Throughout the summer, I have been researching and learning about other leagues which perhaps don’t get the media attention that they perhaps deserve. Recently, I looked into the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian leagues (the links to them can be found below), as they were leagues I wanted to know a lot more about. In keeping with the Nordic theme, and always wanting to expand my footballing knowledge, it made completely sense to extend my knowledge to other Nordic leagues. Therefore, the next league on my focus is a league I know very little about, the Finnish Premier League.
I have always been a fan of Finnish players, with two of them being listed in my all-time favourite eleven. All-time Finnish top scorer and cap earner, Jari Litmanen, is one of my absolute favourite players, whilst Liverpool legend, Sami Hyypiä, was an absolute rock in that Liverpool defense during the 2000’s. Not to mention, the country has produced other solid English Premier League players like Jonatan Johansson, Mikael Forssell and the excellent Jussi Jääskeläinen. Also it is a Finn who is currently lighting up the Premier League goal-scoring charts, with Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki having scored five goals already for the Canaries (and delighting a load of Fantasy Football managers who had placed him in their teams from the start of the season haha).
Despite producing so many excellent players throughout the years (as well as being Wales’ first opponents in the Millennium Stadium), I sadly didn’t know too much about Finnish league football. Therefore I was very keen and excited to learn more about the league and its many teams.
Finnish Football Pyramid
The Finnish football system is controlled overall by the Football Association of Finland (Finnish: Suomen Palloliitto [SPL] / Swedish: Finlands Bollförbund [FBF]), and it has eight tiers within its pyramid:
- Tier 1: Veikkausliiga
- Tier 2: Ykkönen
- Tier 3: Kakkonen
- Tier 4: Kolmonen
- Tier 5: Nelonen
- Tier 6: Vitonen
- Tier 7: Kutonen
- Tier 8: Seiska
The top tier is the Veikkausliiga (which will be discussed further below), with the ten-team Ykkönen (English: ‘Number One‘; Swedish ‘Ettan‘) situated in the second tier of the system. Both of the top two leagues are single national leagues, whilst the third tier Kakkonen league is divided into three groups of twelve teams, resulting in 36 teams at the third step of the football ladder.
The Kolmonen leagues, at the fourth step of the system, and the leagues further below, are then divided into regionalised leagues, which are organised by the respective 12 district authorities of the Football Association of Finland.
The top tier in the Finnish football pyramid is called the Veikkausliiga, and it comprises of a twelve team league. It was founded in 1990 to replace the Mestaruussarja (championship series), which was founded in 1930, and was an amateur / semi-professional league for the majority of its history. Prior to that, the championship was decided by a cup competition between 1908 and 1930. Originally the Veikkausliiga was called the Futisliiga in the first two years of its existence, but it takes its current name from the main sponsor of the league, the Finnish betting agency Veikkaus.
As with the other Nordic countries, Finland has adopted a summer season schedule, with the majority of its league games played between April and October. For the 2018 season, all the teams within the league played each other three times, resulting in a 33 game season. The six best teams of the previous season played 17 home games, thus gaining an advantage, whilst the other six teams played a home game fewer. However the format of the Veikkausliiga has changed for the 2019 season.
The 2019 Veikkausliiga has adopted a similar format to that what currently exists in Denmark and Wales, where the twelve teams played each other twice before the league splits into two groups. The top six teams after 22 league games go into the Championship Series, whilst the bottom six go into the Challenger Series. There they play an additional home and away game against every team in their group, to finish the regular season with 32 league games.
The team who finishes top of the Championship Series, is the champion of the Veikkausliiga and qualifies for the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round, whilst the runners-up also qualify for European competition, going into the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round. However the other teams in the Championship Series have to compete in an end-of-season play-off tournament to decide who claims the final qualifying spot for the Europa League (the Finnish Cup winners also qualify).
The team who finishes in third position automatically qualifies for the European play-off final, whilst the remaining teams (fourth to sixth), as well as the team who finishes top of the Challenger Series (thus finishing seventh) go into the play-offs to decide who earns the chance to face the third-placed side in the European play-off final.
