- Category: Nostalgia
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St. Gallen. They don't like us very much do they? You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to work out why - the truth is that Lucerne and St. Gallen are too much alike; perhaps the closest to a pair of twins you are likely to find in the Swiss Super League. So if you like, you can blame the bad blood between the two clubs on a particularly brutal tackle that ended the career of Luzern's Eigil Nielsen in 1980, but it's really just sibling rivalry.
Like Lucerne, St. Gallen is a provincial city stuck in the middle of a large rural area. Just as FCL, famously, draws its support from six cantons and likes to call itself 'FC Innerschweiz', I am sure the AFG Arena in St. Gallen is full of fans from Appenzell and Thurgau, all dressed in green-and-white and munching those flavourless, watery sausages. Both cities are approximately the same size and both clubs have recently built themselves a new stadium; ours holds 17,000, theirs two thousand more.
FC Sankt Gallen is one of the oldest football clubs in continental Europe, founded in 1879 for the town's textile factory workers. The 133 years since, however, have been marked by a staggering level of under-achievement - two league titles (1904 and 2000) and one cup (1969.) What have they been doing all that time? (You would have thought, for example, that they would have been nailed on for the 1879-80 league title.) Similarly, FCL can hardly be accused of relentless trophy collecting - one league championship and two cups in only 111 years!
Both clubs feel that their rightful place is in the top division of Swiss football, but are also painfully aware that just one bad season can lead to the nightmare of relegation. FCSG have had two spells in the Challenge League recently, we ourselves have had a few narrow escapes since arriving back in the top league in 2006. However, both clubs also know that if everything somehow comes together, they can win the league; we can look back to 1989 and speculate whether in 2011, if Rolf Fringer hadn't suddenly lost the plot, we might have been able to convert our 'Wintermeister' title into real glory. St. Gallen fans, meanwhile, all look back to the year 2000.
Zürich love parade
It's a sign that 2000 was a really unusual year that, with more important things to think about, St. Gallen fans suddenly stopped disliking Luzern and actually tried to be friends with us. The key moment was the Cup semi-final, away in FC Zürich's Letzigrund. Obviously deciding that Football was Great, and that they couldn't get enough of it, a group of St Gallen fans took the bizarre decision to attend the game; not as neutrals but standing with the Luzern fans and cheering on Andi Egli's blue-and-white army. Whilst wearing St. Gallen colours. They happened to be standing right behind me and when I turned round they all had fixed grins on their faces - the sort of grin you have when you decide to do something 'wacky', it turns out to be not as much fun as you thought it would be, and you realise you have no choice but to pretend you're enjoying yourself.
At least those St.Gallen fans picked a great game to watch. Luzern were the underdogs and obviously incapable of playing flowing football, but we were tenacious and well organised and when we took the lead after ten minutes or so, it looked as though a shock might be on the cards. Unfortunately, FCZ's Shaun Bartlett chose that moment to have the game of his life. Perhaps he knew that scouts from Charlton Athletic (then a mid table Premier League club) were in the crowd but he terrorised the Luzern defence every time he got the ball and scored twice to give FCZ the lead. But then Luzern equalised, scrappily, our defence solidified and Bartlett tired, safe in the knowledge that he had done enough to earn a move from Zürich to South London. In the 89th minute Alex Frei missed a great opportunity to win the game for Luzern (clean through with only the 'keeper to beat) and the game stretched into extra time.
As an FCL fan I don't want to remember what happened in the 30 minutes of extra time. Suffice to say that the Luzern players finally ran out of energy and that, when I decided to leave the stadium after 10 minutes we had already had a man sent off and conceded two goals… The thing I do remember from the whole game is that, with St. Gallen's help, Luzern comprehensively outsang the home crowd. I know all away fans think the same but in this case I have proof; we made so much noise that FC Zürich had to resort to psychological warfare techniques to shut us up. From half time onwards, every time a chant got going the Luzern end was subjected to a short deafening blast of white noise from the stadium loudspeakers. A note to dictators everywhere: it's strange but true - this stops people singing and chanting immediately.
The green party
A few weeks later, another FCL - FCSG love-in took place, this time at the Allmend. It was the last home game of the season and the ground was full, with people eager to see Switzerland's champions elect and particularly the extraordinary striker Charles Amoah, who had been enjoying the season of his life and almost single-handedly shot St. Gallen to the verge of the title.
