Take a seat. I wont keep you long, but this is complicated stuff. It involves two clubs, two grounds, one regional government and a series of broken promises. Let me take you back to 2005. UEFA had announced that Switzerland and Austria would co-host the 2008 European Championships, and one of the host cities would be Zürich. The only question would be which stadium would be used? The Letzigrund was the home of FC Zürich, nine times Swiss Champions as well as one of the most famous athletics tracks in the world and part of the IAAF Diamond League. The Hardturm was home of Grasshoppers, the most successful team in Switzerland with 17 titles and 18 Swiss cups to their name. Their stadium was bigger and football only.
Initially a decision was made to build a new ground, named the Stadion Zürich on the site of the Hardturm. Both teams would share this football only stadium, leaving the Letzigrund as a multi-purpose arena. Grasshoppers would have to move out whilst it was being built and an agreement was made for them to travel the two miles or so across the railway line to the Letzigrund and share with their greatest rivals, FCZ.
But then legal issues delayed the situation and a decision was made that instead of the Hardturm becoming the new European Championship stadium, it would be the Letzigrund that was to be used. Not to worry, the authorities said, we will build you both new stadiums so that after Euro2008 you can share the new Stadion Zürich. Well here we are three years after Euro2008 and they both are sharing a stadium, although not the one we all thought. Stadion Zürich is about as finished as that symphony by Massive Attack, or Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona.
How do Grasshoppers feel about it? Well they are “hopping” mad to be truthful. They must feel well and truly shafted. They are the homeless ones, having to rely on the spare room of their bitterest rivals. They do not even have the crumbs of comfort of on the field success either – their last major honour was the Swiss title in 2003 and this season they are hovering far too close to the relegation zone, with FCZ only a couple of places above them.
Three weeks ago the two teams met in the first derby of the season. The game was finely poised with Grasshoppers holding a 2-1 lead thanks to a contentious penalty from Frank Feltscher with just fifteen minutes to go. Trouble broke out between the two sets of fans and with flares being aimed at each other, the referee abandoned the game.
So all is not well with football in Zürich. As I was in the city for business, was that going to stop me taking in a game? Do you not know the EFW/TBIR code of conduct? I made a call and Kieron O’Connor dropped his Gruyère in his fondue to come along too. So what if it was my tenth game in eight days. You can never get enough football – just like you can never get enough beer. Well that was before I saw the price of a pint out here, in which case you can have enough beer when your Amex Platinum is maxed out by a round.
I have a theory that should be applied across the world when it comes to ticket pricing. After extensive research this weekend in Slovakia and Czech Republic I can launch to the world my new Beer/Ticket Ratio model for all football clubs. The theory says:-
“The price of your cheapest ticket should be no more than three times the price of a pint of local beer in the pub no more than half a mile down the road”
In Prague this meant ticket prices should have been £3 maximum (and they were). In Slovakia £2.50 (Dan Richardson‘s season ticket at Slovan Bratislava was €41) and in Germany match tickets for most Bundesliga clubs start from around €15. England, well unless The Boleyn has started charging a tenner for a pint, is outside my model. But what about Switzerland? Well £21 for a match ticket (30CHF) meant my beer shouldn’t be more than £7…and lo and behold at 8.70CHF for a pint it damn well slotted right into my ratio theory. England you are letting the world of Beer/Football down.
I have an affinity with Grasshoppers. For nearly a decade I wore the famous blue and white stripes. I scored something in the region of 350 goals for the club, including a still-record eleven in one game. I was one of the most feared goal-poachers in the North Kent Sunday Leagues (under 7’s to Under 15’s) during the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Grasshoppers of New Ash Green were legendary in the area. We even had a Grasshoppers of Zürich pennant on the wall of the club house. One year we all got on a coach and came to see them play Servette at the Hardturm, marvelling at the hooligans even then.
I tried to put my old shirt on for posterity for this game but Kieron told me that walking round the suburbs of Zürich with a shirt that barely covered my “extra padding” wasn’t the done Swiss thing to do, so I left it in the hotel.
We headed down to the ground by tram, passing one of my favourite signs in the city. I chuckle every time I see it, and so do literally thousands of you, dear visitors who still to this day end up on my website thanks to the search term “Glory Hole Zürich”. I have no idea if this is just a translation-gone-wrong thing or it really is a glory hole but I wasn’t stopping to find out tonight.