The bottom placed team in the Challenger Series (i.e. the team who finishes in twelfth position) is automatically relegated to the second-tier league, the Ykkönen, and replaced by the Ykkönen champions. The team finishing in eleventh position, must play in a relegation / promotion play-off against the runners-up of the Ykkönen, with the winners of the play-off taking the final spot in the following year’s Veikkausliiga.
Current European Co-Efficient
At the start of the 2019-20 season, the Finnish Veikkausliiga is currently located as the 38th best top-flight league in UEFA’s league coefficient rankings. This put the league just behind North Macedonian First League, but just ahead of the League of Ireland on co-efficient ranking points. It also made them the fifth best Nordic league, with the Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic leagues all ahead of Finland in terms of co-efficient ranking points. Only the Faroe Islands, in 51st position, was behind the Veikkausliiga in the UEFA rankings.
As a result of the league’s ranking, the Veikkausliiga earned four European qualification berths. The league champions qualify for the Champions League, whilst the runners-up, the Finnish Cup winners, and third placed team (now replaced with the European play-off winners, unless the cup winner has already qualified for Europe) qualifying for the Europa League first qualifying round.
For all of the Veikkausliiga teams, these are some of the match day and squad rules that must be applied throughout the season:
- The match day squad must have no more than 3 players from non-European Union nations.
- The match day squad must have at least 9 players who have been trained by a club in Finland.
- There must be at least 4 players trained by a club in Finland within in the starting 11.
- Only a maximum of 3 loanees are allowed in the match day squad.
Past Winners Since 1990
- 13 times = HJK
- 5 times = FC Haka
- 3 times = Tampere United
- 2 times = FC Jazz
- 1 time = Kuusysi, TPV, MyPa-47, FC Inter Turku, SJK and IFK Mariehamn
Of the past winners of the Veikkausliiga since 1990, only HJK, Inter Turku, SJK and IFK Mariehamn currently still play in the top division, with SJK and IFK Mariehamn having won their only league titles in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and Inter Turku winning their only title in 2008. Between those sporadic championship victories, HJK has won the Finnish league title every year, including the past two seasons.
FC Haka won five league titles between 1995 and 2004, although they currently apply their trade in the Ykkönen. The Valkeakoski-based side suffered a number of financial problems at the end of the 2000’s, and were relegated from the Veikkausliiga at the end of the 2012 season. This season they are currently managed by the former Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and Finnish international defensive midfielder, Teemu Tainio.
Tampere United were formed in 1998 from a proposed merger of Tampere-based sides, FC Ilves and TPV, however it only took the place of FC Ilves as TPV decided against the merger. They won the league title in 2001, 2006 and 2007, but were thrown out of the Veikkausliiga in 2011 for alleged suspicious money laundering. The Sinipaidat were reformed by supporters of the club in 2012 as TamU-K before reverting back to its original name of ‘Tampere United’ in 2016. The fan-owned club is currently competing in the Kakkonen (alongside city rivals, TPV), whilst fellow Tampere side, the resurrected FC Ilves, are now back competing in the top tier of Finnish football.
FC Jazz are a club from the western, port-city of Pori, and named after the city’s famous jazz festival, which is one of the biggest in Europe. They won the Veikkausliiga in 1993 and 1996, as well as finishing Finnish Cup finalists in 1995. Sadly FC Jazz were relegated to the second tier in 2004, and then were dissolved in 2005 due to financial problems. A phoenix club, made from the separated youth section of the old club, arose from the ashes and managed to climb back up the system, eventually reaching the second tier in 2013. They currently play in Group B of the Kakkonen.
Lahti-side, FC Kuusysi, won the 1991 title and were runners-up in 1990 and 1992, but soon suffered extreme financial difficulties. This situation eventually resulted in a merger with cross-city rivals, Reipas Lahti, to create FC Lahti in 1996. They currently play in the Veikkausliiga, and have won the Finnish League Cup on three occasions, finishing as high as third position in the 2008 and 2014 seasons. They also play in the largest stadium in the league, the 15,000 capacity Lahden Stadion.
