2008 : IFK Mariehamn (Finland)
Born in Derby, England in 1986, Travis Binnion was a talented full-back whose promising career was cut short by injury, forcing him to retire at age 22.
Although born and raised in England, Binnion qualified for the republic of Ireland through family and represented the Under-19 side 5 times in 2007. He came through the youth academy at Sheffield United and was with the Blades when he earned his call ups to the Irish team. In 2006-07 despite a serious knee injury, he broke into the reserve squad at Bramall Lane and his early career had been progressing well.
In January 2008 it was decided that the defender needed a loan spell away from Sheffield in order to gain first team experience. Rather than the usual destination like a League One or Two club in England, Finland's IFK Mariehamn expressed an interest in the Irishman, and he was loaned out straight away.
IFK were founded in 1919 in the southern Finnish town that bears its name. Mariehamn is in fact located in Åland an autonomous Swedish speaking island under the sovereignty of the government of Finland. The town consists of roughly 11000 inhabitants and is the capital of Åland. Since 1932 IFK have been playing home games at the Wiklöf Holding Arena a multi-purpose ground that holds 4000 fans. Their nickname is Grönvitt (meaning Green White) reflecting their home colours and they have played a majority of their recent history in Finland's Kakkonen (Second Division). In 2005, they gained promotion to the Veikkausliiga, or Premier Division, and were still in the top flight when Binnion arrived.
Although Binnion had been loaned out from a team then playing in the English Championship, his move to Mariehamn did not see him playing in a completely undeveloped and crap league. He was training alongside talented footballers such as Finnish internationals Jani Lyyski and Paulus Arajuuri, and Kenya goalkeeper Willis Ochieng. Binnion wasn't the only British/Irish member of the squad either. Fellow Sheffield United youngsters Jordan Eagers and Scott Boden had also made the journey from Bramall Lane to Finland, lessening the potential for homesickness. Team-mate Jani Lyyski's father, Pekka, was the club's manager and had brought Mariehman from the third tier to the top flight in under three years.
By moving to Finland, Binnion had taken an unusual step for an Irish footballer, but he wasn't breaking new ground. Pat Walker had played in the country in the early 1980s before becoming a managerial legend in Sweden.
Wearing the number 16 shirt, the Irishman made just 6 appearances for the grönvitt that season. Finland's domestic season runs from late spring, through summer and early autumn. The country's cold, near-Arctic climate make winter football impossible. Thereby arriving in January meant that Binnion was arriving in pre-season, ready for a full 2008 campaign.
In April, before the season had even started, he and team-mate Eagers were informed that they had been released by Sheffield United, complicating the manner of their loan to the Finnish side. However, Mariehamn were unperturbed and were considering keeping the Irishman on with a full-time contract. Binnion himself was content with staying in the country, but for the time being his contract was short-term.
Later that month, he made his debut for a Mariehman side on the loosing end of a 0-2 home defeat to giants HJK Helsinki. The following month he was part of the squad that defeated FC KooTeePee 4-2 at home.
His time in Finland began promisingly. However, pretty soon his career-long knee injury caught up with him and he was sidelined for months. While he was out of the team recovering, the club went on a massive losing streak, and were soon battling relegation.
He returned from injury in August. playing in the 0-0 away draw to VPS. A few more games were to follow, and Mariehamn finished the season in 12th place, just about avoiding relegation in a 14-team league. For Binnion though, his time in Finland and as a footballer was over. On medical advice he was forced to retire from playing. It was a quiet end to a brief but promising career.
Following his retirement, Binnion went into cricket and played a single A-Match for Nottinghamshire in 2003. Later he turned to coaching, and is now involved with the youth setup at Sheffield United. Mariehman still play in the Veikkausliiga today, and in 2013-14 qualified for the Europe League.
Three years after Binnion left Finland, Shane Robinson would arrive to play for and captain FC Haka.