Swiss Football and the Disgrace of Basel

Swiss flag
As we look forward to Euro 2008, we shouldn’t be fooled that domestic Swiss football runs like clockwork. Joe Westhead explores the game there from the passion of the Zurich derby to tragedy in the “Disgrace of Basel”.

Derby Day

It’s never just a game. It’s never just three points.

Grasshoppers Club Zürich are not having a great season, and it’s made all the worse when they are forced to play their home matches in the stadium of their arch rivals, FC Zürich (FCZ).

The Hardturm, home to Grasshoppers since 1929, shut its gates in September 2007 (photo from last game below) to make way for the Stadion Zürich due in 2010. In the meantime the multisports club must play its home games in FCZ’s Letzigrund, recently developed for the Euro 2008 finals.


Last game at Hardturm
On Sunday night over 14,000 witnessed 7th place Grasshoppers beat title-challenging FCZ 2-1, their first win in seven over the city rivals. The victory was made all the more sweet as it seems the majority of the crowd was made up of “away” fans (though of course in their own stadium). ‘Hopper fans celebrated as the infamous Südkurve could only look on and wonder why they weren’t celebrating a home victory at the Letzigrund.

Derby day in February 2007:

Tragedy

One shouldn’t be fooled by the thought of Swiss football as neutral. Political leanings aside, the Swiss national team qualified for the World Cup 2006 in an extraordinary group where everyone kept drawing – of the top four teams in the group, only one team lost a match. At the World Cup itself they went out without conceding a goal, losing on penalties in Cologne against Ukraine.

However, the club scene is anything but placid. On the final day of the 2005-6 season, FCZ were trailing league leaders FC Basel by three points. The end of season showdown at Basel’s stadium (St. Jakob Park, below) looked sure to be heading the home side’s way when a 93rd minute winner sealed the title on goal difference, sparking riots.

St. Jakob Park

About 30 seconds after the final whistle had been blown, dozens of attendees of the match who supported Basel stormed the pitch. These hooligans started attacking the Zürich players and officials who tried to flee into the changing rooms. FCZ’s Romanian defender, Iulian Filipescu, was attacked numerous times. A flare was also thrown at him, fortunately narrowly missing its target.

In the aftermath of celebrations, a 29-year-old FCZ fan Roland Maag attempted to quell a dispute among his own fans in the streets. Maag was hit, knocked out and remains paralysed to this day.

It was this story that drew a friend and I to Zürich in July 2007 to watch FCZ take on Bayer Leverkusen in a benefit match for Roli Maag, who was wheeled out to the 2,700 strong crowd at the Hardturm, weeks before the doors were closed forever. An agreeably warm summer afternoon reminded all those present of the best and worst of being a football fan. Posting in an internet café that evening, I wrote on the messageboard for FCZ fans:

“…but FCZ was great, we enjoyed it, drunk beer, ate sausage and looked at the lovely girls at Lake Zürich…”

Fast forward to Sunday evening, Grasshoppers having defeated their arch rivals, a victory that will be remembered all through the three-month winter break in Switzerland.

Reading the Grasshoppers match thread on the same FCZ messageboard I wrote on months ago, I notice the signature of one of the posters. It’s the comment I made months ago:

Originally posted by JoeW:

Aber FCZ war geil, wir haben es genossen, Bier getrunken, Wurst gegessen und die zürische Mädel am Zürichsee bermerkt.”

It’s sometimes worth remembering the effect football can have. One tourist’s throwaway comment can become a mantra for a lifelong fan. One second can turn a runner-up into a champion. One celebration can become a nightmare.

Photo credits: Dreamer7112; Nelson H.,

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