Ölmönger: Sessio #2 (Nov 2017): Beer and spectator sports

This post is a part of Sessio, Finnish beer bloggers’ monthly posts on the same topic. The topic is selected by a monthly changing host. This topic was selected by Olutkellari, who will wrap up the Sessio posts in his blog. I will take part in Sessio whenever the subject feels nice and I have time to write a post.
Beer and sports? Well, the first association that pops into my head is Paul Gascoigne. Ok, that was awful. Sorry, Gazza. Seriously, English league and division football is the only sport where the thought about having a beer while watching a match feels natural. Damn, I’m forgetting darts and billiards. Anyway, I’m the boring kind of person who thinks that alcoholic beverages don’t belong to the sport event stands. Beer culture and sport cultures just don’t mix well at the same space.
Being a TV spectator at home or at the pub is a completely different thing, even though I’m not very keen to drink beer while I’m watching a game I’m really interested about. Having a beer or two during the game makes watching ice hockey and football tolerable instead of boring, and getting completely wasted by anything while watching Finland’s men’s national football team’s match is compulsory, since their game is always untolerable pain to look at.

Waiting for tonight’s match?

No need to worry, however. I can still write about my favourite ballgame, my favourite club and my favourite players and connect them to my hobby of beer blogging. Sounds like a long journey. It is a damn long journey, so if you want to reach that destination, sit back and relax – this may take a while.
The love for volleyball is probably extracted to my blood when I was born. My father (short as f**k, 1,77 m at his peak) almost made his way to the opening six of his hometown club in the national league in the 1960’s – the only thing in between him and playing in the highest level was breaking his ankle during the warm-up. He left the game for ten years – to find the joy of playing for fun again ten years later.— 
I was introduced to the game at the late age of 15, but since been playing soccer, badminton, floorball and backyard ballgames I caught the magic of the sport quickly. I (short as f**k, still 1,84 m) never came as close to volleyball stardom as my father because I lack physique, technique, attitude and tallness that being a real athlete would’ve required. For me, volleyball is and will hopefully very long be the number one sport to play and to watch. If things go well, my next passion in the game will be coaching.
* * *
Vammalan Lentopallo, shortened VaLePa, from Sastamala is probably the only sports club I can say I’m a true fan of. Partly that’s because no one dares to admit to be fan of football clubs Liverpool and Bayern München. Mostly because I have a short but memorable history with the club, but we’ll get back to that later. Men’s team is one of the most successful team in Finnish volleyball in the 2010’s so far:
  • They got the Finnish championship in 2012, 2014 and 2017, silver in 2011 and 2016 & bronze in 2013 and 2015. (In addition they have two bronzes from 2008 and 1992.)
  • They won the Finnish cup in 2012 and 2016 & silver in 2013.
Many previous and present national team players are playing or have played for VaLePa – from active Finnish players at least Mikko Esko, Olli-Pekka Ojansivu, Olli Kunnari, Urpo Sivula, Markus Kaurto and Elviss Krastins. On 12 November 2017, the club made history by reaching the group stage of the highest club competition in Europe, CEV Champions League, as the first men’s team in Finland. They won their 3rd round qualification opponent, Jihostroj Ceske Budejovice* from Czech Republic 3 – 0 (25-20, 25-22, 25-15) at home, under the sponsored name Ford Store Levoranta Sastamala. They lost the away match in Czech 1 – 3 (25-21, 25-17, 18-25, 25-20), so the ticket to group stage was awarded to the Sastamala team after 15 – 12 won Golden set. Tight and tough battle but extremely earned victory for the Finns.
The tournament participation asked for some help from the Finnish volleyball community in the form of competition halls, since their home arena Vexve doesn’t have the required capacity of 3000 spectator seats. The home games’ opponents, dates, times and game venues of Ford Store Levoranta Sastamala in CEV Champions League 2018 group stage are:
  • vs. PAOK Thessaloniki (Greece), Tue 5 December 2017 at 7:00 p.m., Elenia Areena, Hämeenlinna
  • vs. VFB Friedrichshafen (Germany), Tue 19 December 2017 at 7:00 p.m., Vantaa Energia Areena
  • vs. Halkbank Ankara (Turkey), Thu 1 February 2018 at 8:00 p.m., Turun palloiluhalli (Turku Ball Game Hall)— 
If you’re into some true excitement and world class ball game, those should be the events to attend for you. Unfortunately, VaLePa’s qualification games for the Champions League aren’t freely available in YouTube, so we’ll settle for the 3rd final match of spring 2017, away match against Hurrikaani Loimaa, as the exhibit of the team’s strength.

As the most violent thing to do, when discussing Finnish volleyball, I’m almost completely leaving out the success story of Finland’s men’s national team. In the 21st century, the national team has played in the World League from 2006 to 2016 every year despite the toughening competition. They’ve reached the European Championship final tournament six times in a row (2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and the upcoming 2017 tournament) – with the 4th spot in Moscow in 2007 as the top achievement. They’ve achieved a place in the World Championship tournament for 2014 and 2018 events – they placed 9th in 2014 in Poland. From the ball games with Olympic sport status these are the 2nd best achievements overall – clearly behind ice hockey – but clearly the best achievements in summer sports. I have admit one previous lie: I’m a fan of the men’s national team, too.

