In this installment of the International Footy series we talk to Janne Hokkonen, the President of the Finland AFL.
Janne first got involved in Australian football when he was looking for a hobby in 2009. He says it was an accident, when a family friend introduced him to the game. He started playing kick to kick in the park with a small group of guys, and within the month was playing in his first game. He says that hes spent most of the time in the backline, but has played all over except ruck due to his short stature.
Janne is the President of the FAFL board which takes responsibility for the organisation of the national team, including its practice matches, as well as the the national league grand final and the preseason competition.
Janne says that the league has taken some forward strides since it started, but that it can be difficult to branch out, and to get people to watch games.
The Finland AFL consists of four teams, with plans to branch out to two other towns in the country, but those teams are not yet competing in the league. Distance can be a problem with one of the teams located a 6 hour drive from its nearest side.
Janne hopes for 2 or 3 more teams in the FAFL and a good regional league in the future.
The League consists of about 100 players, with around 25 Australians. Janne says that two of the 4 teams are almost completely stocked by guys from Finland, and the other two teams are around 50/50.
The league plays a variant of 9 a side, with six players on the bench. Three in the forward line, three on the ball, and three in the backline. The field used is the typical European soccer field. There can be difficulties booking fields because some times confuse the game with rugby union and are concerned that players may ruin the pitches.
Teams play 10 games in the Finnish summer if they make finals in the FAFL league competition. They also play a number of games in the FAFL Cup preseason competition. While presently the FAFL cup consists only of Finnish sides, there are plans to try to expand that to national leagues close to them, like Sweden.
There is the beginnings of a junior program in Finland, where one of the coaches had a young son who was of the age to begin Australian footy and began a junior program to accommodate that.
The Finnish national team was originally called the Lions, but are now known as the Icebreakers. The name change was a necessity says Janne, because of the number of natiional sides already known as the Lions.
At the recent Euro Cup, Finland finished sixth. They couldnt get the player numbers to go to the European Championships due to a somewhat unique reason – mandatory national service.
Janne tells me that plans are afoot for the Icebreakers to come to the International Cup in 2014 – having only competed once before – and expects the team to be a lot stronger than it was in the past, as its players get more experienced in the game. There are a small number of Finish players living in Australia who will make the Finnish side at the IC Cup in 2014.
For more information on the Finland AFL, please visit their facebook page.