Finland. Was this the weakest European football is debatable, but one thing was certain – Finnish football, lowly as it was, was seemingly getting worse. Compared to others at the bottom of the European pile, here football was not improving at all. Partly because of that, partly because of the problems every small league had – few games, mainly – the championship was run in complicated way. A regular season at first, followed by direct elimination play-offs for the title. And there was also mini promotion/relegation tournament, which involved the next to last in the preliminary stage and the 2nd placed in the Second Division. Since 2 teams ended with equal points, at first there was a play-off for the safe 10th place in the top division: Koparit (Kuopio) prevailed 2-1 over KPV (Kokkola), which went to play in the promotion/relegation play off. MP (Mikkeli) was 12th – last – with 11 points and directly relegated.
OTP (Oulu) won the Second Division championship with 32 points and was promoted. KPV (Kokkola) kept its top league place after 1-2 and 2-0 against Elo (Kuopio), 2nd in the Second Division.
So far, so good. The top 4 teams of the preliminary stage proceeded to the semi-finals of the final stage. Kuusysi (Lahti), 3rd in the preliminary stage, eliminated the winners of the same stage Haka (Valkeakoski) 2-0 and 1-2.
Ilves (Tampere), 4th in the preliminary stage, lost to 2nd placed TPS (Turku) – 2-1 and 0-4.
Ilves won bronze medals after beating twice Haka – 2-1 and 1-0.
Ilves (Tampere), hoping the names are right: crouching from left – Lemivara, Koivisto, Aho, Malinen, Rasanen, Uimonen, Kuulovainen.
Standing: Linusmaki, Kuusisto, Runsas, Ninimaki, Widgren, Hjelm, Waklin, Bellfield, Ristimaki – coach.
Champions in 1983, now 3rd – not bad.
TPS (Turku) ended with silver – they were no match for bright opponents, who stepped up when it mattered most. Kuusysi won the home leg of the final 4-0 and then tied the away leg 4-4.
Perhaps Kuusysi (Lahti) was the only bright thing in Finnish football – they were new club, established from amalgamation of local teams, with ambition. If their first title in 1982 was taken with a grain of salt, not they confirmed their intention to lead: second title! Back row, left to right: Kenneth Mitchell, Esa Pekonen, Ismo Korhonen, Markus Tornvall, Raimo Kumpulainen.
Front: Ilkka Remes, Ilpo Talvio, Jyrki Hannikainen, Ismo Lius, Jari Rinne, Keith Armstrong.
No secrets here: as everywhere else, improvement was based on imports. Two British players – Mitchell and Armstrong – were imported specifically with winning in mind. They delivered.
Kuusysi attempted to win a double, but no luck – they lost the Cup final 1-2 to HJK Helsinki.
HJK (Helsinki), traditionally the strongest and most successful Finnish club, managed to get one more trophy this year, but it was also significant victory – HJK mostly won championships, not Cups. So far, they won the Cup only 2 times – in 1966 and 1981. Third Cup was much needed, especially when they unable to win the title.