Tar, Sweat and Tears

– Mom! I can’t tighten these. Can you press here, so I can tie the knot?

The new Pro Champ Kobobol ice hockey skates are black leather with brown reinforcements. On the bottom of the boot, it says ”Made in Czechoslovakia”. Since all the shoes of a rapidly growing boy tend to quickly become too small, when buying expensive skates, we had to settle for the unpleasant term ”room to grow”. So, the skates are a couple of sizes too big. Both boots have a newspaper page jammed into the toe, and I’m wearing two pairs of wool socks. Yet, when I start gliding, the skates starts wobbling. The wool socks provide extra support and soften the squeeze of the new stiff leather boot. Mom’s help is needed, even though I do know how to tie my skates.

Mid-60s hockey skates
Photo: Museokeskus Vapriikki

– Lemme try. No, too tight!

I turn back towards the dressing room. I glide right to the edge of the ice and jump onto the tar-stained boards. We sit outside on the bench in the evening twilight. I glance around to make sure no one is sneaking up on us. I can’t possibly go with my mom to the boys’ side of the locker room to tie my skates. I try again. I loosen the laces from bottom to top. Once again, my mom’s finger presses the bottom of the knot. I wonder if I’ve got the right fit now. I grab my factory-reject Koho stick and cautiously step back onto the ice. Now it feels good! The blades, freshly sharpened at the Tapiolan yleishuolto shop, slice into the ice. I circle to the right and left. Backwards in both directions. Sideways braking. I almost stumble over. At the last moment, I manage to regain balance. The blades are sharp.

– Rob! Are you coming to join us? We’re starting the game.

– Yeah! I’m coming. I’ve got new skates. Kobobols!

My mom heads towards her side. I quickly jump over a low movable fence and onto the so-called hockey side, even though we play with a tennis ball. A fence in the middle of the rink separates the halves. The match begins.

The famous Jofa, the World Championship helmet
Photo: Turun museokeskus

You can play in the real ice hockey rink during school gym classes and sometimes in the mornings. In the evenings, it’s the territory of the big guys. We skate up the steep icy hill using the “branching” technique and hang on the edge of the rink as spectators. The game is intense – and tough. Even the big boys play with the rule ”no high shots allowed.” But accidents happen. Especially when some players have new curved-blade Koho Pro Hook sticks. With those, the wrist shot naturally flies high into the air. Some players have hockey gloves, a few have shin guards, someone has a helmet, but groin protection is not used by anyone. Hockey gear is expensive, especially Swedish Jofa helmets.

Hexi Riihiranta and his guards pile
Photo: Heikki Y. Rissanen, Museovirasto

A blood-curdling scream echoes in the evening. One of the players lies in the corner of the rink in a fetal position, whimpering softly. Soon three friends are on their knees around the moaning boy. One of the guys asks him something on the ice. The injured player weakly nods. Two boys grab him by the armpits and gently lift him up. The third opens the gate to the rink. We step aside as the gate opens and watch the drama with a mixture of sympathy and curiosity. 

A typical early 70s locker room by the skating rink
Photo: Timo Laaksonen, Keravan museopalvelut

It has hit the place where the puck hurts the worst. The boy who opened the gate rushes quickly to the dressing room. In the middle of the locker room is the rink manager’s office. There’s a phone there. The injured boy, bent double, is led to the bench to lie down. The rest of the gang is shooed out. The boy’s younger brother stays in the dressing room, crying and asking anxiously. Someone answers. The puck hit the groin. The boy on the bench vomits. A new scent mixes with the smell of tar and sweat. An ambulance blares its siren as it pulls up in front of the dressing room. Almost the entire skating crowd gathers along the edge of the rink between the snow banks to witness the shocking event. A quiet whispering rises and falls among the large group of spectators. The boy on the stretcher is loaded into the vehicle, and two paramedics jump in. The vehicle backs up through the snowy path, its emergency lights flashing, and speeds through the parking lot onto Pohjantie. The siren’s wail can still be heard for a moment.

In somber moods, we skate back to the hockey side of the lower rink. The game doesn’t seem to get started again. Everyone openly reflects on the recent accident. If even a tennis ball hurts, then what about a puck? Slowly, the match resumes. The events in the ice hockey rink fade away. The skating track comes back to life.

