To make justice to myself and the history it has to be seen in the right light. 60 watts table lamp is a good start but in my case the brightness or dimness has been also a mixture of my football history, personal history and the world history. I don't believe in co-incidences, I live like everything has a meaning so I can't look any part of my life as a separate one. So this is my continuing story from a tiny round headed kid to the domination of the world, not only to the sole achievements like eating three family pizzas in two hours. A wise man, much wiser than I am, has written:" History is not a mirror of your life, it is how things are remembered or interpreted". This is how I remember, You can interpret.
I was born 9.9.1976 as a second child to a Finnish family in the hoods of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Surprisingly news of my birth wasn't celebrated all over the world, probably because the very same day the most well known Chinese leader Mao Tse Dong passed away and media was more keen on that story. I got over it and had an extremely happy childhood in the north Helsinki. My Mum was a teacher, Dad an information director for big Finnish institution and my brother’s name is Riku!
Everything changed at fall 1982. It was not a particularly nice evening, but it was an evening anyway. I was about to start elementary school soon but a sole incident change the faith of my life that night. I watched with my brother a scandalous victory for Italy over Brazil in the World Cup in Spain. We were supporting Brazil because they had colorful shirts and funny names. In my nature I don’t take defeat well, not to mention that bitterly so I wanted to correct that big injustice - by starting to play football myself. I was six years and there were never going to be anymore wrong results in football, I decided.
Father, brother and me didn't find and couldn’t start a local team but we found a bad sand field bit further away in Helsinki. We asked HJK:s local junior team coach if we can have a little run around. We got in. From that moment there were no way out. Inside the lines, I felt like home. No more television or hide and seek games, all the kids in the neighborhood were bullied to play football with us even in a snow at winter. There was every day a street game or a park game, the beautiful garden our family had was bit by bit turned into a football pitch. Who grows vegetables anyway in a city!
Younger years in HJK were blessed with success. Football was a hobby, it was a way of life and a feeling. I played handball, basketball, table tennis, ice-hockey, track and field events and I was even cheated to try to play damn clarinet. Nothing felt like football, though. Parents were actively involved: sometimes as a coach, physio, team leader, driver, mental support, whatever needed and they always provided the pitch stop to get some rest and support. I brought home some trophies and after lost games anger and tiers. I could have never kept on without the support from my family so if you Mum ever learn to read English this is my official thank you.
I wasn’t exactly the most gifted player, but I loved the game and stubbornly always trained enough to win. I want to be good whatever I start, so I finished elementary school with highest possible marks 9,9 while I also managed to win three youth championship in Finland, played couple of youth national team games and practiced with HJK:s first team, by far the biggest team in Finland. However, in the land of a Santa Claus and a ridiculously long winter there are limited opportunities and funding for sports, I could have never even dreamed of earning a single penny out of my passion. Mäkelänrinteen Urheilulukio, a high school for top athletes gave me a great combination for training properly on a high level and doing my studies in inspiring surroundings. I took a long step forward in my football that time, plus had a great time. Furthermore, most of my best friends and standards are from that period.
At 1995 HJK hired Bo Johansson (ex- Danish national team coach) and he granted me my first games in the Finnish Premier League and Euro -cups. Those were my first experiences in proper stadiums and crowds, but not really a breakthrough, mostly reserve games and more hard work. Since I was only a semi professional although the long training days, I had to fund my living by working as a teacher in an elementary school. Obviously while still studying.
In 1996 I got a setback, almost a decisive one. Serious knee injury and compulsory military service of 11 months were not a good combination for mediocre football player. There were lots of question marks on the air. I was ready to put emphasis on education and choose law books. Season was almost over and suddenly I got a new chance. My clubs future was scandalously in danger and due to injuries I was brought straight back into action. No questions asked I left the law books and wanted to have a go to something what I always wanted. I didn't want to live my life with any chance for regrets. Many have said that at that point I played my best football ever. We managed the qualifications and moreover won the cup final, in which I scored on the penalty shootout. I have always said in life you got to do what you love the most because most likely that is what you become best at. I knew now that football made me happy, so at least I owed to myself to give my best go on it and see how far I could go with it.
At 1997 Antti Muurinen took over HJK. I was injured in a slalom accident. After struggling with fitness for a while, the comeback game was Cyprus cup final against Norwegian outfit Vålerenga - irony or destiny? The result 2-0, my contribution 1+1 and I sneaked myself to a starting line up. The era of Muurinen was full of success, also individually. Finnish league title, league cup and Finnish cup trophies and captaincy of U-21 national team. I moved away from home to a small appartment, worked more as a teacher, trained much more and I was enjoying life quite a bit. I got my first experiences of foreign clubs also when Bayern Leverkusen and Nottingham Forrest invited me to have a go at their team. My destiny wasn’t in these clubs but the major stepping point was that for the first time I was chosen to the Finnish national team. Playing for my country was and still is every time something I can’t describe in words. It is obviously a matter of honor; HJK was also a matter of heart. After serving 17 years of my beloved club we qualified for the first time and still the last in Finnish history to The Champions league against all odds. That half year of my life I was living a dream. Moreover we played some good football against the cream of the world. On a result of that I also wrote my first book HJK Mestarienliigassa which got great reviews and I’m proud of. My personal game and interest had arisen after playing for my country and Champions League. I started to get offers all over the world so I had to even get an agent, I didn’t know at all what I was dealing with since for me football was still just a hobby I loved. I can’t remember often being as emotional than when I played my last game for HJK in Champions League in Betzenberg against Kaiserslautern. I knew my life was going to change completely from that moment on.
