Muddying the History of Finnish Football Triumph

''Football at the 1912 Summer Olympics. Finland's squad''.

Close your eyes and imagine how the Spanish national team plays football. Or the Brazilians. Or the Germans. Or the Italians, Or even the Swedes…Many of you probably have quite a good picture how it looks and can even name some of their players. Words that come to my mind is tiki-taka, the beautiful game, like a machine, catenaccio, Xavi, Neymar, Klose, Buffoon, Zlatan…

Close your eyes again and now think about the Finnish national team… It's not as easy. Maybe some of you see players like Jari Litmanen, Sami Hyypiä or Laura Österberg Kalmari. Some of you might see our great women's national football team reaching the semi-finals in the 2005 European Championship, surprising everybody. But I'm sure none of you have any memory of the Finnish national men's team competing in any major tournament and no wonder why.

Finland has never competed in the men's World Cup or in the European Championship. A few times it has been close that the Finnish national team, also known as Huuhkajat, would have qualified. But in the end something and/or everything was missing.

This year's World Cup is no different. We will not see Huuhkajat in their white and blue outfits competing for the world championship. Instead, once again, Finland will be Fanland.
To find some success in a major tournament you have to go all the way back to Stockholm's Summer Olympics in 1912. Finland was fourth in the football tournament after losing the bronze game against Netherland 0-9.

The fourth place was a great achievement though. In the semi-final Finland won as Russia of which Finland back then was a part of. It meant that Finland did not compete as an independent nation and after every victory the Russian flag was displayed. Luckily the Swedes were kind enough to put up a sign under the Russian flag, where it said in Swedish Finland Vunnit, Finland Won! So even if officially a Russian achievement, we know who the fourth best team was in 1912!

Over one hundred years later we can only say that the unofficial fourth placement is our best achievement in a major international men's football tournament. But we Finns are crazy about sport and also a bit quirky. Therefore we have a sport close to football with a Finnish flavor, in which we dominate. Let me introduce swamp football!

Swamp football is a type of football played in swamps (obviously). The sport was invented in Finland, where it used to be an exercise in summer for cross-country skiers and soldiers. The first organized tournament was the Finnish championship in 1998 and only two years later the first world championship was organized in in Vuorisuo, Finland.

"Swamp Soccer. Ukkohalla Ski centerä"
During the last 18 years the sport has spread around the world and is now played in Russia, Scotland, Germany, Iceland and India. But still, without any doubt, Finland is the greatest swamp football country with many championships! This year Finland will again compete in the world championship and we, as a sport crazy nation, will have the opportunity to cheer for our own heroes.

Next time you close your eyes and imagine Finns playing football I hope you will see something more than missed chances and disappointed fans. I hope you'll see women and men in swamps, covered in mud, screaming something in a language you don't understand, running after a football and totally dominating the opposite team!

Pitkä päätyyn ja perään!

Author: Jon Järviniemi is an Intern at the Embassy of Finland in Canberra. 


Popular Posts