Finnish sport is in mourning following the death of the nation's first professional footballer, Aulis Rytkönen, who passed away today at the age of 85.
"Our football family has lost one of its greats," said Football Association of Finland (SPL-FBF) president Pertti Alaja. "Aulis Rytkönen was something unprecedented on the pitch and also off it. As a person, he was approachable, wise, charming and always very warm. Aulis was a trailblazer, clearing the way for his countrymen to play professional football. His skill and speed were always praised."
Born in Karttula in 1929, the skilful Rytkönen made his debut for local side KuPS Kuopio aged 16, swiftly gaining a reputation locally before moving to Toulouse FC after the Helsinki Olympics of 1952. His seven years in France were a success, with Rytkönen – nicknamed 'Monsieur Magic' – helping his team win promotion to the top division and then the 1957 French Cup
Due to rules about professional players featuring in the national side, Rytkönen made only 37 appearances for Finland, scoring seven goals, but continued to be a significant footballing figure after returning home – uniquely winning national titles as a coach with both men's and women's teams. He became the first footballer to receive a Pro-Sports Medal from the Finnish government in 2003, and in 2007 was given the SPL-FBF's Captain's Ball for his services to football.
"Our thoughts and condolences are with Aulis's family and loved ones," Alaja added. "His memory and work for the Finnish game have been written in capital letters in the history of Finnish football forever."
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