- Category: Nostalgia
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When things can’t get any worse
Every now and then your football club lets you down. I can think of three occasions when, briefly, I've been ashamed to call myself an FCL fan; an abject 6-1 home defeat against Grasshoppers (sometime during the Sforza era, I think - the Care Team have told me I'm not supposed to think about it), being part of a pathetically small crowd that witnessed a 2-0 surrender against Slavia Prague in the UEFA Cup, and the time our captain and vice-captain had a punch-up on the pitch.
You never see players squaring up to each other at a successful club. Fights between teammates only happen when things are really, REALLY bad. Ask Blackburn Rovers what they thought about their chances in the European Cup when Graeme le Saux and David Batty had their on-field scrap. Did the Toon Army see the Dyer-Bowyer fight for anything other than a foreboding of the relegation to come? And it was at the darkest time in FCL's history that a few thousand faithful fans were embarrassed witnesses to Rota vs Brand.
Dario Rota. A nasty, long-haired midfielder, who made his name playing for FC Lugano and brought high hopes with him when he moved to Luzern in 2002. Soon, however, he fell victim to a traditional Luzern failing; the way defensive midfielders, almost without exception, end up being played as centre backs. (The current victims are Michel Renggli and Alain Wiss.) Every week, fans watched frustrated as a player bought to play in front of the defence, win the ball and launch counter-attacks dutifully took his place in the back four. If we were frustrated, imagine how pissed off Dario Rota must have been.
Christian Brand. After a respectable career in the Bundesliga (Bremen, Wolfsburg and Rostock) Brand also arrived in Central Switzerland in 2002. He was supposed to take on the role of a classic 'No. 10', as well as, Hakan Yakin-style, being responsible for all free kicks and corners. It's fair to say that Brand didn't find life in the Swiss League as easy as he had expected. However, he seemed to be a nice guy and was regularly seen at Lucerne's arthouse cinema watching films that most of the rest of us have never even heard of. A rarity - a professional footballer who is something of an intellectual and doesn't mind people knowing about it - Brand was made our captain.
On Friday August 27th, 2003, 4400 long-suffering fans assembled to watch FCL, now playing in all-white, take on the mighty FC Bulle in the newly re-branded Challenge League. Luzern dominated play and took an early lead, before the inevitable defensive lapse let our semi-professional opponents score an equaliser. The usual tetchy, nervous mood spread around the Allmend, not helped by our manager 'Longo' Schönenberger - a notorious martinet whose man-management style, allegedly, consisted of standing on the touchline shouting insults at his players. (Isn't that supposed to be the fans’ job?)
It later emerged that part of Luzern's set-up was that Rota would take any free kicks in our half of the field and Brand would be responsible for free kicks in the opposition's half. Shortly after half time, we were awarded a free kick ON the half-way line, and both Rota and Brand jogged towards the ball. A brief discussion took place between the two players about whose job it was to kick the damned thing. (It's not like it was important; after all, pre- and post-Hakan Yakin Luzern have never scored from free kicks anyway.) This quickly got out of hand - from what I remember Brand concentrated mainly on pushing and wrestling whilst the more direct Rota went for the throat and managed to land a swift jab on the side of his opponent's head before the referee intervened. Extremely distressed, Brand then pulled off his captain's armband and threw it to the ground before running to the Luzern bench and demanding to be substituted. It took Longo and half a dozen of his team-mates what seemed like an age to persuade him to re-join the game. Someone, I've forgotten who, helpfully gave him his armband back. Rota, meanwhile, calmly prepared to take his free kick. After all, he'd won, hadn't he?
I have no idea what the part-timers of Bulle made of all this, but an embarrassed silence descended on the crowd. It was like coming home from school to find your Mum and Dad screaming and throwing crockery at each other in the kitchen. You feel small and powerless; you don't understand anything and just want it to stop.
Luzern went on to win the game 3-1, but without much help from Christian Brand, who spent the rest of the game moping in midfield. A few days after the game it was announced that Rota and Brand had had a full and frank discussion and were now friends again. In fact, they had always been friends and the whole business was a misunderstanding, brought about because they were both 110% committed… You didn't need to be an expert in PR or body language to recognise this statement for the total bull it was. The truth was the two men, with completely different personalities and each, in his own way, under great pressure, clearly couldn't stand each other.
In the longer term, the incident confirmed graphically that something was badly wrong in the club, and Longo was fired shortly after, even though Luzern were, incredibly, top of the League at the time. Both players left the club at the end of the season although Brand, of course, settled in Central Switzerland and is now our U-18 trainer. After the departure of Rolf Fringer he took on a clearly demotivated bunch of players, but was unable to turn things around. However, he did oversee the 4-1 away win that sent St. Gallen down, so his time as stand-in trainer wasn't completely wasted.
So what do we learn from all of this? I guess that no matter how dispiriting the latest 0-0 draw at the swissporarena was, and how much we disagree with Murat's tactics and personnel decisions, we should remember that things could be a lot, lot, lot worse. At least we've now got a team that's one of the best in Switzerland and, if they do feel like scrapping like schoolkids, at least they have the sense to do it behind closed doors. As Longo no doubt pointed out at the time, "You're supposed to be f****** professionals, you *******s."