The game itself was an anti-climax. Amoah had a quiet game and, without playing well, St. Gallen did just enough to beat a Luzern side with nothing to play for. Both their goals in a 2-1 victory were scored by defenders. No-one at all would remember the game if I wasn't for the fact that those three points meant St. Gallen had won the league. The surprisingly few St. Gallen fans present came over the fence and started celebrating on the pitch and plenty of Luzern fans joined them; partly because going on the pitch after the last home game of the season is a long and noble tradition and partly because they wanted to share the happiness of their new friends from North East Switzerland.
What you think about this sort of behaviour says a lot about your outlook on life. You might think it was a tremendous sporting gesture on the part of those FCL fans, or you might think it was just pathetic. The Luzern fans were divided as well, some were jumping up and down in the middle of the crowd, waving green and white scarves and singing about Marc Zellweger whilst others on the fringes of the crowd, were shouting, throwing punches and telling the St. Gallen fans to Get Off Our Pitch. All in all the most bizarre pitch invasion I've ever seen.
Back to normal
It's reassuring that, after 2000, things quickly got back to normal. Charles Amoah got a big money transfer to Sturm Graz, in Austria, and was never heard of again. St. Gallen went back to being crap, although before this happened they managed to knock Chelsea out of the UEFA Cup, breaking Roberto di Matteo's leg and ending his playing career in the process. St.Gallen fans went back to disliking us and, perhaps annoyed by the fact that we weren't really bothered (we've no time for sibling rivalry - it's Basel we want to be our enemy) decided they wanted to dislike EVERYONE. One result of this was that international games were taken away from the shiny new AFG stadium - because Swiss players got sick of being barracked by the 'home' fans. Guess which city got these those international games instead? Lucerne. And then we got their best player; Adrian Winter. But just as we thought the balance of power had tilted decisively in Luzern's favour, they gave us Philipp Muntwiler and replaced him with Luzern reject Oscar Scarione; just the sort of creative midfielder which we so desperately need and which Muntwiler most definitely isn't.
And so the two brothers, Luzern and Sankt Gallen carry on their rivalry. A bit like Oasis; lots of sweary arguments and mutual loathing with the knowledge that we're doomed to be stuck together forever. The occasional fight and the lingering sense of early promise never fulfilled. But only a bit like the Gallagher brothers: no-one from St. Gallen ever wrote a decent tune.
By Lucifer Sam
- Category: Nostalgia
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By Lucifer Sam
It was probably the most bizarre appointment FC Luzern's management have ever made. Or, if you're the sort of person who's into Conspiracy Theory, the most breathtakingly cynical. In July 2001, it was announced that Ryszard Komornicki was FC Luzern's new trainer. And what qualified him to carry the hopes of the whole of Central Switzerland? The answer, apparently, was that the season before, he had led the amateurs of FC Kickers from the 5th to the 4th tier of the Swiss football pyramid.
FC Kickers are Lucerne's OTHER football club (forget about those green-and-white mugs on the other side of the Eichhof brewery - Kriens has never been and never will be part of Lucerne) and play at the Tribschen stadium (basically a glorified sportsfield, albeit in a beautiful lakeside setting) in front of 150 or so no doubt fanatical supporters, some of whom may not even be related to the players on the pitch. OK, so the Tribschen pitch is broadly the same size as Luzern's, and like Luzern, their playing staff consists of 20 - 30 young men, each with two arms and two legs, but in all other respects FC Luzern and FC Kickers simply live in different universes.
Just to make Ryszard's challenge just that little bit greater, 2001 was the club's centenary year, and in late August the club would be playing a friendly against the best, most prestigious team ever to grace the Allmend stadium - FC Barcelona.
So where do the conspiracy theories come in? Well, in Summer 2001, Raimondo Ponte also joined FCL's management team, as 'Director of Football'. Ponte came directly from our friends at FC Zürich, where he had enjoyed a long but erratic career as trainer. He claimed that he had now had enough of the trainer business and wished to take a back seat. But if you were cynically inclined, you might think that Ponte had lobbied for a weak, inexperienced trainer to be appointed so that he, like a fat Italian puppeteer, could sit in the background and, pull the strings. Basically, Komornicki was being set up as Ponte's patsy.
The season started and Luzern were absolutely, completely hopeless. What made it worse was that the players genuinely seemed to be trying, but also seemed to have no idea what they were supposed to be doing. Also, with the exception of Gabriel Urdaneta, none of them seemed to have any technical ability at all.
"Jetzt haben wir unseren FCL zurück" (Now we've got our FCL back!) A comment heard more and more often on the terraces of the swisspor arena during thedisastrous start to the 2012 / 2013 season. A team that appears to dominate its home games, but whose every move breaks down at the edge of the opposition's penalty area as the strikers decide that, rather than trying for a shot, they should go for just one more short pass. A well-organised defender (they're always well organised) sticks a foot in the way, the crowd howls in frustration, and it all starts again. Every now and then, just to make things more interesting, one of our defenders will throw in an individual error (it's always an individual error) and the opposition will, inevitably, score. It's like that now and it was like that in 2001.
