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Saturday 13th August 2022 ko 17:00

Finland Kansallinen Liga

FC HONKA NAISET 1 (Sutela 56)

HPS NAISET 1 (Nurmet 66)

Att 332 at Tapiolan Urheilupuisto, Espoo

Entry €5 (approx. £4.48)

There was a certain symmetry in Robyn and I linking a trip to Helsinki to a return to a post-pandemic Stockholm to see friends that we hadn’t seen, in some cases for 4 years. Sweden did rule over Finland from the 13th century until 1809, and to this day you’ll see signs written in both Finnish and Swedish, the latter is still an official language.

Given my connections to Sweden, and the notoriously difficult to understand Finnish language I did find it difficult to pick up even a few words of Finnish, it was so much easier to use the Swedish I already knew. As Swedish statistician Mads put it, ” You call the country Finland which is in Swedish, but call the capital Helsinki- which is in Finnish!”

He was right, the country is Suomi in Finnish, and the capital in Swedish is Helsingfors! And that melting pot of history is what makes Finland interesting, from 1809 to 1917 Finland was under Russian control and the trains came to the country in 1862.

That means Finnish trains run on Russian gauge tracks- 1,522 millimetres (5 foot gauge) whereas Great Britain and most of Western Europe uses Standard 1,435 mm (4 foot 8 and a half inch gauge). You’ll see it on the train from the airport, and on the Helsinki metro, the most northerly metro system in the world! It means that if you travel by train from Finland to Sweden you will need to change trains at the border at Haparanda. The Haparanda/ Tornio bridge has a short section of dual- gauge track! It’s worth commenting that we used the Helsinki/Stockholm ferry to reach Sweden but more on that in my next article. 

If that wasn’t confusing enough, Helsinki’s trams run on metre gauge, and while they clearly can’t run on the wider rails, it does mean that they can run in the tighter old town streets. I’d recommend downloading the HSL public transport App on your mobile. It allows for simpler ticketing and route planning, we bought a 2 day ticket for 12 euro each which covered the vast majority of the city. The ticketing machines we saw offered only a one day ticket, for us a more expensive option. 

On a more general level we found visiting Helsinki a fascinating exercise in comparing the three influences on the city, the Swedish, Russian, and Finnish. I do recommend a visit. 

In footballing terms the Finnish FA website will give you every fixture you could ever need and more, but you will need a working knowledge of the region you’re visiting and be prepared to filter out anything you don’t want, the site includes every footballing variant you can think of such as Futsal, children’s games and so on.  

From that I’d put together a short list of games we might want to attend based on ease of access and the time we might arrive in Helsinki. 

But there we were sat at Heathrow Terminal 3 contemplating a three-and-a-half hour delay, and our options gradually reduced down to the game we ended up watching. Even that involved dumping our luggage at the hotel and taking a rather expensive taxi to Espoo- it was the only way we could see the game! Even then the language became an education!

Espoo I’d assumed is pronounced ESS-Poo, but ESS-BORE would be closer to it. And while our options did boil down to this game only in the top flight of Finnish football.  “Naiset” translates as women and I was completely comfortable with that. For one thing I’d like to watch more women’s football, and as Englishman, how can I not watch the game of the European champions?

FC Honka play in the, 4,100 capacity main stadium at the Tapiola Urheilopusto, but once again if you use the Swedish version of the second word, you get Idrottsparken- or all sports park. As that name suggests there’s plenty of other pitches here besides the main stadium. Alongside those the Metro Arena at the back was built for the now defunct Espoo ice hockey team and the dome to the right is the Espoo Center, which includes tennis and badminton courts.

The stadium is also used by the men’s team, who also play in the Finnish top flight- the Veikkausliiga and while it consisted of two temporary stands, it was more than adequate for us here. Their opponents HPS, or Helsingin Palloseura if you’d like the elongated version which in turn translates as Helsinki Ball Club. I manage a wry smile when I spotted the Swedish name again…. 

So, a local derby of sorts but you’d have been hard pressed to have known in a dull first half. Yes, we’d had quite an adventure getting from London to here, but we didn’t need to be calmed down that much! While expensive, that taxi was actually a lot of fun. Thankfully the second half was a vast improvement, the game opened up and in the end we watched an entertaining draw.

Afterwards we took the route back to the hotel that in reverse we’d hoped to have made to Espoo. The metro stop was nearby, and still pristine having only opened in 2017. We paused at Rautatientorin metroasema, the Central Station for, would you believe, a subterranean Mexican meal at Asematunneli a shopping centre built in the 60’s to allow people to shop and change from metro to bus avoiding the winter cold. Here the weather was anything other than cold, with the humidity ruining my shirt! We took the overground path to catch the tram north back to our hotel as a result. 

We watched the sun set from a rooftop bar. Yes, the beers were expensive, but as tired as we were, we did feel that we’d earned them!