Traveller Tales: Finland v SWNT

Chris Marshall
8 min readDec 19, 2023


This piece was first commisioned for the December 2023 issue of Football Weekends Magazine. A selection of photos that featured in the piece can be found here.

One of football’s many gifts is its enablement of adventure, making visits to unheralded cities and towns have purpose when in all other circumstances there would be no reason to go at all.

This summer as the supporters of the 32 nations who had qualified for the World Cup viewed the tournament through an antipodean lens Down Under, Scottish football fans were left on the outside. A play-off defeat to the Republic of Ireland at Hampden a few months earlier caused the route maps towards Sydney and Dunedin to be quietly folded away as the wait to return to a major tournament finals continues for the Scotland women’s national team.

In its place was a friendly against Finland, in Tampere. A city and country I had never been to and, until now, one which I had been given no incentive to visit. With some of the savings assigned for following my country across Australia and New Zealand burning a hole in my pocket I did what any other football traveller would do and started planning my trip to Finland’s second biggest city.

Flight routes from Glasgow have taken a beating in recent years and so most of my adventures in football begin with an early hours commute to Edinburgh Airport. It’s July, and as the rising midsummer sun begins to bleed light into the horizon I pull into my allotted space and watch early morning jet streams scribble across the sky, before hopping on the shuttle towards the departure gates and through the land where everybody forgets to lift their trays. I love travelling. Flying doesn’t bother me, but I’m not that keen on airports, a network of buildings designed to keep you penned in at a time when you are about to feel your most free.

I had investigated the direct(ish) route to Tampere. A seven hour car ride to London and then a straight flight over but instead chose to head to Helsinki first, staying in the Finnish capital for an evening before taking the train north, a train that I would later discover could’ve sent me all the way up to the town of Rovaniemi, best known as the official home of Santa Claus, perhaps next time I’ll get to drop off my list.

First though a night in the capital. As part of my planning I had connected with a small pocket of Scotland fans who would also be making their way over for the game. A squad numbering no more than a half dozen but one with the shared belief that Scotland away day’s can be a gateway to the rest of the world. Having said our hellos on the flight and shared a train journey from Helsinki Airport into the city centre (Helsinki Airport is an absolute dream by the way) we reconvened later that evening to have dinner in a far fancier setting than I usually treat myself to on these trips.

Food and watching football, the two things that help to keep my mental equilibrium in balance always come together on these adventures and naturally I dived headfirst into the culinary unfamiliar. Pike quenelles in a shrimp broth and a pint of Lapin Kulta, one of Finland’s many local beers. Both delicious and followed by a plate of cheese. The height of the numbers on the bill will live with me for a long time.

As somebody who has followed the men’s team for a number of years, an away day following the women’s national team is a far more civilised experience than the waltzer ride of chaos that a full blooded Tartan Army away day can provide. Sinking a few beers with my new companions at their hotel we reminisced on trips past and collective hopes for the women’s national team’s future. Walking back to my digs I took in the sights of Helsinki, unmistakably Scandinavian. It is a city whose architecture has been brushed with Soviet brutalism, a consequence perhaps of Finland’s proximity to the Russian border. Later I would read that the exterior of the city’s main railway station was in part inspired by a similar facade in the Russian town of Petergof.

It would be from here that I would depart the following day for Tampere taking the 90 minute train journey up through the heart of Finland. Before boarding I had stopped at one of the many cafes that surround the station for a coffee and a butter bun. If any of you bake you will have been no doubt tempted to stick your finger in a mixing bowl as sugar and butter come together as one. In Finland they sell this experience as cake. I would eat a lot of butter buns over the next 48 hours.

Tampere feels small compared to Helsinki but with a population of around 250,000 it is Finland’s second biggest city. Having headed up early to explore on what would be a day of many weathers I took the ten minute walk from the station towards the city centre and down along the waterfront; catching my first glimpse of the Ratinan Stadion, the venue for tonight’s friendly international between two nations who would have preferred to be playing in a location much further away.

From the city centre the concrete canopy across the water becomes increasingly prominent, as do the banks of red seats on the open side that curl around the running track and sandpits that border the pitch.

Strolling a little closer and over the bridge the saltire of Scotland and Finland’s blue and white crossed siniristilippu can be seen waving in the breeze, a beautiful looking scoreboard seems to be getting ready to flicker into action. The unique thrill of seeing a new stadium for the very first time will always endure.

