Saturday, July 19, 2014

FC St Gallen – BSC Young Boys (15-03-2014)

It takes us around 2.5 hours to drive the 250 km from Stuttgart to St. Gallen, in part because we are not stopped at the German-Swiss border – the last time T and I tried this, the Swiss border guard inspected our car for almost 30 minutes! We arrive well in time for the game, despite getting lost in St. Gallen.

To be honest, I had never heard of FC St. Gallen before planning this trip. They have never really been a major team in Swiss football, for a long time yo-yo-ing between the first and second divisions. This not withstanding, they were founded in 1879, which makes them the oldest existing team in Switzerland and, according to Wikipedia, continental Europe!

Today FC St. Gallen plays in the Swiss Super League, the country’s First Division. Its home is the AFG Arena, a beautiful modern stadium, completed in 2008. It has a capacity of 19,694 and currently doubles as home for FC Wil, a team from the Swiss Challenge League (Second Division), which is building a new stadium to meet the Swiss Football League’s standards.

The stadium is situated above a shopping mall. We park in the parking garage under the mall and walk through the largely closed but clean shopping mall to the stadium. Welcome to football in the 21st century! At the surprisingly makeshift ticket office we buy tickets for the standing-only home section behind the goal. The tickets cost 25 CHF ( 20.50) a piece, which isn’t too bad for a top division game in a comfortable stadium in a very expensive country.

We walk past the ‘ultras’ of the home team as we make our way up the stairs. The stadium is quite full and had a good, organized, atmosphere for a Swiss game. While I estimate that there are some 6,000 people in the stadium – almost exclusively white and (upper) middle class – they later announce that the official attendance is 13,157, which seems a wild exaggeration. A quite decent number of fans, some 300, have made the 200 km trip from Berne to support their Young Boys (YB), one of the most successful clubs in Swiss football.

The game is not overly exciting even though the quality is pretty decent. The plays are technically competent and the teams play tactically quite well. The pace isn’t too high though and creativity is rare. The first chance is only in the 20th minute: a header for FC St. Gallen. Two minutes later a home player is lucky to get the ball and shoots at the YB goalie.

In the 24th minute YB gets a corner. The goalie saves the shot but the rebound header finds the net: 0-1. Just two minutes later a FC St. Gallen player breaks through, gets around the goalie, and scores: 1-1. Looks like we are having a game now!

YB responds by creating two good chances, but both shots are saved by the FC St. Gallen goalie. Over all the football is pretty decent: YB is better, but FSG works harder. Half time score is 1-1.

The second half is much less impressive. The quality of the game drops dramatically. YB defends very deep, hardly tries to play, while FSG dominates but doesn’t create any real chances. This notwithstanding, the home fans continue their singing of largely unoriginal songs.

When a YB forward makes two nasty fouls within 5 minutes he gets two yellows (and therefore red) and has to leave. This gives the fans some hope, but the game doesn't really change much. FSG just doesn't have enough quality to score. Final score: 1-1.

In many ways this was a very modern football experience. A modern stadium integrated in a shopping mall with significant comfort and well-behaved affluent fans. At the same time, the atmosphere was surprisingly good for a small Swiss team.

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