If the Nordics get the euros…


IT’S GOOD NEWS that the Nordic football associations are considering making a joint-bid for either Euro 2024 or 2028. The region has been under-used by UEFA and FIFA, hosting one European Championship in 1992, one World Cup in 1958 (neutral Sweden after WW2) and three European Cup-Winners Cups (Goteborg, Copenhagen and Stockholm).

The plan is for a four-country approach, with Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden involved. Given that UEFA have, disastrously, opted for a pan-European competition for 2020 (which will include Copenhagen) four seems a magic number. But expectations may have to be tempered around crowd potential of such a format.

Scandinavia does not have a plethora of big football stadiums, largely because they don’t need them in normal circumstances. Consider the average crowds for domestic football in these countries:

Country Average Best Supported Average
Denmark 7,204 Brondby 14,000
Finland 2,574 HJK Helsinki 5,000
Norway 6,711 Rosenborg 18,000
Sweden 9,961 Hamerby 26,000

To put it into context, Nordic attendances are League One level in England. Assuming that the competition is likely to take place across Copenhagen, Stockholm, Goteborg, Oslo, Trondheim and Helsinki, the question is will this be enough for such a competition? There will be 10 locations for 2016, the first 24-team structure and there were eight in 2012 and 2008 (16 teams).

As for stadiums, Sweden has the 50,000 capacity Friends Arena (home of AIK Stockholm) and Tele 2 Arena with 30,000. Malmo’s Swedbank Stadium holds 24,000 and then it’s the Gamla Ullevi in Goteborg. Norway has Oslo’s Ullevaal with 28,000 and Trondheim’s Lerkendal with 21,000. Denmark’s offering is really focused on Copenhagen and its two stadiums of note – the Parken (40,000) and Brondby (29,000). As for Helsinki, they just have the 40,000 Olympic Stadium.

The last time a major competition was held in the region in 1992 saw average crowds of 29,000 that is small when compared to 2012 (46,000), 2008 (37,000), 2004 (37,000), 2000 (36,000) and 1996 (41,000). When Sweden hosted the World Cup in 1958, the average crowd was 23,000.

Danish Football Association president, Jesper Møller said: “The European Championship is one of the biggest events in the world of football and is great for all of us who love the game. To host one of the largest sporting events have huge implications for all parts of the Danish football and throughout Denmark. Both the fans and supporters but also for clubs, volunteers and others who need help to arrange and to enable a such a big event. This will provide a huge boost for Danish football for many years before and after the European Championship finals.”

But the Nordics will have to beat off competition. Germany, Turkey, the Netherlands and a joint Estonia-Russia bid are all expected for 2024.




Flight of the Valakari – SJK break the HJK stranglehold

FinlandNORDIC 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?

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