LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Helsinki Olympic Stadium

Flying Finns, Magic Magyars and the Eagle Owls

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

Finland’s national arena, the Helsingin Olympiastadion is a masterpiece of mid 20th-century stadium architecture, 72-metre tower and all.

Though best known for the 1952 Olympics at which the Hungary of Puskás, Bozsik and Kocsis impressively won the football gold, the stadium was built before the war.

Agreed upon in 1927, Finland avowed on staging the Olympics, construction began on the stadium in 1934. Three years later, Helsinki was offered the 1940 Games – and the 50,000-capacity, strikingly functionalist area was opened on June 12, 1938. Just over a year later, war broke out.

The work of architects Yrjö Lindegren and Toivo Jäntti had not been in vain, however. The enforced gap allowed for the wooden terracing to be rebuilt in concrete, and an extra 20,000 places added. The crowd for the football final here was nearly 60,000, including Sir Stanley Rous, the English FA president who invited the victorious Hungary team to come to Wembley the following year.

Behind the main stand, the Töölön Pallokenttä, Finland’s main football stadium from 1915 to 1938, had also staged five matches, including Hungary’s 3-0 win over Giuseppe Meazza’s Italy. 

Nearby now stands the Bolt Arena, home of HJK Helsinki and host to their lesser city rivals HIFK.

Finland’s most decorated club, HJK play only rarely at the national Olympic Stadium, such as for their solitary appearance in the group stage of the Champions League, in 1998-99. A 2-0 win over Benfica was followed by a 3-1 defeat by PSV Eindhoven, courtesy a hat-trick from Ruud van Nistelrooy. Some 33,000 were squeezed in that night – current capacity is just under 40,000.

Memorable moments involving the Finnish national side include a 3-0 win over Serbia & Montenegro in 2003, and an unbeaten home record, including draws with England and Germany, in the qualifying group for the 2002 World Cup.

On the minus side, many locals still remember the comical last-minute equaliser that sent Hungary through to the World Cup play-offs in 1997 instead of Finland.

The Olympic Stadium also hosts prestigious pre-season friendlies, such as the game between Celtic and Spurs in 2014, and Arsenal’s win over Manchester City in 2013, attracting a full house of 39,000.

After 2016, it underwent a €337-million renovation running over four years, allowing the arena to host the UEFA Super Cup curtain-raiser to the 2022-23 season. The superstars of Real Madrid overcame Eintracht Frankfurt, whose fans brought the atmosphere – although the stadium wasn’t full. These days, Finnish fans are used to HJK facing top European opposition in the group stages of the European competitions.

The Olympic Stadium Tower remains in place, a tourist attraction, as is the Sport Museum, each set either side of the main A stand. Opposite is Stand D. The south end is designated B, the north end divided E and F, the latter easily divided should away numbers demand.

getting here

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Several trams run up Mannerheimintie from town. The 2 (direction Nordenskiöldinkatu) runs from Central Station while the 4T, 7A and 10 run from the Lasipalatsi stop outside the Sokos Hotel Vaakuna on Mannerheimintie.

All stop at Kansaeläkelaitos, under 15mins away, on the corner of Urheilukatu, a five-minute walk from the Olympic Stadium. Numerous buses run the same route.

Note that the significant reconstruction of Mannerheimintie from 2023 and 2025 may cause diversions. The Finnish-language Facebook page of the construction company gives regular updates of which lines are affected. The Chat feature of the Helsinki-info service is available Mon-Thur 9am-4pm, Fri 10am-3pm or pop into the library at Töölönlahdenkatu 4 for information. The journey planner function of HSL HRT should also be valid.

A taxi would cost around €25 from the city centre.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets are sold online through the international agency Ticketmaster. On match days, depending on availability, booths outside the stadium also distribute.

For Finnish internationals, prices start at €40 behind the north goal, moving to €50 behind the south goal. Seats in sideline stand D run from around €70-€90, with the best seats in the main A stand reaching well over €100. For club friendlies, prices are around half this.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

There is no fixed store at the Olympic Stadium but souvenirs are sold in the tower lobby (Mon-Fri 9am-8pm, Sat-Sun 9am-6pm), including retro posters and postcards related to the 1952 Games.

tower & Museum

Explore the stadium inside and out

The Olympic Stadium Tower (€5/€2, Mon-Fri 8am-8pm, Sat-Sun 9am-6pm) and Sports Museum (€5/free under-18s, Mon-Fri 11am-5pm, Sat-Sun noon-4pm) are tourist attractions in their own right.

A lift whisks you up the 72-metre high tower for prime views over Helsinki. Visits include a short tour of the stadium.

The museum features sporting heroes such as long-distance runner Paavo Nurmi, who lit the Olympic flame here in 1952, as well as footballers Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä, who starred in memorable performances at the Olympic Stadium for the Finnish national side.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Just behind the south end of the stadium, Pinehill Terrace in fact comprises two terraces, one at ground level, the other on the roof, where DJs spin on summer nights and beers are served. Seasonal opening may stretch to big games in the chillier months.

Over on Mannerheimintie, Fellows (No.54) shows games and serves an attractive selection of international beers to thirsty crowds all year round, from 4pm daily. Nearby Pub 99 (No.56) has been catering to sports fans since 1974 and now operates from 3pm every day but Sunday.

The Bistro Stadion in the tower operates 11am-7pm weekdays, 11am-4pm Saturdays, offering lunches and traditional Finnish dishes

On match days, kiosks are set up around the ground, offering local Lapin Kulta or Karjala beers and Finnish sausages, makkara.

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