Finland may not be a prominent player in football internationally, but in recent years, the sport has become much more popular, while the number of players is on the rise as well. The country has more than 140,000 registered football players, which is significantly higher than ice hockey, Finland’s most popular sport.
Hence, while ice hockey may be popular in the country as a spectator sport, the locals prefer to play football more, particularly the youngsters.
This article offers a brief overview of the evolution of football and its present status in Finland.
History of football in Finland
Football was introduced in Finland in the late 19th century when the country was still a part of the Russian empire. It is believed that English sailors introduced the locals in the region of Turku to football. From thereon, the popularity of the sport gained traction.
In 1906, the first national football competition was held in Turku, and a local school won the event. In 1907, the Football Association of Finland was established, and it became a member of FIFA the next year. Finland became a member of UEFA in 1957.
While the sport has been played in Finland for a long time, it has not enjoyed a prominent status, which is probably why Finland has not managed to excel internationally. However, in the 1980s, efforts were made to revive the sport and promote its growth and quality in the country. As a result, Finland has produced many talented players, including Antii Niemi, Mixu Paatelainen, Teemu Tainio, and Jaru Litmanen, among others.
Football Association of Finland
The Football Association of Finland (SPL: Suomen Palloliitto in Finnish) is the official governing body for football in Finland. The organisation was established in May 1907 in Helsinki. The SPL is responsible for organising and overseeing the affairs of the men’s and women’s national football teams as well as the local competitions. It also oversees the country’s second and third tiers of football, while the 12 respective district organisations manage the lower tiers.
Till 1972, the SPL was also responsible for bandy in Finland, which changed when the Finland Bandy Association was formed. With more than 1000 clubs as its members and 140,000 registered players, the SPL is regarded as the largest amateur sports body in the country.
Finland National Football Team
The national football team of Finland played its first international game in 1911. At that time, Finland was still a part of the Russian Empire. In 1917 the Grand Duchy of Finland became an independent country named Finland.
Finland played in a few Olympic Games but did not gain a prominent position. The team has not yet qualified for FIFA World Cup and only qualified for UEFA Euro in 2020. After decades of subpar or only average campaigns and results, the team finally made some progress in the 2000s and achieved impressive results against more successful European teams. In 2007, the team was ranked 33rd in the FIFA rankings.
However, the progression was short-lived, and afterward, the team again experienced a decline, and in 2017, the team hit its all-time low position of 110 in FIFA. Presently, the team is ranked 56th in FIFA and is in 29th place among the European members of FIFA.
The women’s national football team played their first international match in 1973 against Sweden. The team participated in the first international competition in 1984, the European Competition for Women’s Football Qualification. The team’s most successful performance was in 2005 when it reached the UEFA Women’s Euro Cup semi-finals. Currently, the team is in 29th place in the FIFA ranking.
Besides the national football teams for men and women, Finland also has U-19 and U-21 teams, which the Football Association of Finland also manages.
Domestic football in Finland
Domestic football is very popular in Finland. The Veikkausliiga is the country’s highest division of men’s football, formed in 1990. Presently it comprises 12 of the top football clubs in Finland.
Before Veikkausliiga, the highest-tiered division was Mestaruussarja or the championship series formed in 1930 as a semi-professional league. Below the Veikkausliiga is a league system, also managed by the SPL. The Veikkausliiga follows a promotion and relegation system with the Ykkonen or the First Division, Finland’s second-highest football division.
Ykkonen comprises ten teams, and beneath it, the divisions are categorised into groups according to the clubs’ locations. For instance, Kakkonen, the second division, has 40 teams divided into four groups according to their regions, each group having 10 teams.
What is the Finnish Cup?
The Finnish Cup is the national club competition in Finland. All the member clubs of the Finland Football Association can participate in the competition.
What is Finland’s FIFA ranking?
The men’s national football team is currently ranked 56th in FIFA, while the women’s team is in 29th place.