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Official Review by Peter Miles, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
IFK, or Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna i Helsingfors, is an old club that was formed in 1897. Known by the nickname “Stadens stolthet” (The City’s Pride), the club was originally solely patronised by the Swedish-speaking middle classes, while the Finns traditionally supported IFK’s great rival HJK. After seven Mestaruussarja titles, IFK suffered severe financial problems in 2002, and had to take the place of their reserve team at level five. To their immense credit they have regrouped, opened a share issue for fans to invest, and have ultimately returned to the top flight after winning the Ykkönen Liga in 2014.
IFK previously played at the Töölön Pallokenttä ground, but since top flight promotion the club has groundshared with HJK at the 10,770-seat Sonera Stadium, which is adjacent to the Olympic Stadium. The stadium is an eye-catching 2000 rebuild of the old Helsinki Football Stadium, which hosted some of the soccer matches during the 1952 Olympics.
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The stadium offers a decent variety of food and beverages, with outlets conveniently located in the concourse under the stands. The concession kiosks offer good speedy service, but as with almost everything in Finland, prices are on the high side.
The kiosks sell chips, nuts, and confectionary, as well as wurst-style hot dogs with dried onions, which are ubiquitous in Scandinavia. They also sell Nakkikastike, which is three hot dogs in a paper cup with mustard in the bottom.
Beverage choices include standard soda brands like Coca-Cola and 7Up, but also sell relatively low-alcohol lager, which can be drunk in the concourse but cannot be taken into the stands. The price of a beer is an eye-popping seven euros.
The hot dogs are extremely tasty and represent the best value item for sale at the stadium.
A friendly and lively atmosphere accompanies the modest numbers in attendance at Sonera.
Sonera's modernist design sits in stark contrast to its imposing neighbor, the Helsinki Olympic Stadium with its 72.71 metre tall tower (taken from the length thrown by Matti Jarvinen in the 1932 Olympic javelin final, which won the gold medal for Finland). The stadium's focal point is the double-roofed main stands, the top roof extending further than the actual length of the stadium. The pitch is artificial, which is very common in Finland. There is also a modern LED scoreboard in the corner between the north and east stands.
Music and PA announcements precede the game and also occur during half time, but there are no on pitch activities.
There is a big difference in ticket prices between the main stands and the north stands, which have a central standing section with seating on each side. Tickets for the main stands are 30 euros when purchased on match days, whereas behind the goal it costs 18 euros.
Sonera Stadium is about a 20 minute walk from the city center. There are plenty of attractions in this ancient capital, and ferries to Tallinn in Estonia take two hours from the west quay.
There are not a lot of options in the area immediately surrounding the stadium, so the best choice is to eat in city center before heading on a tram to the match. City center offers plenty of options, most of which cater to European and Scandinavian palates.
For craft beer fans you cannot go wrong with a visit to brewery/restaurant Bryggeri, which although using Finnish malt, the brewmaster is in fact a German named Mathias Hüffner.
There are so many things to see and do in Helsinki, but two must-see attractions are Temppeliaukio and Helsinki Cathedral. Temppeliaukio is a church carved into a rock formation, and it is incredible; designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen in the 1960's, it is a wondrous feat of design. Helsinki Cathedral, or St. Nicholas Church, is very much emblematic of the capital, and was finished in 1852.
There are plenty of hotel options, as you would imagine from a capital city. The budget-friendly Forenom Aparthotel Helsinki City is located at Eerikinkatu 24, and is a very modern hotel with keyless entry (the code is texted and emailed to you); the only negative is the check-in time of 16:00 (4pm). Another good option is the Scandic Park Helsinki, located at Mannerheimintie 46.
The noise and color produced is impressive for the small number of spectators gathered at Sonera Stadium. HJK matches will average 3,000 to 4,000, whereas IFK will attract between 2,000 and 3,000. Be aware that a derby between the two clubs will likely be a sellout.
The fans that gather in the standing section on the north side are noisy and supportive throughout the game. They all wear club colors and really do produce the goods in terms of encouraging the team. The main and east stands are sedate by comparison.
As you would expect from a modern well-designed stadium, all the creature comforts are here, and there is even a specific section on the north side (Pohjoispaaty) for those who wish to stand rather than sit.
The nearest airport is at Vantaa, a 20 minute bus ride into Helsinki. A Finnair transit bus can be caught from the main railway station, and calls at both airport terminals; it costs 6 euros one way. Trams 4, 7B, and 10 depart every five minutes from Kansanelakelaitos and take fifteen minutes, and cost 3.20 euros. Solera Stadium can also be walked to in 20 minutes from the city center.
There is some parking around the stadium, and 5 euros is the normal charge to park on match day. It is recommended however to walk or catch a tram.
Tickets to home games are sold by Ticketmaster, or you can purchase tickets in advance at the Lippupalvelu website. On match day tickets are available from either HJK or IFK's individual outlets on the outside of the main stands. There is a body search as you enter, including male security guards frisking female customers.
Once you are in your section you can move around freely, and the seating is unreserved so you do not have to sit in a designated seat. The restrooms in the north stands are unisex and are astonishingly clean. I saw no specific entrance for disabled supporters, although the north stands behind the goal are entered at street level to reach the top of the stands.
The main choice when purchasing tickets at Sonera is whether to pay nearly double to sit in the main stands. At 18 euros, a ticket in the north stand represents a much better value than a 30 euro main stand ticket, as Finnish domestic football is not of the highest standard. I would not recommend paying 30 euros to watch a match here, especially since most of the decent Finnish footballers will play club football elsewhere in Europe.
You can save money by ordering tickets online in advance for both IFK and HJK games. Children pay just five euros for any seat in the stadium, and children under four get in free.
An excellent glossy match programme is given away free, and is left on tables in the concourse. Staff in the kiosks are friendly and well drilled, and there is a good range of merchandise on sale. HJK has their own shop in the main stand, accessed from the street, while IFK has pop fan shops in the concourse.
Sonera Stadium will give you a good atmosphere and a friendly welcome, especially when the locals realize you are a visitor to their shores.
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Helsinki, Finland 00260
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Helsinki, Finland 00100
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Helsinki, Finland 00170
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