The Finnish Lions ice hockey team, welcomed home on Monday by 100,000 adoring fans as they brought with them Finland's second IIHF World Championship trophy, have come in for criticism in some quarters over the state of serious leglessness displayed by some players and staff on their arrival back on home soil. Anyone who watched the scenes either at the airport or in the city centre will have found it hard not to notice that a good many players were suffering from the morning (or afternoon) after the night before, and some seemed to have avoided the throbbing pain of a hangover by earnestly continuing their drinking.
Whilst Mikael Granlund's wonder goal against Russia in the semi-finals has racked up a huge number of hits on YouTube and other sites, he is fast being joined by the embarrassing prat-fall of the team's goalkeeper coach Pasi Nurminen at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. Nurminen emerged from the aircraft looking much the worse for wear and stumbled on the bottom step of the airstairs, crashing into the World Championship trophy as he spread his not inconsiderable frame on the red carpet. The trophy had a very visible dent in it by the time it appeared before the public in the Market Square, though whether this was the imprint of Nurminen's forehead or something else is unclear.
Another member of the squad, team manager Timo Jutila (who also captained the 1995 World Championship winners) was seen to be rather dazed and confused, and he elected not to go up onto the podium with the others when the team arrived at the square in an open-topped bus to be fêted by fans. Initially it was thought he had been taken ill, but Jutila himself declared he had an ankle inflammation. This expression seems set to become a new Finnish euphemism for being totally wasted.
In many ways, the criticism of the players and others for their condition is a bit steep, given the general Finnish relationship with alcohol, but on the other hand, the team are looked up to as role-models by many young people, and this aspect was brought out by Minister of Culture Stefan Wallin (Swedish People's Party), whose portfolio also includes sports. Wallin reportedly spoke to the Finnish Ice Hockey Association's chairman Kalervo Kummola on the matter, noting that whilst every Finn understood the elation that the players felt after their victory in Bratislava "it should nevertheless be remembered that sports personalities are setting an example for children and young adults". The team's head coach Jukka Jalonen admitted that the celebrations of some individuals had got rather out of hand, and expressed the hope that they had not caused offence.
Many commented on the online forums that the new generation of players are nothing like the "old school" types (who would include both the members of the coaching staff mentioned above), and it was also noted that this sort of behaviour was these days uncommon as a public spectacle - not least because there were precious few opportunites to celebrate a great victory in this way. In truth, there were occasions in the past when players' self-discipline failed them, but these generally only made it over the news threshold when someone was "sent home to sober up" in the middle of a tournament.
The general sentiment now seems to be that nobody in their right mind would begrudge the team members the chance to let their hair down, but that maybe their timing - in the full glare of the media and the public - was a shot rather wide of the goal. Next time - and hopefully there will be future occasions like this to rejoice in trophies won - they would do better to keep things in check until they have gone through the necessary formalities. The summer recess will offer plenty of opportunities for more private off-camera celebration.