So we lost our home matches by narrow margins and were absolutely thrashed when we played away (0:6 against GC, 0:4 against YB). After five games and one point, Komornicki had to admit that this was not a Hollywood film and that the rookie trainer was hopelessly out of his depth. At a post-match press conference, asked what he could do to turn things around, he simply said 'Ich kann es nicht" (I can't do it). A startling piece of honesty in the World of Bullshit that is the modern football press conference, but of course Komornicki might as well have said "Please sack me now." He was fired the next day, and it was immediately announced that FCL were to be managed for the rest of the season by Raimondo Ponte - after all, why pay good money for a new trainer when you've already got an experienced man on the management team? A thousand conspiracy theorists nodded smugly and said "I told you so!"
It's typical of FCL's often graceless way of doing business that Komornicki was denied the chance to be part of the highlight of the club's centenary celebrations; the friendly against FC Barcelona. This memorable game took place only two days later.
If anyone from Barcelona is reading this, I would like to apologise on behalf of FC Luzern. We're not normally that bad, honestly. It wasn't even a particularly good Barca squad; Ronaldinho, Messi and tika-taka were a few years in the future, but they came to the Allmend, quickly knocked in five goals without reply and then relaxed, easily fending off Luzern's clumsy attempts to find a way through their defence. I remember that Puyol was there (looking exactly the same as he does today!), Patrick Kluivert looked incredibly fit and genuinely world class whilst Marc Overmars tore up and down the wing like a maniac. (Apparently, his nickname was 'The Roadrunner' and we could all see why. Beep beep!!) Meanwhile new recruit Geovanni moped on the right wing, practically ignored by all the other Barca players. Could he already sense that in a few years he would be playing for Hull City? However, what I really remember about Barcelona was theway they passed the ball. Whereas Allmend regulars though that a successful pass consisted of gently rolling the ball in the general direction of a teammate,Barcelona really thumped it; every pass was hit as hard as a shot and with perfect accuracy. Even balls we thought had been thrashed aimlessly into empty space would be intercepted by a Barcelona player arriving out of nowhere. It was this, rather than the score, that made clear the gulf in class between FCs Luzern and Barcelona. In truth, it made for very uncomfortable watching.
After this 'highlight', Luzern's season continued to fall apart. Ponte made no difference at all, and we were duly relegated. Would it have made any difference if Komornicki had been allowed to stay on - not only for the Barcelona game but for the rest of the season? Which brings us to the point - what are we to think about Ryszard Komornicki?
A few years after the whole debacle I was talking football with an FC Zürich fan and happened to mention Komornicki. I was told that he most definitely wasNOT a waste of space; at the time FCZ were enjoying their most successful phase since the 1970s and Komornicki was their highly respected assistant trainer. In my opinion (and it’s backed up by his unimpressive career after leaving Zürich) Komornicki is a good second-in-command and a very nice guy but not suited to be the man in charge. For that job, you need not only a good knowledge of football (which he has) but also some big ideas, the ability to innovate and, most important of all, a talent for motivation. None of which I think he has. What he does seem to have, unfortunately, is a thin skin. He apparently gets upset, for example, if anyone mis-spells or mispronounces his name - surely an everyday annoyance for a Polish person living in Western Europe.
I sincerely hope for all our sakes that Ryszard proves me wrong. However, history has a habit or repeating itself. Komornicki was sacked two days before a home game against a European team. Eleven years later, he came back . . . two days before a home game against a European team.
Here we go again.
- Category: Nostalgia
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That's entertainment !
It may come as a surprise for supporters who know only the Football Events in the swissporarena, but in the olden days 90 minutes' football, interrupted by fifteen minutes' queuing in front of the 'Food Boxes' whilst being bombarded by the same few adverts on heavy rotation, was not considered to provide the fans with sufficient entertainment. It used to be common practice for football stadia, including FC Luzern's Allmend, to offer paying customers some diversion during the half-time interval.
From my childhood in 1970's England, I have memories of half-time intervals spent watching a Triumph TR-7 performing slow laps of the pitch (amazingly without either breaking down or destroying the touchline in a frenzy of wheelspin) as well as the ubiquitous police dog demonstration. (A tip for wrongdoers: before going about your business, make sure to wrap a thick quilted jacket around your right arm.)
