Saturday, July 19, 2014

Reforms were going on around European leagues, all in hope of bettering the local football. Finland caught the desire in 1979 – the league remained the same, 12 clubs, but the championship was made of two phases: first the preliminary stage, which was the traditional formula – all clubs played against each other twice. Then the top 8 played a third round of single match against other in the so-called 'championship group'. The bottom 4 plus the best of the Second Division played a round-robin tournament in the 'promotion/relegation group'. The benefits of such formula are ever dubious: may be at first they attracted more fans, but it was short-lived fad. The quality of the game and particularly the class of the teams hardly changed. One thing was certain: such championship are statisticians nightmare – how to count the extra games in the mixed mini-league? It was neither first, nor second division. On itself – the number was small and there was hardly a club playing regularly in those tournaments. But the experiment started and the results perhaps supported the view of the skeptic critics. OPS Oulu built a 3-point lead during the first stage and finished first, followed by KuPS Kuopio and HJK Helsinki. KTP Kotka was 8th, 3 points ahead of the bottom 4 clubs. The top eight moved to their championship stage, carrying their records from the first round.
 The bottom four – KPK Kokkola, Ilves Tampere, Pyrkiva Turku, and MiPK Mikkeli, finishing in this order – grouped with  the top four of the Second Division -  MP Mikkeli, OTP Oulu, Sepsi-78 Seinajoki, and GrIFK Kauniainen, in that order. All clubs started with bonus points depending on their place in the preliminary round – the top with 4 points, and so on down to the last with 1 point. Thus, KPK Kokkola and MP  Mikkeli started with 3 points advantage to MiPK Mikkeli and GrIFK Kauniainen. As there is no really working formula for mixed groups, this one was good as any other and the tournament started – a single-match round-robin. The top 4 were to play in First Division the next season; the bottom 4 – in the Second. The lowest of the first stage from both divisions remained lowest – GrIFK finished last and MiPK – 7th. The winners of the preliminary stage of Second Division  - MP Mikkeli – dropped terribly their form and ended 6th only because of the bonus points. Without them, they were the worst in the final stage. Pyrkiva Turku, last in the preliminary stage, now ended 6th – still relegated. That is, 2 clubs of the First Division went down – as it was traditionally anyway. And the relegated were the last two in the top division – they were to be relegated in traditional championship. As for those surviving and promoted – KPV Kokkola dropped to third place, but starting with 4 points perhaps they did not put too much effort – here the point was not to be first: what really counted was only not to drop bellow 4th place. KPV Kokkola ended 3rd. Ilves Tampere were clearly the best – or at least the most determined to keep their place among the top – they did not lose a match, won 4, and tied 3. Even without bonus points they were to finish first. 
Second finished OTP Oulu – they were second in the preliminary stage, so no matter the formula, they were getting promotion with or without final round. 
 The only club really taking advantage of the innovation was Sepsi-78.
The team from Seinijoki finished third in the preliminary stage – just outside promotion zone in a traditional championship. Now having a chance, they went for it and clinched 4th place, meaning promotion to First Division. Well done. At the end, the real losers were MP Mikkeli.
Standing from left: Heikki Kangaskorpi, Markku Hämäläinen, Arto Hirvonen, Erkki Himanen, Vesa Tyrväinen, Seppo Hujanen, huoltaja Matti Tuominen, valmentaja Antero Hyttinen, valmentaja Eero Karppinen.
First row: Vesa Liikanen, Jukka Kaarna, Markku Kääriäinen, Juha Vuori, Reijo Vaittinen, Juha Viitikko, Silvo Niskanen.
Under normal circumstances, they were champions of the Second Division – and promoted. But they had to blame only themselves – after all, they started with 4 bonus points and they blew away their season at the end.
Yet, even with their failure the new formula hardly changed anything – apart from MP Mikkeli, one of the promoted and two of the relegated were to do exactly that without extra games. No matter what, the better were still better and lowly – lowly.