American Football since late 1970´s
American football came to Finland in the late 1970’s through high school students returning from their exchange year in the United States. The first game was played between two high schools in 1976.
During the first couple of years, matches were played between high schools and more experience was also gained by playing friendly matches against the team of US Embassy’s Marines.
The first unofficial National Championship was played in 1979. The Syys Cup (”Autum Cup) tournament was held at Silkkiniitty in Tapiola. Six teams participated in the weekend-long tournament. Equipment had already developed to the point where all teams had cleats, hockey helmets, and shoulder pads. Equipment was borrowed among the participating teams.
Thousands of spectators unexpectedly came to watch the two-day tournament. Local newspapers and Seura magazine wrote articles about the tournament and the sport. Munkka Colts defeated Poli in the second round, 22-0. The final was played on October 13, 1979, and East City Giants defeated Colts by a narrow margin 6-0.
In the end of 1979 American Football Association of Finland was founded and the game started to become club sport activity instead of a school sport. Football grew fast in late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Finland has the most successful National Teams in Europe.
The first Finnish national American football team was put together in 1983 when Finland participated in the first ever European Championships of American football in Castel Giorgio, Italy. Ever since that Finland has participated in all final tournaments and has been crowned European Champion 5 times (1985, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000). No other country has as many championships or medals from the European Championships
Finland has been the runner-up five times ((1983, 1989, 1991,2001, 2023) and three times the team has finished 3 rd (1987, 2005, 2018, 2021).
Women’s first international game in 2008
Finland played Sweden in the worlds first ever womens tackle international national team game in 2008.
Like the Finnish men, the women’s national team has also been the most successful of the European teams during its history. Finnish ladies team won bronze in the first Women’s World Championships 2010 in Sweden. 2013 World Championships were organized in Vantaa, Finland and Finland took the bronze medals again. 2017 World Championship games were in Vancouver, Canada and Finland was 5th.
Finland’s women’s most recent World Cup medal is from 2022, when the team beat Canada in a tight bronze medal match with a score of 19-17. In the match, Finnish women made history and beat a North American team for the first time.
At the European level, Finland has won all the championships on offer. 2015 Finland won the first European title in Granada, Spain and won Championship again in 2019. European Championship tournament was held in Leeds, Great Britain.
Finland’s men’s youth U19 (19 and under) National team participated in first Junior European Championships in Nice, France 1992 and won the tournament. Finland was crowned as a European Junior Champion the first 3 times (1992, 1994, 1996). 2023 team Finland ended up to third place.
Finland also runs boys U17 national team that is playing every two years in Nordic championships. Finland has won Nordic championship 2008, 2013, 2017, 2022 and 2023
Finland has also started its womens U19 national team program in 2015.
The first official Finnish championship game was played in 1980
Football is currently played in Finland in four levels for men and three levels for women. Additionally, the Finnish championship series for universities is decided each spring. The first official Finnish championship game was played in 1980 and was won by the Espoo-based team Poli. Today, the name of the highest league level for men is Vaahteraliiga ((Maple League) and the leagues final game is called Vaahteramalja (Maple Bowl). The name comes from the early years of the sport when the Canadian embassy donated a trophy to the American Football Association of Finland as a perpetual trophy for the main series.
By the fall of 2022, the men´s Finnish championship has been decided 43 times. The reigning champion is Porvoon Butchers, who has already won the championship seven times in the history of the league. The team with the most championships is the Helsinki-based Roosters, who have celebrated in the Maple Bowl 22 times.
The Finnish women’s championship has been decided since 2008. The Helsinki-based team GS Demons has won the most championships (6 times). The reigning champion is the Turku Trojans, who have won the series final three years in a row (2021, 2022, 2023).
Finnish Players in North America
No native Finnish American football player has made it to the playing roster in the National Football League NFL. However, several Finns have made it to NFL teams’ practice squads, but the breakthrough is yet to happen. In 2016, Finnish-born Tyler Varga played as a running back for the Indianapolis Colts and was named Finnish American Football Player of the Year in the same year. However, Varga has not lived in Finland.
Several Finnish players have succeeded in earning a spot on the roster of NCAA Division I college teams, and it is only a matter of time before one of them continues their career as a professional.
In the Canadian CFL league, two Finnish players have already signed contracts with teams. In 2019, Kimi Linnainmaa played for the Toronto Argonauts, and Vantaa-born Chris Mulumba will start his third season playing as a defensive end for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the summer of 2023.
