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