Former Finland striker Mika Kottila has announced he will come out of retirement to play one more game on the gravel pitch at his first club, Malmin Palloseura.
The Tapuli Sports Park in north Helsinki is hardly an iconic venue, but for Kottila – one of the most popular strikers in recent Veikkausliiga history – it means more than perhaps any other stadium. 'Hirvi' (The Moose) started his career with MPS before going on to represent the likes of HJK Helsinki, Rovaniemi PS, Hereford United FC, SK Brann, Trelleborgs FF and FC Lahti, where he retired in 2006 due to persistent injuries.
However, he has agreed to play one last game for fourth division MPS next Tuesday as they play their final league game of the season. "If there was no MPS, there would not have been a footballer named Mika Kottila," the 34-year-old told uefa.com. "Football has given me a hundred times more than I ever imagined," added Kottila who said the highlights of his career were "playing in the Champions League group stage with HJK in 1998/99, the Finnish championships and also the international games".
'I beat Benfica single-handed!'
"As far as individual games go, the best I remember is maybe playing Benfica at Helsinki Olympic Stadium in the Champions League," said the three-time Finnish champion, who scored seven goals in 31 games for his country. "We won 2-0; I earned a penalty and headed the second goal myself – I beat Benfica single-handed! Also the 2003 season with HJK is worth remembering. We won the double and practically everything else in Finland that season.
After the cup final we needed a shopping cart for all the trophies."
Gravel to gravel
Top Veikausliiga scorer with 18 goals for HJK in 2002, Kottila was a player everyone in Finland had an opinion of, and a player opposition fans loved to hate. Unashamed of the attention, he even wore the No1 shirt in his final seasons at Lahti, and is thrilled his final act as a player will be to shine a light on the club where it all started. "Returning to MPS is just paying something small back to the club," he said. "I started on the Tapuli gravel, and on the Tapuli gravel I will retire. I could never have believed back then what would a career I would have had."
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