One of the most pivotal points in my life was when I decided to head to Switzerland for my first ever solo recreational fitba break. It is up there with one of the best decisions my brain has ever spewed out. As my home life was crashing down around me, I wanted to get away for a bit. Just clear my head far away from the impending doom. After my Ajax/Dortmund double header I had contracted the foreign fitba bug. A multi game jaunt in a foreign country was the idea. With the choice of a trip to the United Arab Emirates or Switzerland being my only options there was only one winner. Mostly down to the fact I reckoned that the Swiss would be more partial to a beer than the Arabs.
When you think Switzerland, you would automatically associate skiing, chocolate, cuckoo clocks, holey cheese, yodelling and Nazi gold. As it turns out it was a lot more and I fell in love with the place as soon I my train from Zurich Flugenhafen for Aarau had meandered its way out into the countryside beyond Zurich. I was transfixed with the world outside. The lakes, endless pristine farmland, the cows roaming what looked to be free as the train passed through places such as Lenzburg and Rupperswil. The world I was gazing at just seemed at peace. All this was going on between incredible picturesque snow-covered mountains tops on the horizon. This was truly nature at its finest.
But beyond the scenic beauty it turns out Switzerland is hotbed of ultra-fan culture and football hooliganism as I was to find out for myself. Due to midweek Schweizer Pokal games I managed to organize a four game, seven team, five day traipse around the stunning alpine nation. The itinerary was to be one day in Aarau, one day in Basel, two days in the capital Bern and one day in Luzern. It was to be a four game, seven team, over two competitions jaunt. The Schweizer Pokal was to give me a derby of sorts in Aarau v Luzern and league champions Basel v FC Zurich. The Swiss Super League was to also throw up a derby with Young Boys Bern v Thun and Luzern were to be viewed for a second time in the trip versus Grasshoppers. Nineteen goals over the four games was the outcome. With eight in Aarau, four in Basel, five at the Wankdorf in Bern and two in Luzern. Not a bad haul of net bulges, but a lot more came along with the journey. Some football related and some not.
Aarau 3 v 5 Luzern, Stadion Brugglifeld, Schweizer Pokal,1/3/17
Aarau, a city once home to Albert Einstein who attended university there. That being a fact I only learned on the train from Zurich. I also think I had played them in Europe with Aberdeen in Champ Manager once upon a time too. I really knew nothing about this place. It is not often I head somewhere so blind, but I am so glad I did choose here. Its lovely little place with load of bonnie sixteenth century architecture. If I am ever to leave Scotland Aarau will be the top of the list of places to live. This I found out during my usual getting my bearings traipse around my host city. After devouring one of the best meals I have ever eaten, a trout dish washed down with a glass of red at my hotel (Hotel Bahren, complete with thatched roof), I readied myself for what this trip was all about, football and beer. I had already decided to head toward the ground via a pub I had spied earlier when out wandering. What awaited me outside was a downpour that even Noah couldn’t have battled against. It was to be seen to be believed, quiet easily the worst I have watched football in or walked in for that matter. The bizarre thing being, around an hour and a half previous it was a nice mild day without a cloud in the sky. I had spent around two hours pleasantly doddling around the town, now the sky was congested with clouds so black it was almost dark. As the pub (Dietiker) was about a five-minute walk from the hotel I decided to run, well I decided a full sprint was really needed. My plan didn’t really work, and I was soaked through. Once in this pub i felt well out of place sinking a few beers in this quality old fashioned establishment as I was surrounded by some truly fantastic facial hair. It was if there was some sort of bristle convention on. My five o’clock shadow and age made me stick out like a sore thumb. But I was not to worry as I got a few jovial “guten tags” from the moustachioed locals. After about an hour the rain that was trying to enter the pub via the windows had died off. This was the time to make a sharp harp toward the stadium. As it was, nature had decided on playing a prank on me as once I was out in the open around a block away from shelter, the heavens opened once more and I was rapidly reduced to a drowned rat, even more so than I was before the pub. But the excitement of random football was keeping me from giving to much of a shit about the potential Waterworld that was unfolding around and on me.
