorer overall in Veikkausliiga history. He is also SJK’s joint top goalscorer with 33 goals, alongside Mikael Muurimaki. Seeing that Mikki has retired and is playing for Apollo FC, it looks like Toni will soon overtake him too.

Europa League campaign

No real news yet, but the countdown to the draw is now on and SJK will learn their opponents on 22nd June, when the draw will be made  for the first two rounds. SJK’s first round fixtures will be on 2nd and 9th July and there is potential for a couple of large teams e.g. West Ham United or Everton. Of course, it will probably end up being somewhere Eastern and unpronounceable 🙂 I will look to get the next SJK Update published after that draw has been made, but before the two games take place.

You Want More?

Here are a couple more links if you still want to watch some Finnish football

  • See more videos on the SJK TV YouTube channel.
  • Watch Veikkausliiga highlights on the Ilta Sanomat website ISTV

 

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 ◊◊◊

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 ◊◊◊

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.

Liigacup

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 ◊◊◊