Of late at the Memorial Stadium, we have begun to hear chants of “Finland’s Number One!” aimed, of course, at Finland’s number 2 goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola. Amidst the excitement of new signings, a mixture of shock and dismay has greeted the news that a dislocated shoulder is going to keep him out of the game for a number of weeks, possibly months. Jaakkola being injured is a difficult concept to process. From the moment he appeared between the posts at the Mem for the first time, he seemed to have been hewn from the very living granite on a rain-lashed Nordic cliffside by industrious Finnish trolls.
In quick time, Gasheads began to find the chiselled man-mountain’s presence in goal so reassuring that at the announcement of his name before each match, the normal hearty cheer was superseded by a huge collective sigh of relief. Over the following months, 32 year-old Jaakkola came to be seen as Graham Coughlan’s shrewdest piece of business, more so even than stroppy goal-machine Johnson Clarke-Harris. This transfer window it is the big Finn that many fans are most scared of losing.
That’s not to say that GC left us without an able replacement. Back-up keeper Jordi van Stappershoef, whose extreme height and gleaming pate lend him the air of a well-educated, surprisingly agile telegraph pole, has already demonstrated that he is a deputy of note. The 23 year-old has plenty of time to develop that calming demeanour that Jaakkola seems to project like an aura outwards towards his defence. Despite the memorable words of Michael Caine in Austin Powers 3- Goldmember: “There’s only two things I hate in this world- people who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch,” van Stappershoef is a popular figure with the fans. The long-standing suspicion on the part of Anglo-Saxons that folks from the Netherlands are just too clever by half has not dented JvS’ reputation as he goes about his business in the same placid manner as a supremely confident financial advisor.
All this confidence is a far cry from the wailing and gnashing of teeth that greeted the departure of Jack ‘John’ Bonham, inspiration for the memorable chant, “Bonham, Bonham, Bonham.” Bonham had been one the ‘hits’ in Darrell Clarke’s seemingly wilful and deliberately perverse hit and miss transfer policy. Bonham’s hangdog looks and disconcerting short legs/long body combo belied his skills between the sticks, and when the surprise announcement was made about his move to Gillingham we feared the worst, looking back to some of the many dodgy shot-stoppers of the recent past. Little we did we know that nonsense-talking Irishman GC would turn this sorry state of affairs into a blessing.
Jaakkola, that expertly-sculpted blessing in disguise, has this month been nominated for the League 1 Player of the Month Award, which makes his absence all the more keenly felt. If you’re looking for positives in this whole situation, then console yourself with the fact that since you started reading this piece, Jaakkola is approximately 3 minutes closer to fitness. It’s not much, but it’s something. At the time of writing, his stats place him as the second in the league amongst keepers. With his ‘Gandalf in the Mines of Morir’ attitude (“None shall Pass!”) Jaakkola provides not just stats, but peace of mind and emotional wellbeing, a trait he shares with those more illustrious Finnish exports, The Moomins. So while we rely on van Stappershoef, with the hint of batshit-crazy adventure promised by Alexis Andre Jnr waiting in the wings, we will pray to our various gods that Anssi comes back soon.