While hanging out at the locker room, you see and hear all sorts of things. In the evenings, there are many older guys present. Little pitchers have big ears. Sometimes I deliberately delay my departure when an juicy tidbit of information catches my ear.

– Of course, they did it under the influence of weed. You can hear it with your own ears. You can’t make sounds like that without some illegal stuff. The whole LP reeks of weed. Well, yeah, maybe ”Yellow Submarine” was just made while drunk. Listen to that last track at home. You can’t be mistaken.

Weedy music…
Photo: Robert Ramberg’s home archives

Now we understand. The older boys are talking about The Beatles’ new album, ”Revolver”. We quickly gather our hockey gear, tuck our skates into the blade of the stick, and half run to Veli-Matti’s house. We hurry into the small room upstairs and play ”Revolver” on the phonograph. The last song on side B is ”Tomorrow Never Knows”. It does sound really strange. But what does it have to do with weeds? They don’t reek.

After playing hockey all afternoon relaxation is needed.
Photo: Robert Ramberg’s home archives

Both halves of the skating rink’s dressing room are packed; it’s the annual skate-with-a-ribbon night. No one admits to themselves how much they’ve been looking forward to this event, downplaying their participation in every possible way. However, the fact remains that hockey is now overshadowed by this traditional occasion. Especially when the entire lower rink is reserved solely for this purpose. Each participant reluctantly picks a ribbon from the basket, with a number on it. The girls have red pieces of paper, while the boys have blue. The goal is to find the corresponding number and then skate with that person for the whole evening, with pop music playing loudly from the small speakers attached to the rink’s light poles. It doesn’t always go exactly like that, of course. The boys easily slip into a show-off mode, while the girls seem to enjoy staying in their own groups, whispering and giggling. 

A skate-with-a-ribbon night in the 50s Photo: UA Saarinen, Museovirasto

In any case, there is plenty of activity on the rink, and the latest pop hits echo across the icy field. It’s a time for being together, and a couple of hours of skating serves as good exercise. A few pairs have been formed, although the numbers probably don’t matter much. It’s fun for the big group to go with flushed cheeks to Valio bar for hot chocolate or a milkshake. ”Last Train to Clarksville” by The Monkees gets stuck in my head, and to this day, when I hear it, I can still see myself gliding around the dimly lit field of ice, half-heartedly searching for the evening’s princess. 

The highlight of winter 1972 is the semifinal match of the National Co-educational Schools’ Ice Hockey Series, which the team of Tapiola co-ed has clawed its way into. The game is played in the home rink of Tapiola school. We are confident of victory anyway, after all, our school has in its top line Tumba Turunen, Hexi Riihiranta, and Dille Riuttala – skill, power, and disruption! Winter has thrown down more than enough snow. Hence, there are substantial mountains of snow around the rink. The mighty Tapiola’s opponent is – whatever it might be – Lauritsala co-educational school, from somewhere far in the provinces. They stand no chance! Lauritsala even has to change gear in the women’s locker room. Girlish hockey! Two busloads of rural school supporters have at least bothered to come and witness their defeat. Welcome and goodbye!

Youth division ice hockey match in the early 80s
Photo: Raimo Sävilä, Kouvolan kaupunginmuseo

The edges of the rink are packed with people. The support is strong. Tapiola co-ed bombards! Due to the high snow piles, the heads of some spectators reach above the safety net of the ends. The match gets an ominous start as Hexi’s slap shot from the middle of the rink floats over the net and hits a girl in the forehead. Once again, the ambulance has to be called to take the injured girl to first aid. The hockey match continues. Lauritsala has hit three goals in no time. The dwindling support from Tapiola is drowned out by the exultant noise of the Lappeenranta gang. 0 – 4. This game is not lost yet. Tumba almost narrows the gap. Alright, now the Tapiola rush begins! 0 – 5, 0 – 6, 0 – 7 … Even the most ecstatic supporters start to lose faith. The faces of Lappeenranta have been frozen in a permanent smirk – no wonder. The third period is only a formality. The game ends with crushing numbers. Lauritsala wins 10 to zero. The incredulous, grief-stricken people of Tapiola slowly trudge home. Tonight, Valio bar is empty. The following week at school has a gloomy atmosphere, which has even affects the teachers. Gradually, more information starts to come in about the miracle school Lauritsala’s victorious team. The majority of the players belong to SaiPa’s highly successful youth team. A united, championship-marinated group came and showed Tapiola what team play means. Thankfully, Lalli Partinen, the huge defender, did not belong to that age group.

