Football was brought to Finland in the 1890s by English sailors and the first Finnish football club was set up in 1897. The FA of Finland was established in 1907 and became a FIFA member the following year. Finnish FA is more popularly known as SPL, after its local name of Suomen Palloliitto.
Ice hockey is traditionally the most popular sport in Finland but football is increasing in popularity over the past years (115,000 registered players), especially among kids, youth, and women players. It is the most popular sport for the Finnish population 3-18 years of age.
Finland football league system: Veikkausliiga, Ykkonen, & Kakkonen
- The highest division of professional football in Finland was formed in 1930 and was called Mestaruussarja. It was professionalized in 1990 and was renamed Veikkausliiga (founded & run by Finnish national betting agency Veikkaus).Competed by 12 teams, the lowest-ranked club at the end of the season plays a two-legged match against the top team of the second division to determine relegation or promotion. Because of the harsh winter in Finland, regular season usually runs during spring, summer, and autumn (usually from April to October).
- Ykkonen (‘Number One’) is the second-highest division in Finland but it is the highest league governed by the national football association. It is competed by 14 clubs, which play each other in a double round robin during the season. The bottom-four teams are automatically relegated to the third level.
- Kakkonen (‘Number Two’) is the third tier of Finnish football and is competed by 42 teams in three geographical divisions. The bottom-three teams will be relegated to the fourth divisions. Finnish football has a total of eight officially recognized tiers.
Finnish Football Cup & League Cup
The Finnish Cup is the second-most prestigious honor in Finland and was inaugurated in 1955. It is open to every club that is registered with the Football Association of Finland. The competition’s record for most number of participants is 361, set in 2008. The most successful clubs in the Finnish Cup are: FC Haka with 12 cups, HJK with 10 cups, and Reipas Lahti with 7 cups.
The Finnish League Cup features teams from Veikkausliga and is played pre-season during winter. Inaugurated in 1994, Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi won the most League Cups with four.
Finland football clubs
The most successful and by far the most dominant club in Finnish premier division is Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi (Helsinki Football Club), which won 23 championships since their founding in 1906. In the 1998-99 season, they qualified for the Champions League, making them the only Finnish club to play in the tournament’s group stage.
FC Haka is the second-most successful football club in Finland with nine domestic titles as of 2011. The club won the inaugural Finnish Cup and is the first club in the country to win a league-cup double in 1960.
Helsingin Palloseura (Helsinki Ball Club) ties with FC Haka for second-most number of domestic titles. Their most successful years were in the 1920s-30s but has now dropped into the fourth division.
Finland national football team
The Finnish national football team played their first international match in 1911, a 2-5 defeat to Sweden. The following year, Finland made its best performance by finishing fourth in the 1912 Olympics.
Finland is yet to qualify for the two biggest international competitions in football: the UEFA European Championship and the FIFA World Cup. However, the team nearly qualified to Euro 80, only failing to do so by a point. They were also close to qualifying in the 1986 World Cup, but came two points short.
The year 2000 saw the most talented line-up for the Finnish teams with the presence of Antti Niemi, Sami Hyypia, Teemu Tainio and Mikael Forssell, who played in high-profile leagues.
Famous Finnish footballers
Finland has produced several footballers who played in the top leagues. Among them are former Premier League players Peter Enckelman, Jussi Jaaskelainen, and Shefki Kuqi. Others have also played in the Italian Serie A, like Mika Aaltonen, Roman Eremenko, and Perparim Hetemaj. But the two footballers below are considered without equal in Finland's history:
Jari Litmanen is the only active footballer as of 2011 to play in four different decades, having started his career in 1987. He is known in Finland as ‘Kuningas’ (King) for being by far the best footballer the country has produced.
Litmanen reached the peak of his career in the 1990s as a superstar for Dutch club Ajax and also had some stint with other big clubs like Barcelona and Liverpool. He played for the national football team of Finland 137 times, scoring 32 goals. He plays as attacking midfielder throughout most of his career.
Hyypia is one of those football heroes who worked their way up from amateur football to legendary status. He reached his peak with English football club Liverpool, where he spent a decade at center back. Hyypia’s leadership qualities have consistently placed him on the captainship of the Finnish national football team.
Football stadiums in Finland
The grounds in Finland are not as large as the major European football countries. However, Finland can boast of some of the cleanest, most orderly, and most well-maintained venues in the Continent. Below are the three biggest stadia in Finland.
Helsinki Olympic Stadium
The Helsinki Olympic Stadium is a multi-sports venue located just two kilometers from the center of Helsinki. It was opened in 1938 and was host to the 1940 Olympics. The 40,000 capacity park is host to the Finnish National Football Team. It is also a popular venue for major musical concerts.
Ratian Stadion is a multi-purpose venue which hosts Tampere United. The 17,000 all-seater also hosts some of the games of Finland’s National Football Squad.
Lahti Stadion is a multi-use venue in Lahti, Finland. It has an all-seater capacity of 14,500 and hosts local club FC Lahti. It is also used as a venue for winter games like cross-country skiing and biathlon.
Other interesting facts about Finnish football
Finland women’s national football team
The Finnish women’s team is among the top contender of their sport. The reached the semi-finals of the 2005 European Championship and the quarter finals of the 2009 edition. Laura Österberg Kalmari and Anne Mäkinen are the two most popular names in the women’s football team of Finland.
Finnish Youth Cups: Helsinki & Kokkola
Finland hosts two major youth football tournaments that are open to international teams: Helsinki and Kokkola Cups. The Helsinki Cup was established in 1976 and has since been competed by teams from different continents. The tournament is annually staged either in June or July in Helsinki, the capital city of Finland.
The Kokkola Cup is organized by lower-division club GBK Kokkola. The tournament usually lasts for four days and has recorded a maximum participation of 330 teams. The cup is held in mid-July in the city of Kokkola.