Run by the most controversial figure in the Swiss game, Christian Constantin’s FC Sion are perennial mid-tablers in the league but had the envious record of winning all 13 Swiss Cup finals they appeared in – until the 2017 defeat to FC Basel in Geneva.
Five months later, Constantin hired his twenteenth manager, former Barcelona midfielder Gabri, who played a few games for the Valais side towards the end of his career. Staying true to form, Constantin also made the headlines in 2017-18 for his assault on a TV reporter, leading to a 14-month ban from any Swiss football stadium for the Sion owner.
For all the slings and arrows aimed at Constantin, however, this architect from nearby Martigny saved the club from disaster in 2003. Avoiding bankruptcy, Sion rebounded, competing top-flight for the past ten seasons running.
Also on the plus side, Sion performed credibly in the Europa League in 2015-16, beating Bordeaux away and drawing at Liverpool in the club’s most impressive campaign since 1965. Certainly it improves on the 6-0 aggregate defeat by Celtic in the 2011-12 tournament, a punishment set by UEFA after Sion had won the tie 3-1. The forfeit decision was a consequence of Sion fielding ineligible players – another feature of Constantin’s ownership, along with the frequent sacking and hiring of managers.
Founded by team captain Robert Gilliard in 1909, Sion stayed local league until the 1950s. Gaining promotion to Ligue A in 1962, Sion won their first cup three years later. Key player of the era was René-Pierre Quentin, who scored Switzerland’s only goal at the 1966 World Cup. Sion’s coach was also their left-back, Sarajevo-born Lev Mantula, a veteran of Yugoslavia’s 1954 World Cup campaign.
After moving to the new Stade de Tourbillon in 1968, Sion hired another Yugoslav coach, Miroslav Blažević, ‘Čiro’, of 1998 World Cup fame. His Sion won another Swiss Cup in 1974, and would win another four under three different coaches within a decade.
The high point came in 1991-92. The then cup holders, under former Argentine international Enzo Trossero, trailing Lausanne in the first stage, stormed back in the spring round to take a first league title. Captain Alain Geiger, who had won the cup with his first club, Sion, in 1980, lifted the trophy 15 years after making his debut at the Stade de Tourbillon.
Five years later, under Alberto Bigon, Sion went one better and did the double, the third of three consecutive cup wins. Goals from former Red Star Belgrade striker Vladan Lukić helped Sion skip past Neuchâtel Xamax, again in the final league stage.
Consistently poor in Europe – wins over Marseille and Galatasaray rare highlights over 40 years – Sion then slipped out of the Ligue Nationale A and nearly went out of business altogether in 2003.
Incoming chairman Constantin first had Sion re-admitted to the Nationale B after losing their licence and within three years had the club back in the top flight. Moreover, thanks to an equalising goal from Serb midfielder Goran Obradović, still second-division Sion held Berne to 1-1 in the 2006 Swiss Cup Final then beat the hosts on penalties.
Obradović also opened Sion’s scoresheet in the 2009 final, beating Young Boys 3-2 after going 2-0 down. His last cup win came in 2011, which coincided with the long legal battle over the status of Sion’s Egyptian goalkeeper in their previous final, Essam El-Hadary.
After years of tribunals and appeals, Sion would be effectively thrown out of the Europa League of 2011-12 and lose 36 (!) league points at home through fielding ineligible players.
Constantin was equally capricious when it came to hiring coaches, giving Vladimir Petković barely two weeks and Gennaro Gattuso a month. He even stepped into the post himself.
Later incumbent Didier Tholot, in his third coaching spell at Sion after three as a player, then managed another cup win. The 3-0 victory over FC Basel in 2015 featured an opening strike from Senegalese international Pape Moussa Konaté, also responsible for key goals in Sion’s promising Europa League campaign of 2015-16.
Nestled between a narrow, winding stretch of the Rhône and the Alps, the Stade de Tourbillon was built in 1968. The chalet-like home North Stand adds to the charm – behind, the A9 motorway is barely noticeable as you approach from town.
Named after a medieval castle that overlooks it from the surrounding hilltops, the 14,000-capacity stadium is gradually losing its quaint feel: the wooden benches that used to line the East Stand were replaced by plastic seats in 2011.
With home fans in the standing Tribune Nord, away ones are allocated blocks D5 and D6 in the standing Tribune Sud. VIPs and the press are housed in the Tribune Ouest, the best seats in A2 and A8 facing the decent ones over the halfway line in the Tribune Est, C3-C5.
The stadium is a 20min walk from Sion’s main train station – head straight out to avenue de Tourbillon opposite, bear right and keep following it until the river. Cross it at the junction with rue du Scex and the stadium is ahead of you down rue du Stade.
By bus, take No.BS2 (every 20min) from the station stop by the Orient Express bar. Alight at either Promenade Rhône nearest the Café Le Parc or the next one, Manège 1, near the equestrian centre slightly closer to the stadium. It’s 10min by bus from the station, passing central place du Midi on the way.
Tickets are available at branches of the Post Office, Manor stores and at railway station offices, as well as at the stadium from 90min before kick-off behind the Tribune Est. Online sales are distributed through ticketcorner.ch.
For domestic fixtures, prices start at SF25 in the standing home end, secteur B (Tribune Nord), rising to SF35 in secteurs D1-D3 for home seats behind the opposite goal, Sud. It’s SF55 for excellent seats in secteurs C3-C5 in Tribune Est. There are slight reductions in the cheaper bracket for students, seniors and children aged 6-16. Under sixes enter free.
Kiosks proffering souvenirs are set up around the ground on match days – there is no fixed outlet at the stadium.
The nearest venue is Café Le Parc (route de Vissigen 72), a simple wooden bar with Feldschlössen beer, local Valais wine and a small front terrace. With your back to it, you’ll see the floodlights to your left – just cut through the cluster of residential housing in between.
At the equestrian centre next to the stadium, Le Paladin serves grilled meats, pancakes and cheese fondue, as well as beers – there’s a TV for football action too.
Buvettes around the ground offer local Fendant white wine and red Gamay, as well as beers in 25cl measures. The hospitality tent is for members of the Club des 1000.