|Images: Karsten Henning|
Fans of Helsinki football club IFK take their support to new levels, all around the country.
Allez, Allez, Aleeeez, Allez!
Then it’s Monday,
Then it’s Tuesday,
Then it’s Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,
Then it’s Matchday!
Then it’s Sunday,
And then it’s Monday all over again.”
So sounds a bus at 5 pm on a Saturday somewhere in Central Finland, as the song is repeated at times in Finnish, at times in Swedish, but for the most part in German.
Twenty minutes later the pace of the song is getting faster and more intense. Putting the brakes on, things gradually slow down again with “Alleeez, Alleeez” stretching on with no end in sight. The bus left Helsinki seven hours earlier with a bus full of ‘Stadin Kingit’, the IFK supporters group, on their way to Oulu for an away game.
Butch had saved me a seat at the back of the bus when we first set off outside the Opera House in Helsinki. After the initial morning weariness had subdued it became apparent that the crowd in the back has been on tour before. Behind me sits Peter and in front of me JV, two of the eight original members of Stadin Kingit, who have followed IFK to the far corners of Finland ever since the supporters group was first established in 2001.
Since then Stadin Kingit has expanded into a few hundred-strong group. Despite their relatively small size, they are well-known in Helsinki and much of the country for the atmosphere they create and the passion they feel for their club. They’ve also earned a bit of a reputation for being somewhat rowdy.
On their website their slogan reads, “No matter the sport, always IFK”, but for Stadin Kingit, watching football is the main treat on the calendar. Now they are travelling northwards 600 km to watch IFK play in the second highest football division against AC Oulu.
Unheard of in Finland
To ensure a good following for away games and also tackle the cost of such a trip (this one includes a return bus ride and one night’s accommodation in hotel), Stadin Kingit have taken matters into their own hands. They have introduced an away game season card, something completely unheard of in Finland and unique in much of the football-playing world.
Everybody is welcome on the trips: Among the younger people sitting in the front of the bus is an older couple, who have followed Stadin Kingit to many away games before on their own but this is the first time they’d ventured onto the bus itself.
Also along for the ride is Henning, representing German reinforcement from Hamburg. As a 27-year supporter of his local team St. Pauli, he is used to crowds of tens of thousands at the Millerntorn Stadium. Although he has been surrounded by one of the most well known supporter groups in Germany, he is still impressed by the noise levels that 30-odd Stadin Kingin produce.
He was also more than partially responsible for the “Allez, Allez” chants (especially the German version), which still ring in my ears. I suspect these chants will sound in the IFK stands for many matches to come this season.
|On the road again. The Kingit find plenty to cheer about.|
Freedom on the road
During stops at the various ABC service stations scattered along the Finnish highways, chairs and tables were brought to the bus. Thomas, a Stadin Kingi with a guitar, breaks into song as the Kingit set up temporary camp outside the rest stop:
“I’m free to be whatever I want,
Whatever I choose,
And I’ll sing the blues if I want”
The bus is in no hurry as this is the first time that Stadin Kingit are travelling a day ahead of the game. In the middle of the Finnish Lake District, the bus driver, Pate, suddenly announces that the first swim break is on the cards and makes a U-turn towards a nearby lake.
Without further ado, the Kingit jump into the lake for a refreshing dip. Before long, onwards the wheels of the bus turn once again, without a worry in the world. This was largely due to Pate, a seasoned Stadin Kingit driver who knows that sporadic chanting and general noise is to be expected when the Kings are on the road.
Closing in on Oulu, the air is still thick with chanting and song. We finally arrive at our destination around 8 pm. Even after 10 hours on the road, some still complain that the trip up has been too short.
“I could easily have gone another 250 km,” one Kingi laments.
Welcome to the north
Close the border of Lapland, Oulu is an inviting destination, greeting us with some glorious sunlight. After a long night amidst the Tivolis and Amarillos and whatever else the city’s nightlife has to offer them, the Kingit stumble out from the hotel after check-out the next day. Gathered behind some road works, cars pass by on both sides as they bide their time.
With hours to kill before the game and sore heads to nurse, they move closer to the stadium, which is located on an island. Setting up camp in the harbour where the Sunday market is going about its business, no one seems to mind the sleeping, laughing and noisy visitors from Helsinki.
Henning, who had a tendency to disappear, suddenly appears on a standing paddle board in the water next to where the Kingit sit. In a flash he is gone; off again on a new adventure.
As the clock draws closer to kickoff, the Kingit enter the stadium, with a great view overlooking the sea and surrounds. A drinking area has been set aside for the travelling Kingit, helping to keep their lips from drying amidst the revelries. Another version of “Allez, Allez,” is being concocted to the beat of a drum. It’s booming beat sounds all the way to the far end of the stadium where the Oulu supporters are trying to drown out the chants in vain.
In contrast to the shenanigans around me, the football itself is quite dreadful. The match ends in a disappointing 2-1 loss for IFK. But this seems to have no effect whatsoever on the Kingit who are now chanting, “We had more fun,” before jumping on the bus for the long journey home.
In contrast, IFK showed some real class at a home fixture earlier in August. Fronting up against Division One leaders KTP, here they outplayed their opponents before a packed Töölö Football Ground, or ‘Bollis’, teeming with atmosphere.
After the 4-1 victory the IFK players sat down on the pitch in front of the Stadin Kingit end of the stadium. The Kingit sat quietly on the stands above for the first time, after standing and chanting for the duration of the match.
As the captain standing in front of the players yelled:
“Give me an I!”
The Kingit and players roared back, rolling into the familiar call and response:
“Give me an F!”
“Give me a K,”
“What is it!?”
“What is it!?”
“I can’t hear you!”
The players and fans then proceeded to jump up and down in seventh heaven.
The IFK and Stadin Kingit have been able to create a football fan culture where the club and the people around you are more important than the end result after the final whistle. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean smashed bottles and brawls.
But this is not to say that there aren’t any other corners of Finland with a strong football culture and great supporters, but it can’t go unsaid that the largely empty football stadiums in Finland and the lower-than-low interest in the domestic league could use a bit of igniting. The Stadin Kingit is a great example of how it can be be done – to a smaller extent. Although, at times it might feel like fixing a bent nail with a jackhammer.
But in light of Finland’s unprecedented opportunity to qualify for the European Championship being held two years from now in France, it’s good to know that the country also has a grain of football fan culture that can match the ones found in the major football countries. Hopefully, this will flourish in time for when our boys take to the pitch for the first time ever in a major international tournament.
At least I can think of a few people who will be there singing, “Allez Huuhkajat, Allez Finland, Allez IFK!”