Friday, 28 May 2010

Following FC Lausanne-Sport to the Final - Part I

In England, you can barely go a few hours without hearing a football-related comment, either in daily conversation with family, friends or colleagues, or through radio or television programs or adverts. Football is ingrained in the English way of thinking, reflecting its status as the national sport. In Switzerland, they are far less fanatical about their football.

Every club still has its die-hard fans, ready to turn up at the stadium each week or traipse across the country to offer their support for the team at away matches. But football in Switzerland is far from being the national sport – tennis, ice hockey, skiing, and other snow or ice-based games take centre stage, with football trailing somewhere behind.

Swiss football clubs have yet to become household names in Europe – to date, no Swiss club has won either the UEFA Cup or European Cup (in any of their various names and formats). The national team has not yet become one of the major teams in European football either, having never won a major tournament (their best result so far has been reaching the World Cup Quarter Finals in 1934, 1938 and 1954), although they were ranked as high as 3rd in the official FIFA rankings back in 1993. Perhaps this lack of international success is the reason why football is viewed as a lesser sport in Switzerland, compared to other European countries such as England, Italy, France and Germany?

Or, more likely, it might be down to the fact that Swiss football is simply not very good. Those of us who sat up to watch the Switzerland v. Ukraine Second Round match at World Cup 2006 would most likely agree with that statement. The only highlight of the match was after the referee had blown his whistle to signal the end of normal time – following an absolutely dour 0-0 performance by both teams, devoid of any goals, action or interest whatsoever – and the commentator on the ITV broadcast said, “I’m really sorry to everyone watching, but we will have another 30 minutes of this!”.

He was right to apologize, as extra time also ended goalless and was as dull as the 90 minutes that preceded it. Ukraine finally won the penalty shootout (3-0), giving Switzerland the dubious honour of being the only team in World Cup history to be knocked out without conceding a goal in any of their matches.

In every country around the world, those who are interested in football grow up supporting their local team, or the team from the area they were born, or through family ties back to a certain team (Manchester United is the general exception to this rule). When I moved to live in Lausanne last October, my local team became FC Lausanne-Sport, making them my new team by default.

Not a particularly appealing prospect, given that they were in the second tier of Swiss football with few of my fellow Lausannois holding any hope for them to gain promotion into the Super League, where Swiss football’s elite compete.

With various other things keeping me occupied during the first six months of my new life in Switzerland, such as studying for a Microsoft exam, finding a job, searching for an apartment and buying a new car, I really did not have much time to keep tabs on my new band of sporting heroes. Apparently, they were doing ok without my support, as they made it into the winter break in a respectable mid-table position.

The club had also embarked on a bit of a run in the Swiss Cup, having sealed a spot in the Semi Final after beating Young Boys 4-1 in December. This made headline news in the local newspapers, as few people would have predicted that a mediocre Challenge League team such as Lausanne-Sport would triumph against a team that were competitively challenging for the Super League title.

By the time I had managed to successfully find a job and an apartment, FC Lausanne-Sport was still mid-table in the Challenge League, pointing towards a thoroughly unremarkable season. However, their surprising cup run had continued with a Semi Final victory over FC St. Gallen in April, meaning they would contest the 2010 Swiss Cup Final against FC Basel in May, giving them a chance of salvaging glory from an otherwise disappointing season.

My sister-in-law’s boyfriend, Pascal, mentioned that he wanted to go watch FC LS play in the final, and asked me if I wanted to go with him and his group of family members and friends. Not one to let a glory-hunting opportunity pass me by, I accepted and we were all set to offer our support at the Final in Basel on Sunday 9th May. I thought I might be something of a good luck charm, having previously been to watch Stevenage Borough FC triumph in two separate FA Trophy Finals in England (2007 and 2009), despite not attending a single league or cup match in those seasons.

So, the day of the Swiss Cup Final arrived, and I headed out to meet Pascal and his gang to make the trip to Basel. Unfortunately, I had managed to pick up a rather nasty cold, so was not feeling particularly well – I couldn’t help thinking that I should have stayed at home in bed, especially after the weather forecast had predicted heavy rain for Basel. We had planned to meet at Lausanne-Gare train station to catch the morning train to Basel, with a change of trains at Bern. Pascal was running late, as usual, causing the rest of us gathered on the platform to become slightly worried, given that Pascal had the tickets for the match.

With barely a minute to spare before the train arrived, Pascal joined us on the platform. Puffing and panting, he explained that he had run all the way from his apartment to the station, hence the lack of breath. As he caught his breath, someone asked him if he had the tickets – I half-chuckled at this, as the sudden thought came over me that he might have left the tickets at home in his rush to get to the station. Fortunately, Pascal pulled the tickets out of his bag, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

We boarded the train and made the two hour trip to Basel. We had planned to arrive nice and early, well in advance of the kick off time, so that we could have some lunch and a couple of drinks to get us in the mood to cheer on our boys. The train pulled into Basel station around 11am, and the kickoff was planned for 4:30pm, so we certainly had plenty of time.

To line our stomachs with tasty food, we ate lunch at a little pizzeria restaurant somewhere in the city (my Basel geography isn’t quite good enough to identify exactly where we were). After that, we headed over to the stadium, where large crowds were mulling around outside, looking at the various promotional stalls that had been set up around the perimeter by companies such as Volkswagen. Some of these stalls had games to play and prizes to win, and we watched as Pascal and his friend took on a couple of FC Basel fans at table football.

The FC Basel fans took a narrow victory (10-9), and Pascal received a basketball cap as a runner-up prize. The prize promptly became a very welcome additional piece of clothing for Pascal, as the heavens opened up above us, rainfall that would continue for the rest of the day.

Completely soaked through, we stood outside the stadium and drank a couple of beers, determined to make the most of our day out in Basel. At around 3:30pm, we headed inside the stadium and took our seats, which were located on the right hand side of the stand behind one of the goals. The opposite end, the home fans’ stand, was already largely full with FC Basel supporters, who were waving their flags and singing their hearts out already.

It was great to see such passionate supporters, and I imagined that being in that stand must have been a fantastic experience.

Above: our view of the pitch, and the FC Basel supporters who made all the noise

Did they defy the odds and lift the cup?

Read "Following FC Lausanne-Sport to the Final - Part II" to find out!

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