With a couple more hours until entry into my apartment I headed back across the bridge in the search of sustenance, a small and bustling market presenting an array of options presented in a language that offers few indications as to what’s on the table. One thing I knew was that on my checklist of things I must eat (if you don’t have a checklist of things you must eat you are doing it wrong I’m afraid) was Mustamakkara, a finnish blood sausage that’s origins could be found in Tampere.

Fortunately for me, pictures can be speak louder than words, which along with some very on the nose black and red branding sent me towards a small truck where I placed an order of “one of those” (not being able to speak all the languages of the world is a longstanding annoyance) served in a bread roll with many condiments and a bottle of Finnish Fanta. It was a delight and at just 6,50€, proved that in expensive places value can always still be found.

After dumping what I didn’t need out of my bag I headed back out to meet those who had travelled up from Helsinki later in the day at the Pyynikin Brewhouse a spit away from the stadium. They had been joined by a small group of Scots who called Finland their home, one of whom had brought along his Helsinki Tartan Army flag, proudly hung up outside, marking that for an hour or so at least, this was Scottish territory. There was to be a debuting SWNT Tartan Army flag later too and a special flag had been brought by Fife native Tom to celebrate the 100th cap of Caroline Weir, the Real Madrid midfielder and Dunfermline’s own would later score to mark the occasion.

As kick off approached the clouds began to roll in bringing with it a downpour that had me relieved that my working spot was secure to the rear of the main stand although I had nothing but sympathy for those who would be left exposed to the elements, as rows of red seats became a sea of blue and white ponchos. Along with being an irregular host venue for the national side the Ratinan Stadion has also been the temporary home of Veikkausliiga side Ilves while renovation work is carried out at their usual abode meaning that flashes of green and yellow mingle with white and blue on this particular matchday.

The smell of hot dogs waft along the main stand’s concrete underbelly and floats up through the stairwells as a Finland shirt wearing Owl (the Finnish women’s national team nickname, Helmarit translates as The Boreal Owls) is being paparazzied by every kid within its wingspan.

It may be July, and the sun may have been shining earlier but raindrops are bouncing hard and hoods are firmly up as supporters make their way along the concourse. Clambering up the double high steps I take my seat as the anthems begin. The scoreboard has flickered on; give me a missing pixel or two over high-definition perfection any day I think as I cast my eye down the digital team lines. Those on the other side are inevitably going to be soaked through.

Scotland score twice inside the first twenty minutes, the small clan of Scottish supporters managing to make their voices heard before Finland quickly pull one back. The game’s scoring ends with twenty-five minutes played. As the game progresses my eye is drawn to one of the corners. There appears to be a bar, my heart skips a beat.

Tables are laid out but most are empty, understandably supporters have chosen to huddle underneath whatever shelter they can with their pint in hand but a trio of elderly men have picked their spot. Getting closer to their vista, I see why. Despite the corner location their angle to the pitch covers every blade of grass, past the white lines a skyline of tower blocks and floodlights lean over. Their eyeline can glance right to the scoreboard and left to the main stand masses, it’s close to a pint; it’s perfect.

Post-match I met a friend who had been working in a more formal capacity for a beer. It’s past 1am by this point but there’s live music and one supporter in a Linda Sallström shirt is happily dancing the night away. The next day I head back to Helsinki to eat a bucket of deep fried lake fish smothered in garlic sauce and watch on as children smash bags of garden peas like they’re Tangfastics; I decide that looks fun and join in the party. There’s a boat ride that takes you through Helsinki’s archipelago past little wooden chalets that line shallow shores and under bridges where you have to duck to avoid a bump on the head.

Sitting in Helsinki Airport, consuming one last butter bun as I ready for the flights home via Amsterdam I think about the reasons that had taken me here. It was football first, a pride in supporting my country and my belief that the women’s game deserves the spotlight too, but it was also an escape, that enablement of adventure that football can bring. For some, that trip to Tampere, for a friendly that didn’t matter, as a tournament Scotland didn’t qualify for got underway, will make little sense but for me it felt like the most obvious thing to do.



Chris Marshall

Writer | Piehopper | Scottish Women’s Football Hype Man.