Myllykosen Pallo-47 or MYPA-47 finished as runners-up every year between 1993 and 1996, and competed in Europe, and were eventually champions of the league in 2005. However they had to temporary shut down, ten years after their famous title victory, due to financial difficulties. Thankfully, the Kouvola-based side returned to Finnish football in 2017, and now find themselves playing in the Ykkönen for this season.
- Stadium: Telia 5G-areena, Helsinki
- Nickname: Klubi (Finnish: The Club)
- Colours: Blue & white striped shirts, blue shorts and socks
Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi, commonly known as HJK Helsinki, or simply HJK, are the undoubted kings of Finnish football, having been crowned Finnish champions an unprecedented 29 times in their 112 year history. Unsurprisingly, they are the current Veikkausliiga champions, having won the past two league titles.
Founded in 1907 as multi-sport club, they focused solely on football from 1978 onward. They had initial success in the between 1911 and 1938, but had to wait 26 years before they won their next title. Since the late 1970’s, they have continuously been one of Finland’s strongest teams, and from the foundation of the Veikkausliiga in 1990, they have won 13 league championships. Their most dominant period coming between 2009 and 2014, when HJK won six championships in a row.
HJK have some success in European competitions, being the first (and only to date) team to qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. In addition, they became the first Finnish club to also qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Europa League in the 2014-15 season. They managed to finish third and earn six points, but achieved impressive home victories over Torino and FC Copenhagen.
HJK have rivalries with a number of clubs from the capital, but their historical, main cross-city rivals are HIFK in the Stadin Derby (‘Stadi’ being a slang nickname for Helsinki). This rivalry extends from 1909, when the two teams first faced each other. HJK used to be associated with the Finnish speaking population (from who’s flag they took their club colours from), whereas HIFK traditionally represented the Swedish speaking middle-class population of Helsinki. Nowadays, the importance in the difference in languages has diminished but the rivalries is still as fierce as ever. With both teams playing at the Telia 5G-areena, and also competing in the Veikkausliiga, they will be very interesting fixtures throughout the season.
They also have strong rivalries with FC Lahti, due to historic battles with both Kuusysi and Lahden Reipas in the past, and the close proximity between the two cities, and with historically with FC Haka, with both teams being the two most successful clubs in Finnish football. This is also considered an “urban vs. rural” rivalry due to HJK coming from the capital, and Haka representing the small town of Valkeaskoski.
- Stadium: Wiklöf Holding Arena, Mariehamn
- Nicknames: Grönvitt (Green White); Saarelaiset (The Islanders)
- Colours: White shirts, green shorts, white socks
IFK Mariehamn are an Ålandic club based in Mariehamn, the capital of autonomous archipelago region of the Åland Islands, situated off the south-west coast of Finland. It is the smallest region in the country, and is the only monolingually Swedish-speaking region of Finland. Due to unique situation, it competes within the Island Games, and won the silver medal in the 2009 edition of the football tournament.
The club were formed in 1919, where they initially participated in local tournaments on the islands, before moving across to the Finnish leagues in 1945. For the majority of the team’s history, they have been a lower league club within the Finnish football system. However in 2005, they gained promotion to the Veikkausliiga, after having gotten promoted to the Ykkönen the season before.
Initally the club fluctuated between top half and lower half finishes, but from 2012 onward, became one of the stronger teams within the league. In 2015, they won the Finnish Cup for the very first time, beating FC Inter 2-1 at Valkeakoski. Then the following year, they achieved their first (and only) league championship, winning the title by three points from HJK – a massive achievement for Ålandic football! Having finished the 2017 season in 5th position, they had a disappointing season last year, finishing in 10th position, and just avoiding the relegation play-offs.
- Stadium: Keskuskenttä, Rovaniemi
- Colours: Blue shirts with white trim, white shorts, blue socks
Rovaniemen Palloseura or RoPS are a team based in Rovaniemi, the capital and commercial centre of Lapland. They are the most northern located side in this season’s Veikkausliiga, with them being located just a few miles south of the Arctic Circle. The club’s shares its stadium with their city-rivals, the delightfully festive named FC Santa Claus, who currently play in the Kolmonen (fourth tier). Although RoPS main rivals are fellow Lapp sides, TP-47 and PS Kemi, as well as having a fierce rivalry against HJK.
