Nigerian Footballers in Finland

KAJAANIN HAKA (KajHa) are not, in any sense of the word, a powerhouse of Finnish football. They play in Kajaani, for starters. A small town of 38,000 people in the north of Finland, not much happens there and Haka have done their utmost to continue that tradition.

Kajaani

They’ve had a few seasons in the top two divisions, a TUL (Workers’ Sport Association) title in 1999, and not much more. In 2006 their local rivals Kajaanin Palloilijat and FC Tarmo decided to join forces in an attempt to bring a higher standard of football to the city, and formed a new club called AC Kajaani. Now AC and KajHa battle it out in Kolmonen, the fourth tier of Finnish football, drawing crowds not much bigger than the proverbial three men and a dog.

The combined weight of sponsorship has seen AC shake things up through sheer financial strength, and when they poached KajHa’s Georgian midfielder Lasha Chkhaidze in the close season it was a sign that KajHa would have to work very hard to keep up.

Enter 28 year old Paul Nwachukwu and 23 year old Junior Obagbemiro. Junior’s career has taken him to the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Nepal, Malaysia, Bangladesh and India. He was the top scorer in the 2007 Bangladeshi Championship, scoring 16 goals in 20 games for Brothers Union, before heading off to Sporting Clube de Goa in the Indian league. Nwachukwu got 14 goals in 2007 and was second in the scoring charts, but his club Mohammedans had a much better season and finished third in the league.

It was in Bangladesh that their paths to Kajaani began, when they met a former footballer who has now settled in Asia. “In Dhaka I met one of my idols, Ladi Babalola,” says Junior. “He played for Nigeria at the 1987 Under-20 World Championships, and everyone in Nigerian football looks up to him. He is friends with Mikko Perälä, who has connections at clubs in Finland. That’s how we started to think about coming to Europe.”

“Europe” is the key word here. Footballers in Asia often earn much more money than they do in Finland, but the chance to impress scouts in a bigger league is the main motivation for players to leave a comfortable career and a hefty wage packet to try their luck in Europe. And Finland is – just about – in Europe. So leaving behind the massive crowds and bigger pay packets of South Asia is an attractive option, even if the European option is not exactly at Champions League level.

“For us Africans the dream is to play in Europe,” continues Junior. “It is easier to prove yourself, to play for the national team and get transfers to big clubs from here than from Bangladesh.” The Bangladeshi League has provided players for Finnish clubs before. Stanley Festus was another of Babalola and Perälä’s imports, but unfortunately red tape and injuries have prevented him from making a big impact.

Now happily married and playing for HyPs in Kakkonen, Festus had an eventful few months when he first arrived in Finland back in 2004, after registration problems forced him to start at FC Raahe in Kolmonen. Festus became something of a cult figure among fans who followed his progress via the FutisForum2 messageboard, with ‘Stan the Man’ merchandise sold and a skate shop in Oulu providing him with clothes.

Things went a little bit smoother this time. Without a club to register Junior and his compatriot Paul Nwachukwu, before the end of April, they came to KajHa on trial and instantly showed their class. Coach Rauno Lesonen liked what he saw, and now the players are looking to improve their income and standing.

“Of course they are very good players in the third division,” laughs Lesonen. “We would like to keep them. But it all depends on their attitude, they are still learning about the culture and the playing style in Finland.”

“The players here are like a family,” says Junior. “We have a big group and we need a good team spirit. If I stay here we have to do something with the team, we have to get promotion. It’s a young team but they are good players and we can achieve something.”

The promotion charge suffered a major setback just before the mid-season break, when KajHa lost 2-1 to AC. A mischievous suggestion that maybe KajHa should have joined the merger brings a fierce response from chairman Jarmo Anttonen.

“I was born Haka!,” says the former KajHa captain, before modifying his stance slightly. “Well, I’ve played for them since I was six years old. Now we have a ‘sinettiseura’ award from the Finnish Football Association for the quality of our work with youngsters, and I want to continue that work.”

Anttonen thinks for a bit, before settling on the best way to describe the difference between his club and the merged entity. “We are a family, and our family is better than theirs. They are only two years old. They don’t even have a family!”

Such bullishness is a pre-requisite for his position, as the chairman of the poorer club in a small footballing backwater in Northern Finland. KajHa are lucky to have found such good players, but they might not have them for long. Nwachukwu has a trial lined up in Italy, and Junior might well move within Finland. Anttonen will surely console himself with the knowledge that these lads are unlikely to move across town to AC.

This article also appeared in the July 11th edition of the Helsinki Times. For more in Finnish football, visit Egan’s blog Football in Finland.

Photo credit: jervelrivman on Flickr.