After I had followed the floodlights through a residential area, I finally found the ground via a few wrong turns. Once my ticket was obtained from the pre collection point where the lady was much appreciative of me travelling from Scotland, I was in with a pint acquired which was filling up quicker than I could drink it. Which in all honesty a pretty pointless purchase. I had a quick squint about from the terrace, Stadion Brugglifeld is a classic design you see a lot of in Europe. Main stand on the wing with three sides terracing in a bowl. Its classed as not good enough for top flight football by the Swiss FA. I personally think it’s a wee gem. Small and old school. A new arena was planned in the mid-00s, the designs were drawn up, but the people of Aarau rejected it. This meaning I got to visit this relic and savour it in all its “lower league” beauty. My next stop was to get myself a “schaal”. As I was looking at the merch stall for my obligatory garment, I was approached by a local fan who enquired in broken English about my Aberdeen tourie. My Aberdeen tourie that had been seriously weighed down and it had commenced sliding down my face. The guy being second person I had spoken to in quick succession who was surprised and clearly impressed I had travelled so far to their club. I was then treated to another two beers and a programme from this exceptionally hospitable Aarauer (correct term, another fact I learned). Between my non-existent German and him and his friends broken English we got on like a house on fire. With the risk of sounding cliched, football brings people together. It is a big part of the draw for me. A great welcome to Swiss fitba.
My ticket wasn’t for the stand, it was with the plebs in the terracing, so I decided to stand on the other side of the beer tent for easy access if in need of another refreshment. From here I could see the Ultras of both clubs. The Luzern fans were in very decent numbers complete with a Neptune display and a to by-line length banner stating “Lässt aUf die blitZe dEn donneR folgeN” which I had to google translate which translated as “lets follow the thunder on the flashes”. I could only gather that this was going to mean flares. On the other wing from myself the Aarau ultras were housed and were bizarrely dressed in a very Klu-Klux Klany type manner. They were in rows of Red, White, Red, White. To this day I am not sure the significance of their get ups was Just to add colour?
I mentioned the welcome I received in a local people sense. In a footballing sense my welcome to Swiss Fitba was fucking brilliant. Once the game was about to kick off the Luzern fans put their “flashes” into action. As Neptune towered above them a multitude of flashbangs went off illuminating the sky and followed by the most flares I had seen let off in one go. (I had led a sheltered life in Scottish fitba) The whole away end behind the goal went red, this leading to the game having to be delayed until the smoke cleared. Quite the impressive sight. The game was also a quality spectacle with Luzern taken the lead in the third minute then adding to it in the fourth minute through Juric and Neumayr. It was a blistering start from the away side. Then from there I was served up an exciting end to end cup tie complete with the Aarau ultras lighting up but not the extent of the extent of the away end. Aarau grabbed a life line around half an hour with Josipovic netting in front of the Luzern fanatics who had lit up again significantly seconds prior. The scoring wasn’t finished for the half there either. The halved deficit was short lived with the away side re-establishing their two-goal lead. But Aarau were not out of this and on half time grabbed a second through a tap in off a poor piece of goalkeeping from the Luzern number one with Ciarrocchi taking advantage. Wet ground or not, the keeper should be holding a worm burner like that. HT 2-3. A dazzling start to my Swiss tour on the pitch and in the terraces. The second half started all Aarau who deservedly equalized sending the pointy hatted home fans into raptures opposite me. Unfortunately for the home side, they tired as the second half wore on and the Superleague side showed their superiority and killed the game with a fourth from Juric and fifth from Schneuwly killing stone dead any fight Aarau had left in them. An excellent game of fitba with one of the best atmospheres I have witnessed despite only six thousand being there. The whole experience put Scottish fitba to shame really. If this was Swiss fitba I was pretty sure I was going to be hooked. The only issue was the weather. To say it was horrific is an understatement. By the time I was back at the hotel I had ruined my trousers as they were so heavy, they trailed under my shoes and ended up torn to shreds. My tourie was never to be the same shape again and the programme I was given had never been opened and never will be as it is now a dried-out block of pulp. The name Aarau funnily enough is derived from the local river the Aare and the German word “Au” meaning floodplain. The place was lucky it didn’t flood and turn into a new Atlantis that night.
