HJK Helsinki

Runaway record champions cause occasional Euro upset

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi are Finland’s biggest and most successful football club. Known in English as HJK Helsinki, and by locals as Hay-Yah-Koh or ‘Klubi’, HJK won six league titles from 2009-2014, then six more from 2017. The current grand total of 33 puts them way ahead in the all-time records.

Finland’s only club to compete in the group stages of the Champions League, HJK were founded by the country’s first champion in speed skating, Fredrik Wathén, in 1907. First winning the Finnish title in 1911, HJK established early rivalries with HPS and HIFK to dominate the league in the 1920s and 1930s.

After the war, striker Kai Pahlman moved from HPS to HJK, scoring in Klubi’s European Cup debut in 1965 against Bobby Charlton’s Manchester United, a memorable 3-2 defeat at the Olympic Stadium.

Bolt Arena/Petri Haukinen

Under coach Jyrä Heliskoski, former assistant to Roy Hodgson for the national team, HJK won three titles in the late 1980s, before a young Jari Litmanen joined for a season in 1991. The future Ajax star would finish his career at HJK exactly 20 years later.

Goalkeeper Antti Niemi, later of Southampton and Fulham, also joined HJK in 1991, but had left by the time centre-back Hannu Tihinen arrived. Along with defensive midfielder Aki Riihilahti, and Shefki Kuqi, also later of Crystal Palace, Tihinen led HJK to a group stage appearance in the Champions League in 1998-99.

After a narrow win to qualify over Metz, HJK put in creditable performances against PSV Eindhoven, Benfica and Kaiserslautern, drawing twice, beating Benfica once, and twice only losing to late goals.

While since dominating at home, particularly under returning coach Antti Muurinen, previously in charge for the Champions League adventure, HJK created the odd surprise in Europe. In 2011, a 13-0 aggregate win over Bangor City led to a narrow defeat to Dinamo Zagreb, and 2-0 win over Schalke 04 in the Europa League. Scorer of both goals, Teemi Pukki levelled the return leg in Gelsenkirchen only for Schalke to strike back. Within a few days, the Germans had signed the young striker.

Bolt Arena/Petri Haukinen

In 2014, HJK became the first Finnish club to compete in the group stages of the Europa League after a shock win in the play-off round over Rapid Vienna. A late penalty by Demba Savage sent Klubi through, prestigious fixtures against Torino, Bruges and FC Copenhagen then resulting in two home victories. The Gambian international returns for the 2017 season, which saw HJK successfully wrest back the domestic title after three years.

They wouldn’t let it go so easily again. With the exception of 2019, HJK marched on to title wins every year, though the margin of victory over KuPS was usually wafer thin. One point ahead of the Kuopio side in 2021 and 2022, HJK had to rely on a better goal difference in 2023 to lift a 33rd Finnish crown. 

Europe saw Klubi in combative mode. Losing narrowly to old troopers Red Star Belgrade and Malmö in Champions League campaigns in 2019 and 2021, in 2022 HJK saw off Maribor and Silkeborg to reach the group stage of the Europa League. Glamour ties with Roma and Betis gave visiting HJK the chance to play before big crowds, the home legs attracting gates of around 10,000 to the Bolt Arena.

A year later, a brace from young striker Bojan Radulović put HJK into the group stage of the Conference League over Gheorghe Hagi’s Farul Constanța, as the Serbian U-19 cap reignited his career in Scandinavia. Player of the Season in 2023, the Spain-born forward then hit the opener for HJK at Aberdeen in the group stage, ultimately earning the Finns a draw.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

The renamed Bolt Arena, formerly the Sonera Stadium, is located between the main avenue of Mannerheimintie and the Olympic Stadium.

Built as the FinnAir Stadium in 2000, giving main club HJK a home of reasonable size, the 10,700-capacity ground was opened with a 3-1 by Finland over Norway, Jari Litmanen getting two goals.

The national team has since played here a handful of times, most notably when beating Liechtenstein 3-0 in November 2019 to qualify for their first major finals, Euro 2020, crowds invading the pitch after the final whistle in memorable scenes.

The stadium is otherwise where HJK fans gather all season, in the north (pohjoinen) stand and part of the south (etelä). Away supporters of up to 2,000 are seated in blocks 139-140 of the south. The west (länsi) and east (itä) stands are along the sidelines.

The Bolt Arena is also used by Helsinki’s second team, HIFK, currently stuck in the second-tier Ykkönen.

getting here

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The Sonera is nearer to the main tram stop of Kansaeläkelaitos, on the corner of Urheilukatu, a two-minute walk away. Trams take 10-15mins from town. Line 2 runs from Central Station, while the 4T, 7A and 10 run from the Lasipalatsi stop outside the Sokos Hotel Vaakuna on Mannerheimintie. 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 €20 from the city centre.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

On match days, tickets are sold at gates four, six, seven and nine. Online, HJK sells advance admission €5 cheaper per ticket, €25 for the best seats including a buffet at the Bollis restaurant; €17 in the east stand, and €7 behind the goal. Children 6-16 are €5-10 cheaper. ‘Hot’ games with FC Honka, MYPA and SJK are €5 dearer all round. Ticket agency ticketmaster also distributes.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

On Mannerheimintie, just across the road from the stadium, the Sport Bar Töölö offers HJK followers 11 screens, several draught beers and ever popular buffalo wings. Opened way back in 1938, the place has long catered to sports fans – regulars gather here on Tuesday for quiz nights. 

Tap beers, currently including Czech Budvar, Uncle Mushburger Westcoast IPA and Guinness, go for around €10 a half-litre. Games are also shown, those unable to get tickets for the visit of Eintracht Frankfurt in 2023 could watch the match here.