80 thoughts on “Nigerian Footballers in Finland

  1. Pingback: Nigerians in Kajaani « Football in Finland

  2. Steven

    I believe the Rovaniemi-team (who have just been promoted to the topflight) are owned by Africans as well, by Namibians I believe. Coach (and my fellow countryman) Tom Saintfiet was fired after 4 or 5 games for not picking all Namibian players in the starting eleven.

  3. Kupletin Jouni

    Yes, Steven, and King Leopold was the merriest person ever. You share a lot in common – such as excellent knowledge about other nations.

  4. pyhä-ykä

    Steven you’re so wrong. RoPS is owned by Finnish people not Africans. And there is NO any Namibians in RoPS. Tom Saintfiet get fired just because he was a bad coach. His main target was to get draw from every match. Nowadays Saintfiet is a coach of Namibia’s national team.
    Please check your facts before posting that kind of sh**.

  5. Egan

    Steven, RoPS fans are quite sensitive about that kind of thing, for a bit of background check here:

    http://footballinfinland.wordpress.com/2008/07/03/racism-in-finnish-football/

    Everything I’ve heard suggests that Saintfelt just didn’t do a good job at RoPS, failed to settle in or bond with the players and was sent packing by the board. There were whispers of racism in the press, mainly because of the unusual situation of 6 Zambians playing for a small town in Lapland, but these were refuted by the club, by Saintfelt, and the RoPS players I’ve spoken to.

  6. Tony B

    I believe the Rovaniemi-team (who have just been promoted to the topflight) are owned by Africans as well, by Namibians I believe. Coach (and my fellow countryman) Tom Saintfiet was fired after 4 or 5 games for not picking all Namibian players in the starting eleven.

  7. Rick

    I have to say I think that unless KajHa have a good cup run and make some ripples, its probably just as hard to get into a decent team/ league in Europe from Finland as from Bangladesh. I wish them the best of luck though…

  8. english football news

    Nigerian players are enjoying success at all levels of English football as well now. Even my local team Barnsley (a small town club in the championship) have a Nigerian striker Kayode Odejayi.

  9. Phil

    I had to chuckle at the reference to Kajaani as being in “the north of Finland.” I’m no local but I have travelled extensively in the country over the last 27 years and I can assure you that the town is pretty much central as far as Finland goes geographically. In fact if you would drive from Helsinki to the Norwegian border at Utsjoki than Kajaani is only 40% of the way there.

    Trivialities aside this is an interesting article which shows that for all the young African talent on show at Arsenal and Ajax there are many more young guys travelling all over the world, often at their own expense, trying to earn their tilt at the big time. I do not know any African players personally but I do know a few from the UK and the Baltic States and from experience I can estimate that raw talent is only secondary to attitude in earning success on the football field.

  10. kenneth sena

    so indeed, believing Nigerians are really good players. They play globally not just in Europe. I believe KajHa will have a good cup run and raise more games. Although Tom Saintfiet seems something unbelievable.

  11. Live Footy

    I would agree with Phil that the mindset and the persistence in following the goal of the African players is legendary. I run several websites in the football niche, especially devoted to English premiership and I keep receiving a mail or two every day from African young players trying to make their way to English clubs.

  12. Egan

    Kajaani is in the northern group of Kolmonen, which means their competitors are drawn from Oulu, Kainuu region and Lapland. If there was a team in Utsjoki, they would be playing in the same region as the Kajaani teams, and the isolation of clubs in that part of Finland is common to FC Santa Claus and Kajha and AC.

    Admittedly it’s not in the northern, Lapland north, but it’s north of the administrative district of ‘Central Finland’, the district of Savo, and it takes 8 hours to get there on a train from helsinki. On my map of Finland that makes it ‘here be monsters’ territory.

    I’m very happy that Lindsey Lohan Fan site and Japanese Car imports liked the article.

  13. Free Newsletters

    Kajaani is in the northern group of Kolmonen, which means their competitors are drawn from Oulu, Kainuu region and Lapland. If there was a team in Utsjoki, they would be playing in the same region as the Kajaani teams, and the isolation of clubs in that part of Finland is common to FC Santa Claus and Kajha and AC.

    Great article

  14. Kia Soul

    Here’s my opinion on Tom Saintfiet: Well, I was happy to see him fired as he wasn’t really that great coach! He didn’t have the charism that a coach should have.

  15. dino delellis

    There are several players here in SEA that also aspire to be a part of mainstream football. It’s just that unlike so many European countries it’s not a major sport here so there isn’t much support for that here.

    But there are some growing movements towards the positive direction , but there’s still a very long way to go , and at the moment the best chance for potential football to achieve their dreams is to go to other countries that consider football a major sport.