Basel 3 v 1 FC Zurich, St Jakobs Park, Schweizer Pokal, 2/3/17
After drying out after the previous night’s escapades I was up early for a train up to Basel. Again, I was treated to stunning scenery as the train passed through more mountains, serenity and of course cows (I can see why they produce so much chocolate and cheese). It really is a fantastic country and using the train to get from place to place is always the best way to see a country. Pays dividends in Switzerland, trust me. Once off the train at the grand building that is Basel station, I noticed a booze shop. Thinking ahead for after the game I went in to buy some beers for the hotel room. I may have stumbled on the best shop in the world. In front of me was literally thousands of different beers all set out by country. Interestingly to me though the Swiss section was huge, there were hundreds of different bottled, tinned and kegged beers. This led to a conversation with shop keeper who gave me a rundown of beer history in the country. It turns out there are over seven hundred breweries in this small nation. My ever-increasing love for the country was growing by the minute. The guy knew his stuff and It would have been rude not to buy the array of beers that I did. A good start to Basel. It wasn’t to last though as I found Basel to be filled with stand-offish people. From the hotel receptionist to the barmaids to the fans around the ground. There was no craic from anyone. An interesting fact regarding Basel, there are only two clubs who have never replied to an email from myself and they are one of them. (Aberdeen being the other). Every foreign team(62) I have visited I have emailed prior and they have all replied barring Basel.
To the fitba. St Jakob’s Park looks cool in the dark. It has bricks that look like ice which light up in red and blue giving off a glow. Its unique to anything I have seen in the past and until now. I got myself a different styled obligatory thumbs up photo for this one as when I was in the club shop getting my scarf, I noticed the League trophy was on display. Better than the usual photo with the club name or badge behind me I decided the trophy they had a stranglehold on decked out in club coloured ribbons would make a nice addition to the collection
Once into the ground I faced with a big curtain depicting a blue and red jester emerging from an alley covering the front of what could only be the Ultras end. I was quickly out with the phone and google translating the banner that ran along the bottom of this impressive display. “OR CUPFINAL GHORT INS WANKDORF” this translating to “We belong in the cup final at Wankdorf” which I had pretty much guessed if I am honest. If only I knew what was coming from this set of supporters as the game wore on. I thought the pre-game was good. I was about to witness easily the most impressive ultra-fandom display I have had the joy of witnessing. A scene worth talking about separate from the match. When the teams came out the curtain dropped the fans lit up run of the mill flares red flares and were bouncing on the terrace. This carried on throughout the match at numerous points. But the crème de la crème (they do speak French there after all) was when the teams emerged after half time. Suddenly, rocket propelled fireworks went off and the Ultras end was a sea of different coloured flare smoke, red, blue, yellow, white and even more rocket propelled flares were fired along with flash bangs. The money this must have cost would have been staggering. Once the rockets, yellow and white smoke had cleared there were just bars of red and blue left. The choreography was beyond impressive. The second half ended up delaying in kicking off due to the smoke. This was quite frankly an amazing site and totally unrivalled anywhere I had been and have been since. To do it justice type this into YouTube – FC Basel – FC Zürich 3:1 | Stadion-Atmosphäre
The game wasn’t up to the excitement levels of goings on at Brugglifeld but I did get another third minute goal when Buff put the second division visitors ahead after his initial shot hit his own player and he finished off the rebound as the keeper had been wrongfooted by the first effort. The lead lasted around fifteen minutes with Basel pushing and pushing for the equaliser. The difference in class was clear. With Zurich playing out of the second tier for a rare change, they were nowhere near the standard of the hosts. Janko set Basel on their way and Lang put them in the lead just prior to the half time pyro entertainment. I couldn’t see past Basel from here and I was correct with a third being netted ending what little challenge there was on show. Even the Zurich fans flares were no where near on par with the home sides. One thing that was noticeable though. Zurich fans aren’t a fan of losing as they showed by venting their anger and trying to kick off which led to the baton happy imperial troopers storming the away end. The fans from the east were clearly spoiling and gave as good as they got. My conversation with the taxi driver back to my hotel was interesting when I told him about the away end. He claimed there are not much worse in Europe than the fans of FC Zurich.
