Season 1, RoPS, Finnish Ykkönen

RoPS is the main club from Rovaniemi, the only large city in Lapland, very close to the Arctic Circle. I was delighted that I was randomly assigned to them as I’ve spent some time in Finland and while I’ve never made it up to Rovaniemi, it’s about as out in the boonies as you’re going to get in Europe.

Media Expectations: Promotion
Board Expectations: Champions

Transfers in: 5, including Finnish ST/Coach and Brazilian ST, all on frees
Transfers out: Finnish ST/Coach (See below)

I did feel a little un-Llama-ish in that RoPS had apparently just been relegated the season before and thus were favorites to top the Ykkönen. Then I noticed that one of our preseason friendlies were against FC Santa Claus (yes, they wear a red top, red shorts and white socks) and forgot about it.

I was given absolutely nothing to spend, so brought in a handful of veterans on free transfers. One, a Player/Coach, turned out to be awful at both roles and also manged to injure our best player for two months in training. I terminated his contract with immediate effect.

After a rocky start, including getting put out of the Suomen Cup at the first hurdle on penalties against a team we’d stuffed in a friendly 10 days before, the squad came together and plowed through the Ykkönen, mainly on the strength of Former European Golden Boot Striker, who apparently is fine with playing in lower divisions for peanuts, so long as they’re measured by the ton and fried.

PS Kemi Kings actually hung tight with us for most of the season before falling apart at the end — we wound up winning the league by 12 points.

Suomen Cup: Out in third round

YKO 1ST P26 W20 D5 L1 GF56 GA18 Pts65

Season 2, RoPS, Finnish Veikkausliiga

Media Expectations: Relegation dogfight
Board Expectations: Mid-table

Transfers in: 7, including ReddMiistii and Icelandic Hard Man, all on frees
Transfers out: 13 for a total of £180K

Again, the transfer kitty was nothing. Okay, I was given £30. No, I’m not leaving out the “K”. I wound up sending it on candy and soda from the club office vending machines. With a squad that was only just better than most of the teams in the Ykkönen, I wound up moving out just about half the squad on free transfers (and one decent sale of a young defender, from which I saw a whole £15K) and grabbing what out-of-contract players I could convince to come up north.

Two of note were an Aging Icelandic Hardman that was released by a Championship Club in Financially Desperate Times (really narrowing it down there) and a left-back who set the new record for worst discipline in his first year, who I will call RedMiistii. With my contract coming up at the end of the year, the board offered me the same terms for another two years. I turned them down and spent most of the season with speculation swirling about my managerial future.

Again, RoPS started off slowly after a poor showing in the preseason League Cup; however, nobody else was doing well either, resulting in a very bunched-up table. A great run of form in the middle of the season got us up to third and coincided with the meat of the Suomen Cup — we started shakily with beating a non-league team on penalties, then gathered steam that culminated in a great 3-2 home win over Honka to put us in the final, which is held a whole two months after the semis.

We treaded water until then and on the eve of the match, disaster struck as our best player was injured. We came into the game with low expectations and were rewarded when their best player had to go off after 13 minutes. One of our usual benchwarmers scored one and set up another and after allowing a goal shortly after halftime, Icelandic Hardman thumped one in from a corner and RoPS had their first silverware in over 25 years (and only their second all-time). My first cup win in FM10 and I’m not ashamed to say that I jumped up and did a little dance.

There was an understandable hangover after the big win and the rest of the season was pretty forgettable, with RoPS finishing just outside the Europa League spots. However, since I’d won the cup, we wound up going to the Europa League next year anyway (and the team above us got nothing!). I again was offered the same terms at the end of the season and flush with the joy of winning the cup, I negotiated a £25/week raise through the end of 2013.

Finnish League Cup: Out in group stages
Suomen Cup: Winner

VKL 5TH P26 W11 D6 L9 GF40 GA29 Pts39

Season 3, RoPS, Finnish Veikkausliiga

Media Expectations: European places
Board Expectations: European places

Transfers in: 9, including two Finnish U21 CBs, for a total of 99K pounds
Transfers out: 10, including the two starting CBs, for a total of 1.2M pounds

Not only was I again not given anything to spend (okay, £11 this time), many of the players were clamouring to move to bigger clubs.

With Icelandic Hard Man retiring and both of my starting CBs demanding a move, I soon found myself without my top 3 CBs from last year, although I had gotten £1.1M for them (of which I was allowed to spend £100K).

I then decided that this year would be the year we’d blood the youth, so I brought up my three U19s who were worth a damn and moved all the veterans that would block their progress. With more youth arriving on frees, I would often have a subs bench with only one player over the age of 20 (and three U20s in the starting line-up).

Again, the League Cup was a wash, although we made it out of the group stage this time. We had a much better start to the league this time and really hit our stride after a tough home loss to HJK, going on a five-game winning streak before another home loss to Honka, then another five-game winning streak where the aggregate score wound up being 13-0 and we wound up perched atop the table (albeit with HJK with 6 games in hand) as well as back in the Suomen Cup final.

This was my first real experience with what I think of as “the reverse aquaplane” and it really did feel like I had little to do with it. The run came to a predictable end when we were drawn against Rangers in the Europa Cup Third Qualifying Round — after getting beat 1-3 at home an all-youth team took a respectable 1-0 loss in Glasgow; however, the morale of the squad was badly shaken.

We limped toward the finish line with a series of frustrating draws leading up to the Cup final. After going up 2-0 at the FinnAir stadium, our left winger got sent off for his second yellow on 60 minutes. I was surprised as anybody when our defence easily held out for the final half-hour to claim our second Cup in a row.

Four points ahead with four games to go, a breath-taking 2-4 win on the road against Honka and a HJK tie later, we needed 2 points from our last three games to win our first-ever title. Injuries and call-ups took out 8 first teamers and left us with a 5-man bench (two being GKs) and we started five players 19 or younger in what wound up being a come-from-behind 2-1 win that sealed a first title for RoPS.

Also worth noting: Redmiistii somehow managed to break the record for worst discipline, which he had set the previous year.

Finnish League Cup: Out in QF
Suomen Cup: Winner
Europa Cup: Out in 3rd Qualifying Round to Rangers, 1-4 on aggregate

VKL 1ST P26 W17 D5 L4 GF49 GA22 Pts56

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