  16. saint frank clifford

    Dear sir/ma,

    To whom it may concern, am writing this email in desire to play football for any club here in Finland or any part of europ . I am O Saint frank Clifford by name. Currently leaving in New Delhi in India. I was once playing for 2nd Division in my country Nigeria as a right forwarder, some time my coach also ask me to play as central midfielder. I we be really glad if I can get any club in any part of europe who we like to try me out. Because I don’t so much believe in talking I believe in force and what you can do when’re in the field, I can play for 90 minute’s any day any time in as much as am injury free. Bellow is my email address and interested club shouldn’t be waste time to call on me and I we be ready to prove my professionalizing and time any day, cliffordson4all@yahoo.com or frank4all_ng@Hotmail.com , Hope to hear from your reply as soon as possible bye.

    Yours Sincerely

    O C. Saint Frank

  17. Phil

    Marc #34, it’s OK to say in principle that the EPL should do more but clubs in the UK are not permitted to just sign anybody. Immigration and employment laws require that foreign workers be suitably qualified before they can be preferred over UK and other EU workers. This is the same in all areas of employment. The required qualification in the UK is that the foreign footballer has played in a specific number of full international games for his country in the last year. Furthermore, if the country is not so highly rated then there can be problems of eligibility. In all cases there is a tribunal which can be used for appeal but the clubs themselves are becoming wise and know what they need to do to enhance the qualifying rights of non-EU players.

    Unfortunately, most of the young African footballers that we are looking at here do not qualify under those criteria. However other EU countries have less rigid rules hence the associations that English clubs are developing with clubs in more relaxed countries. Royal Antwerp in Belgium has a long-term partnership with Manchester United, often taking their young players on loan so that their development can be aided with first team football, and young players who require European work-permits can benefit from Belgium’s more relaxed laws – an example is Dong Fangzhuo, who was unable to play for Manchester United at once due to work permit problems and was loaned to allow him to gain first team experience.

    Let’s also not forget that Manucho had to be loaned out to Greek club Panathinaikos to qualify get his first work permit in the EU.

    Other young players try to become naturalised in EU countries as well – players from former Portuguese colonies go to Portugal whilst Latin American players use the easy residence rights in Spain to settle there. Francophone African players find it easier to settle in France. Once they have become naturalised then it is easier to move onwards as they are regarded as being from the EU and NOT from their country of origin.

  18. edegra

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  19. edegra 20mg

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  20. FootballFreeTV

    Great sharing, also I would like to add ur info that most of the nigirian players now are playing in english premier league..

    by the way nice blog :)
    keep up the good working fella

  21. Invisalign

    In some football matches I have noticed that some footballers have what looks like a greasy mark on the chest of their footballers shirts. What is this

  22. Phil

    Good old-fashioned sweat! Some of the modern fabrics used in football shirts are not very attractive when they become wet with perspiration.

  23. FLIR B50

    HAHA, greasy mark… really? It’s amazing what you find all over the world. Like a bobsled team in Jamaica. To come from a town of just 38,000 people and produce the players they do, it’s absolutely amazing. Great post.

  24. Married Chatrooms

    nice post. Well with regard to Tom (coach) i too believed he didn’t perform to the required standards. And when you don’t you tend to get fired. Just a word about Kajaani, I was there once too and it was fun hanging out.

  25. Asp.NET

    “I was born Haka!,” says the former KajHa captain, before modifying his stance slightly. “Well, I’ve played for them since I was six years old. Now we have a ’sinettiseura’ award from the Finnish Football Association for the quality of our work with youngsters, and I want to continue that work.”

    yeahh

  26. UCHECHUKWU

    DEAR MANAGER, COACH, TECHNICAL ADVISER, MY NAME IS UCHECHUKWU nwaemeh DANILE FROM NIGERIA. I AM 18YEARS OLD AND I PLAY FOR UNDER 15, 17 AND IN JUNIOR TEAM. I AM A VERY TELENTED, FOCUSSED AND SKILLFULL PLAYER WITH GREAT POTENTIALS. I WOULD LIKE TO PLAY IN YOUR YOUTH FOOTBALL ACADEMY TEAM AND I PROMISE TO DO MY BEST IN THE UPLIFTING OF YOUR ESTEEMED FOOTBALL CLUB. I BELIVE THAT MY TRIALS WILL DEFINITELY CONVINCE YOU. I WAS BORN A FOOTBALLER AND WAS TRAINED AS A ULTILITE PLAYER AND I WOULD LOVE IF YOU GIVE ME THE CHANCE/OPPORTUNITY TO PROOVE MYSELF TO YOU AND THE CLUB. I AM A GOOD FOOTBALLER AND I WANT TO TAKE MY FOOTBALL CARRIER TO THE NEXT LEVEL. I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO JOIN YOUR YOUTH FOOTBALL ACADEMY AS I WANT TO MAKE NIGERIANS PROUD OF ME. PLEASE KINDLY BRIEF ME ON HOW I CAN JOIN YOUR YOUTH FOOTBALL ACADEMY AS I PROMISE TO UPLIFT THE CLUB TO A GREATER HEIGHT. ATTACHED IS MY FOOTBALL CV FOR YOU TO GO THROUGH. I DO HOPE TO READ/HEAR FROM YOU COACH/MANAGER. THANK YOU. YOURS FAITHFULLY THIS MY PHONE NUMBER +2348080460051 OR E-MAIL CHIBEST_01@YAHOO.COM

  27. Rob

    Hello Football player,

    Am Rob syrett am into football agent/management here in London Uk.i wish to inform you that i am working with premiership clubs and coca cola championship which is 1st Division here in England so i would want you to send to me your CV and your international passport copy to us to enable us secure an invitation letter for you to come down for trails/transfer when fifa transfer window re-open.