The visitors tonight, Servette, were also legends of mine. In those early football watching years of the 1980’s, strange football kits were always hard to come by (None of these JJB Sports selling off Azerbaijan away for £5 in those days!). One day my brother came home with a new claret Umbro number. I had never seen it before, nor recognised the badge. I owned every issue of Match, Shoot and Football Weekly. I could tell you every league club’s kit just by an inch of colour. But this one was new on me.
“Servette” he said.
“Gotcha” I said, with a knowing smile. I had no idea if he was just making that up. He did that a lot. In fact as most older brothers would testify, he spent most of his time trying to humiliate me. One day he put a dried puffer fish in my bed, the ones with the sharp spikes. No reason other than he say it was his duty to annoy me.
With no Wikipedia or the like I had to find a way to verify it was who he said it was, and also find out who they actually were. So I wrote a letter to the only man who would know. Brian Moore. Presenter of The Big Match, and my favourite commentator. Three weeks later he replied in person.
Servette are a team from Switzerland which if you have done Geography at school will know it is in the Alps. They play in a city called Geneva, which is close to the border with France. Last season they won the National League in Switzerland and you can see them play in the European Cup this season, so perhaps your parents will let you stay up to see if they are on Sportsnight.”
He went on to give me some advice on how to get my own back on my brother but that is not for here. What a legend.
The club had fallen on hard times as well. After winning the national league in 1999 they overcommitted themselves financially and in 2005, with construction complete on their new stadium for Euro2008 they filed for bankruptcy, which saw them drop into the regional leagues. However, the fans didn’t desert them and in May this year five years of dedicated paid off as the team won promotion from the Challenge League after winning the play offs and returned to their rightful place at the top table of Swiss football.
Kieron had procured seats in the family section, which out course meant that they were slap bang in the middle of the hardcore fans. Well, teach them early is my motto so what the heck.
Grasshoppers 1 FC Servette 4 – Letzigrund – Wednesday 26th October 2011
Does the score line reflect the performance? In this case it probably does. Going into the final few minutes Grasshoppers were on top after full back Lang had brought them back into the game at 2-1 but then two sucker punches from the visitors, coming either side of them hitting the post left most of the 4,300 crowd shaking their head in disbelief.
Servette came into the came having not scored a goal for 475 minutes. Just to prove how poor the Grasshoppers defending was it only took them ten more minutes before Karanovic stabbed home Esteban’s flick down although he did look a tad offside. Servette passed the ball around well and always looked the more dangerous side in the first period.
The highlight of the first half was seeing some golf buggy come on to the pitch to bring the Servette physio on. Laziness of the tallest order. Every so often a loud chime rang out around the stadium. At first I assumed this was some sort of 21st century cuckoo clock but all eyes diverted their gaze to the big screen where and ad for a clothes shop was playing. Strange stuff I thought. A few seconds later Kieron informed me that FCZ were winning away in Thun. The noise was to inform the crowd (and the players and the rest of Zürich no doubt) that there had been a goal somewhere else. Thanks for that.
The second half saw more huff and puff from the home side without really creating much. Their cause wasn’t helped much when La Rocca was sent off for a second yellow for appearing to aim an elbow in the direction of a Servette player. The second goal was only a matter of minutes away, and sure enough some more poor defending allowed Esteban far too much space and he set up Vitkieviez. You wait 485 minutes for a goal and then you get two in forty minutes.
Grasshoppers threw caution to the wind and with the game entering the final ten minutes at last started creating chances. With the smell of class C drugs wafting in the hair (not from us I hasten to add!) the relaxed feeling must have drifted across the athletics track and momentarily affected the Servette defence thus allowing Lang to pull a goal back.
But there wasn’t to be any happy ending. With two minutes of the allotted four injury time minutes up Moubandje fired in a free kick from thirty yards and then just sixty seconds later and the stadium was quickly emptying De Azevedo scored a fourth. Harsh, but you pay for not taking your chances.
With typical Swiss efficiency just twenty minutes after the final whistle we were back in the Lion pub in the centre of town. Grasshoppers still had a special place in my heart but I’m not sure they really care about that at the moment.
More pictures from a night out in Zürich can be found here.