While most European title races are only now beginning to take shape, championship trophies are already being handed out in certain corners of the continent. Some leagues, after all, operate a spring-to-autumn season, and as winter beckons, fans of certain teams are staving off the cold with the warm glow of success.
There will, for example, be a few Malmo fans waking up with smiles and sore heads this morning. The southern outfit last night sealed the 2013 Allsvenskan title with a game to spare, and became kings of Sweden for the 17th time, with deep-lying forward Magnus Eriksson playing a fundamental role with his creativity and goals. A 2-0 win over reigning champions Elfsborg established an unassailable five-point lead over AIK, their sole remaining challengers, with Guillermo Molins grabbing both goals. "I'm just so happy," said a beaming Molins. "I've enjoyed a scoring streak, a run of important goals. Winning at Elfsborg is never easy, but we've managed to keep our focus."
While Malmo are now just one league championship behind Sweden’s record champions, IFK, Finland’s dominant domestic power strengthened their position at the top of the all-time chart. HJK Helsinki made it five titles in a row and 26 overall by holding off the challenge of Honka Espoo under new coach Sixten Bosrom. “I am pleased now and I hope [the fans] are pleased as well," said Bostrom, for whom veteran striker Mikael Forssell was a key player throughout. "They wanted us to win the championship before the season started and now they have got it."
It's absolutely fantastic, because this is actually a dream come true for me and it can't get better than this.
There were no surprises in Iceland either, where KR Reykjavik raced to a record-extending 26th league title with two games to spare. English striker Gary Martin was the leading marksman for a team that, while six clear of traditional rivals Valur in the all-time standings, had only won the championship once in the previous nine years.
The Faroe Islands’ record champions also came to the fore, with HB Torshavn able to secure their first title in three years – and 22nd overall – with a game to spare earlier this month. "It's absolutely fantastic, because this is actually a dream come true for me and it can't get better than this," said the team’s coach, Oddbjorn Joensen. "This year has been exceptionally joyful for us."
An even longer wait was ended in Estonia, where Levadia Tallinn lifted the championship trophy for the first time since 2009. It was just reward for an impressive campaign by Marko Kristal’s youthful side, with the club’s decision to bank on the products of their youth academy yielding rich dividends. "Our clear commitment to play young guys has brought results,” said Kristal. “Our lads have been dreaming about this and they did everything I asked of them during these two years. Now we should set new targets because these young players are ready to progress."
It has been a long time coming, for the club and for us as players, but we are deserved champions.
It is not only in the Nordic region that summer football reigns. Republic of Ireland have also adopted this particular calendar over recent years, and the league has rarely been more open and unpredictable. Dublin outfit Saint Patrick’s took the 2013 laurels, making them the seventh different League of Ireland champions in the past decade. Again, they did it in style, crossing the finishing line with two games to spare. "It has been a long time coming, for the club and for us as players, but we are deserved champions,” said captain Conor Kenna, referring to the 14-year wait since St Pat's last national crown.
Elsewhere, title races are going down to the wire, with the big winners and losers set to be decided over the coming weeks. In Norway, for example, reigning champions Stromgodset are in pole position to claim their first league championship in 43 years, though Rosenborg lurk just three points behind. The picture seems a little clearer in Belarus, where BATE Borisov are nine points clear of Shakhtyor Soligorsk and seemingly poised for an eighth successive title.
FK Akranas are aiming for a similar streak in Lithuania, but their chances of making six-in-a-row look to be fading. The reigning champions sit fourth, 13 points off the pace set by VMFD Zalgris, who also have a game in hand and are well placed to win their first championship since 1999. In Latvia, meanwhile, the race could well go down to the final day on 9 November, with record champions Skonto Riga trailing FK Ventspils by just two points with a couple of rounds remaining.