Not my favourite city I have ever visited. Far from it in fact. Not the greatest game I have ever attended either, but with a tidy stadium, fabulous fandom, not so fabulous from the Zurich numbers and the best beer shop on earth I won’t complain too much. Maybe I just caught the Baslers on a bad day. Those pre bought beers went down a treat while reading up on the reputation of FC Zurich fans back at the hotel. Turned out the taxi driver wasn’t far off the mark with his claim.
Young Boys 3 v 2 Thun, Wankdorf Stadion, Swiss Superleague, 5/4/17
Back at the stunning building that is Basel train station I visited my friend for a few nourishments for my journey south to the country’s capital. This was followed by a time burning pint in what can only be described as grandiose station bar. It puts the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen’s station to shame. All that was missing was someone playing the grand piano in the corner. A fantastic place to get a Feldschlosschen down the hatch that’s for sure. The train journey was short, but you guessed it, it involved a plethora of cows and picturesque serenity. I really love Switzerland if you haven’t noticed. My stay in Bern was to be a bit different from the other three cities, due to the fact I had a free day with no fitba. As this was the capital and looked to have a lot to do in terms of points of interest, I decided my day off had to be there. This ending up being a brilliant decision as Bern became my favourite city that I have set foot in. As I was early, I couldn’t check in to my hotel so I decided to seek out all the famous Hans Gieng fountains. There are eleven in total(I think). The Pfeiferbrunnen (Piper), Shutzenbrunnen (Marksman), Simsonbrunnen (Samson) to name a few. But there is one the topped the rest Kindlifresserbrunnen. Creepily meaning The Child Eater. A truly disturbing ogre type that is biting the head off a baby while holding his next two victims. It is so bizarre I bloody love it. My time in the city also saw me visit some great museums such as the Bernisches Historiches with a floor dedicated to Einstein. Speaking of him I also visited Einsteinhaus prior to heading to the fitba on the Saturday. Which is as it says on the tin, is Einstein’s old house. Walking about the old town is a good experience as there are some stunning buildings on show. Other worthwhile sites included the Church of the Holy Ghost, Zytglogge, walks over the Kornhausbruke and Nydeggbruke complete with stunning views. Munsterplatz is also worth a visit. One place I didn’t expect to visit was the Bern Expo centre. This came about once I got back to my hotel on the Friday, my hotel I deliberately booked as it was five hundred meters from the Wankdorf Stadium. Once showered and changed I fully expected to be heading back into town for some food and a few beers at night. I decided to have a beer in the hotel so I could ask the best public transport (which is free in Bern if you are a tourist). While sitting in the bar there was a distinct abundance of heavily hirsute gentlemen clad in leather jackets. As I looked outside, I saw lines of the same outside the Expo Centre. Being of a rock and heavy metal persuasion I decided to investigate who was playing there. Local heroes and rock legends Krokus and a couple of other Swiss bands were playing a gig called “Monsters of Rock Switzerland”. Krokus right across the road from my digs, my arm wasn’t very hard to twist. As it was entirely sold out, I managed to haggle a ticket out of a tout for the princely sum of sixty francs. Which was around fifty quid. A lot better than him trying to charge me twice that when I first initiated conversation with him. Once inside I grabbed a beer and found a space to watch Shakra (no I hadn’t heard of them either) Once they departed the stage the mighty Krokus appeared and my night got a whole lot better. What a great rocking band. But after maybe four or five songs the night took an unexpected twist. As I was standing there minding my own listening to the great tunes quite happy with my random spur of the moment night out, I felt a tug at my back pocket, the pocket containing my wallet i.e. my livelihood for this trip. As I tuned round there was some asshole trying to pickpocket me who had now entangled himself in my pocket and hoody that was tied round my waist. As my right hand (I’m not a southpaw) was somewhat engaged holding a beer, I had no other option than to sort the situation by nutting the culprit a full on the bridge of the nose leaving him prostrate on the hall floor, not without feeling the wrath of my size twelve Puma Roma on the way down. A headbutt, how very stereotypically Scottish of me. An act I’m still not proud of to this day as I’m not a violent person but it I had lost my wallet my holiday was over on day three with two days and a travel day left. Not an ideal situation to be in. So, to this day I will stick by my actions, and my views of anything is fair game if someone is committing a crime on you. A move to the other side of the hall, a few more beers and a some more hard rocking tunes later I nipped back across the road and had a night cap speaking YB with a fellow barfly. Quite the night to say the least