The Lapp side has failed to win the league so far, although they managed to finish as runners-up in 2015 and also last season. They have won the Finnish Cup, winning their first trophy in 1986 and most recently in 2013, beating KuPS 2-1 in the final. Through winning the cup in 1986, it allowed them to compete in the 1987-88 European Cup Winners’ Cup, in which they impressively reached the quarter-finals of the defunct competition. Their European adventure would be ended by Olympique de Marseille, losing to l’OM 0-4 on aggregate.
They currently have former Marseille, AC Milan and QPR-loanee, the Nigerian defender, Taye Taiwo, in their squad.
- Stadium: Savon Sanomat Areena, Kuopio
- Nicknames: Keltamusta (The Yellow-blacks); Kanarialnnut (The Canaries)
- Colours: All yellow kit with black trim
Kuopion Palloseura or KuPS are a team based in the eastern city of Kuopio, Finland’s 9th most populated city. Situated in Northern Savonia, they are the most eastern based team in this season’s Veikkausliiga. They are one of the mainstays in the top flight of Finnish football, having competed in the top flight between 1949 to 1992, until a difficult period in the 1990’s, which saw them drop to the third tier. Since the turn of the millennium, they have won the Ykkönen three times, having been relegated twice from the Veikkausliiga. However they have maintained their tenure in the top flight since 2008, and are competing in their eleventh consecutive tier 1 season.
The Kanarialnnut have been Finnish champions on five occasions, winning their most recent title in 1976, and winning two Finnish Cups in 1968 and 1989. However since the Veikkausliiga era, they have not been able to win their sixth championship with their best league position finish was finishing as runners-up in 2010 and in 2017. Also they finished as Finnish Cup finalists for three finals in a row between 2011 and 2013, losing to HJK, FC Honka and RoPS respectively. Last season, the Canaries finished in third place, behind HJK and RoPS, and just ahead on goal difference from FC Honka.
- Stadium: Veritas Stadion, Turku
- Nickname: Sinimustat (The Black and Blues)
- Colours: Black shirt with blue sleeves, black shorts, black socks
Football Club International Turku, or more commonly referred to as Inter Turku or just FC Inter, are a professional team based in the port-city of Turku, on the south-west tip of Finland. They are a relatively new team in comparison with other Finnish teams, having been founded as late as 1990 by Stefan Håkans. Allegedly after his son couldn’t fit into any of the youth teams in Turku, Håkans found his own youth team, although by 1992, the club had moved into the Finnish league system.
Starting in Tier 4, it took the club four years to reach the Veikkausliiga, where they spent a couple of seasons before returning back to the second tier. However after just a season in the Ykkönen, they gain promotion back to the top flight, and have played in the Veikkausliiga since 1999. They managed to win the 2008 Veikkausliiga title, winning the trophy by a margin of four points from their nearest challengers, FC Honka – an impressive feat considering they had joined the league system on 16 years prior.
On top of their league title, they also won the Finnish League Cup in 2008, as well as their first Finnish Cup in the following year. Most recently, they managed to win the Finnish Cup for a second time, in 2018, beating HJK 1-0 in their opponent’s own stadium. Last season, Inter finished in seventh position in the league table.
Their main rivals are their fellow Turku club, Turun Palloseura or TPS, who they share the Veritas Stadion with in Turku. Last season they played in the top flight against each other, although TPS were relegated via the play-offs, and are now playing in the second tier for 2019.
- Stadium: OmaSP Stadion, Seinäjoki
- Nicknames: SJK; Kerho (The Club)
- Colours: All black kit with yellow trim
Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho, or SJK Seinäjoki, or just SJK, are a team from the city of Seinäjoki, in western Finland. They are one of the newest sides in the Veikkausliiga, having been formed in just 2007 after a merger between local sides TP-Seinäjoki and Sepsi-78. They currently play at the OmaSP Stadion, which was built in 2016, and hosted the final of the 2018 UEFA European U19 Championship.
