Kit Carson, who has brought many teams to the Kokkola Cup over the last 15 years, recommended the event to us at Luton Town Football Club.
Having travelled with teams throughout Scandinavia we knew that we would have a great experience, but the levels of friendliness and hospitality shown to us were beyond our wildest expectations.
Our trip began on Monday 16th July, when 102 excited young players and 12 nervous staff met at Stansted ahead of our three-hour flight to Helsinki. Actually it was actually 101 players who met because one of our Under 11's chose to go to Heathrow Airport, which is about 100km round the other side of London!
The boys travelling on this trip were from Luton Town's Performance Centre, which is the middle tier to the club's Talent Identification Programme. The tour to Finland was the climax to the first season of the club's programme.
We landed at Helsinki Airport at 2am on the Tuesday morning and the first shock to the system was the midnight sun! After a mixture of bribery and threats of starting the tournament as a substitute we managed to persuade our young players to catch up on their sleep throughout the six hour coach journey to Kokkola.
Those of us who were fortunate to remain awake were able to sample some of the beautiful scenery along the trip towards Finland's West Coast. My only disappointment was that I hoped to spot a Moomin or two roaming the forests or lakes, but I decided that the feint harmonica sounds were actually one of the Under 9's snoring rather than Snufkin and friends.
We decided to use Tuesday as a recovery day and it began with a leisurely stroll into the town centre to stock up on fruit and drink in order to rehydrate. After lunch, the group's education officer ensured that the boys caught up on the homework set by their schools. During this time the staff from the Kokkola Cup took time to familiarise us with the rules and schedule of the upcoming tournament.
The evening allowed the boys to run off some of their built up energy in pre-arranged friendlies against the local club. Our Under 10 squad also played a game against the Calcutta Academy from India in front of a large crowd.
Our boys stayed at the Kiviniitty school, which was ideally situated in terms of its proximity to training facilities, shops and the dining halls. The school had 24 hour security which allowed us to leave personal belongings in our rooms whenever we were training and playing.
The Wednesday allowed our staff to work further with each squad on their team shape, patterns of play and rehearsing set-pieces. Parents began to arrive in Kokkola to watch our boys and with teams arriving from all over the world the atmosphere and excitement steadily built throughout the day.
The tournament started on the Thursday and provided the boys with a perfect balance of football and rest throughout the four days. We were lucky enough to win three of the six competitive age groups that we entered, with every team qualifying to the knock-out stages. All of our boys experienced playing against a range of countries and therefore styles of football.
Once the tournament finished on Sunday afternoon we began to wind down, and took all of the boys to the local pool. Here they were able to enjoy the usual swimming pools and water slides, along with the more traditional Finnish experiences of saunas and ice pools.
The boys were able to cement friendships that will last for many years, and experience a little part of what is expected of a professional footballer at Luton Town. The staff were able to learn more about the boys than they would in a whole season of coaching, whilst also look at other examples of coaching and management from around the world. Finally, the parents seemed to enjoy the lively nightlife and offered great support whenever it was needed.
I would thoroughly recommend the Kokkola Cup to all teams from around the world, and in particular English teams would be impressed with:
- The quality of pitches.
- The professional organisation of the event.
- The hospitality of the local population
- The number of games scheduled
- The food provided
I would like to thank Fred, Stefan and all of the other organisers for giving us an experience that we will never forget. We will definitely return, and this time hopefully those Moomins won't be so evasive.
Football Development Officer
Luton Town Football Club Ltd