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Sunday 14th August 2022 ko 18:30

Finland Miesten Kakkonen Lohko B

HJK KLUBI 04 4 (Haggström 21 Ezeh 69 Toivonen 76 Vuorinen 84)

VJS 3 (Nyholm 24 Mehmeti 82 Oila 90)

Att 324 at Bolt Arena, Töölö, Helsinki

 Entry €15 (approx. £13.28)

After our rather frantic first day in Helsinki, we deliberately slowed down for the rest of our stay in Finland’s capital. We took a leisurely tram ride to the Market Square, and then took the ferry (included in the Helsinki public transport pass) over to Suomenlinna. The island fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like so much in Finland has a background in being Swedish, Russian, and Finnish. It was good to have a gentle stroll around the place knowing we only had one time we had to keep to, kick off in Töölö.

If your hotel is in northern Helsinki, you really can’t avoid the suburb of Töölö- just about every tram runs through it, past the Olympic Park including the Olympic Stadium complete with tower whose height of 72.71 metres is the length of the Matti Järvinen’s winning javelin throw in the 1932 Olympics. The refitted, and now 36,251 capacity stadium was used for the 2022 EUFA Super Cup Final. 

Adjacent to that is the Töölön Pallokenttä an odd affair of a stadium featuring two pitches placed end to end, with a huge 4,000 single terrace serving both. No end of games are played on those two pitches and the stadium apart from being the first football stadium in Finland and was home to the Finnish National Team from 1919 to 1939. However it was the newer stadium that replaced it next door to both that we ended up visiting. 

The Töölön jalkapallostadion or Bolt Arena to give it its sponsored name dates from 2000 where it was built as a new home for Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi (HJK) and IFK Helsingfors (HIFK Fotbol). Given its space, its capacity is surprisingly small, just 10,770. It is though surprisingly well-appointed, with a heating system in both the main stand and under the artificial turf. 

I should explain the footballing pecking order for men’s football in Finland. The top flight is the Veikkausliiga, and below that is the Ykkönen and these are the only two national divisions. The third tier Kakkonen is split into 3 equal status “Lokho” or groups by geography, and the fourth tier Kolmonen consists of 9 groups. 

HJK Klubi 04 is either HJK Helsinki’s reserve, youth or development side, depending on what you read. From what we saw I’d say it was the youth team with a few older fringe players added. It certainly made for an interesting third tier game, even if the low crowd and lack of atmosphere are a symptom of everything I hate about “B” teams on the football pyramid. A group of young lads who’d got in as “Youth Team” players from VJS did their best to create some noise but it echoed around the empty seats.

At least they hadn’t had too far to travel. VJS stands for Vantaan Jalkapalloseura or Vantaa Football Club and are based in the northern suburbs of Helsinki near the airport. Truthfully this fixture reversed would have been more attractive to us!

That said it was a superb game to watch with the youth pitted against experience. Youth won out, but not by much but it was striking that by the time we’d completed the five minute walk back to the tram stop you wouldn’t have known there’d been a 3rd tier game on.

The next day we left for Stockholm, using the ferry service that in no small part that had led us to visit Helsinki. The root of the route from Helsinki to Stockholm by sea is that there is no tax on alcoholic drinks in international waters and that the Swedish-speaking, but Finnish island of Åland roughly half-way between has tax-exempt status. 

Currently two companies operate the route, Viking and Silja Tallink with the former having the reputation of being more the “Party” boat. Both firms’ ships sail overnight leaving Helsinki around 5pm, stop at Mariehamn, in Åland and arrive in Stockholm around 10am. And that’s what caught my eye, cabins cost from as little as €95 and that cabin will sleep a minimum of two. I looked at it as a hotel room and transport for less than £50 each, try doing that with a flight and hotel!

We upgraded to a Promenade Class cabin (I like a window!) and added on a buffet breakfast (€15) and evening meal (€43) too. Those buffet meals are remarkable value, the evening version contained a full Smörgåsbord and unlimited wine and beer! We enjoyed the house band until 1am, completely forgetting that at midnight the boat switched from Finnish time (GMT +2) to Swedish time (GMT +1) allowing us a much-needed extra hour’s sleep. 

After breakfast we went out on deck as we sailed into the Stockholm archipelago, and I will admit to feeling a little emotional as I spotted the Kaknästornet where 4 years ago Robyn and I got engaged only for the tower to be closed permanently to visitors a few weeks later! While it was a crying shame we couldn’t visit there again, there were people we were desperate to see. After a pandemic, it was time to catch up.