Helsinki football scene

My name is Lassi and I will be contributing about subjects that inspire me in Helsinki. Without much reasoning, it is easy to start with one of the more romantic businesses of Helsinki, the Helsinki football scene.

Finns are known for their passion for ice hockey, motorsports and ski jumping – namely the sports that Finland has historically had the most success in. Football at top level in Finland, despite of being the most widely practiced sport in terms of registered players, still falls drastically behind ice hockey in public appeal. I guess this is due to ill-advised presumption of low quality of football in the Finnish top flight, Veikkausliiga. While the quality of football in Veikkausliiga may not match that of top European leagues, it is in my view, fairly similar to Swedish Allsvenskan or Norwegian Tippeligaen.

It is the football culture and match day experience, not the sheer quality of football per se, where Veikkausliiga lags behind other Nordic football leagues. During the last couple of seasons, however, Veikkausliiga matches have attracted bigger crowds and increased media attention. Indeed, nowhere has the recent ascension of Veikkausliiga been more prevalent than in Helsinki.

For decades HJK (Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi), the biggest and most successful football club in Finland, was the only Helsinki based team in Veikkausliiga. HJK’s loneliness came to an end in 2014 as HIFK (Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna, Helsingfors) achieved promotion to Veikkausliiga after some 43 years of absence from the top tier.

HJK, founded in 1907 and nicknamed Klubi, has won the Finnish title 27 times. HJK was the first (and thus far the only) Finnish side to qualify for group stages of European competitions; Champions league in 1997-98 and Europa League in 2014-15. HJK is widely supported in Töölö, Meilahti and some southern parts of Helsinki city area.

HIFK (or I.F.K), founded in 1987, is one of the biggest sporting clubs in Finland. HIFK ice hockey team is probably the most widely supported sports team in Finland. Although HIFK is widely supported across demographics in Helsinki, HIFK has significant amount of supporters in Swedish speaking Finns. HIFK was initially a thriving force in the top tier of Finnish football in the 20th century; it won seven titles and was the runner-up further seven times. However, in the early 1970s HIFK got relegated and sank to lower divisions. Thereafter HIFK lived subdued life at amateur divisions with an odd visit to first division, finally ending in bankruptcy in 2003. After these misfortunes, HIFK football managed to build a solid organization and started climbing up the ladders of Finnish football hierarchy. In 2015, after 43 years of wait, the original Helsinki derby (“Stadin Derby”), between HJK and HIFK, was played in front of lively sold-out crowd.

Both HJK and HIFK play their home games at Sonera Stadium in Taka-Töölö (Urheilukatu 5). The stadium has a capacity of roughly 11 000 with HJK usually attracting crowds of around 5 000 and HIFK a bit less. The two HJK supporter groups, Sakilaiset, an ultra-style mob and ForzaHJK, a more traditional section, are seated at the South-End of the stadium (“Klubipääty”). HIFK supporters, Stadin Kingit, sit at the opposing North-End (“IFK Klacken”). Sonera Stadium might not be the most picturesque of football grounds but its virtue lies in its location at the heart of the city (some 15 min walk from Central Railway Station). No alcohol is allowed at the stands (an envious ode to Bundesliga) but you can down your halftime refreshments by stadium kiosks inside the ground.

With the exceptions of Stadin Derby matches that are usually sold-out at least some days before kick-off, tickets for other Veikkausliiga matches can be conveniently purchased from the entrance gates. Depending on the choice of section in the stands, tickets usually go for 15 – 40 EUR. All Veikkausliiga matches are perfectly suitable for the whole family, so do not hesitate to bring your kids. If you fancy a pre-match pint go for Viisi Penniä pub (Mannerheimintie 55) or Restaurant Hook (Mannerheimintie 37).

Veikkausliiga matches in Helsinki offer a likeable, no-frills alternative for modern football. For anyone with a slightest of interest in football, I definitely recommend attending Sonera Stadium for a beautiful game.

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