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Finland Footy – Cometh The Wildmen

  • Monday, February 25 2013 @ 08:13 pm ACDT
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Certainly if growth, confidence, belief and sheer unbridled enthusiasm are markers for success, then Finnish Australian Rules football is about to enjoy a wild ride in 2013. Word from Finland is that up to three new or resurrected clubs may join the league in coming seasons, with most having an eye towards being competitive in some way as early as this season.

Leading the charge are the Parru Wildmen (referred to as the Lappeenranta Wildmen in a previous WFN article), based in the south eastern city of Lappeenranta, close to the Russian border.

According to Antti Lipsanen, the "man behind the wildmen", the development of this team got off to a slow start. "We had some trouble with booking a proper hall for us to practice, which in turn makes it hard to promote the sport [as we] can't really say 'be there' if there is no place to be. However, we've since had three sessions with a bunch of guys thanks to AFL Europe and the SCP-grant."

Antti added a positive turn of events which may well set the Wildmen on a path to the FAFL national league. "Just last week we also started co-operating with Lappeenranta University of Technology’s own amateur sports team, Parru. Our team will from now on operate under their flag, and with their help we'll try to promote the sport further, and they have already assisted us in getting a fixed date on a proper place for us to practice."

When asked about the goals for the club in terms of competition, Antti added that "We'll do our absolute best to take part in the FAFL Cup this year. However, due to long distances and the team consisting mainly of students, who will be working in different parts of Finland for the summer, we may have to pass up the opportunity to play in the local league." Still, the enthusiasm of Antti and his fellow Wildmen suggests that passing may only be for a while and that ultimately they will find a way. FAFL schedulers must already be licking their lips at the potential of another team to add to the draw.

But the Parru Wildmen may not be the only new feature on the Finnish footy landscape. FAFL President, Tomi Mikael Virtanen, has already confidently suggested that "From FAFL's point of view, we're more than happy to welcome new teams to our national league. We've been encouraging people to start new teams and to introduce the sport to friends, high schools, other sport clubs etc, just to mention a few. Things are looking great in Finland footy wise! It seems that there'll be one new team in Tampere, one in Lappeenranta (the previously mentioned Parru Wildmen} and also one traditional team, Espoo Roos are coming back to the league this year."

It would certainly be encouraging to see Espoo Roos come back in their own right after having effectively merged with the Helsinki Heatseekers. The hope must be that the interest in the game in the national capital has increased sufficiently to accommodate the two sides. This would then add to the strength of the code which would see the Roos and Heatseekers join with the Salo Juggernauts, Turku Dockers and Vaasa Wombats to create a core group of five clubs.

Part of this growth comes from the FAFL’s decision to create draws which attract attention and crowds on which to build a future.

As Tomi says "This season we're organizing altogether three double headers. It helps us not only to get more umpires and sideline help, but also creates a great atmosphere among all the players. The plan is to go and play at least one double header in some city where we're hoping to get a team started."

"Last year we played our annual FAFL Cup in Tampere and got some good media coverage and word of mouth out of it. We believe that it helped us in spreading the Sport and now there's a team starting up in Tampere." If this team in Tampere can also get off the ground, Finnish football might well be looking at seven clubs in the not too distant future.

Tomi continued, "We got a start up package for them (Tampere) from Europe AFL, which is a good thing, and Ben (MacCormack – General Manager, AFL Europe) has been a great resource also in other ways for us, helping out in many ways."

As well as the enormous promotion being achieved by the FAFL, the clubs have also extended their own hands in friendship to attract interest, experience and connections. Tomi pointed out that "the clubs have good relations with other countries and they’re organizing some visits during the preseason. For example Turku Dockers are planning to travel to Sweden and play the Bromma Vikings there. Last year the Swedes visited them in Finland and now they're paying it back by travelling to Sweden. This is all good for the sport in Europe in general."

So, overall, the Finland Australian Football League has spent the off season working towards bigger and better things for 2013 and beyond. It remains to be seen just how successful these new ventures will be, but the excitement being generated seems infectious. And nothing is as exciting as a new season with the prospect of new clubs to watch and support.

Cometh the Roos, Cometh Tampere…and Cometh the Wildmen.