Football clubs are weird. Imagine having to plan futures based on the outcome of a series of ball games. Trying to attract fans/players/customers/shareholders/ to invest in a team representing an area they may never have heard of otherwise.
Before the widespread adoption of radio and television, to follow your side would require either attendance at matches or the ability to read print media. Radio spread news around a region or a country, while television beamed the images directly into your home. In the current climate, you can watch every match your team plays on a mobile phone, computer or games console wherever you can get an internet connection.
Successful teams attract fans. Growing up in London in the 1980s, you couldn’t walk ten metres without bumping into a Liverpool fan. In the 1990s, the same was true with Manchester United. Now, you frequently see the jerseys of Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG on the backs of toddlers, smitten they are with Lionel Messi or Neymar.
So how do other clubs compete? Since the formation of the Premier League, Norwich City have gone from title contenders to League One, winning at Bayern Munich and having a tipsy chef berate fans at half-time. In 2017/18, they signed Finland strker Teemu Pukki, who himself had a mixed career at club level with mediocre spells at Schalke and Celtic and fine form at Brondby. Pukki top scored in the Championship as Norwich were promoted back to the top division.
At the same time, Pukki’s national team was slowly evolving with Teemu becoming one of the more experienced players in a squad of potential. Nations League success followed by a favourable group in Euro 2020 qualifying has seen Finland on the cusp of reaching a first major tournament with the Norwich forward the talisman. Normally, Finland hosting Liechtenstein at home would be a fairly low key event, attracting core support but unlikely to sell out any of the usual arenas. Win the match on Friday – Euro 2020 will meet a new challenger.
In the week of the match, Norwich City have sent marketing and communications staff to Helsinki to cash in. A pop up at a city centre mall selling Canaries merchandise. A delegation travelling to Pukki’s hometown Kotka to work with local businesses to promote the club. An ambition to become “the English club” in a region where Barcelona is more widely followed than any domestic side (CIES, 2014).
Strangest of all? A Helsinki nightclub and Norwich will be hosting a “Pukki Party” after the match. 195 people are shown as attending on Facebook, with another two thousand interested. The VIP tickets (35 Euros) will include a Pukki Party t-shirt, no doubt in canary yellow.
Whether the man himself makes an appearance at the party is yet to be seen (unlikely with a visit to Greece shortly after). What we do know is that Norwich are really going for this. Even Wigan’s signing of “the Three Amigos” in the 1990s or Sheffield Wednesday announcing Benito Carbone with a giant pizza was only memorable in passing. Liverpool are huge in Finland, and were before the success of Sami Hyypiä and to a lesser extent Jari Litmanen. They were the giants of Europe and regularly on free to air TV.
It will be fascinating to see where the love-in goes, whether it continues beyond Pukki or whether it fades into insignificance.
But if Finland do reach Euro 2020, there will be one hell of a party. A Pukki Party. And hopefully a Sparv sesh, a Hradecky hoedown and a Kanerva kickback.