Finish football never played an important role in Europe. The national team never made it to a final round of European or World Cup. In the European leagues clubs are getting eleminated in the early qualification rounds. Only HJK Helsinki once made it to the Champions League group stage in the 1998/1999 season. On the other hand, Finland brought us famous football players like Jari Litmanen, which is seen as the best Finish footbal player of all times, and Sami Hyypia. He was the captain of the Reds and won the famous Champions League final of 2005.
In Finland they prefer icehockey and pesäpello, Finish baseball. Why visiting Helsinki then? Well, that is simple. In 2015, HIFK made it back into the top league. This resulted in the return of the Helsinki derby, which hadn’t been played for 43 years. The most succesful club against the oldest club of the country. While HJK is by far the team with the most cash and the better results on the pitch, the derby proves to be a different story. Since 2015 the derby has been played 10 times and HJK only won 3 of them. HIFK is surely a tough challenge. The derby I visited can also be the last derby played for God knows how long. HIFK is fighting relegation and if they don’t succeed, bankruptcy is right around the corner.
HIFK wins my sympathy, not only because they tend to be a more working class club nowadays, but also because they are the underdog. HJK has a big lead in the competition, so my hope is HIFK gets the three points in the derby. My sympathy grows as soon as I enter the Hook bar, home of Stadin Kingit (HIFK ultras). They are not with large numbers, but they sincere love for their club. Their corteo to the stadium is short, but is full of fanatism. They gained my respect.
Their corteo passes the fanatic side of HJK, but their reaction dissapoints me. I expect them to be more fierce, but they only flip fingers and a bit of shouting. I was far from impressed, expected more when seeing your biggest rivals passing by. Had to say, it were mainly a couple of “tough” youngsters showing up for some sort of confrontation.
Telia 5G Arena, as the stadium is called now, is home to both clubs. I think it’s more a dime in a dozen stadium, nothing special. No, being mad about oldschool football stadiums, this one looks plastic together with it’s artificial pitch. What I do like is that the stadium has some proper floodlights.
The sections behind both goals are filled with the ultra groups, The stadium is far from sold out, but still good numbers to create a good atmosphere. However it can not be compared to any of the big derby’s in Europa, they managed to give the derby that proper derby day feeling. Both ends non stop produced a good amount of noice, some pyro and tifo at the start of match.
The HJK ultras already took a “lead” before the match, showing a tifo with a “Klubi” (their nickname) player scoring a goal against the HIFK goalie. Not much cheering by the stadium, so it was not more than a nice try. They follow with flags and pyro. Stadin Kingit has a better tifo in my opinion, nice display with some pyro. It looked like they accidentally set fire to one of their banners, but managed to safe it.
While the derby has started on the stands, the players on the pitch do not show the real derby spirit. The first half is not much, no real changes. A can of Carslberg would be more then welcome on the stand – as they sell proper beer – but somehow you are only allowed to drink it underneath the stands. Are they affraid people start throwing beer to the pitch? Then they should play better football, won’t you say?
Luckily the second half is much better. It goes up and down with opportunities on both sides. After 55 minutes, HJK opens the score when Onovo heads it in from close range. They can’t enjoy it for a long time, because 6 minutes later HIFK scores the equalizer as Ristola puts it in. The away end explodes. That is the way I like to see supporters celebrating a goal. Unfortunately for them, HJK manages to score the winner in the 75th minute. They not only win the derby, but also get the title Stadin Heruus, which means ruler of Helsinki. Still, my sympathy for HIFK keeps growing. They give full support until the end. I honestly hope they will manage to stay up.
All in all a good derby day despite the questionable football quality. But I will always prefer such a derby day over that commercialized bullshit they call Champions League with football players who have no love for their club whatsoever. I love derby days.