What’s the key to building a great football organization? Most people would immediately reply good players and coaches. I offer an alternative to those answers with my own answer, good management. Seppo Evwaraye is GREAT management. Anyone involved with Football in Finland knows about Seppo and the great work he is doing in Vaasa with the Wasa Royals. For those who have been underneath a rock, here’s a short interview that Seppo Evwaraye has given to the world.
Why the Royals, not the Vikings?
Well initially it was going to be the Warriors, the name of the previous club in Vaasa, but turned out that that name could not be used since due to some legal issues. I wanted to start anew instead of trying to reheat the former brand. I owe my football history to the Vikings and a lot of the people who were involved with the club. I chose the Royals as a name because it just made sense in a lot of ways. Vaasa was founded by a king, I wanted to promote the idea that we were better and we were people who were held to a higher standard in what we do and how we act. I feel like the name of a club has to fit the area and the people in it.
The Royals create the largest crowds in the Maple League. How did you guys accomplish that? Do you think your formula for attendance is transferrable to other clubs in the league?
I think it is just by doing a bunch of little things right, paying attention to detail and boldly trying new things. We had zero attendance in 2012 so there was nothing to lose. On top of that we tried to make everything look, sound and seem as appealing as possible. It couldn’t just be football it had to be an interesting brand. We also set it out as a goal to have the highest attendance in all of football in Finland but also an attendance that would not pale against any other sport in Finland. We want to stand daylight versus hockey and soccer as well. We’re not there yet but we’re not far off the mark either.
I think what we’ve done is absolutely transferable. I’m actually disappointed more teams have not done it. It does us little good that we consistently have attendance in the 1000-2000 range if other places in Finland draw in the hundreds.
Vaasa is not heavily populated (66k), How do you properly recruit and retain players to build such a strong organization?
The days of finding multiple guys off the street and to turn them into Maple League players in a short time are over. Of course I look for late entry guys who posses qualities that can be useful in football. In general our focus is shifting hard to our youth programs. We need to start producing our own players. There I feel we’ve done a decent job having four different age groups play this summer. Are we where we want to be? Absolutely not. I want youth teams going from all the way from U9 to U19 and to have a challenger team to act as nesting hub for former U19 players and for new late entry players. We will start the challenger program in the fall of this year with the idea of it being up and running in the summer of 2018 in division 3.
As far as recruiting players within Finland, I always start the same way each season. First I try my utmost best to recruit our own players back. You’re core has to be solid all the way to the point until you have that much money that you can buy a new team each year. After I have a clear picture who will be returning and who will not I will look at two things. Where are we thin and where are we not good enough that the projected development of the player throughout the season won’t still be Maple League level. Then from there you really formulate a list of positions of needs. I go the positions through with thought and see what is available in Finland, how I see the talent level and if the players at that position are recruitable. Often times guys just can’t move from Helsinki, Turku, Lappeenranta or wherever to Vaasa for the summer and that eliminates quite a few players.
After I’m done recruiting those few Finnish players who are recruitable I shift my focus to Sweden. I do this because the level of play is similar, and the culture is similar as well along with the fact that Vaasa is a bilingual city so those guys can get around here perfectly. In my mind there really isn’t much of science to this, it’s more of trying to find and fit the right pieces to the puzzle. Player retention is also a big issue for the 2017 season. Being in Vaasa, this must be imperative for the Royals to thrive as an organization long term.
Who are some of your most important returning players this year? Are there any former junior players stepping in the adult league team that people should look out for?
It is imperative for our success. Our core must be wide enough and talented enough. I’d say all of their return is important. There really are no fillers in our squad. Everyone who earns the right to represent the Royals have done just that. They’ve earned it. To name a few guys returning who are just hitting their stride as players are CB Emmanuel Amudeng & CB Rufail Khalifa. These two are just getting better by each practice and we’re blessed to have them. One Junior who I believe will start carving in some playing time this year will be junior national team WR Oskari Korkeamäki. He has displayed excellent character in workouts.
2017 has seen a lot of players leaving and joining new teams. The Royals have participated in this “free agency” as well. Who are some of your key additions this year? What was the process like adding these players? How do you think these additions will help your team to the championship?
As far as imports our keys were to bring Chris (Young) and RJ (Long) back along with Stacey (Thomas). Stacey’s contract was for 2 years so knowing he was going to be back was a big bonus. I feel like all three have MVP potential along with QB Justin Sottilare. If you had to name key additions for this season they’d have to be Justin and Spencer Cutlan. Both have excelled in this league for a while now and are very hungry.
The process with each guy was very easy. They all wanted to come. When you are in a situation where the player is in touch with the club you know you’re doing something right. Very simple to negotiate when the player and the club want to get a deal done with each other asap. Chris, RJ, Stacey, Justin and Spencer are mature guys who are leaders. I like that a lot. They have all embraced their role to lead and carry the team. They all know that they are individually great players but in order for us to achieve what we want the need to share their knowledge and help the guys around them. All of them have embraced their role.
The Helsinki Roosters are the heavy favorites to win the Maple league mostly because of their previous seasons. Do you think the Wasa Royals are built to beat the Roosters this year?
I don’t know if we are built to beat any one team. I know we want raise the level of our play throughout the season. I don’t think the Roosters need to just worry about us. They’re number one and everyone will be gunning for them. Until someone takes them down everyone else is a underdog.
The Hämeenlinna Huskies have been making waves with their off season recruiting tactics. Do you feel that the newcomer to the Maple League will be able to replicate similar success to what the Royals did last season?
I hope they do better and I hope they avoid injuries better than we did. They have interesting program and I think they will upend some teams who take them lightly. We learned from last year at Tampere that we won’t ever take a team lightly again.
The Royals have hired an American, John Booker Alexander, to be the team’s Head Coach for 2017. Does hiring an American Head Coach give the Royals an advantage regarding game strategy and player development?
I think hiring a full time coach gives you a ton. For once he is not coaching as his hobby on the side, he is doing this because he loves it and for a paycheck. I think with the two biggest resources he has he can do a lot with our team. Those resources of course being knowledge and time. I think we’ve already gotten better because of coach John. Hiring him came at the right time in the Royals history. I firmly believe in him.
Is this a Championship or Bust year for the Royals?
Absolutely not, to measure the ultimate success of a season by winning a championship or not would be foolish. We are in the business of getting better and growing to a level where we can contend for championships every year and start playing internationally.