It was exactly four weeks after our move to Rinkeby in Sweden in the autumn of 1971, when Pappa took me to Stockholm Stadium to see Finland play Sweden. I’d not been to an ice-hockey match since Ilves played Tappara in the Jäähalli in Tampere the previous winter. My team lost to their local rivals. The boys at school who wore the black and orange Tappara scarves laughed at me. But I didn’t give up my green and blue Ilves scarf just because of one game.
In Sweden nobody knew of the Finnish league, but this annual tournament was a question of pride for the two countries. Pappa had been given the tickets by his boss in the factory because he couldn’t go himself.
‘You have no idea how expensive these seats are,’ he said. ‘And how difficult to get hold of,’ he continued. He was talking to Anja. ‘And I’m not going to waste them on a person who ruins beautiful new sofas.’
My sister Anja just shrugged her shoulders. ‘It wasn’t me,’ she said, and looked down at her feet. A few days ago Pappa had found a cigarette burn on one of the velour cushions. I looked at Anja and wondered how she could be so brave. If Pappa found out about the party she had in the flat he’d hit the roof.
‘What did you say?’ Pappa said, taking hold of Anja’s arm.
‘Ouch, you’re hurting me!’ Anja freed herself and ran out of the hall.
‘Hadn’t you better be leaving?’ Mamma said.
I was very proud to be taken by Pappa to the match instead of Anja. In Tampere I went to ice-hockey matches with my friend, Kaija. We both played on the ice-rink two blocks from our flat with the boys from our school. To be allowed to play, we had to wait till there weren’t enough boys to make up a team. One boy, Jussi, who was in my class and had curly brown hair and short stumpy legs, shouted, ‘Do your figure skating in the corner, girlies!’ He had all the latest gear, fancy leather gloves much too large for his hands, pads for his knees and a shiny new stick, which he rolled around with one gloved hand often dropping it with a bang on the ice. Kaija sat next to Jussi in class and said he was really sweet, but she only said that because she had a crush on him, had had for ages. They lived close to each other too, and often walked home together. She’d told me that if there were no other boys around Jussi would hold her hand. Kaija was a short girl with round face and straight thin hair. Pappa called us ‘Pitkä ja Pätkä’ after a Finnish version of Laurel and Hardy. Getting ready for the match I decided to write to Kaija about it later that evening. I wondered who her new best friend might now be. I’d received one letter from her but she said nothing about school in it. It was already October so she must have found someone by now. I wished Kaija would be coming to see Finland play Sweden with me.
The match was played in the evening in the large stadium in the centre of Stockholm. We wore our warm coats and I put on my Ilves scarf and hat.
‘There’ll be lots of people but very few Finns, so best keep together, OK?’ Pappa said as we parked the new Volvo. Pappa had washed it earlier that morning and its bonnet gleamed under the streetlights. I turned to look at the dark, round building in front of me. There were people hurrying towards it. We were late. Pappa took my hand and we started running. He looked at the tickets and then up at the signs on doors. I held tightly onto Pappa’s hand when we walked up steps and saw the vast ice rink in front of us. People had to stand up to let us in, we were right in the middle of the row.
‘Tack, tack,’ Pappa said and I smiled. But nobody looked directly at us. They just stared at the rink in front of them.
The players were already out warming up. They smashed the bucks against the solid white edges, snapping their sticks fast and hard.
‘There’s Harri Linnonmaa, look, number 75!’ Pappa said pointing at a player in blue and white with a picture of a lion on his chest. ‘The Finnish Lions will beat the Swedish wimpy white-bread men,’ he whispered into my ear when the players skated up to the side and disappeared underneath us. Soon after they all came out again in a line and stopped dead when the Swedish national anthem was played over the Tannoy. Everybody stood up. Pappa and I were the only people not singing. After the Swedish anthem I felt awkward knowing the words to ‘Our Land’, but Pappa sang loudly, clearly pronouncing each Finnish word.
When the Finnish national anthem was over, the game started with the two attackers fighting for the puck in the middle of the rink. Pappa rubbed his hands together and muttered, ‘C’mon Finnish Lions!’
The Swedish players wore their blue and yellow shirts with an emblem of three crowns on them. They all had very blonde, long hair which escaped from underneath their helmets. Pappa had told me the crowns represented the three monarchies Sweden had once ruled.
‘Now they don’t even dare take part in wars, let alone win them, the cowards!’ he’d said. He told me Finns had earned their emblem through having to fight for their independence. ‘Like lions we are fearless and proud,’ he said.
‘I think we’ll win, Lissu, because the Swedes are scared,’ Pappa now said. ‘Finland won the first leg of the tournament in Helsinki. If only they can hold until half time, they’ll win.’ He smiled and nudged me with his elbow.
The whole of the stadium exploded when the first goal came. But Pappa and I sat still. By the end of the second period, Finland was 9 goals down and Pappa had an Elefanten beer in the dark, cold hall downstairs. People around us were standing in groups laughing and smoking. They were mostly Swedish men, like my father drinking beer.
‘Can I have a tunnbrödsrulle Pappa?’ I said. He looked at me and without saying a word gave me the money. I ran to a food stall and back again as quickly as I could. Thankfully Pappa was still there when I came back. He’d finished his beer and the bell was sounding for the start of the third period.
‘Never mind,’ Pappa said when we sat down again, ‘We have time to come back.’
But it got worse. Time after time Finnish players were sent to the sin bin, leaving the Swedish blondes free to score more goals. Three more times the buck ended up in the Finnish net. The Swedish players hugged each other and the crowd cheered. Pappa said nothing. The Finnish goalkeeper hung his head, while his teammates got angry with the Swedish players. Yet another Finn was sent to the sin bin. At one time there were two Lions sitting there, holding their sticks between their knees, staring ahead at the terrible result on the board opposite them.
‘Let’s go,’ Pappa said suddenly. The game wasn’t finished yet and people looked angrily at us when they had to move up from their seats. One man with a huge belly and a round face said, ‘Jävla Finnar’ when I passed. I didn’t look at him.
The dark streets outside were completely empty. We heard another loud cheer rise up from the vast stadium. Pappa walked fast to the car and quickly started the engine. He was quiet all the way home. When we pulled into the car park outside our block of flats I said, ‘Can we go again?’
Pappa looked at me and said, ‘No.’
This is an excerpt from my novel Pappa’s Girl. If you liked the story, you can find more here.