I chose Norway, Oslo and Vålerenga. I do not know why, I just felt for it. Living away from home, my native country, friends and family, with a new life, language and tricks of the trade to be learned was a great challenge I was looking forward to. Vålerenga is a traditional club with passionate supporters and opportunities but history of varying results and always something happening, few months after my arrival we sold our manager Egil Drillo Olsen to The Premiership in England. The game and life was very different, but I adapted quickly, for the first time I was fully professional player and able to put all my effort on the game because I didn’t economically need to work anymore on a side. Howver, I started studies in University of Oslo and as an assignment of my computer course I had to start my own website, which you are now reading. My time there was as colorful as Norwegian pullover. Results stank like an old fish. Team trained hard, spent money on having a good squad and expectations were high. However player of the year trophy gave me little pleasure after all the bad results. I started next season with a tiny injury and had to change to a different role since the team hired a national hero for my normal position as a defensive midfield. Individually and as a team we had problems which resulted that we were scandalously relegated. That was the lowest point of my career.
It was time to have a serious self talk. I felt that I was a better player than the results claimed. I cleared the table and started with small changes in training methods and playing style. There were few clubs after me but I intended to honor my contract with Vålerenga and desperately wanted get them promoted again because the good people there deserved it. I played excellent spring 2001 and it was in an interest of the club to sell me so they told me I had few days to decide where to go. As a result of many things I signed to England, Crystal Palace FC, the pride of South London.
At the time the traditional club was deep in a relegation battle with a worrying curve but my good friend there Mikael Forssell insisted it is a big club with a big future. I got a head start for English acceptance when before even pulling my new club shirt on, I scored in The Anfield against England in a World Cup qualifier. My first nine games with the Mighty Eagles were a battle against the relegation which we avoided only in the last minutes. English style suited me and I felt comfortable on and off the pitch. Good start meant also that my home pages grew without me never even looking for that and I got offers to write for most English news papers. The highly respected and exceptionally good The Times offered me the possibility I couldn’t refuse and I got my own column there.
There was a high flight start with Steve Bruce, just missing play offs with Trevor Francis, few temporary managers and loads of new faces in the dressing room every season. After good first two years the amount of games and British physical approach got to me and I played a long period carrying small injuries. We didn’t meet the expectations either with Crystal Palace or with the national team. I was either injured or got dropped few times and missed most of the year 2003. Otherwise I had settled in to London well.
I got just back fit when after half a season played and at the 21st position in the Championship we got again a new manager, Northern Irishman Iain Dowie, who I’d played against few times with Finland. It is fair to say that his arrival changed the club and many individual careers, including mine. We made a miracle recovery, arguably the biggest come back in English football history and after series of great football and results made the playoffs, where after dramatic events against Sunderland and in the final West Ham got promoted to the Premiership. Training methods, standards and atmosphere were unique and unmatched, it was a fairy tale, which we deserved. The playoff final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was the biggest day of my life because it culminated every aspect of my life, standards and beliefs. I had many offers around the world but it was an easy choice to go for the challenge of the Premiership.
The team and especially myself were written off before the season and there were not many people who believed I could even get a game in the highest level of worlds football. I was in the form of my life and battled on and off the pitch to get my right to play. I forced myself into the team and had a storming first half of the season. There was nothing that was going to stop me and the team started putting together good results also and we were widely appreciated, even praised. Unfortunately, at January 1st 2005 I started a long and painful battle with my calf muscle. I got back fairly quickly and still were on good form, but we had sank into relegation battle again. Mine and Palaces great Premiership adventure and dream ended ten minutes before the final whistle and we got relegated by the most ridiculous margin ever. Also our qualifying campaign for the World Cup had failed short.
My next season was painful. My calf injury renewed and we couldn’t get it sorted. I worked the longest hours ever in the gym, went to see specialists around the world and tried everything but only managed to play half the games in the season. The atmosphere in the camp had changed under the pressure also and it was a very tormenting year. Coming end of the season I got finally my injury problems sorted but I knew it was the time for change for me, I had been in the club longer than two sets of furniture. In Crystal Palace I played most part of my football career, had the best and the worst memories and grew part of the club, I’m eternally greatful for the appreciation I received from the people and feel that the friendships I made will last for life.
I had had offers from few top flight clubs before and there were still lot of clubs who wanted to sign me besides the uneven season. I don’t think any choice is better or worse than another, they are just different. I had decided to leave England to see something else and after a long thought I chose FC Kaiserslautern, the massive German club that had just relegated but was really going for it. It is a completely new start, place, life and ball game. It’s been most challenging and hardest start so far, but I can see lot of potential in here. I was honored the vice captaincy in a young team and there are only one aim in the first season – to get promoted.
I don't know what will happen. Or how anyone will interpret what I have done so far. Things we do in life, the achievements and what we can see are not who we are. More important is why we did it and why we want something. I believe where our passions meet our values and action there lies our destiny. It all starts knowing what your dreams are, I have plenty. And I know I will reach them all. Why? Because I know I am good for it and they are good for serving the world. This boring story of football should be one day only a short introduction of my life story. Not just next passes and columns but standards and choices in life will decide the rest of my history. That is how it has to be because nobody wants to read about 60 watts table lamps.