I’ve been brainwashed. Over the years I’ve become more and more of a non-sports person. Still, in the last couple of years I’ve got dragged into the wild world of association football, mainly because of a soccer fanatic friend of mine. This friend always says that Finland is a vulgar and barbaric nation because of our sports culture, which, unlike much of the rest of Europe prefers ice hockey to football. He thinks that this also reflects other aspects of the Finnish society and its values. Hockey is a physical sport with rules allowing rough hits as tactical elements, whereas football is more of an aesthetic, beautiful game. My childhood home was not a place discouraging interest in sports. As a kid I loved watching ski jumping and motor sports with my dad. But as a teenager I just started to have other, more important things to do. Somehow I think there is an existing social separation between people who are into sports and the ones devoting their life more on music or arts. It’s not an explicit phenomenon, in fact people rarely talk about it, but I think it is there. This type of classification is of course useless and even harmful, but it has a mental effect anyway. In high school I began to, perhaps partly subconsciously, categorize myself into the musical group. This further caused me to avoid sports, and conversations concerning athletics even started to annoy me a bit.
I consider myself a curious person. This means that I usually keep an open mind toward new things, or at least I try to keep. In the fall of 2009 I moved to a HOAS flat with that particular football freak buddy of mine. After a while the indoctrination began. The TV was on in the living room showing men running on a huge grassy field, passing a small round object around. My roommate was sitting on the couch, staring at the screen with an expression full of enthusiasm and calculation. For a while I wondered if this really was something I wanted to spend my time doing, but finally I sat down. The game was strange; full of rules I didn’t have any idea about. Fortunately this friend is a patient type, so he didn’t get tired with my endless questions. Little by little, the atmosphere and general phenomenon started to swallow me in.
Now I’m a member of the SMJK, the Finnish National Team Supporters’ Association. I also have a season ticket for the qualifications of the 2014 World Cup. Last month I was part of a mob marching from Kamppi to the Olympic Stadium, where Finland met France. I have to say that when the crowd started loudly singing support songs with patriotic lyrics I felt a bit baffled. What had I got into? What was I doing there? It was the first real football game I attended, and suddenly I walked among all those ultimate fans along Mannerheimintie, which had been closed to traffic because of us. I was forced to think over my identity and self-image. Eventually I managed to let go of most of my prejudices and attempted to blend in the gang as well much as I possibly could.
One thing all of these experiences have taught me is that life is more enjoyable when you keep an open mind and attitude toward new things and forget all the stereotypes and preconceptions lingering in your mind. I’m still the same guy I used to be before football entered my life, but today I understand a little better why this silly ball-kicking has such an enormous significance in the life of millions of Europeans.