DUNTON, England – The third film in Ford’s Fascinating World of Football series is now available. The film features Europe's coldest football club - Rovaniemen Palloseura.
As winter bites, iced over pitches, snowdrifts and plunging mercury can wreak havoc with football schedules across Europe. But deep inside the Arctic Circle at Europe’s coldest club, Finland’s Rovaniemen Palloseura (RoPS), it takes a lot more than a blast of sub-zero temperatures to put them off their game.
The club, a stalwart of Finland’s premier league, has been playing in the freezing Arctic for over 60 years since its foundation in 1950.
“Minus 18 is the coldest I’ve ever played in,” says defender Tuomo Könönen. “That was tough, just breathing in those temperatures is difficult.”
“Playing football is very challenging when it’s so cold,” goalkeeper Pauli Tuisku explains. “The ball feels heavier and your feet can be painful. In goal in this weather you cannot stay still for a second – if you do, you’re finished. I jump and run in the goal during the game to stay warm.”
While playing in temperatures this low sounds impossible to most of us, for the Rovaniemi players it’s a part of life.
“Growing up here, the cold is normal,” says Könönen. “We still feel it of course, especially when winter first arrives, but we’re used to it.”
Across town at the Santasport sports institute, one of the world’s leading specialist centres for cold weather sports, principal lecturer Heikki Hannola, explains that Finns are naturally better acclimatised to the harsh conditions of the Arctic cold.
“At first of course it will feel very cold for anybody,” he says. “Even for Finns, when winter first arrives it’s a shock but we then acclimatise very quickly from habit. For someone else it would take a few weeks to start becoming comfortable.”
Which is the challenge for the club’s foreign players. With signings from Nigeria, El Salvador and Mexico, Rovaniemi is a truly international team and these footballers not only have a linguistic barrier to overcome but a physical one too.
“They are shocked when they arrive here,” laughs Könönen, “but after a while they’re fine.”
As if the cold weren’t enough, there’s also the issue of sunlight during winter. Being inside the Arctic Circle, the average daylight here in December dwindles to just a few minutes a day. This extended darkness is a further challenge for any athlete.
“It makes motivation harder. Getting up and training when it’s dark and freezing is tough,” says Hannola. “Also, players lack vitamin D as there isn’t enough sunlight so they all take supplements for that.”
Despite all of the problems, the Laplanders remain undeterred. “Football is really booming in Rovaniemi now,” says Tuisku before heading off to join his teammates for a kickabout on the snow.
This is part of Ford’s Fascinating World of Football, a 3-month series of weekly stories highlighting some of the more unusual stories of European football. To follow the tour and find out more about the support vehicle, the all-new Ford Tourneo Custom, visit facebook.com/FordTourneo