To the fitba, the reason for being in this wonderful city.Saturday evening finally came around at the Wankdorf. I saw a two-goal derby deficit overturned complete with three stunning strikes, two from the home side and one from the visitors to put them into a shock two-nil lead. Before the match I nipped down the road early to see what the atmosphere around the stadium was like. There were quite a number of people sitting having beers and bratwursts in and around the concourse outside. The adjacent bus station was shipping in a lot of supporters too. I grabbed a beer from one of the temporary bars set up and started to flick through my programme which pretty much fit in the palm of my hand. By far the smallest programme i have seen. As I was doing so, I couldn’t help but notice there were a group of guys staring at me. Eventually one came over and asked, “Aberdeen yeah?”. The tourie had worked its magic again. Then I was asked “here to see the game yeah?” which in all honesty was quite clear as I had Young Boys Scarf on and was twenty yards from the Wankdorf leafing through the match programme. Then he gave me some essential info. He told me that once I finished my expensive beer (7 quid it cost) I should head to the supermarket under the stadium and buy cans then come back and “hang” with them. This advice was great as I got five cans at under a pound each. As asked, I came back to meet them. Turned out they were a really sound bunch and part of the Ultras set up. We chatted and I explained that I had heard of Young Boys a long time ago. 1993 at Pittodrie when Scotland drew one each in Andy Roxburghs last stand to be exact. This because the Swiss end had a giant Young Boys flag tied to the fence in the South Stand. I bent the truth a little and told them that was the reason I was there. Yes I had always remembered the flag but did it have a bearing on this trip, possibly subconsciously. The dudes loved this. This made me an instant friend. I was given beers and offered to join them in the Ultras end, but as I have an aversion to sitting behind a goal I passed on the opportunity. Our conversation led to talking about the similarities between the clubs we support. We were both good in the 80s and it was around the same amount of years since we had won the title. We are much poorer than the team with the stranglehold on the title (YB have won it twice since I visited, so there is hope for the Dons yet). There was a bond with these guys. When it came match time, they told me to wait in the same place and they would meet me for a few beers at the hotel which was an offer I did take them up on before they headed out for a Saturday on the beer. With an early train to Luzern for me I stayed put and had an earlyish night
The Wankdorf (or Stade de Suisse to give it its corporate name) is a beauty of a Stadium. My seat was in the top tier, but you still can access the bottom tier. I had a quick wander about prior to kick off. I didn’t matter where I was the view was great. It also seems to be an optical illusion. It looks far bigger than the thirty-two thousand capacity. One thing that lets it down is the plastic pitch. But as a stadium it is great. I was lucky enough to be treated to a superb game fitting of such a outstanding venue too. As earlier mentioned YB came back from two down to take the points. They should never have been down as prior to Thun scoring the home side missed three glorious chances very early on. But to be fair this didn’t faze Thun and by the tenth minute they were two nil up. The opener coming from a placed header from Fassnacht which was aided by poor defending. A second came three minutes later via an absolute banger from Sorgic. On the half volley from fifteen yards he howitzered the ball to an inch of its life into the keepers top right corner. No goalkeeper would have kept this out. YB were never out of this game and managed to claw one back before the half via another fantastic hit courtesy of Sulejmani. The playmaker stepped up and arrowed a free kick into the bottom corner from full thirty yards. This setting up the second half nicely. Midway in the second period Thun chucked their lead in unfortunate circumstances, a shot was fired in and diverted up and over his own keeper by Burki. This got the crowd and home teams tails right up and the three points were to stay in Bern after a fantastically placed header from Sanogo who was beyond the front post at point of contact and expertly steered the ball into the top corner off the post beating the defender on the line and the keeper. Headers dont come much better. A top notch game for a neutral and it goes without saying for the YB fans. Another five goals added to the twelve I had already witnessed on my Alpine adventure also couldn’t be sniffed at. A fantastic way to sign off from my new-found favourite city. The capital city of my new found favourite country.
