Oulu footballers tackle coronvirus with community service

Players and staff are doing odd jobs to help meet the club's salary budget every month while playing and training is suspended.

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File picture of AC Oulu players / Credit: AC Oulu

Footballers in Finland, left with no games or training due to the coronavirus restrictions, are finding new ways to tackle the impact of the epidemic.

Players and staff at AC Oulu haven’t yet faced mandatory salary cuts, but as a way to ensure the club’s wages bill is fully met each month, they’re taking on odd jobs and helping the community at the same time.

“The idea is simple. We don’t want to take a holiday from playing, we want to keep paying salaries for all our staff and players. But because we cannot play at the moment and also the money from sponsors are now very low, we need to find different ways to get revenue for the club” explains Managing Director Juho Meriläinen.

The work that around a dozen players and staff at the northern club are doing helps pay the bills for now – younger players are focusing on their education while pre-season training is halted. It would be financially difficult for players to rely only on social security benefits if they were furloughed, especially those with families.

“Of course everyone wants to play, but at the moment they understand the situation in the whole world so they are very willing to do the different kind of things. And of course they do it because they want to keep getting salaries” says Meriläinen, himself a former player at the club..

AC Oulu’s efforts to keep paying salaries for everyone are a long way from England’s Premier League leaders Liverpool who came under fire this week after a controversial decision to impose temporary lay-offs on 200 non-playing staff. The owners later reversed that decision. And Tottenham furloughed their non-playing staff this week, after first imposing a 20% pay cut.

The biggest earning players in the Premier League have been told they might face salary cuts of 30% to support others at their clubs as revenues disappear.

File picture of AC Oulu striker Juho Mäkelä / Credit: AC Oulu Instagram

Community effort in northern Finland 

In Oulu the whole club is facing the situation together – with their community.

“We are doing our best here, and it’s a difficult time for everyone but it’s our club’s way of trying to survive” says striker Juho Mäkelä.

At 36-years old Mäkelä is the oldest player on the club’s roster by almost a decade, and after a career that’s seen him play in Scotland, Switzerland, Australia and Germany, he’s now plying his trade in the city where he was born.

“We are basically ready to do many kinds of jobs. We are a club with a responsibility to our community” says the striker, who was twice Finland’s top Veikkausliiga scorer before moving to second tier Ykkönen side Oulu.

And in the middle of an epidemic, much of the extra work being done by the players is related to coronavirus.

Mäkelä has been picking up medical samples – including Covid19 tests – from smaller hospitals in Kuusamo and Kajaani and driving them for analysis at the main hospital in Oulu.

He’s also been delivering groceries to families in quarantine – a service that can be booked directly on the club’s website.

“It started when we got the request from the local healthcare department that there would be people coming home to Oulu from abroad and they will be in quarantine for two weeks, and that’s a problem” says Mäkelä tells News Now Finland in a phone interview between tasks.

“In this area there is a lot of people who need home delivery and local shops are not able to fulfill the need. We created our own service and I’m just on my way to get the groceries for one family” he says.

“Our projects have two dimensions. We want to help the club, and we want to help the community in Oulu and Northern Finland.”