The club has local Ostrobothnian rivalries with fellow Veikkausliiga side VPS (based in nearby Vaasa), Jaro (based in Jakobstad) and Lapuan Virkiä (based in Lapua).
Initally the new club competed in the third tier for four seasons before getting promoted as champions in 2011. This started a monumental rise for SJK, when they finished as runners-up, then champions of the Ykkönen, and then repeating the trick in the Veikkausliiga by finishing runners-up and then actually winning the 2015 title. An amazing achievement after just eight years since the merger! They also managed to win the Finnish League Cup in 2014, and then winning the Finnish Cup in 2016, beating HJK on penalties.
Since their fantastic league triumph in 2015, the club’s fortunes in the league have steadily declined to the point where they finished in ninth position last season. It is their worst league finish since they joined the top flight, and their worst league position since the merger.
- Top Goalscorer: Klauss (HJK) – 21 goals
In the 2018 Veikkausliiga, HJK won their twenty-ninth championship, and second consecutive league title by winning the league by a massive margin of 16 points. They had the best attack and defense in the league, as well as having the league’s top goal scorer in the Brazilian forward, Klauss, who was on loan from German Bundesliga side Hoffenheim, and scored 21 league goals for the champions.
RoPS finished as runners-up in the league, whilst 2017 runners-up, KuPS, finished four points behind the Lapp side in third place. They just claimed Europa League qualification by the tightest of margins, having claimed third position by having one goal better in goal difference in comparison to FC Honka, who also finished on 58 points.
Seventh placed side, Inter Turku, also earned Europa League qualification, having won the 2017-18 Finnish Cup, and their second cup in their history, by beating HJK with a single goal in the final held at Helsinki.
At the bottom of the table, it was a tight battle between SJK, IFK Mariehamn, TPS and PS Kemi Kings to see who would say in the league. Ultimately, the Lapp side, PS Kemi Kings, finished bottom of the table and were automatically relegated to the Ykkönen, with TPS finishing in the relegation play-offs. The 2016 Veikkausliiga champions, IFK Mariehamn, could consider themselves lucky in escaping relegation by two points, having had the joint-worst defense in the league alongside Kemi Kings.
In the relegation/promotion play-offs, TPS lost to the Ykkönen runners-up, KPV, meaning they were also relegated with KPV getting promoted to the top flight.
The first qualifying round of the Europa League proved to be a brutal battleground for the three Finnish teams who started their campaigns there, with all three falling at the first hurdle. KuPS’ performance probably the most respectable, losing just 1-2 to that season’s eventual Danish champions, FC København. Whereas FC Ilves lost home and away to Slavia Sofia, whilst FC Lahti suffered a shock 0-3 loss in the first leg at home to FH of Iceland, and failed to recover in the second leg with a goalless draw, to be eliminated.
This meant that HJK were the sole representatives in the Veikkausliiga within the European competitions. They progressed through the first qualifying round of the Champions League, beating Icelandic champions Víkingur Gøta 2-1 and 3-1 over the two legs, to progress to the next round 5-2 on aggregate. They then came up against multiple time Belorussian champions, BATE Borisov, and performed admirably. A goalless draw in Belarus gave them hope, but an agonising 1-2 defeat at home saw them drop into the Europa League. Sadly their European adventure ended in a damp squib, losing 0-3 away, and then 1-4 at home, to the Slovenian champions, Olimpija Ljubljana.
(All following scores are on aggregate)
- CL1QR: Víkingur Gøta (ISL) 5 – 2
- CL2QR: BATE Borisov (BLR) 1 – 2
- EL3QR: Olimpija Ljubljana (SVN) 1 – 7
- EL1QR: FC Copenhagen (DEN) 1 – 2
- EL1QR: Slavia Sofia (BEL) 1 – 3
- EL1QR: FH (ISL) 0 – 3
Current League Table
- Top Goalscorer: Filip Valenčič (FC Inter) – 15 goals
As of the 2nd September, the Veikkausliiga has now reached its halfway stage, where the league now splits into the Championship and Challenger Series format for the first time.