    Apart from England i can fix you in order european club REPUBLIC OF TAJIKISTAN,UZBESKISTAN and CYPRUS,First you have to start your trails here in
    England.

    Meanwhile, i can as well get you a team in QATAR if you love to play in QATAR
    league.

    I wait to hear from you so we can start working immediately on your
    trails/transfer.

    Thank You.
    Best Sporting Regards

    Rob Syrett
    Football Player’s Agent
    London England.
    Mobile: +447045758327
    E-mail: robsyrett_agentfootball@yahoo.com
    E-mail: rs_agentfootball01@yahoo.com
    E-mail: robsyrett@live.fr
    Goodluck!!!!

  28. Nicholas Osita

    Hello Football Club Management,

    I Have Nigerian and African Young Talented Football Players Ready For Trails/ Transfer to any part of the world, Greetings, it’s my pleasure writing your football club, Regarding football players transfer from Nigerian and African, talented football players.

    First let me introduce my self i ‘m Michael Nicholas Osita (Mr.) . i
    am a football player’s agent i also owned FOOTBALL ACADEMY ) and MD/CEO, OF A FOOTBALL ACADEMY ) here in Nigeria. i want to use this great medium to inform you that i have great players ready to open market for trails and transfer from Nigaria and Africa to overseas/abroad from my FOOTBALL ACADEMY ,Nigeria professional premier league. i have great and talented players like, Nigerians and African Football Legends like, George Weah, who was world/ African Footballer of the year 1995, Samuel Eto’o , who was World footballer of the year (No.3)Best 2005.

    Nwankwo Kanu, Obafemi martins, Jay Jay Okocha, and john obi
    mikel, Didier Drogba and many more. i will like to know what is your considerations over the players. please note: Nigeria and African Football players are Hot in World Football market today.

    i have a lot of quality, strong, tall,skilful,speed, hard working and staminar nigerian and African football players right now. i have tested all the boys i have ready now for transfer, they are ok.

    African Football players are very hard working on the field/pitch of playing the combination of Toure and Eboue the 2 Defenders of Arsenal FC guided Arsenal to the UEFA Champions League final for the first time ever in the history of Arsenal.
    I would want to send my players on trails to your club after the trails we can wait for january 2007 transfer window for the transfer of the players that will come over for your club and country for trails.

    Kindly get back to me as soon as possible. we hope to do
    business in good faith with your Football Club Management.

    We Look forward to hearing from you soon.

    For more details please contact us here.

    Michael Nicholas Osita (Mr.)
    Football Player’s Agent From Nigeria
    Tell: +234-803-825-9271
    Email: globalsports2@yahoo.com
    Email: ossyfootball13@yahoo.com
    Thank You.

  29. Phil

    It is quite amazing how all the vermin come crawling out of the woodwork eventually!

    Well here is the TRUE story. If you wish to find a list of REAL football agents go to the official FIFA website and at the page http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/federation/administration/playersagents/list.html you will find a list of all the officially accredited football agents operating anywhere in the world today.

    It will come as no surprise to any of you to discover that Rob Syrett and Michael Nicholas Osita are NOT on that list so as far as the world governing body of football is concerned they are making false representation.

    Syrett’s name can be found all over the place in forums and answers to desperate young footballers who are looking to get a break. His English is not native so the chances of his real name being Rob Syrett are pretty small. This is not an agent. This is a fraud!

    Osita’s posting above is exactly the same as the letter that he has sent to countless other forums and web boards. Another charlatan. This is not an agent. This is a fraud!

    Pitchinvasion.Net Admin – Please remove the above postings as these sick individuals are just trying to prey on the dreams of young guys who will do anything to get ahead in the game. Get these crooks off your website now and by so doing make a statement to real fans that you will not tolerate these scum.

  30. Wedding Planner

    I like that picture real foggy and awesome to time to be there, yes I think its my personal thought. Anyways, Nigerians have been good ball players I should say, I was in my school ball team and had a couple of Nigerians colleague. Wow man they were awesome just could do anything with the ball..

  31. dejavu

    PHIL,good job.I already know they are scammers.But how would those lads know about them?because some of them are very desperate to travel abroad.I doubt if these bastards has children at all