Two fans with Leo Messi shirts

The Finnish fans showed their Barça colours / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

Two fans with Leo Messi shirts

The Finnish fans showed their Barça colours / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

While leading the press into the commentary boxes, which are made of wood like all of the seats, one of the stewards at the venue for Barça’s game in Helsinki commented that “this is not a stadium, it’s a museum.” And he was right. The ground was built in 1934 and inaugurated in 1938, 14 years before the Finnish capital hosted the Olympic Games.

It is still a fine example of architectonic functionality, and its crown jewel is a 72.71 metre tower from which there are stunning views of the adjacent ground where HJK usually play, and the rest of the city. And the height has a significance. That’s how far Finnish athlete Matti Järvinen threw the javelin at the 1932 Olympics. “It is also used by marathon runners to show them how far they have to go to the finish” we were told. “Because it can be seen from so far away.”

It’s located two kilometres from the city centre, where the FC Barcelona flag had been flying all day. There were Barça shirts all over the place, be that the traditional design, the yellow and red one, or the new crimson second strip. And the stadium has been sold out for days. There hasn’t been such expectation for a football match in Finland since the visit of the Spanish national team in September 2013 for a World Cup qualifier, which the visitors won 2-0.

Charity causes

Like in Geneva on Wednesday, the FC Barcelona Foundation and UNICEF joined forces to make children happy before the game. Twenty children aged 6 to 9 came onto the pitch to be pictured with their heroes as the anthems played. And 40 volunteers worked hard publicising the good work done by the Foundation and UNICEF, whose executive director for Finland, Marja Riitta-Ketola, was in attendance.

Another important element of the pre-match protocol was a testimonial to former HJK and FCB man Jari Litmanen, who was given a hero’s ovation and presented with a cheque for 10,000 euros to be invested in youth football. He was joined by Barça president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who presented him with a shirt bearing the name of the best player in Finnish football history.

Part of the proceeds from this match are to be used to finance an indoor pavilion in the city where children will be able to train during Finland’s harsh winter months.

The game didn’t disappoint either. Many of the local supporters cheered the Barça goals as if they were their own, and naturally enough, the Mexican wave put in an appearance. For one Saturday, Helsinki belonged to Barça!

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