Note: This weekly series will look for teams outside of the top flights of European football to find true underdog stories of clubs well below the radar. Clubs will be featured based on performance in the various tournaments that happen concurrently with the league seasons, or even strong runs in some of the leagues that dot the European football landscape. Chances are, these clubs will be years away from finding a home at the top flights of football – if they are ever able to get there – but it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve attention from time to time. If you happen upon a team that you think might qualify, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter @GuruEbby or @SportMuseNet!
Nickname: The Club
Founded: 19 June 1907
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Team Colors: Blue and White
Ground: Telia 5G -areena
Current League: Veikkausliiga
Reason For Notice
We are still a couple of weeks out from the next matchday of this year’s Champions League, and there hasn’t been any upsets in English trophy competitions, so I decided to take a look at the one of the earliest qualifiers for next year’s Champions League.
HJK Helsinki has already clinched a spot in the 2019-2020 Champions League qualifying round by claiming the league title in the Veikkausliiga, the top league in Finland. Due to the northern climate of Finland, they play a league schedule that runs from April to October to avoid winter. This season officially ends on October 27th, but HJK has been dominant on the season, and thanks to their current 13-match unbeaten streak (10W-3D-0L), they clinched the league title after a Match 29 win against Ilves. As such, they have clarified for the first qualifying round of the 2019-2020 Champions League.
The club has long been considered Finland’s “biggest” club, as well as its most successful. They were formed as part of a multi-sport club, and the football club was populated primarily by the Finnish-speaking students of Helsinki in a era before Finland’s independence in 1917.
In 1963, HJK played their last ever season (to this date) in the second division of Finnish football, and have dominated the Veikausliiga ever since. They have won 20 league titles since that time, including in their first season in 1964. They’ve also won all but two titles this decade – a third-place finish in 2015 (two points behind the champion) and a runner-up finish in 2016 (three points behind). They’ve also won 13 Finnish Cups and five Finnish League Cups (a competition that has now been discontinued).
Since HJK was noticed because of their qualification in the Champions League, we should take a quick look at their performance there. Finland is one of the lower ranked UEFA countries – they are currently ranked 38th out of 55 associations – so they typically begin play very early in the tournament, which will be no different next year. However, during the 1998-1999 Champions League, they were the first club from Finland to reach the Group Stage, and they even managed to win a game during the Group Stage, but were eliminated after finishing group play with a 1-2-3 record. That remains their furthest foray in the Champions League thus far, and this season they managed to get through one qualifying round before losing to BATE Borisov in the second qualifying round, and subsequently losing in the Europa League third qualifying round.
All that is left for HJK this season is the final two matches of league play – a home match against SJK this Sunday and an away match against TPS next weekend – which, as indicated previously, will have no bearing on the league results. They will also begin play in the next iteration of the Finnish Cup in the next few weeks, joining during the group stage of the tournament that will end next May.
Update on Last Week’s Club
Last week’s club – Dunston UTS – played Billingham Town in an FA Vase First Round Proper match, holding off the Tier 10 club by a score of 3-1. They’ll face off against another Tier 10 team – this time the Winterton Rangers – in the next round of the FA Vase on November 3rd. As mentioned last week, they face off against Gateshead in the final qualifying round for the FA Cup this weekend, and a victory against the Tier 5 club would advance Dunston UTS to the FA Cup First Round for the first time ever. Between all these non-league competitions, they will also be playing a league match to close out October against West Auckland Town on October 27th. We’ll be sure to keep you posted if The Fed can upset Gateshead this weekend, a team that is currently in 7th place in the National League.
Until next time…
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