Disproving Swiss Stereotypes – The Zurich Derby

April 19, 2013 1:49 pm

Liverpool vs Everton, City vs United, Celtic vs Rangers. These are the big clashes that come to mind when you think about big city rivalries on the football pitch. But Grasshopper Club Zürich against FC Zürich? That has to be a tame affair given the straight laced nature of the Swiss, right?

Well, no, it isn’t, as I found out when I attended the meeting of the two teams on Saturday (April 6th 2013). Having been to one Swiss football game before I thought I knew roughly what to expect, but it turns out a derby is a derby even here in the land of Heidi and chocolate rabbits.

On arrival at the Letzigrund Stadium I already noticed a different atmosphere in comparison to the match I’d watched previously. This time the streets around the ground were filled with fans drinking cans. This might not strike you as too strange, but trust me, in Switzerland, this is unusual behaviour.

Zürich FCI should’ve been more suspicious. The reason for this al fresco drinking immediately became apparent when I got into the ground only to find the beer on tap was alcohol free. A tactic in order to try and take the sting out of the atmosphere, and not an unwarranted one. In 2011 a game between the two Zürich sides was abandoned when opposing fans hurled flares at each other and began to brawl.

About 20 minutes before kick-off, the hordes (who had now consumed enough booze to power them through a whole 90 minutes) began to fill the standing end of the FCZ Zürich ‘Ultras’ – the hardcore fans. Basically the complete polar opposite of the stereotypical Zürich native – loud and hurling abuse. This was a derby alright.

Though the two teams share the stadium, this was technically an FC Zürich home game. I’d therefore got myself a ticket in FCZ section stand next door to the ultras terrace. And it proved to be an interesting place to be before a ball had even been kicked.

About 5 minutes before kick off a group of lads in bomber jackets sporting Mohican haircuts unfurled a huge banner that was rolled above the heads of the crowd in the FCZ end, carried above our heads. Being underneath it I have no idea what it said but I assume, this being a derby, it was something derogatory to the Grasshopper fans penned in at the other end of the ground.

This on its own was more excitement than I’d been used to at a Swiss footy match but it turned out the fun had only just started. A few rows in front of us flares began going off beneath the canopy, filling the stand with smoke.

Given that you are unlikely to choke on so much as the words of a song at a home match of my English team Blackburn Rovers match these days, such is the placid nature of the crowd, I had no idea how to react. Even the ultras I’d stood alongside at FCN Nuremberg during a spell in Germany had only ever threatened my respiratory health with the odd cigarette.

Thankfully, before I needed to worry, the canopy was pulled away and the smoke cleared to reveal that the match was underway.

In the paddock next to us the flares continued to burn. An announcement that would be repeated throughout the Game warned the FZC fans that flares weren’t allowed in the stadium. They didn’t care. Having probably spent the working week grafting away in a bank or a pharmaceutical company this was one of their few chances to rebel and they were going to make the most of it.
And it wasn’t long before the goals began to go in. A ridiculous handball in his own box by FCZ defender Yassine Chikhaoui gifted a penalty to the Grasshoppers. In his bright green away strip (what else would a self-respecting Grasshopper wear on his travels?) Izet Hajrovic stepped up to score despite being blinded by a laser from the Ultras end.

And Chikhaoui was the culprit again as Grasshoppers went 2-0 up, this time his attempted block sending a shot looping over the head of his own goalkeeper.

This didn’t stop the FCZ singing and burning flares (I dread to think how they got them into the ground given the extensive frisking given to all fans on the way in) and it didn’t stop FCZ pressing either, before half time they’d reduced the deficit to 2-1 through a penalty of their own.

Fc ZurichThe best bit of play of the match came early in the second half, a lovely interchange of passes saw Chikhoaui redeem himself somewhat by laying the ball off to the penalty scorer Milan Gajic who equalised with a brilliant low strike.

Cue a leap over the hoardings to celebrate in front of the FCZ faithful who responded by, well, setting off more flares of course! Oh, and hurling a few firecrackers for good measure.
It certainly wasn’t a game for the faint hearted, and it proved too much for FCZ goal hero Gajic who had to be taken off to be checked for a cardiac issue.

And the clash wasn’t over there – Grasshoppers showed precisely why they are challenging for the title and FC Zurich aren’t. Two goals from well worked corners, together with some brilliant saves from their goalkeeper, gave them the derby day glory.

It was a real goal-fest and a great experience. The roar from the FCZ fans, even in defeat, was heart-warming. Grasshoppers took the bragging rights, but there was no doubting FC Zurich won the battle of the fans.

So, is the Zurich derby up there with some of the big same-city clashes in European football when it comes to raw tribal rivalry and passion?

Is certainly is. The scorch marks on the roof of the Letzigrund’s south stand and the ringing in my ears serve as testimony to that.

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