Nearly 4,000 witness Ilves promotion in Tampere
A good many financially-challenged football clubs in Finland's Veikkausliiga would have given their eye-teeth for the attendance on Saturday at the Tammela Stadium in Tampere when the home side FC Ilves hosted Åbo IFK of Turku in the second leg of a 2nd Division promotion play-off.
Ilves won 4-1 in front of 3,841 spectators, and secured promotion to the First Division by a 5-1 aggregate.
Friday night's Veikkausliiga games (in other words the matches one division UP from the First Division to which Ilves are now bound) were seen by appreciably fewer people, with for instance just 717 paying spectators turning up to witness cash-strapped FC Honka of Espoo beating KuPS of Kuopio 2-1 in a largely meaningless mid-table fixture.
This season FC Ilves have lost just one of their 27 games in the Second Division West, collecting 70 points and scoring 84 goals in the process.
The club, founded in 1931, has been around for quite a while, and is part of the larger sports entity that includes the Tampere Ilves ice hockey team.
Ilves won the Finnish Championship in 1983, but in 1998 the club ran into financial difficulties and the league licence was taken up by a new entity, Tampere United, which emerged from the ruins and inherited Ilves's place in the First Division.
Tampere United flourished briefly, and even brought the Finnish title back to Tampere in 2001, 2006, and 2007, but it all went pear-shaped in 2011 following a string of poor seasons and an unsavoury run-in with a dubious firm based in Singapore that was known for involvement in fixed games and money laundering.
Tampere United lost their league licence last year after the Finnish FA suspended the club indefinitely. The company duly folded.
The TamU case is still rumbling on in the legal system, with the initial charges of money laundering having been quashed, and TamU still harbour hopes of a return and even of a fat compensation payout from the FA.
Still, at least now Tampere football fans have a chance of a return to the top table by playing, rather than through the courts.
FC Ilves are clearly the city's top side, and with some 3,000 juniors on the books they are also Finland's largest football club by quite some way.
Ilves were joined in the First Division by AC Kajaani, who won 1-0 at home to Järvenpää Palloseura after a goalless draw in the first leg.
Monday night sees the penultimate round of the Veikkausliiga season, with HJK Helsinki in a position to wrap things up at home to FC Lahti.
They currently hold a one-point advantage and a rather better goal difference (+25 to +18) over Inter Turku, who meet local rivals TPS, currently third and four points further back.
The Helsinki side have matters in their own hands. Barring an improbable goalfest in the last round, a home win for HJK and anything other than a win for Inter will settle the title on Monday and give the Helsinki club's head coach Antti Muurinen a nice going-away present.
Muurinen will not be in charge next season, in spite of the fact that he has taken HJK to the title in 2009, 2010, and 2011, and won the League and Cup double last year.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Cash-strapped Espoo Honka needs to come up with EUR 150,000 to renew league licence (19.10.2012)
Helsinki HJK hires Sixten Boström as new head coach - former head coach Muurinen offered position elsewhere in organisation (10.10.2012)
FC Ilves (Wikipedia)