Tuomas Heikkinen is in his 15th season prowling the sidelines as head coach of Team Finland and on Saturday at Grimsta field in Stockholm, he will face Sweden for the 13th time in what is now called The Viking Line Bowl. In fact, by his count as a coach or player he has been on the opposing sideline against Sweden roughly 22 times.
His record as head coach against the Swedes is 5-7 but Finland has won three of the last four.
Heikkinen is perhaps the longest-standing head coach in international American football and the 52 year old seems to have no intention of slowing down. He has been involved in the Finnish national team in some capacity or other since the early 1990s and is looking forward to Saturday’s annual showdown against the Swedes.
American Football International caught up with him as he prepares for Finland’s game against Team Sweden.
American Football Internatonal: The Finland-Sweden annual grudge game is the longest-standing international rivalry in the football world. How many have you been involved with?
Tuomas Heikkinen: There’s four years in the time span 1992-now that a game between Finland and Sweden has been played and I haven’t been a player or a coach. On some years we’ve played them twice, European Championship tournament and the friendly. This will be #21 or #22 on my part.
AFI: Have you held any training camps and if so how many attended?
Heikkinen: Yes, we had a two-day camp last weekend in Pajulahti (Sports Center 1,5 hr away from Helsinki), we had 52 players on the camp.
AFI: What is the mood of the team?
Heikkinen: The players know what they’re going into next weekend and I am confident they will be ready to play hard.
AFI: Do you have more or less the same coaching staff as last year?
Heikkinen: Yes, pretty much, one of last year’s position coaches was not available, and we have brought in two new assistants.
AFI: How many changes in your lineup do you anticipate?
Heikkinen: There is a number of changes, of this year’s 45 about half were on last year.
AFI: With the World championship qualifiers coming up in 2018, how important is this game to you?
Heikkinen: It’s a Team Finland game, and it is the Finland-Sweden rivalry, it should be very important to everyone involved until the final whistle on Saturday. Simple as that. In the larger picture, we’ll learn more about our strengths and not-strengths, and can use the game as a building block and evaluation tool for next year. Every year is different with different key players’ status and so on. We try to build on our estimated strengths with the group we have now, and hope to be able to make some decisions on and adjustments, scrapping and packaging X0-wise, to what we do overall and towards 2018, based on this coming game. I hope the flow of the game will allow us to field all our players as much as possible without compromising the game’s competitive nature.
AFI: When you are not coaching football, what are you doing?
Heikkinen: I work as the principal of a music institute, with that I also get to work as a teacher in a different area of life. The yearly game between us is a unique thing, there’s a lot of respect and yet determination to win these games on both sides. Hopefully this coming game will be as exciting, intense and fair bout as the last few have been.
Finland now has an 11-10 lead in the series which has been played on a regular basis since 1992. But the Finns have won the last two including a 14-10 victory in Stockholm two years ago.