So, in no particular order, here are the five most memorable half-time entertainments offered to the fans of FC Luzern:
The classic. A penalty competition between kids from various local football clubs. Here's what I don't understand; professional footballers are always going on about how the pressure on a penalty-taker is almost unbearable. So how is it OK to subject a 10 year old to this pressure? And when you weren't feeling sorry for the kid taking the penalty you started pitying the junior goalkeeper, maybe four feet tall, standing stranded in the middle of a full sized goal. The Theatre of Cruelty.
Mission Impossible. Before the game, anyone who wanted to take part could buy a raffle ticket. Three fans were selected and came onto the pitch at half time, accompanied by some bloke with a microphone. Their mission - to hoof a ball from inside the centre circle into the goal, without the ball touching the ground before crossing the goal line. If you could do that, you won a prize worth literally a couple of hundred francs.
Now, many professionals would find this a difficult challenge. What chance did a bunch of unskilled amateurs, wearing trainers, have? Suffice to say, in the season this competition lasted, no-one ever won the prize.
Mission Impossible 2. For a few years, FC Luzern's sponsors included the car company Mazda. At half time, a Mazda pick-up truck was driven up the touchline (reviving fond memories of that TR-7 all those years ago) and parked in front of the main terrace. Three fans were led onto the pitch and given the task of chipping a ball into the load bed of the truck from a distance of about ten metres.
Again, this game continued all season, and no-one ever won the prize. I'm convinced the task was physically impossible; plenty of people managed to chip the ball into the load bed, but it always bounced straight out again. However, despite its obvious futility the game captured the fans' imagination. The highlight was when FCL's then-No.9, Paolo Vogt, interrupted his half-time break to have a go. Guess what? He chipped the ball into the load bed and it bounced straight out again.
Trivial pursuit. Worried that even football fans might tire of buying tickets for a contest that was unwinnable, the next half-time game involved two fans tasked with side-footing a ball from the edge of the centre circle towards the centre spot. The winner being the one whose ball finished closer to the spot.
After the excitement of the Mazda Pick-up Challenge, this game met with widespread apathy. Firstly because it required so little athletic ability that even your Gran would probably find it a bit sedate. Secondly because the rules were unclear; were you able to knock your opponent's previous shot out of the way, or was this considered unsporting? And thirdly because the prize (I’ve forgotten what it was) wasn't worth winning anyway.
Hello Lucerne! Are you ready to rock? The absolute winner, and proof that FCL can sometimes get things right. Just get local musicians onto the pitch to do a seven-minute set. Lucerne has dozens of musos who jumped at the chance to play to a crowd twenty times larger than they would ever see at the Shüür or Sedel venues. The main problem they faced was the classic rock'n'roll question; "What do we do about the drummer?" It was obviously impossible to set up a drum kit on the pitch in a couple of minutes, so the only options were to get the drummer to set up and play on the edge of the pitch, fifty metres from the rest of he band, or just leave him at home. Most bands opted for the latter, and therefore came across as rather earnest acoustic guitar-wielding types. A second problem performers faced was, err, which way to face. I'm pleased to report every musician chose to ignore sports ground etiquette and turned their back on the people in the expensive seats, so that they were facing the fans on the main terrace.
Acoustic guitars or not, the concept worked. Sound quality was perfectly acceptable (amazingly, seeing as the electrics at the old Allmend were probably as rickety as the rest of the stadium) and fans were genuinely entertained. All the performances were well received, but the standout was probably the two kids behind the "Ei Stadt - Blau Wiss" rap working the Stehrampe into a hip hop frenzy.
Stop press ! To show that Lucifer Sam doesn't just do nostalgia, I can report with great regret that in April 2012 I witnessed the unveiling of the swissporarena's first half-time entertainment. What the…. ? A concept that gives crass commercialisation a bad name, its only entertainment value is that it offers the crowd the chance to abuse two completely blameless punters for five long, long minutes. (Although, to be fair, the abuse of that middle-aged bloke bloke from Meggen who 'supports' Basel but quite likes Luzern was perfectly justified.)
My advice to Otto's: I know you have a chain of fine shops that offer branded products at discount prices. Could you please find a way to make this point that is (a) entertaining and (b) doesn't treat your would-be customers like complete morons? We're a football crowd; we're not hard to please. So why not put some of your products on a shelf and have contestants kick footballs at them? Anything they knock off the shelf, they can keep. Or what about spreading the products around the pitch and getting fans to dribble a ball round them?
But quite honestly, the best thing the swissporarena could do would be to BRING BACK LIVE MUSIC AT HALF TIME. Get Otto's to sponsor it if they like, but just give us football, music and the chance to buy a beer - you can't beat that.