Fans relish the Tampere experience
by Andy Potts|18 MAY 2022
British fans make noise at Nokia Arena.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Tampere proudly claims to be Finland’s ‘Home of Hockey’, and the city on the shores of Lake Pyhajarvi is relishing the chance to play host to the World.

From the landmark Nokia Arena visible from far and giant Finnish national team jerseys draped over statues on the central Hameensilta bridge to the specially designated ‘Hockey Street’, pedestrianised and given over to the game for the duration of the tournament, the 2022 tournament is shaping the cityscape.

But it’s also having a knock-on effect on less likely events – such as the weekly Saturday morning Parkrun. It takes a hardy breed to turn up at 9:30 in the morning and tackle a 5km run (or jog, or walk, depending on ability, enthusiasm and the toll taken by Friday night’s celebrations). During the Worlds, though, the plucky band that gathers beneath the Laukonsilta footbridge, a short walk from the Nokia Arena, has welcomed an influx of visitors.

Nina Haikonen, part of the group of volunteers who set up Saturday’s run, was delighted to see new faces during the first weekend of the championship. “It was probably the most tourists we’ve ever had,” Nina said. “We had quite a little group, mostly from Britain. We don’t always hear from people directly before they join us, but when people show up that’s great.

“We’re encouraging people who are visiting for the World Championship to come along and we’re hoping to welcome them for the next couple of weeks as well.”

Running around the world

Parkrun started in London’s Bushy Park and has spread around the world. In November 2017, Tampere became Finland’s first city and in September 2019 Helsinki joined the party with its Tokoinranta route. Among the other nations represented at this championship, Canada, the USA, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Austria all have regular events.

However, with Britain being the biggest Parkrun nation – 765 locations at present – it’s little surprise that most of the Tampere tourists were traveling with the Fifth Line, GB’s notoriously noisy fan club.

For many, it’s a chance to see a different side to life in the host city.

“It’s a good way to meet some local people,” said Dave Steinhausen, a Swindon Wildcats fan who usually runs in his hometown of Bath. “When you’re in a large group of fans, all dressed in hockey tops, you don’t always get to meet a lot of ordinary Finnish people. We can be a bit loud and scary!”

It’s also a chance to explore. “We had a beautiful course today, running out beside the lake, and that’s somewhere I’d otherwise not have found,” added Darryll Brewer, a Cardiff Devils fan based in Hampshire.

For Dave and his wife Ruth, this is something of a tradition. They started coming to World Championships before GB reached this level, excited by the chance to see NHL players up close. That sparked an interest in how Britain was faring in the international game, which coincided with the country’s climb through the divisions.

But is an early start on a Saturday really compatible with the beery late nights often associated with hockey fans?

“We’ve found that if you have a couple of beers on a Friday night, you’re nicely relaxed for a run on a Saturday,” joked Ruth. “The hard part is finding space to pack your running shoes.”

As for the championship, Dave took a diplomatic view. “A bit like Parkrun, it isn’t about competing with the best,” he said. “It’s about doing better than you managed last time. So we’d be delighted with four points or more.”

“And hopefully that will be enough for seventh place,” Darryl added.

The British contingent outpaced a handful of runners wearing Finland jerseys. That may not be a surprise. While GB is engaged in a seven-game dash for survival, the Finns hope to go all the way to the final – a marathon, not a sprint.

World Championship rookies - from South Africa

For others, the World Championship represents the start line in what could become a long-term love of hockey. Nicole Anderton and Craig Carlson are from South Africa – and admitted they were unaware of the hockey program in their homeland. Currently working at Tampere’s university, they were looking forward to seeing a hockey game in person for the first time – and enjoy seeing a new side to the Finns.

“It’s awesome to see how this is taking over the city,” Craig said. “It’s just the first weekend, but you can really feel the excitement of the people coming here to watch the games. It’s creating an even more diverse culture than normal.”

“The Finns are often quite a quiet people, so it’s really cool to experience them getting so excited about having the World Championship in town,” added Nicole. “We’re going to see Britain play Norway. It’s a really good chance for us to try hockey and feel that vibe.”

Local excitement

Hockey is well-established in Finland, of course. Even for locals, though, this championship is a big deal.

Lorna Koskela travelled from Turku for the opening weekend and was immediately struck by the atmosphere in Tampere.

“I got here on Friday, the opening day, and there was such a buzz,” she said. “It was well before the game started, and hours before Finland was due to play, but there were so many people in the streets and fan zones. It was great to see.”

Lorna has a foot in two camps here – based in Turku since the 1980s, her son used to be part of the juniors at TPS. But she came to Finland from England and can’t wait to see both her countries in action.

“It’s really exciting to have the Worlds in Finland again, and even more exciting to have Great Britain here,” she said. “Best of all, it’s all on their own merits and not just because other countries were banned.”

But it promises to be a difficult evening on Friday when Finland faces GB. “My loyalties are divided,” Lorna added. “Both countries feel like my own. The hardest thing for me is watching England play Finland in the football, or Britain and Finland in the hockey.”