NORDIC FOOTBALL would be lost without its three letter acronyms. Teams are frequently known by their TLAs rather than their full title, and it is just as well, because some club names require you to take a slug of oxygen when you start talking football.
This certainly applies to Finland, where the latest champions Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho are known as SJK. This team from a town renowned for its huge tango festival, danced to the title on the final day of the season. “This is a reward for the entire journey we’ve made together,” declared coach Simo Valakari.
It was the sort of finale that not even SKYTV could have choreographed. With one game to go, the league table showed SJK top with one point more than RoPS (Rovaniemen Palloseura) and two ahead of reigning champions HJK (Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi) of Helsinki.
HJK have dominated Finnish football for years and had won the Veikkausliiga every year since 2009 and eight of their 27 titles have been in the 21st century. They won the double in 2014 and remain the best supported side in Finland, averaging more than 5,000 to SJK’s sub-3,000 crowds.
SJK went into the last round of fixtures as favourites, though. Their opponents were bottom-placed FF Jaro, while arctic circlers RoPS faced FC Lahti and HJK travelled to KuPS Kuopio. All three teams won, with SJK beating Jaro 2-0 in front of 6,000 people. The nerves of the champions-elect were calmed by a second minute goal (actually 62 seconds!) from former HJK midfield man Mehmet Hetemaj and then striker Roope Riski netted SJK’s clincher with a minute to go.
So who are SJK? Coach Valakari should be vaguely known to Derby County fans. The Finnish international (32 caps) played for the Rams between 2000 and 2004 without really establishing himself. He went into management in 2010 and in 2012 arrived at SJK. His record is impressive. SJK, who, incidentally, are the result of a merger, were promoted from the third tier of Finnish football, the Kakkonen, in 2011, and in Valakari’s second season, they won the Ykkönen. Last year, they won the Finnish League Cup.
They are a multi-national team with six Finns in the starting line-up against Jaro. The rest are from Serbia, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Brazil and Estonia. There is even an Englishman, Wayne Brown, on the bench. SJK’s title run-in was aided by Brazilian Allan Rodrigues de Souza, a midfielder on-loan from Liverpool. He scored twice in eight games during his temporary assignment.
Valakari must be pleased that he resisted the opportunity to move to Scotland and Motherwell. The tango is a better proposition than Scottish country dancing!
SJK from FIN will play in the UCL in 2016-17. OK?