The most successful Finnish woman player in the United States is running back Tytti Kuusinen. In the 2022 season, Kuusinen played for the Boston Renegades team that won the WFA championship.
Matti Lindholm (LB)
Matti Lindholm became the first European player to sign a contract with the NFL team in 1987. He played in two preseason games against the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts but did not make it to the playing roster of the Minnesota Vikings.
Klaus Alinen (TE)
Klaus Alinen signed a two-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006. The first year was spent in the NFL International Player Development Program, and he didn’t make the playing roster in his second season either.
Michael Quarshie (DL)
Michael Quarshie signed a 1+1 contract with the Oakland Raiders in 2006. His career started promisingly in preseason games against the Eagles (fumble recovery) and the Vikings (QB sack), but suffered knee injury in practice and had to retire.
Seppo Evwaraye (OL)
Seppo Evwarayejoined the Minnesota Vikings’ international development program in 2007. Evwaraye played on the offensive line for the Vikings in several pre-season games, but he was not able to secure a spot on the team’s active roster
Iiro Luoto (TE)
Iiro Luoto joined the New York Jets’ international player development program in 2007. Luoto got a taste of the NFL and played in a pre-season game against the Minnesota Vikings, among others. However, his contract was not renewed in January 2008.
Karri Kuuttila (OL)
Karri Kuuttila impressed the St. Louis Rams scouts with his strong performance in the NFL Combine tests and earned an invitation to the 2011 pre-season camp. After three weeks he was dropped from the roster and did not secure a professional contract.
Tyler Varga (RB)
Tyler Varga signed a free-agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts for the 2015 season. Varga became the first Finnish player to play in a regular-season NFL game. However, Varga suffered an injury during the season and did not continue his professional career the following year.
Kimi Linnainmaa (WR)
Kimi Linnainmaa is the first Finnish player to have played in the Canadian Football League CFL. Linnainmaa signed a contract with the Toronto Argonauts for the 2019 season and was in the team’s active roster for 10 games, mainly playing on special teams.
Chris Mulumba (DL)
Hamilton Tiger-Cats selected Chris Mulumba as the 11th overall pick in the second round of the international player draft in 2021. Mulumba signed a contract with the Ticats and has played for Hamilton two seasons. He will continue with the Tiger-Cats for the 2023-2024 seasons after signing a two-year extension.
Flag football in Finland
In Finland, organized flag football has been played since the mid-1980s. The sport was particularly popular among juniors under 16 and women, especially when they did not have the opportunity to play tackle football. The Finnish national team, especially the youth team, rose to become the best in Europe for several years. However, with rule changes allowing tackle football for children and women, the popularity of flag football started to decline in Finland. In the mid-2010s, efforts were made to revive league and national team activities.
In recent years, the national GP series of flag football, played in tournament format, has culminated in the “Week of national championships” (SM-viikko) final tournament organized by the Finnish Olympic Committee. The games of this tournament have been televised live on the national YLE TV channel.
Women´s national team
The best moments in the history of the Finnish women’s flag football national team date back to the early 2000s when Finns were among the top European countries in tournaments. The only European Championship title so far was achieved in the 2005 home tournament. At the World Championship level, the women’s best achievement is the bronze medal from the 2006 Korea tournament. The latest medal in flag football tournaments for Finnish women is from 2014 when Finland claimed the top spot in the Beach Flag European Championship held in Italy.
With the inception of women’s American football contact leagues in Finland in 2008, the focus shifted to American football, where the Finnish national team has been the best in Europe from the beginning. In the 2021 World Championships, the Finnish women’s team finished in 17th place.
Men´s national team
As for the Finnish men’s flag football national team, their only tournament medal to date was obtained in 2014 when they secured the silver medal in the Beach Flag European Championship played in Italy. The Finnish men’s national team has participated in the IFAF World Championships twice. In 2014, the team finished in 15th place, and in the 2021 tournament in Israel, they finished in 18th place.
Youth national teams
The successful years for the Finnish boys’ national team are in the 1990s. In the 1990s, the Finnish boys were undoubtedly the best youth national team in flag football in Europe. Finns won four consecutive European Championship titles in the U16 age group in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998.
In 2023, the Finnish juniors returned to the competition by participating in the U15 age group mixed European Championship tournament. The team finished in fourth place in the highly competitive tournament winning all group stage matches.