Nestled four miles south of the Artic Circle lies the city of Rovaniemi, which is the capital of Finland’s northernmost province, Lapland.
In this vast winter wonderland that homes more reindeer than people. Any football fan willing to make the journey can find, FC Santa Claus.
The famous Finnish minnows currently play in the sixth-tier of their nations football system, the Vitonen.
While they may seem like a novelty club thriving off intrigued supporters around the festive period, FC Santa Claus are a fully functioning football club with a storied history that treads the line between naughty, and nice.
FC Santa Claus aren’t the only club in this sparsely populated region of Finland. Rovaniemen Palloseura operate out of the same city, and are historically far more successful than their yuletide themed neighbours.
The club’s history can be traced back to 1992.
Following the merger of Lapland based outfits Rovaniemen Reipas, and Rovaniemen Lappi saw the birth of, FC Santa Claus Rovaniemi. This new entity entered the Kakkonen, which is the third division in Finland.
The 1990’s were kind to Saint Nick’s side, as they finished third in their inaugural season, and stayed in the league for the remainder of the decade. They even faced some Premier League opposition in 1997, when Harry Redknapp’s West Ham United, and Crystal Palace were in need of pre-season friendlies.
Palace even made the visit to Rovaniemi. Which attracted 5000 spectators to the game, which is still the attendance record for any FC Santa Claus side.
New Decade, New Chances
By the turn of the millennium, FC Santa Claus Rovaniemi were relegated to the fourth-tier, Kolmonen after eight years in the Kakkonen.
The team remained there until 2008 when they gained promotion back to the third level of Finnish football.
They almost went another step further in 2010 and were 90 minutes away from reaching the second-tier, the Ykkonen. FC Santa Claus were beaten 1-0 in that year’s promotion play-off tie against Helsinki outfit, IFK Helsingfors.
A victory that day could’ve catapulted the club, with future European opportunities becoming a realistic dream. However, the club took a complete backwards step, and only the footballing gods know what would’ve happened to the them if they earned passage into the Ykkonen.
Santy Is In Debt
Until this point, FC Santa Claus Rovaniemi operated under a semi-professional model. And the squad consisted mostly of the finest footballer’s the area had to offer.
That near-miss spurred them on to invest heavily in more experienced and expensive foreign players. The likes of Canadian goalkeeper, Tomer Chencinski, who made 37 league appearances for Ireland’s own Shamrock Rovers was briefly on Santa’s payroll. Along with defender Janne Hietanen who had 16 caps for the Finland national team.
This was all in vain, and the club got themselves into serious financial difficulties. In 2012, the club filed for bankruptcy, with reported debts of €20,000 hanging over their head.
The higher-ups attempted to save the club by creating a new entity by the name of, FC Santa Claus Artic Circle. This move was rejected by the Finnish Football Association, ruling that this new club didn’t plan on taking on the debts of FC Santa Claus Rovaniemi.
Despite a failed appeal process, it was a last-ditch fundraising effort by those affiliated with the club that saved them from the brink of extinction.
It was a desperate situation for a club that utterly neglected their unique branding, and the possible marketing opportunities that could’ve been made available to them.
The inception of the club following their merger in 92’ was suppose to ensure a Rovaniemi based team became a staple of the third division, and have reliable resources.
Fast forward two decades since their formation, and the club were forced to change to FC Santa Claus Artic Circle due to crippling debt, and found themselves back in the fourth-tier.
Failed World Domination
The penny seemingly dropped, and the club looked beyond the frosty horizon of their home in North Finland for expansion.
FC Santa Claus began to chase down overseas revenue.
Merchandise was a great source of income, with the club partnering with manufacturing giants Nike and Adidas during this time. Due to their renewed notoriety the club introduced official membership packages, with supporters in Rovaniemi and beyond paying an annual subscription fee.
Further partnerships with Puma, and EA Sports who acted as their main jersey sponsor on a one-year deal in 2015 saved them from more money problems.
The following year with a seemingly steadying ship, FC Santa Claus AC entered into another global partnership.
Chinese company, Bewin Sport agreed to a five-year shirt sponsorship deal. In return, Bewin Sport CEO, Marc Geo was appointed as the club’s vice-president.
This gave FC Santa Claus the experience of traveling to Beijing on Christmas Eve 2016 to partake in a friendly against a squad of Chinese celebrities called, the China Doubi all-stars.
Follow up visits commenced for another all-star match featuring footballing icons Alessandro Del Piero, and Michael Owen.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be a period of false dawns.
Neither of these excursions amounted to any sort of dint in the ever-growing Asian market. And while their EA Sports sponsorship was rumoured to see them become a playable team in FIFA 16’, that never materialised.
Where’s My Happy Ending?
The off-field disappointments didn’t hold a candle to the on-field disasters.
In the same year as their Chinese adventures, they statistically suffered the worst season by any Finnish team on record. They were relegated back to the fourth division when they went on a 16-match skid, and conceded 102 goals in their 22 league games.
The horrific happenings didn’t stop there. In 2018 for the first time in their history, they were relegated into the Nelonen, which is the fifth-tier of the Finnish footballing pyramid.
A consecutive relegation seemed to be the death nail for this club.
Another characteristic financial meltdown saw the club disband, and drop out of Finland’s footballing system completely.
Oh, There It Is
In the spirit of Christmas, this story does have a happy ending, thankfully.
FC Santa Claus continued in a recreational league, but most importantly had a surviving youth academy called FC Santa Claus Juniorit which was set-up in 2014, and had a strong affiliation with the Lapland powerhouse, Rovaniemen Palloseura.
Just like Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas, FC Santa Claus rose from the dead in 2021, and re-entered the Finnish football ranks in the sixth-tier were the remain today.
Their club motto is “Don’t Stop Believing”, and this special club has never stopped doing that.
Everyone here at the Big Kick Off wishes you a very Merry Christmas!
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