Match Report: Not Promoted But Still Elated

Despite the loss on penalties, Saturday’s promotion match away at FC Rauma was one of the best days I’ve had as a Tampere United supporter. The day is up there with the beating of HJK in the deciding match for the 2006 Finnish Championship away in Helsinki as well as with all the glory and non-glory in our various eurocup stints – you name it. As I have said a number of times this fall, it is all about enjoying the ride, and in some ways meeting the goals is secondary. Besides, not getting promoted this time means that we will do so later. It means that the history of TamU-K will include more matches where promotion is on the line than it otherwise would. Take that as a positive, a big one. We live for matches like this. Getting to experience more of them cannot be a bad thing, right?

My day kicked off at about noon at one of our sponsor bars in Tampere. The buses would leave an hour later, so I decided for a quick beer and lunch. I already met a few of my fellow supporters there, and as I walked to the nearby spot where the buses would leave, I met a few more of them. When I got to the Sori Square, there were dozens of us already there. The mood was festive and anticipation was in the air. This was going to be a good day.

The two hours on the bus just flew by. Talking with friends, speculating about the match, drinking beer, that sort of thing. As we got to Rauma, we entered a bar dead in the middle of the old UNESCO listed wooden city center of the town. Suddenly life was injected into a sleepy little down and a practically empty bar. I had a beer in the bar, and then decided to buy the local paper, where they had a feature story on our club – the second best story ever written about us.

About 40 minutes prior to kick-off, we marched together to the stadium. The air was full of songs, light and thunder – a truly world class atmosphere, albeit in a much smaller scale than the immediate comparisons I made with big matches in Stockholm or Seattle, to name things that I have experienced first hand.

The match itself started loud. This was one of the biggest Sinikaarti away contingents. Ever. I felt immensely proud about that. More than a hundred of us there. Many supporters in Finland never get to experience anything like that, even if their club plays in the top flight. And here we were, playing for promotion to the fourth tier league Kolmonen. On the field the players responded by taking control of the match immediately, and when Mika Kytöviita scored 0-1 from a brilliant cross by Jan Riikonen, everybody went bonkers. We knew that promotion was within our grasp.

Then something happened around the half-hour mark. 1-1. Crossbar. 2-1. A defensive blunder in the box, then a questionable hand ball call leading to a free kick and a goal. Suddenly things did not look so bright anymore. Even if we regained a little bit of control in the remainder of the first half, at half time I was worried. Very worried. Even the sausage that I bought was badly burnt.

But the team responded like I should have expected them to respond. With fire and desire. Less than five minutes into the second half we were even again. Jan Riikonen’s corner found Jan Irjala big and tall near the penalty mark, and he headed the ball in irresistibly past the keeper We will do this, I believed. I sang like that too. I doubt we ever were as loud as we were then.

And then it hit again. Lose the ball in the midfield, counter, boom! Off the post into the net, and we were down again, 3-2. Don’t think he’d make that shot again even if he tried a hundred times. About 25 minutes left: will we do it again? No, correction, we will do it again! We all believed, even when the clock seemed to run faster than usual. And then finally about ten minutes from time it’s Jan Irjala again, this time with his foot from short distance into the roof off the net. We will take this! It is all us. The players kept egging us on and we responded in kind. We are together in this! When was the last time the opponent even brought the ball up in a controlled way?

But as it were, despite all the pressure we built, FC Rauma wouldn’t budge again. Even during the two minutes of injury time we had a couple chances from Mika Kytöviita’s long throw-ins, but the ball wouldn’t ever bounce favorably to us. Final whistle and the horror of going straight to penalties.

We knew what our record had been for penalties this season. Okay, maybe nobody had the actual numbers, but we knew what it had been: miserable. I suppose that helped ease the immediate disappointment of what happened. Four of our players got to take a penalty, but only the second shooter Markus Silvennoinen got one in. Does not leave a lot of room for what-ifs.

As the shoot-out progressed I held onto the hope for a fairytale end. One that would have ended in Ilkka Innola’s hands. Our goalie and captain finished his career in this match. It was an appropriately big occasion for the caliber of a player and person that he is. My heart still cries that we could not give him a promotion as a farewell. Wouldn’t it have been something to have seen him run up to the newly-promoted team with the ball in his hands?

After the penalties had ended, the team came to the supporters, as usual. If you had not seen the tears, you might have thought we were celebrating a victory. But it was Innola’s career that we celebrated. Handshakes with the supporters, hugs with teammates and coaches, and a final “hey! hey! hey!” celebration between the team and supporters lead by Innola. Without this man our club would definitely not be where it is today. He will be missed. Though I think that he will eventually stick around in some form or another.

The bus ride back home was at first a quiet one, but after some fifteen minutes, people started talking again. By the time we meat the team’s bus for a group photo, the immediate disappointment was gone, and everybody was talking about things to come. Indeed, in the big picture the loss did not change anything. Our ultimate goals are much larger than getting promoted to Kolmonen, and even if getting promoted to Kolmonen will be one of the steps that we need to take on the way, not being able to do so on Saturday does not necessarily delay the big plans. In fact, some even argue it was better this way. I cannot really see things that way, but things definitely are not looking bad even with another season in Nelonen.

FC Rauma – TamU-K 3-3 (2-1, 3-1)
11 min Mika Kytöviita 0-1
28 min Jaakko Valtanen 1-1
32 min Niila Asunmaa 2-1
49 min Jan Irjala 2-2
64 min Jaakko Valtanen 3-2
79 min Jan Irjala 3-3

Penalty shootout:
FC Rauma: Aleksi Kanerva, 1-0
TamU-K: Mika Kytöviita, no goal
FC Rauma: Niila Asunmaa, 2-0
TamU-K: Markus Silvennoinen, 2-1
FC Rauma: Kasper Nyholm, no goal
TamU-K: Jouko Turunen, no goal
FC Rauma: Jussi Jokinen, 3-1
TamU-K: Timo Kauppinen, no goal