* * *

There are only two key players in the national team, who were regulars in the opening six (or actually opening seven since the libero rule) in both the European Championship final tournament in 2007 and the World Championship final tournament in 2014. These two players are, in my opinion, the most successful and skilled two male volleyball players from Finland to date. After they’ve left the national team due to having played for Finland most of their career, the club they have settled to play for is – surprise, surprise – VaLePa.
Mikko Esko, born in 1978, plays as setter. He was born in Vammala and trained for his junior years in VaLePa. He started his senior career in 1995 in VaLePa. He rose to prominence in Keski-Savon Pateri, where he played 1997-2001 and won the Fiinish championship with the club in 1999. From 2001, he played in several European top league clubs – Generali Unteraching (Germany), Noliko Maaseik (Belgium), Sempre Volley Padova (Italy) and Guberniya Nizhny Novgorod (Russia), to name a few. In the middle of his volleyball career he managed to win two Finnish championships in beach volley in 2001 and 2003.
Esko played in the national team from 2000, as the dominant 1st setter of team during 2004-2014, and has played in 279 games for Finland. In 2015, he returned to his roots in VaLePa and has played there since. Nicknamed simply Mesko, his style and skill of playmaking could earn him some more. The Architect. Magic Fingers. Shameless Conman. Blocker’s Worst Opponent. The video below is combined from Mikko Esko’s performances in the successful 2007 European Championship tournament.

Olli Kunnari, born in 1982, plays as outside spiker/receiver. He was born in Alahärmä and spent his junior career in the local club Alahärmän Kisa. He started his senior career in 2000 in VaLePa. His career took off in Pielaveden Sampo, where he played 2002-2004 and won his first Finnish championship in 2004. From 2004, he played four seasons in France (in clubs Beauvais and Cannes) and after that one season in Poland, Greece and Turkey each (in clubs AZS Olsztyn, Olympiakos SC and IBB Istanbul, respectively). In 2011, he returned to Finland and VaLePa, and has played for the club since.— 
Kunnari started in the national team in 2002 and was a regular opening six player since the beginning until 2015, when he announced his retirement from the national team. I don’t know his nickname if he has any, but there are many simple options. Volleyball Genious. Wizard. Trickster. Perfect Receiver. The Setter’s Best Friend. In the video below we’ll see his actions in Olympiakos Pireus during season 2008/2009 and in the World League 2009 game against Poland.

These two guys won’t probably be playing professionally for too many years from now. I sincerely wish that they will crown their careers by reaching the playoffs and, who knows, possibly the Final Four tournament of CEV Champions League this season. Nevertheless, they are excellent role models for Finnish volleyball youth – true athletes on and outside the volleyball court.
* * *
So what about my history with the club? I lived in Vammala/Sastamala for couple of years a decade ago and somehow found myself as the person responsible in the volunteers who arranged the audience stands and advertisements ready for home matches in the notorious hall of Sylvää secondary school, their previous home venue. Not a single home match was missed and I even had the chance too see several away matches during the Vammala years. The finest season then was 2007/2008 when the team won bronze in the league, their second medal overall and first after 16 years.
The personal top moment for the period is easy to pick. I think it was the last home match of the regular season, when the brother Ilkka of the current national team coach Tuomas Sammelvuo, playing for the away team Pielaveden Sampo, said in an interview that every volleyball club chairman in Finland should come to Sylvää and see how a volleyball match event is organized. Being one of many volunteers behind the event and respectin Ilkka Sammelvuo as a player I felt very proud.
Unfortunately for continuing as a volunteer in VaLePa, I got a good job in Pori and moved away from Vammala in 2009. Work, family, hobbies and friends in Pori became so big part of my life that continuing within the club became impossible, and even getting to see couple of home matches per season live has proven to be difficult. So, there has been a small piece of yearning inside the great joy of following VaLePa’s success in recent years. I was there for a short stint but the time gave some great memories. I hope that I’d be able to watch at least one of the Champions League games live this season.
* * *
Since this Sessio was about beer and spectator sports, I’ll have to create a completely artificial and far-fetched connection between Finnish volleyball, Vammalan Lentopallo, Mikko Esko and Olli Kunnari. But that’s basically what I do normally with beer and music, so this is almost too easy.
The question is: which Finnish beers would I enjoy while watching from TV VaLePa and the two gentlemen play against the top European teams in Champions League? The answer is easy, because I’ve already given it earlier in the blog. I would choose, from the match opening ceremonies to the final moments of excitement, in this order:
For those who ask for another option, I offer a familiar picture:
(Didn’t make things too difficult, did I?)


Can’t recall what was VaLePa’s entry or theme song ten years ago, and don’t know what’s played this season. But what I remember is that it was mostly some techno-eurodance hits or glam rock tracks that were played during the breaks in the game, so I don’t have to care. I picked a song that I listened a lot during my VaLePa years.

Poets Of The Fall: Lift (YouTube)

From the 2006 album Signs of Life, the song was written by Markus Kaarlonen, Marko Saaresto and Olli Tukiainen.