I’m in the Sports Akadamie, a multi tv screened bar in Helsinki, directly opposite the central train station. The place is a large modern souless arena, seen in cities the world over. At 5.30 in the afternoon I was almost on my own, but five minutes later, hordes of raucous, hairy people started appearing, filling the bar to bursting point.
It’s Easter Monday, the screens are full of a hockey match. I’d learned very quickly in Helsinki that hockey is THE sport. The change given for a coffee on a side street cafe near the port was handed over with a “how do you think the series is going?” A question which left me totally confused. “The series” is in fact the final of the Finnish ice hockey season, first team to four victory’s is the winner.
A furball, apparently coughed up by an elephant, came and sat next to me. Finns aren’t all big, blonde and beautiful, but most of them are. The hair next to me is total, long blonde locks half way down the back, and in front, facial adornments of a magnificence rarely seen. Small, dark, teddy bear button eyes were vaguely visible, apart from that, it was a heaving, moving, drinking mass of blonde whiskers. After establishing that furball only spoke minimal English the conversation, delivered in the curious singsong language, went like this:
Me: Who’s playing?
Furball: Team in white, local carpet company against team in blue, Tappara, from the frozen wastelands of the north.
I should have suspected something when I said “ah ok, whites … boooo” complete with thumbs down action, and was greeted with what I suspected was a grimace, but beneath a haystack of facial fungus it was difficult to be sure.
Space is now at a premium, and not withstanding the 20 plus screens, I’m struggling to see who’s doing what. As I move one way then the other, a sea of Abba lookalikes do the same. Suddenly, between a blonde plait and straight blonde hair I see a screen. The white team, our local hero’s are attacking, he shoots, he scoooooooooooooooooooorrrrrrrrrreeeeeeessssssssssssssss.
“Yeeeeeeeessssssssssss” I scream, almost physically feeling the last few “S'” catching in my throat as what seemed to be the entire bar turned to look at me.
Silence. I slunk to the very back of the room and once attention went back to the screen I slowly made my way to the bar. The previously very friendly lady behind the bar now didn’t even look at me, just snatched my glass and started to fill. Knowing that she spoke very good English I asked her again who was playing.
“The team in blue are called Tapparra, they are from just down the road, everybody in here wants them to win ….. EXCEPT YOU!!
The team in white are called Kaapet, they are from the frozen tundra and nobody in here wants them to win …… EXCEPT YOU!!!”
Realising my earlier error, I tried desperately to explain to the barmaid, but realised that all was already lost. I finished my beer quickly and left.
There was a nice end to the day though, as I walked to the airport bus, two young pretty Finnish ladies were stood in front of the train station waving signs written in English above their heads. The signs read “free hugs.” I took advantage to soothe my wounded feelings. It worked.