Friday, 10 November 2023, 17:07
Exploring the Los Pacos neighbourhood in Fuengirola is like taking an express ride (a mere 25-minute drive from Malaga city centre) to northern Europe. Finnish signs, posters and advertisements are prominently displayed as you comfortably stroll in short sleeves during the spring and autumn months. You can tune in to Finnish radio or read newspapers in the same language, even as you witness the Virgen del Carmen being carried into the water by sailors every 16 July. In this neighbourhood, which began forming around the 1970s you'll find the largest and most significant Finnish community in the whole of Spain.
On a sporting level, Finland were the surprise package in the recent group stage of the Davis Cup, unexpectedly securing a place in the Final 8, scheduled to take place at the Martín Carpena arena in Malaga city from 21 to 26 November. Under the remarkable leadership of Emil Ruusuvuori, current world number 69, the team outperformed Croatia, the United States and the Netherlands to achieve their first-ever qualification for the unofficial 'World Cup of Tennis'.
Kari Kinnunen, a 39-year-old physiotherapist, and Jim Fabricius, a 53-year-old accountant, have both lived in Los Pacos for a decade. Despite their different professions, they share a common passion for tennis. They play three days a week at the Sohail Tennis Club in Fuengirola, from which they spoke to SUR about what it means for the Finnish community on the Costa del Sol to have their national team competing on their doorstep.
Speaking in Spanish, blended with a distinctive Finnish accent, Kinnunen suggests that the Finnish population in Fuengirola is considerably larger than the official municipal records indicate (5,102). "It's approximately 20,000," he estimates. "Many arrive in October and leave in April to maintain their eligibility for Social Security in Finland, as they must spend less than six months abroad."
The decision to settle on the Costa del Sol was motivated by various factors. For Fabricius, he chose this location due to his job and the opportunity for his children to attend a Finnish school. Kinnunen, on the other hand, relocated for work. He initially planned to stay for just a year, but ten years later, he's still here. His son, born in Spain, now attends a Spanish school.
This restaurant occasionally arranges bus trips to La Rosaleda, providing the local Finnish community with the chance to enjoy live football. The Davis Cup won't be an exception. "They've booked three buses to travel from Los Pacos to the Carpena to cheer on the team," they explained. "And approximately a thousand people are expected to fly in from Finland," they added.
What's more, this won't be the first time Costa's Finnish community will head to the Carpena to rally behind their own. "The same restaurant used to organise trips to watch Unicaja," said Kinnunen, reminiscing about the years when his compatriot Sasu Salin played for the team (2017-19).
In his view, Finland's prospects in this Davis Cup hinge on the court speed and their players' command of this playing surface.
"We have Ruusuvuori and Heliovaara, who excel in doubles," he says. "We're adept at playing on indoor courts, whereas others aren't as used to it. In Croatia, where the previous phase was held, the court was very fast, which worked in our favour."
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