Currently FC Inter leads the Veikkausliiga table at this stage of the season, having scored a league-leading 39 goals and earning themselves 42 points. The Turku-based side are just two points clear of KuPS and Ilves, who are both tied on 40 points, with KuPS having the better goal difference. KuPS also have scored 39 goals so far this season, whilst Ilves have the best defense in the league, having conceded just 18 goals. KuPS are also the in-form side in the league, earning themselves 13 points from a potential 15 points, in their last five league games.
Defending champions, HJK, are currently struggling this season in fourth position, six points behind KuPS and Ilves, and eights points off the lead. In comparison with the rest of the top 6, they have won the fewest games, only winning eight but drawing ten of them. They are joined on 34 points by Honka, whilst former champions, IFK Mariehamn, claimed the final position in the Championship Series, situated in sixth position and three points behind the teams in front of them.
In the positions between seventh and tenth, there are only four points separating the four teams, with SJK, Lahri, newly-promoted HIFK, and surprisingly last season’s runners-up RoPS, in that part of the table. SJK being the worst goalscorers in the league, scoring just 17 goals from their 22 league games, as well as having the worst form in the league over the last five games (scoring only one goal). Whereas RoPS are starting to climb up the table, currently being the 3rd in-form team in the league, earning nine points from their last five games, and staying undefeated.
Even at this stage, there is a gap at the bottom of the table, with newly-promoted side KPV, and last season’s sixth placed team, VPS, situated in eleventh and twelfth positions respectively. They are eight and nine points adrift at the bottom of the table, and are looking certain to occupy the two bottom positions come the end of the season. KPV also having the worst defense and goal difference in the league so far.
By the end of August 2019, all the Finnish teams had been knocked out of the European competitions. Inter Turku and RoPS were both eliminated in the first qualifying round of the Europa League, however KuPS did make it to the second qualifying round before losing to a single goal from Legia Warsaw. HJK made a great fight against the Serbian champions (and according to Stephen Warnock, part-timers complete with plumbers), Red Star Belgrade, but ultimately lost 2-3 to sink to the Europa League. However their defeat on away goals to Latvian champions, FC Riga, would have been disappointing considering they conceded goals in the last ten minutes in both legs, to see them eliminated from European competition earlier than they had expected.
This has had a knock-on effect on the league’s UEFA co-efficient ranking for the 2020-21 season, as it has seen the league drop five places to 43rd position, out of 55 countries. However this drop in ranking has not affected the number of European spots for that season, maintaining the four positions. Plus it has seen the Icelandic league drop below the Veikkausliiga to 46th in the UEFA coefficient rankings.
(All following scores are on aggregate)
- CL1QR: HB Tórshavn (FRO) 5 – 2
- CL2QR: Red Star Belgrade (SER) 2 – 3
- EL3QR: Riga FC (LAT) 3 – 3 [Lost on away goals]
- EL1QR: Vitebsk (LIT) 3 – 1
- EL2QR: Legia Warsaw (POL) 0 – 1
- EL1QR: Brøndby (DEN) 3 – 4
- EL1QR: Aberdeen (SCO) 2 – 4
So that completes my initial delve into the Finnish Veikkausliiga. I have really enjoyed learning about Finnish league football and its teams, and will be keeping an eye on the Championship and Challenger Series sections of the league throughout the autumn. I hope you have also learnt something from my blog and have enjoyed reading about the Veikkausliiga and its teams. As part of the Nordic Series, I will be researching into the Icelandic and Faroe Islander top flight leagues also, but they’ll be in the future.
If you would like to know more about the Veikkausliiga, please check out its official website (which is only currently available in Finnish at the moment, so Google Translate will be handy) at http://www.veikkausliiga.com/. In addition, all the clubs are available on Facebook and Twitter, should you wish to know more about each club.
If you have any questions, opinions or feedback on this blog, please contact me through the comments box below, or via Twitter @The94thMin. I would be eager to hear your thoughts, and also if you follow any Finnish teams and the reason for it! In addition, if you have any country you would like me to focus on after the Nordic Series, please let me know. I would love to hear from you!