FC Santa Claus manager on running a football club in Lapland: 'I've never been so happy in my life'

By Matt DavisBBC Sport
FC Santa Claus
FC Santa Claus is based eight kilometres from the Arctic Circle

"When FC Santa Claus called I didn't have to think a lot. Who wouldn't want to work for Santa Claus' official football club?"

Ralf Wunderlich may just have the most famous 'boss' in world football.

The 43-year-old German has taken charge at the club based in Lapland's capital Rovaniemi, otherwise known as the official home town of Santa.

"If you like Christmas, and I do, then this place is very good - it's all about Christmas here," he tells BBC Sport.

"You have some kind of Christmas feeling the whole year without being too much - a whole year of positive feelings.

"Of course, Santa is not officially in charge, but in the background everyone knows he runs this club."

Rovaniemi has a population of 63,000 people. The area - with forests, reindeer and in sight of the Northern Lights - "feels like you are at the end of the world", says Wunderlich.

The city's main team has always been RoPS, who were relegated from Finland's first division in November.

FC Santa Claus is the "second team - for players who can't play at the very top but support the spirit of Christmas".

Last year they played in the fifth tier of Finnish football, but then stopped, and only have a team featuring in a local eight-a-side league this year.

Wunderlich, who moved to Lapland in June to oversee the club's junior section, is restarting the men's team in January and will be the head coach.

"I like the idea of being Santa Claus' official club - such a big potential to be cheerful and spread positive messages," he said.

"For me it is very important people realise it is not just FC Santa Claus in name but the whole spirit of Santa and values around Christmas. I will do my best to make the whole world understand there is this positive small football club in north Finland representing Santa."

Playing football in Lapland presents its own challenges. It can snow from October to April, there are limited daylight hours during the long winter and some players have to travel long distances for games and even training.

"It takes a lot of dedication for footballers in Lapland to play - there are few players but those who are here are very dedicated," adds Wunderlich, who himself recalls a 14-hour round trip for a game.

Wunderlich who has been a football coach for 22 years, moved to Finland six years ago from Berlin, working with various clubs. He had to leave his role at FC Ylivieska because of the coronavirus situation in the spring but was soon snapped up by FC Santa Claus, who got in touch through social media.

"I feel very comfortable here. It is such an open-minded club and I have realised how much of a big Christmas fan I actually am," he said. "Growing up in Germany I loved the feeling, but now I am actually living it, being part of the Christmas tradition.

"I feel so proud and happy the whole time, going outside in the jacket with the Santa Claus logo - the kids come up to me and give me a high five.

"There is a lot of negativity in football, jealously and envy, but there is none of that here - I have never been so happy in my life doing what I love.

"When I was here the first time, Santa walked up to me and said my name. Even though I am adult I was like: 'Wow, Santa Claus said my name!' It gave me such a good feeling."

Wunderlich has big ambitions for the club - and the men's team restarting is one of the "driving forces" to provide a "complete player route" throughout the age groups.

He expects the men's team will re-enter the league system in the fourth tier, and he aims to win promotion, make games attractive for tourists and eventually produce players who can play in the top division.

Do that and he should find himself on Santa's nice list...

Ralf Wunderlich
Ralf Wunderlich is in charge of coaching at the club
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