Goals galore and a whole lot more….
On Sunday, we took a trip back to Sonera stadium with our friend Ama to see Helsinki’s own HJK play against league leaders JJK. Both Ben and I had already seen HJK in the Champions League qualifiers last year but this was our first taste of domestic action. More thrilling was the prospect of seeing the legend of Finnish football that is Jari Litmanen as he closes out his career with a swansong at Finland’s most successful club.
Jari started the game on the bench which was disappointing but understandable at the age of forty. I was promised by Ama that he would put in an appearance at 60 minutes. However, my fears that the ageing superstar would not be needed crept in as HJK proceeded to score at will on their way to a 6-2 victors over their pink-shirted opponents. I’m not sure who designed that kit but I really hope the players get a bonus every time they have to wear it. It certainly didn’t help them to keep out any of the three goals that HJK fired past them before the interval.
Half time came and with it brought an introduction to a Finnish footballing delicacy. Where we do half time pies, the Finns do half time sausages-in-a-paper-cup. The exasperated joy in Terry’s face when the man next to him returned to the stands with his portion was rivalled only by the subsequent dejected trudge back to his own seat on being informed that they had sold out. However, this soon became irrelevant as Jari, who had begun his half time kickabout on the pitch turned his attention to the goal and slotted the ball into an empty net from well over 6 yards. The crowd cheered….. genuinely.
As the second half began, the goals continued to come. Sixty minutes came and went with Jari still energetically bounding up and down the sideline in warmups but showing no intention of readying himself for the game. I scowled at Ama. Then I scowled at the manager. Then I scowled at the opposition for their incompetence, which was obviously the reason that Jari was not needed. Nobody noticed me scowl in any direction. The rain continued to fall. I felt sad.
Then at 70 minutes our man finally started stripping off. The crowd, for whom goals had now become old news, took notice. Sure enough Jari entered the fray (for no apparent reason – the game was won) to rapturous applause from the crowd. They were cheering more than they had for any of the goals. I was cheering too. Although he had made very little impact at Barca, he’d worn the shirt and that is enough for me. I was excited to see what the old dog still had in him.
As it turns out, not a lot. Bless his heart, he was rubbish. He gave the ball away a number of times and looked lost for most of his 20 minutes. I was informed by Ama that he usually plays better. Perhaps he needs that extra 10 minutes to really get into the game. Nonetheless it was a grand occasion and a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
I have a couple of photos from long range and I’ll add one as soon as I can.
In other news, Slap The Turtle has had some great publicity over the last few days from people all over Finland, the UK and other parts of Europe. Just want to say thank you to everyone. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing. Thanks to the guys from Europlayers for putting the Blog on their news pages. Thanks also to Riku Flink from touchdown.fi for allowing me to use his photos from the league games. You can see more of them at his website.