Lake of fire

Now here is a question for you – which place comes next in the following list?

Monte-Carlo, Heidelberg, Salzburg, Florence

Need a clue? OK these are four of the top 5 destinations of choice in Europe according to Tripadvisor. Think Switzerland? Think 14th century bridge across a lake? You lot are rubbish…of course the missing link is Lucerne. Or Luzern …or Lucerna depending if you are feeling French, German or Romansh. Visitors flock to the picturesque small city high in the Alps and on the crystal clear waters of Vierwaldstättersee, or Lake Lucerne for the uneducated.

Since the city straddles the Reuss River where it drains the lake, it has a number of bridges. The most famous is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a 200metre long wooden bridge originally built in 1333, although much of it has been replaced during the years Part way across, the bridge runs by the octagonal Water Tower (Wasserturm), a fortification from the 13th century. The Bridge with its Tower is the city’s most famous landmark.

Ask CMF about my romantic side and she will wax lyrical about some of my more inventive ideas in the past. It’s not always been PSFs (petrol station flowers) and trips to football you know. And Lucerne was a perfect romantic venue, strolling hand in hand along the Kapellbrücke under the moonlight. But you don’t believe me for a minute that is why I was in that city. And you’d be right. CMF was 567 miles away in TBIR Towers and I was sharing the moonlight moment with a hundred or so Grasshoppers fans who were here for the Swiss Cup game against FC Luzern.

The hosts, known as Die Leutchen in Switzerland (and the stars elsewhere) were Swiss champions back in 1989 and were comfortably mid table last season. they can be summed up in one word – Swiss. Their most exciting moment in recent years came when they were asked by the Brazilians to play them in a warm up game prior to the 2006 World Cup. An 8-0 final score line probably wasn’t a shock to many on the day.

Earlier in the season the club moved into the Swissporarena, the newest stadium in the country. The 16,800 capacity state of the art stadium has been built on the site of their old Stadion Allmend and is a combination of some of the best architectural elements of the new Letzigrund Stadion in Zürich on the outside and the blandest of the new stadiums on the inside. Functional is one word you can use to sum it up, although the setting is stunning with the snowy peaks of the Alps looking down on the action.

Of course I would be accompanied on my Swiss Ramble with the Swiss Ramble – Kieron never misses a chance of a game when I am over so he worked out the logistics of the trip, buying the tickets and generally making sure I wouldn’t stray from the straight and narrow.

We headed south from Zürich with the sun slowly falling across the lake.  You pay for beauty in Switzerland and so having only paid £40 for the 45 minute return journey to Luzern I wanted a view in a half.  As Basil Fawlty said to Mrs Richards, “Well, may I ask what you expected to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically…?” . For my £40 I was expecting to see snowy alpine mountains, cows with bells on, St Bernard dogs with brandy bottles around their necks and Sepp Blatter.  I didn’t really see any of that but the lakeside scenery was quite impressive.

Our talk on the way down was the financial state of Swiss football.  After my visit to Neuchâtel in November they went bankrupt and the Super Liga was reduced to 11 teams.  Servette are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy AGAIN despite having an almost spanking new stadium in Geneve, built by the city for Euro2008.  FC Sion have had a number of problems and today’s visitors to Luzern, Grasshoppers, with their six year old struggle of trying to have their own home in Zürich.

We arrived at the ground with just over an hour to kick off.  The stadium is flanked by the snowy mountain tops and you could feel that alpine nip in the air.  The plan was for a few beers so we decided to head inside the Swisspor Arena.  But first we needed a “club card” as it was a cashless stadium.  Such technology has been in place in the Amsterdam ArenA and the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen for some time (in fact I still have cards with cash on for both of them which will more than likely never being used again).  The cards at Luzern at least have a good twist – not only can they be used in the stadium but also in a particular supermarket chain.

Fed, watered and our brains full of some interesting Eighties music playing on the concourses we headed into our seats for the start of the “Biggest game in Switzerland” (on Tuesday 20th March 2012) anyway.

FC Luzern 3 Grasshoppers 0 – Tuesday 20th March 2012 – Swisspor Arena
Prior to the game the talk in the local papers was that if Grasshoppers lost, manager Ciriaco Sforza would be sacked and the favourite to take his job would be the Luzern boss Murat Yakin.  The manner of their defeat in this game will have done nothing to stop those rumours building momentum.  Quite simply for the vast majority of the game they were very poor.  It wasn’t until the 30th minute that they actually ventured into the Luzern penalty area, Yet Sforza simply stood on in the technical area, almost motionless, watching the last chance of glory for the season sailing away over the Alps.

If only the Grasshoppers players showed just 1% of the passion of their fans who were outstanding during the game, never giving up singing and supporting their club, if not the XI on the pitch.  They welcomed the teams onto the pitch with a display of colour and fire, drenching the whole stadium in smoke which took around five minutes to clear, by which time Luzern should have taken the lead after the sprung the offside trap for the first of many occasions.  FC Luzern’s fans weren’t silent though, and their impressive banner, hoisted up from the rafters before the game can be seen here.

In the opening period, Luzern found their way through the Grasshoppers back line but could do little with it.  Time and time again they threatened but didn’t quite pressure the visitors goal.  It was amazing that it took until the 42nd minute for the first goal to come, although it wasn’t surprising which side scored.  Luzern broke down the left and the winger sprinted into the area, reaching the by-line and appearing to have taken it too far.  But Winter managed to pull it back, right into the path of the onrushing Dario Lezcano and he slammed it home.

Half time came and went with no material changes on either side.  In fact Luzern just got stronger and stronger and it was no surprise that they doubled the lead when Nelson Ferreira, he with the silly hair, found himself in space (and a fortunate lack of an offside flag) and slotted the ball home with ease.  Even though there was thirty minutes left on the clock, Grasshoppers looked dead and buried, yet despite the scoreline the fans continued their support.

The game was effectively over but with ten minutes left Claudio Lustenburger headed home to make the score 3-0.  Instead of heading for the exits the away fans just lit a few flares.  One was thrown onto the pitch and despite the presence of stewards and police it was left to the referee to walk over to it and put it out.

Without any delays on ninety minutes, the referee put Grasshoppers out of their misery and their season was effectively over.  For Luzern, second in the table and now in the semi-finals of the cup things were looking up.

We headed for the exits and within fifteen minutes we were on the train.  Unfortunately, the train wasn’t going anywhere.  The Grasshoppers hardcore fans didn’t fancy leaving the stadium or getting on the buses back to the station.  Talk on the forums today was of water cannons, CS gas and rubber bullets being used to try to encourage them.  With a huge armed police presence at the station watching our train it first appeared to be over zealous for just 700 or so fans, but in hindsight perhaps it was needed.

Finally we reached Zürich, thirty minutes late (I did try to claim a refund but they laughed at me – so much for Swiss efficiency!).  Another top evening in great company, and of course a new ground for me.  Whilst I hadn’t exactly seen the beautiful side of one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, it was good to see how a previously unfashionable club were making great strides on and off the pitch.

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