Outdoors ice hockey in the 60s
Photo: Kosken kuvaamo, Lappeenrannan museot, colorized

In late winter, the ice skates can rest in peace. Although there’s frost at night, the late March sun makes freezing attempts of the field futile. The rink manager and his assistants spend their idle time in the office cubicle in the center of the barracks. I’ve slipped in with Hassan to marvel at the lazing men and their restless talk. The office smells the same as the boys’ locker room – tar, sweat, and a hint of smoke. The cabin is heated by a stove. I don’t know about the girls’ side locker, but I suspect it only smells of tar and maybe gently of Rexona deodorant. Hassan shoots the breeze. I sit on a shaking chair in the corner and listen. The manager has an ear ache and almost 102 F of fever, but he is persistently working hard. During this early spring period, it’s more about killing time. All troubles are helped by the ear medicine brought in by the sturdy assistants. They also take turns from the medicine bottle. The manager has to reduce his clothing as sweat pushes to the surface. The medicine seems to work. The label on the bottle reads Koskenkorva Vodka.

For ear ache…
Photo: Turun museokeskus

In summer, soccer is played on the sandy lower field. Division matches of various levels draw varying crowds. The cheering can be quite enthusiastic if a friend belongs to one or both of the competing teams. The sandy pitch, dried by a rainless week, is dusty. Somewhere in the middle of the dust cloud, the ball is spinning. The cheerful shouts of supporters mix with the players’ expletives and squeals. Falling on the sand leaves nasty scrapes. Occasionally you see a baseball match in full swing. Sand isn’t really suitable for baseball either. On the grassy fields of Silkkiniitty, on the other hand, you can see several game groups at the same time. On the grass, someone even dares to dive towards home plate.

The rink on the upper field has been dismantled. In its place, basketball stands have been set up. The wooden base isn’t an ideal playing surface, but there are players from morning till night. Tapiola YMCA is an active operator in basketball and organizes both camps and tournaments during the summer months. Often it happens that when you spend enough time on the outdoor court playing ball, you find yourself first in a camp and eventually in a tournament. At the end of the locker room is a small kiosk. After the basketball match, we are terribly thirsty, but there are no pockets in our sports pants. I brave to ask if we could get a glass of water. The friendly lady at the kiosk even gives each of us a big glass of cold mead for free.

Basket and players
Photo: Seinäjoen kaupunginkirjasto, colorized

There’s also a four-lane crushed brick stretch beside the football field for the 60- and 100-meter sprints. Hassan has a stopwatch. Records are falling rapidly. But when Pekka runs the hundred meters just under nine seconds, strong suspicions arise about the reliability of the timing equipment, an East-German-made time iron. Be that as it may, Pekka is the fastest of the group with an amazing new world record. The high jump and pole vault site at the end of the running track is also an extremely interesting target. The landing into a waterlogged pile of sawdust is painful even in the high jump. Many hesitate to dive with the pole. Pekka does not. The two-meter bend remains in the annals as the best achievement. The champion, with knees and elbows chafed, is taken to the greasy Grilli Ribis at Heikintori shopping mall to enjoy a well-deserved hefty Thüringer sausage dish with French fries.

Heikintori in the 60s
Photo: unknown photographer, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

We go to watch basketball games at the gymnasium of Tapiola co-educational. The school’s own team is skilled and it’s cool to watch their winning games. The junior work of YMCA and Tapion Honka bears good fruit. The two-meter defense towers of Honka’s club team inspire respect in the little boys. Many semi-familiar faces are in the team. Isn’t that agile, pint-sized guy at the offensive end working at that sports store in Tapiontori? We get to watch the games up close. The stands are just the stairs from the hall to the dining room and rows of chairs on the dining side. Those sitting on the first row are nose-to-nose with the field. There is no tar smell here, but the bitter aroma of sweat wafts around the hall a few moments after the game starts. A failed pass reception produces dangerous situations. The ball is thrown forcefully from the hands of a league player. Luckily, there are former players in the stands who catch the thrown ball. The little boys know how to dodge.

