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On a football pitch blanketed with two inches of snow, one of Santa’s elves is attempting to score a goal with an extravagant bicycle kick. The uninitiated spectator might blame such a vision on a potent cocktail of football and festive fever – not to mention a little too much mulled wine – but their eyes are not deceiving them.
This is Rovaniemi, real-life home to Santa Claus and, believe it or not, his football team, FC Santa Claus. All of the letters addressed to Santa arrive in this small town in Lapland situated inside the Arctic Circle. He even has his own post office where a staff of resourceful elves set about sorting the mail sent from children all over the world.
As you might expect, at this time of year the place is a hive of activity, but Santa’s red and white army still find time for some football, weighing up the various merits of playing the Christmas tree formation, looking for gifts in front of goal and, given the freezing conditions, walking off the pitch after 90 minutes with distinctly red noses.
But FC Santa Claus is not a mere tourist novelty, despite the opportunity for the kind of puns best left inside a Christmas cracker. They’re actually a pretty decent football team, playing in Finland’s second division. “FC Santa Claus is a serious club playing at a good level, developing local players for the Rovaniemi first team and beyond,” says coach and former Finnish premiership ace Matti Hiukka. To see that you only need to look at FC Santa’s training facilities, which include a floodlit artificial pitch complete with underground heating to combat the frost.
Still, things are a little surreal at times. “We are the official home of Santa Claus and it’s very important to us,” says Jukka Markkanen, one of the Rovaniemi post office workers attired in full elf’s outfit complete with felt hat and jingling bell. He’s also one of FC Santa Claus’s midfielders.
So what role does Santa himself take in all this? Obviously he’s a bit too old to play – and not exactly match-fit either – so the big man tends to assume the Alex Ferguson role, presumably minus the half-time hairdryer. In any case, thanks to that stunning bicycle kick, he proudly saw his elves defeat FC Santa Claus 6-5 in the snow-bound five-a-side game. Plenty of cause for Christmas cheer, then.
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