Finns in Greece: Tim Sparv plays football in Larissa and is the captain of Finnish National Team

Finns in Greece: Tim Sparv plays football in Larissa and is the captain of Finnish National Team

We introduce interesting Finns in Greece in a series of articles. Tim Sparv is the captain of the Finnish National Football team, who lives and plays in Larissa for the time being. Under the Covid lockdown we had an e-mail chat with him. Read here what Tim thinks about life and football in Finland and Greece and raising his newborn baby in a multinational atmosphere. The mother is Czech, the father belongs to the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland and the family lives in Greece, so the daughter can hear up to six languages a day. Along the languages, the importance of hard work and being humble are some of the core values the father will teach her.

Tim Sparv, Photo Credit: Suomen palloliitto/Football Association of Finland

1. You are a well-known football player in Europe and the captain of the Finnish National Team “Huuhkajat” (Eagle Owls). How did you end up in Greece? Where do you live and how do you like it?

Tim Sparv, Photo Credit: Tim Sparv
Proud father Tim Sparv, Photo Credit: Tim Sparv

My contract was up at FC Midtjylland (Denmark) in the summer of 2020 and I was thinking that it was time for something different. I felt I needed to come out of my comfort zone a little bit to develop further as a person, and to do that, I had to find a club that would give me that kind of challenge. AEL and Greece felt like the uncomfortable combination that I was looking for.

I moved to Larissa in August/September 2020 and it has so far been the biggest rollercoaster ride of my life. On the football side, it’s a different world to what I’ve experienced before. There’s never a dull moment and you see things you’ve never seen before. But I think that one of my biggest strengths is adjusting to new surroundings and especially focusing on what I personally can influence. My motto is: Don’t try and control the uncontrollable.

On the personal side it’s been just as eventful. Adjusting to a new country is at times a struggle but that was expected. Communication issues, new ways of doing things, local customs, etc. that you need to adapt to. Besides that, both my girlfriend and me were diagnosed with corona during Christmas but we were quite lucky compared to others and only had mild symptoms for a few days.

Our daughter was born soon after that, three weeks ahead of schedule, which of course was a life-changing event. Becoming parents for the first time in a foreign country is both exciting and a bit scary.

Greece is in many ways an extraordinary country and experiencing a new culture and trying to learn a new language has always been something that I enjoy. Larisa is nice, the people are friendly and I like strolling around in my new neighborhood. I haven’t regretted my decision to come here despite our poor results on the football pitch.

2. How does playing football vary in Finland and Greece?

Tim Sparv, Photo Credit: Jussi Eskola
Tim Sparv, Photo Credit: Jussi Eskola

One thing that I have noticed is that here you’re thinking more short term than long term. Changes and surprises are inevitable and there is a bigger focus on your opponent than on your own team.

Greeks are generally very passionate when it comes to football and I like that. They live for football in a way that is difficult to describe. We have many unselfish and dedicated people working in our club for practically no money. They do it out of love for the club.

Greeks can be very emotional and those emotions can sometimes take the upper hand. They are perhaps too influenced by today’s feelings, which creates a culture where you don’t know what might happen. This uncertainty and irrationality is not always beneficial, if you want to be a successful football team.

3. How do you combine playing in the Greek league and the Finnish National Team?

There’s always a break in the Greek league when we have games with Finland. It demands a lot from you physically and mentally to travel around Europe playing these extra games, but I love it. Playing games is much more fun that training and having the chance to represent your country is truly a privilege and something you should never take for granted.

4. What has been the biggest surprise for you in Greece and what do you like best?

Tim Sparv, Photo Credit: Tim Sparv
Tim Sparv with girlfriend, Photo Credit: Tim Sparv

There are many things that come into my mind, some bigger than others. First of all, things take time here. No matter if it’s the post services, the electrician coming to fix something or trying to arrange a bank account. A great deal of patience is important and the sooner you accept that this is the way things are the better you will be able to deal with it.

Greeks are very family oriented and more religious than people from the Nordic countries. They are also quick to offer help if you need it. There’s a generosity, that we can learn a great deal from.

Their parking habits are remarkable. They just push the “magic button”, the emergency signal, and they think they can stop anywhere. They also seem to have forgotten how to drive in a roundabout, which made for some close calls during my first few weeks here before I was aware of the danger. Traffic is in many ways an interesting experience here.

The weather and the food are truly amazing. Because of Covid I haven’t been able to fully take advantage of what the country has to offer but I hope that will change soon.

5. What do you miss most about Finland?

Family, friends, rye bread, Fazer’s chocolate, the archipelago and my summer cottage, sauna and winter bathing, nature…. There are many things I miss and that’s why I make sure that I go back to Vaasa and Ostrobothnia at least once a year.

6. You have probably already seen many Greek cities and regions while travelling with your team, but have you had any time to travel in your free time in Greece or do you have plans to visit some particular places in Greece, like islands?

I’ve visited Meteora a couple of times and it is truly a unique place. It’s pretty close to Larisa so it’s convenient for us to drive there. Meteora is a formation of giant rocks with a bunch of monasteries built on top of them. The views are incredible and I urge everyone to go and see it. You won’t be disappointed.

We were on vacation on Mykonos a couple of years ago and that is also a very beautiful place. I hope I’ll have time to see more of this fantastic country before I leave. I would really like to explore Athens for a couple of days to educate myself on its history.

7. How has your family adapted to Greece and new surroundings?

My girlfriend appreciates the warmer climate and the beautiful surroundings, but misses her home country Czech Republic. She is a very social animal and wants to be around family and friends as much as possible and being here during lockdown has been a bit difficult. Saying no to job opportunities at home, because she’s in Greece with her football playing boyfriend, is a very unselfish gesture and I hope I can repay her someday. At the same time it’s an adventure and we know that it’s probably only for a shorter period. We’re trying to make the best out of it but we will probably move closer to central Europe at some point.

8. What are you going to teach your daughter about Finland and being a Finn? In your family, you speak several languages. Which language(s) do you as parents use with your daughter?

The value of hard work and being humble are probably some of the values I will try to teach her. These are not necessarily only Finnish values, but I think they are important. Being open minded, tolerant and respectful to others are other attributes that we will try and focus on.

Right now, we’re speaking English, Czech and Swedish to her and these are probably going to be the three main languages that we will use at home. During the day she might hear some Finnish, German and Greek as well, so it’s a very broad mix of languages that she hears. I believe that being multilingual will always be beneficial to you during your career no matter what you end up doing.

9. Finnish National Team struggled its way firs time to the European Football Championship Tournament, originally scheduled for summer 2020. How do you see the rescheduled tournament in coming summer and what are your personal expectations? What is the goal for our “Huuhkajat” team?

Tim Sparv, Photo Credit: Jussi Eskola
Tim Sparv, Photo Credit: Jussi Eskola

We’ve played really well these last couple of years and the qualification for the EURO’s is a testimony to that. I’m really proud of the kind of team that we’ve become and that we finally made it to a major tournament. Our loyal supporters deserve it after a long time of disappointment and heartache so I’m extremely happy for them. I hope they’re allowed in to watch our games so that we can have a proper football atmosphere.

Our goal is to be one of the two best teams in the group and qualify for the next round. We haven’t really spoken about it yet, and it’s a hugely ambitious goal, but I feel we need to have something to aim for. I believe in this group of players and I’m excited to see how far we can go. The last years’ results have indicated to me and everyone else that anything is possible with this team.


Editor: Eili Andersson