Finland: Roni Salonen – A Maple League homecoming

After six years away, linebacker Roni Salonen has finally returned to his football alma mater, the Helsinki Roosters

Salonen started his career in Helsinki back in 2009 with the Roosters junior program:

“I was lucky to have been able to try and experience multiple sports as a kid, and after seeing a few football games on TV, I thought that’s a sport I want to add to my try list and reached out to the local team. Well I’m still trying that sport.”

After a number of successful years with the Roosters, the 6’2, 220 pound Fin spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Austria’s Swarco Raiders Tirol before finishing the year up with another Maple League title in Helsinki. Salonen would spend the next two years with the GFL powerhouse that is the New Yorker Lions where he would lead the team in tackles in 2017 and go on to win a German Bowl.

Roosters LB Roni Salonen #80 hauling down Porvoo Butchers RB Sean McAllen #10 Photo: Helsinki Roosters

For two years in the GFL, Salonen used his large frame combined with downhill-running to cause havoc behind the opponents’ line of scrimmage. This gained international attention and resulted in him being picked up ninth overall in the 2019 CFL European Draft by the Calgary Stampeders. Ultimately Salonen decided to stay in Germany with the Lions after much consideration – he would win yet another German Bowl with the squad. He reflects on his decision:

“Things didn’t go as expected with the CFL and I felt going with the Lions was the right decision for me, as it was and has been.”

As the 31 year-old Salonen now returns to a Rooster organization in the back-end of his career he acts a symbolic reminder to a new generation of what can be. A new generation of Finnish talent that the team manages to develop year in year out to remain one of the better teams in Europe.

“The biggest difference with the Roosters since I’ve been away is the generational change. It’s nice to return to the roots and play with the old teammates as well with the new Roosters generation and try to help out the team.”

Roni Salonen #9 playing for the Braunschweig New Yorker Lions Photo: Rayk Maschauer

The linebacker saw his second week of action on Thursday against the Porvoo Butchers after he and his teammates had unexpectedly thrashed the same team the weekend before. This time round the game was much closer, finishing up a thrilling 39 – 35. In the two games combined, Roni recorded 20 tackles and a forced fumble. This Thursday in Helsinki’s matchup against the United Newland Crusaders, he will be joined by Finnish linebacking legend Santtu Äyräväinen. The 37-year-old originally decided to retire in January after an astonishing 18-year career with 11 championships and 500 tackles.

As Roni loosens up after a couple years away from football expect him to have even more of an impact in the backfield where he excels. One thing is for sure, teams will have a tough time dealing with the Roosters front seven.

Watch the Helsinki Roosters play the United Newland Crusaders, Thursday, July 15 at 17:30 CET (5:30 pm, 11:30am ET) live on AFI.tv.

 

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who has worked in B2B journalism and comms in the third sector; with experience in both education and human rights. He has played football for the London Warriors for the last 15 years as well as the