COMMENTARY: The quiet protest of the Finnish FA
By Tero Hakola
It was a close-run thing that the Olympic Stadium would have witnessed in short order not one but two "classic" matches next year, in different disciplines.
In addition to the ice hockey encounter in February between local rivals Helsinki IFK and Jokerit in February, there were plans afoot within the Finnish FA to provide football fans with a juicy tidbit at the beginning of June.
The FA had it in mind to use the Stadium as a stage on which to remember and praise its so-called "golden generation" of players.
Sami Hyypiä, Jari Litmanen, Joonas Kolkka, Jonatan Johansson, Hannu Tihinen, and Shefki Kuqi would all have donned the blue-and-white and had one last cameo run-out together in a friendly match, preferably against some attractive national side getting ready for Euro 2012.
Considerations about the quality of the pitch and other matters caused the FA to pull in its horns and withdraw from the venture.
The national side will play its international friendlies somewhere else, and the planned gala match has been postponed until some yet to be determined date in the future.
The FA management are certainly not in an enviable space right now.
The ice hockey "Winter Classic" and the Finland-Russia hockey international to be played shortly afterwards in the Olympic Stadium have whipped the carpet from underneath the summer's football celebrations.
And this is only the beginning: in the next couple of years Finland is going to be a completely ice hockey-driven society, with football very much on the back burner.
The Finnish Lions are the reigning IIHF World Champions, and the country has two World Championships to host in 2012 and 2013, with the matches divided between Helsinki and Stockholm.
Right now, the sponsors and the media are all over ice hockey like a rash. They adore the sport.
Last weekend's mass brawl on the ice between Lahti Pelicans and HIFK will do little to tarnish the sport's reputation, since league hockey has money, power, and above all a good many more bottoms on seats than the Veikkausliiga can boast on the football side.
Ice hockey has the Midas touch.
If the Lions' outdoor matches are allowed to continue, then football will even spiritually lose its home stadium to the men with skates and sticks.
The argument that ostensibly focused on the state of the pitch in the Olympic Stadium (in the wake of having an ice-rink plonked down on the grass for several weeks) was in fact really one of influence and prestige.
You could see this for instance in the face of head coach Mixu Paatelainen when he was interviewed recently by the Finnish Broadcasting Company on the Eagle-Owls' upcoming flight into exile for the summer fixtures.
Paatelainen was royally pissed off at the fate of the national squad, and he made no attempt to disguise his annoyance.
With every fibre, he demanded respect for the national team, and a decision on a long-overdue modern arena devoted to football [rather than an athletics stadium with a football pitch in the middle].
After having spent twenty-odd years knocking around Britain as a player and manager, Paatelainen has every reason to protest at the way things have gone.
He is now the face for the success of Finnish football. His task is to raise the profile of the game, to pick up victories, and to produce positive news.
This will in turn bring in larger attendances, more buzz, and more money. And all these only serve to spawn yet more success.
As it stands now, Paatelainen cannot see that much positive on the horizon.
Yes, a good run by HJK Helsinki in Europe - perhaps even a spot in the Champions League - would naturally provide some juice.
And if the young striker Teemu Pukki were to make a serious breakthrough with a big European club that would be a help.
The FA President Sauli Niinistö, too, could give Paatelainen a leg-up, but really only if instead of taking the job of President of Finland now on offer he were to get himself elected as the President of UEFA.
It's not likely to happen.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 29.11.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
February´s Winter Classic outdoor ice hockey event at Helsinki Olympic Stadium will be bigger than last year (29.11.2011)
Olympic Stadium to get new grass pitch (18.10.2011)
It´s not exactly "Fortress Helsinki" - put the blame on the Stadium (13.9.2011)
TERO HAKOLA / Helsingin Sanomat