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Blog: Planes, Trains & Automobiles

5 July 2013

The Magpies will not be without support throughout their pre-season tour of Finland.

Notts father and son fans Paul and Harry Mace have made the trip to cheer on the lads. Here, Paul files the first of his reports from Kemi...

Watching Notts County in Europe is a suitably rare occurrence at any level. Gibraltar, I vaguely recall, was a 1970s summer stop-off for the Magpies under the stewardship of Jimmy Sirrel for a mini-tournament.

Juventus has to be Notts’ crowning moment in Europe – opening the Serie A champions’ new stadium two years ago in Turin was the stuff of which dreams are truly made. As one of the fortunate ones who had the budget and time to make the pilgrimage, I vividly recall the occasion and the opening ceremony almost transcending the 1-1 draw and Lee Hughes’ late equaliser itself.

So, when my teenage son pronounced that it would be a great way to celebrate completing his GCSE’s to embark on Notts’ three-game tour of Finland, who was I to argue?

Arriving at Notts’ training camp base of Kemi was a true planes, trains and automobiles experience spanning 16 hours. While the official Notts party attacked the journey via Gatwick, Stockholm, an internal Swedish flight to Lupea and a two-hour cross-border coach ride, our raiding party headed to Stansted.

Travelling business class on Ryanair (well, we paid for speedy boarding!) was surprisingly smooth. Hand luggage only, of course, as we couldn’t afford to put any suitcases in the hold. Our destination, Tampere Airport, makes Tollerton aerodrome look like Heathrow.  From walking off the plane, through the potting shed of customs and baggage collection and into a waiting taxi took less than five minutes.

Tampere is 100 miles away from Notts’ last and most testing game against Europa League qualifiers JJK. Which is positively local compared to the journey we had to make by train from Tampere to the training headquarters of Kemi in the north of Finland.

As the plane arrived early we had an hour to wait before our train headed north – so aimed to immerse ourselves in the local culture and sample some Finnish food. We go to a local Italian restaurant, which serves a choice of over 50 different pizzas.  And both resist the temptation to try out the Finnish speciality pizza of braised reindeer.

It's onto platform two of Tampere central for the 3pm reindeer express to Rovaniemi.  Kemi is six hours and five minutes away. But, in common with most European rail networks, travelling by train is a real pleasure. 

Comfy reclining seats, drop-down televisions and superfast free wi-fi ensures the ipads are out and Football Manager tactics can be refined. And a truly great restaurant car – where draught beer is served from a grandiose wooden bar which would not look out of place at any UK hostelry.

When travelling to the Juventus game by train I was staggered to be sat in front of two Notts fans from the next village who announced to me on the French-Italian border that they knew my dad from his days at Meadow Lane.
No Notts fans this time.  A broad brush-stroke of Finnish society and all the station and train announcements made in English as well as Finnish.

After five hours, we go through Oulu where Notts will play their second game of the tour against the Tevarit All Stars on Sunday. Finally, at 9.05pm and bang on time, we pull into Kemi station.

One of Kemi’s claims to fame is that it is home to the world-famous Ice Castle and Hotel.  Not in July of course, it all melted a while ago.

Checked in at the hotel and gone 10, the sun is still burning bright in the land of the midnight sun. A quick walk to the harbor and an opportunity to check out the stadium. 

Floodlights are spotted. No walls to scale, just a walk through an open field. 

Two football pitches – one inside an athletics track, the second partially surrounded by a few rows of wooden benches. Welcome to Kemi.

Tomorrow: Being interviewed by the Finnish media, meeting a former Magpies Finnish legend and why the Finns love pizza.

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