Early evening at FC Lahti

Finland is a strange place even in the middle of summer. While in western Europe it’s normal for the sun to make everyone smile in Finland it seemed to work differently.

Overcast, grey and rain lingers all the time it seemed and felt as if the snow or at least very cold air was never that far away. The rugged, grey landscape makes you feel a certain way and its hard to describe – everything feels flat, conservative and sombre.

Yes the sun appears – sometimes but this just feels like a grey place even when the sun is shining.

Even though the distance between Helsinki and the Arctic Circle is some 712 km, the capital just feels cold.

Everyone looks miserable in Helsinki, and as some travel writers suggest in Finland “melancholy, sorrow and shyness abound”. Someone from CNN once wrote that the Finns themselves were “grimly in touch with no one but themselves.”

The rugged landscape and freezing climate as well as the country’s historic struggles against overbearing neighbours in Sweden and Russia have helped forge a distinct Finnish culture. The culture is distinguished by finding a way through difficult circumstances namely the trait of perseverance or sisu.

Despite the extremes of weather Finland has a rich sporting history and likewise so does Lahti – but its success largely comes in the area of winter sports. Even the national sports in Finland can be obscure One is pesäpallo and while pesäpallo is not extremely popular in Finland – as with the relatively unknown floorball – it is seen as an official national sport in the country.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular sport in Finland is not football but ice hockey.

On an international scale, the Finnish ice hockey team is incredibly successful: it has won the World Championship 3 times, in 1995, 2011, and 2019 and is considered to be a member of the “Big Six”. The unofficial group of the 6 strongest nations in the sport.

The second most popular sport in Finland is football (jalkapallo).

A little bit like in the US where basketball, Gridiron and Baseball hold the media in Finland participation in football is on the rise yearly. There are more Finnish people playing football for fun and affiliated to a club than those who play ice hockey.

Football has become the most popular hobby among 3 to 18 year-olds boys and girls in the country.

Why this is can be attributed to Finland’s very egalitarian culture with both women and men participating almost equally in all societal roles.

But while participation is on the rise crowds remain small even in the capital.

Lahti – By Night

The train trip to Lahti was unremarkable – much like most things in Finland. People going home from work did crosswords or read a newspaper. Again the grimness of life was what was most notable amongst everyone. It’s also a very homogenous society and lacking in any sort of diversity – it looks like everyone is Finnish.

Lahti in Finland is a traditional ski jumping and winter sports venue and an experienced host in the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup.

The city is well known for the annually held Lahti Ski Games (Salpausselän kisat) but in football terms its most famous club is FC Kuusysi Lahti.

Now languishing in the fourth tier of Finnish football Kuusysi’s most famous night was defeating Liverpool 1-0 in the UEFA Cup back in 1991-92. The backdrop to that win was that the fixture was one of the first ties that Liverpool had played in Europe since being banned from UEFA competition due to Heysel.

FC Kuusysi were established in 1934.

The club was first established under the name Lahden Pallomiehet and before taking its current name the club was called Upon Pallo between the years 1964 to 1968.

Today, FC Kuusysi is a club where football is said to be possible for everyone. The club operates and appeals to the thousands of girls and boys who want to participate in football in Finland.

At FC Kuusysi players and coaching are the main focus.

The objective is to form a safe and optimal improvement for all types of players. The club’s mission is to offer quality action to everyone’s own level – namely football as a lifestyle. Career paths are divided into three different routes; goal-oriented competitive team action, goal-oriented challenge team action and hobby team action.

If the historic Kuusysi are a force for all types of footballers then FC Lahti are all about the Veikkausliiga brand.

In 1996 FC Lahti was officially founded when two rival clubs from Lahti – FC Kuusysi and Reipas Lahti decided to merge into one club. But both Reipas and Kuusysi remained as legal entities and these clubs controlled the junior sections and player pathways of the new club with the elite players left to the bigger brand.

In the Finnish top tier FC Lahti has not yet achieved the success of Kuusysi or Reipas both of whom has longer and more successful traditions. In over 23 seasons in the Veikkausliiga, FC Lahti have never really been challengers for the title – a third place finish in 2014 being the sole occasion that they have been anywhere near challenging HJK.

But it’s not just HJK Helsinki that FC Lahti remain in the shadow of – it’s the ski jumps. Salpausselkä is a ski jumping venue that forms part of the Lahden Stadium sports complex and provides a stunning backdrop to the football field and overshadows anything that happens on the pitch.

Kuopion Palloseura (KuPS) vs FC Lahti

30th August 2022

Suomen Cup – Semi Final

Attendance: 1,105

Referee: Antti Munukka

A mere 1,105 were in attendance and about 25 of them were following KuPS. A tetchy and indisciplined game saw eight players cautioned and the visitors gain a red card from the referee.

KuPS did however run out winners to earn a Olympic Stadium Helsinki final place against Inter Turku

Despite the occasion of a semi-final it was all relatively low key and sombre an occasion. Very few fans got up and shouted and the ski jumps just sort of sat overlooking proceedings in an overbearing way.

As with other cold-climate European countries league matches in Finland are played in summer but such is life in Finland its hard to see where the fans are going to come from outside of the more cosmopolitan Helsinki. At many football stadiums in Denmark, Sweden and in Norway you are likely to see a statue of a footballer but in Lahti it was a skier.

With a schedule that usually lasts from April to October and a format and a number of teams that has changed frequently, Finnish football ranks as the weakest amongst Scandinavian countries. But with participation of both girls and boys on the rise hopes are high for a bright future for the national teams.