Tapiola co-ed school’s sports hall
Photo: unknown photographer, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

Today, on Saturday morning, there is a real international sports festival feel in the air. A Finland vs. Soviet Union international match is being played in the school’s sports hall. It’s been named a friendship match in the program leaflet. Pekka is a keen enthusiast of the sport, as is his lanky father. I have been invited along, even though I don’t really understand the finest details of the sport. Pekka even knows the names of the visiting team’s players: Volnov, Belov, Muižnieks… With the last name, the tongue tends to get tangled. Pekka’s father gets so involved in the uneven struggle that the program leaflet gets crumpled into a sweaty mess in his large hands. The match ends 62-121. Pekka is visibly satisfied. Finland got more than half of the Soviet Union’s points. I don’t understand…

The swimming pool brings its own shades to the sporting and scent spectrum of Tapiola. In the hall, it doesn’t smell of sweat but chlorine and chlorite. In this arena, I am both a competitor and a spectator. In the window of the swimming pool supervisor’s cabin is a metal-framed, velvet-based board, on which the current short course Finnish records are recorded in white raised letters. Matti Kasvio’s name is on many lines. To get one’s name on that board…

Warm-up before the competition
Photo: Anna-Liisa Nuopponen, Vantaan kaupunginmuseo

The swimming pool is filling up slowly with spectators. Almost everyone has a program for the Short Track Finnish Championships in their hands. Now it’s possible to witness a new Finnish record being set. I sit with my mother on the second row. The splash from the starts almost reaches us. The noise is tremendous. The tiles and glass amplify the sounds several times. The most anticipated event of the evening is the men’s 200-meter butterfly. Matti Kasvio is in great shape and his coach has even hinted that the old record will remain in the wet pages of Finnish swimming history. However, the first record smasher is Eila Pyrhönen, who butterflies a few hundredths under her best time in the 100 meters. Matti Kasvio does not disappoint either and cuts nearly a second’s slice from the old record. The door of the swimming hall pushes out a thick steam cloud, as the satisfied audience exits into the cold winter night.

Tapiola swimming pool in Christmas time in the 60s
Photo: Jouko Mäkinen, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

We sit again in the swimming pool stands. This time, the intent is not to tense up records but to have fun. Simo Salminen has brought Härveli’s clown jump gang to Tapiola. The bright spring sun, penetrating through the large windows, somewhat dulls the mood, but an amateur group setting up their sound equipment by the poolside sparks interest among the teenage spectators. Not only does the rock band accompany dive performances, but it also serves as Simon’s backing band when he performs his most popular ditties. According to the program, at least ”Pornolaulu”, ”Rotestilaulu” and ”Keltainen jäänsärkijä” are on offer. Simo complains about the lack of a 10-meter layer having to perform his bravura from five meters. Liukas Lätkä, however, succeeds brilliantly in his ”soggy pudding” jump. The belly flop splashes water up to the large windows.

The clown jump show in full swing
Photo: Kosken kuvaamo, Lappeenrannan museot

The clown show starts at full speed. Inciting each other to increasingly wild performances, Jerobeam Salakyttä, Ynjevi Ylähuurteinen, Olga Halko, Joonas Ventti, and others entertain the hundred-strong audience. There’s something odd about the band’s performance. The orchestra sounds terribly out of tune, but that’s presumably the intention, as now we are talking about clown jumps. The grim reality, however, reveals itself when the band is supposed to accompany Simo’s skilled non-singing. The artist hands out the notes to the band. After that, the vicarious embarrassment makes us stare at our shoelaces. The guys really can’t play. ”Pornolaulu” would have required a skillful arrangement and professional accompaniment to work. Now, both of these elements are missing. It just creates a cacophony echoed by the tiles. Salminen is jovial and cool, but he also has limits. Angry glances in the band’s direction don’t help. The orchestra really has no idea how to even play a basic background to a simple ”Keltainen jäänsärkijä”, the Finnish version of the Beatles’ ”Yellow Submarine”, which even I know how to play. The song ends when Simo dramatically throws the papers from his hands into the air and dives – pretending to stumble on the edge of the pool – into the water with a twist, fully dressed. The band packs their instruments on the sly and disappears quickly stage left. The audience gives tremendous applause to Salminen, who is swimming on his back in a dark suit in the pool. The clown show is over.