Luzern 1 v 1 Grasshoppers
Swissporareana, Swiss Superleague,6/4/17
I didn’t get my days sightseeing in Luzern. The reason being a train had broken down on the track. This meaning I was four and a half hours later than expected due to being rerouted. This leading to me only getting a quick walk around the town prior to having to head up to the Swissporarena. But from what I could gather it’s a very beautiful city and nothing is open on a Sunday.
When I was at the hotel checking in, I asked how far the ground was. The very helpful receptionist told me I would have to take a bus as it was “far, far”. She told me the number of bus to catch. Be the keen walker I am I decided to walk it. As I couldn’t imagine needing a bus. I passed my hotel en route and ten minutes later the golden exterior of the ground was visible. Was the receptionist that lazy? As well as the very tidy stadium I was also faced with the Pilatus mountain range towering down over the stadium. Another sight that will stick with me until I die. Magnificent on the eye. After I grabbed my brief it was time for a beer which I acquired from the wee kiosk which seemed to be the norm as everyone was doing it. I grabbed a seat on one of the benches and enjoyed my refreshment looking at the mountains. If you haven’t tried it. I advise it. It is relaxing. As peaceful as it seemed I couldn’t help but hear a faint din. This was clearly annoying the group of Luzern fans doing the same as me on the adjacent bench. This was the ice breaking moment, “Grasshoppers?” I said. Then one of this group noticed my hat. This bringing on conversation and getting one of them to take my photo for the collection. We talked about Grasshoppers and the trouble they cause wherever they go, about St Johnstone knocking Luzern out of Europe a few years prior. I also credited them on their excellent display in Aarau which got me properly in their good books. By the time kick off was approaching I had clearly made friends, as I was handed beers (three out of four games i recoeved this gesture) and was even invited into the Ultras section again to which like the previous night I politely declined. The reason being I had worked out my ticket was right next to the Grasshopper fans and I quite fancied to see what that was like.
I am not a huge fan of new builds, but I was pretty quick in realizing I was lucky to be in such a quality ground as this joint. A ground which would be an ideal ground to copy for Pittodrie’s unwanted replacement if you ask me, it’s just shy of seventeen thousand, has safe standing (the ultras end that I had declined), the atmosphere trapped, it was fully enclosed, it had an intimidating compactness to it. It really is a first class stadium. The whole set up cost fifty million euros and looks a million times better than the rubbish Aberdeen are passing off for their new midden for round about the same price (which I still say won’t happen for the record)
I mentioned the din I heard from outside the ground which was the Grasshopper fans in early causing a racket. Well the racket those dudes make is very impressive. Absolutely nonstop from forty-five minutes before the game until well after the final whistle. The also love a blue flare and at one point covered their whole section which was an impressive sight I was glad to get on camera
I have to say they are the best away fans I have seen and still think so to this day . Maybe not so great away from the stadium though as the city centre was shut down and heavily guarded by riot police post game but what a way to support their boys in the stadium.
The game was a decent battle. Another game with a goal in the first ten minutes meaning all four games viewed managed to achieve this. Grasshoppers we the scorers after a swift counter attack which was finished of with an ace diving header which almost seemed like it was from a by gone era. A definite dying art scored by Sigurjónsson. The game was end to end. Both teams had chances, Luzern had a stonewall penalty denied. The team were level on the hour when Schürpf headed home from a corner and the game was to end like that. Amazing stadium and the best away fans I have ever seen. The game wasn’t too shabby either. No complaints about the final part of my Swiss jigsaw whatsoever.
As holidays go, this was superb. Football, beer, good food, chocolate, hard rock, new friends, beautiful country, interesting cities. Switzerland I salute you.
The football geek in me had awoken!