We got off the bus and looked around us, is this right? Weren’t we supposed to meet for dinner, shouldn’t that be in a restaurant, why were we directed to a football stadium?
“The stadium?” I motioned to our host with my eyes and followed her after her affirmative.
We had walked into the homeground of the local football club, FC St Gallen.
Founded in April 1879, FC St Gallen is the oldest active football club in Switzerland and their home stadium of Kybunpark holds just under 20,000 fans. In comparison to the larger clubs in Switzerland, FC St Gallen has a very empty trophy cabinet and is a middle-table team. They play in the Swiss Super League, a ten team league dominated by four larger teams – FC Basel, FC Zurich, Young Boys and Grasshopper Zurich.
Europe has some of the most exciting and high-powered football leagues in the world each with their own stars and stories the paramount four are quite clearly the English Premier League, German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga and the Italian Serie A. The Swiss League doesn’t register in comparison, but their teams do put up solid performances in Europe.
Back to FC St Gallen, despite its middling performances, it can claim some very passionate fans in the ultras of the club, the Espenblock.
Football Ultra’s are a phenomenon in every country and every league. These are the fan clubs made up of hard core supporters, who stick with the team through thick and thin. Ultra’s have had a bad reputation especially when their passion sometimes spills over as criminality – I define it as stupidity in the heat of the moment. In an attempt to bring in more ticket paying fans, not a few club owners have taken on the ultras and tried to clamp down their activity. Ultra’s however have a vital role to play in the success of a club – they are the fans who are create cheers and chants, who add atmosphere to a stadium. They are usually what can be fairly defined at the 12th men, those fans who make the stadium a fortress and those who travel to hostile away stadiums to cheer their team on.
While FC Basel and Swiss League football doesn’t always perform, Swiss national football certainly does that’s because almost all their top players play in the more prominent leagues, especially the Bundesliga and Serie A (and some in the BPL). It’s main players include Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka and Haris Seferovic. The team doesn’t play samba, all out attacking football but true to its national attributes plays some very efficient football. Consider that the Swiss national team was placed 6th coming into the Russia World Cup 2018, and its team while unfashionable is a solid reliable team.
It may be out of the World Cup already but considering how small the country is (8 million people), they gave a very credible performance to break out of the group stage.
But this stadium wasn’t just a stadium though. It was small but the planners clearly had other things in mind when designing the stadium. I don’t know of any stadium that builds a whole shopping mall underneath it and includes brands such as H&M, Zara, Esprit, Pandora and IKEA. A shopping mall in a stadium, that’s a first for me. I slipped back in to the stadium after slipping out to check out the premises.
The event had concluded and night had fallen on the city, the stadium was lit up with a wonder light-works display, it was really rather attractive.
I sat at the bench while the others continued their conversations, “this club may not win too many league titles, but they sure know how to light up their stadium and make money.”
“Well… we are in St Gallen after all”
ON THE MAP