In 1967, a bowling alley is completed. Here’s another interesting arena to explore. New premises for Tapiola pharmacy are also in the building called Urheilutalo, the sports house. While we’re biking around the Garden City, we often stop behind the windows to marvel at the hustle and bustle on the 14 lanes. Most of us have only seen bowling in American movies. The action looks exciting. But we don’t dare to go inside. Except, of course, Hassan, who has even tried the sport. On the tournament day, he talks us into a full grandstand and even goes to buy Cokes from the restaurant. The array of smells in the bowling alley consists of sweat, wax, and rubber. Hassan’s mouth is running all the time as he explains what’s happening on the lanes: strike, pocket, spare, gutter… Strange new words are gushing from my friend’s mouth. And of course we’re not just watching, on Hassan’s suggestion, we’ve placed bets on the tournament winner. As I know nothing about bowling, I could easily be led like a lamb to the slaughter. Fortunately, the result of the bet remains open, as we are shooed away for disturbing. 

Peeking at the bowling action…
Photo: Teuvo Kanerva, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

Hassan is not phased. He has found out that there is also a gym in the house and suggests we explore this curiosity. I peek in the door at this musky sweat-smelling space. One ejection for me is enough for the day, and I don’t step in any further. My friend gets inspired by the visit to take up weightlifting, and he becomes a regular at the gyms. My gym experiences are limited to numbing pedaling on a squeaky Tunturi Ergometer in the primitive gym built as part of the new extension to the co-educational school. I finally end up glow bowling during the fitness day of the University of Helsinki staff sometime in the early 2000s.

Tapiola indeed offers excellent outdoor sports opportunities. As you cycle around the Otsolahti bay, first, you come across sweltering and red-faced men – and soon women too – running with a number on their chest. It seems like a half marathon is going on. Bicycle races are held here or at least the race route runs on the outskirts of Tapiola. In winter, Silkkiniitty and its surroundings offer varied terrain for cross-country skiing. However, a ski jump tower has not been built in the Garden City. Little boys have, of course, piled up hills on the trenches of Vallihaudat and broken their skis on them.

I’m walking with a plastic bag under my arm towards Poutapolku. In the bag is yesterday’s purchase from the Wager Musiikki record store, the new album of the band Blood, Sweat & Tears. In the clear late winter afternoon, the smell of spring is in the air. There’s still plenty of snow left from last week’s snowfall, although the southern slope is already turning green. At the end of the houses on Menninkäisentie, a snow-covered path has been made across the road. As I get closer, a big hand of a man with a wristband rises in front of me.

Behind the trees, Silkkiniitty and the trenches of Vallihaudat in winter
Photo: Valokuvaamo Pietinen, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo, Asuntosäätiö

– Stop! You can’t go this way. You have to go around Kimmeltie. There’s a ski race going on.

I stop for a moment to watch the event. Indeed! Two high snow banks cross the black asphalt road, leading to Vallihaudat. The trenches are not inhabited. By going around Kimmeltie and Mäntyviita, you can bypass the closed segment. These are not just any village competitions. A faintly heard announcement lists familiar names: Hilkka Riihivuori, Helena Takalo, Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi… Oh yes, there was a big story about this in Länsiväylä magazine. The odd arrangement is probably due to the need to make the competition track more challenging. In addition to the mainly flat Silkkiniitty, the famous skiers get to explore the steep hills of the fortifications. Trees have been cut down to widen the ski track. Let’s see if the racing ski can endure the rugged terrain of Vallihaudat.

After observing the women’s uphill climb for a while, I too start to stride uphill along the path towards the old center of Tapiola. Suddenly, I realize that someone is puffing next to me. It’s Hilkka Riihivuori pushing up the steepest bump of the track. I shout, ”Good going, Hilkka!”. I’ve done my part in cheering. A short round around Vallihaudat and I reach Cassu’s place to check out how BS&T’s ”No Sweat” sounds like.

Blood, Sweat and Tears, No Sweat album cover
Photo: Discogs


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