Switzerland’s most successful club last won the league crown in 2003. For Grasshopper Club Zürich – ‘GCZ’, known in the English-speaking world as Grasshoppers – this has been a decade to forget, alleviated only by a solitary Swiss Cup win on penalties in 2013.
Groundsharing the Letzigrund with age-old city rivals FC Zürich since 2007, Grasshoppers are little further with the proposed Stadion Zürich than when they vacated their former home of the Hardturm before Euro 2008. In 2013, the local electorate narrowly voted against the city council funding its construction – investors have hardly been beating a path to the private room run by the club at exclusive restaurant Heugümper (‘Grasshopper’) in town.
In 2016-17, average gates dipped below 5,000 and Grasshoppers hovered over the relegation zone. Almost twice that number regularly watched FC Zürich (‘FCZ’) playing lower-division football.
For a club once perceived as representing Zürich’s elite, it feels a long time since the 1980s and 1990s, when Grasshoppers were winning titles and beating the likes of Real Madrid, Ajax and Torino in Europe.
It was an Englishman, Tom Griffith, and pupils from Manchester Grammar School who founded Grasshopper Club Zürich at the start of the new term in 1886. Blue-and-white shirts were obtained from the leading team back in England, Blackburn Rovers.
The following month, the boys arranged a match against Zürich’s Technical College, a goalless draw. Grasshoppers played a first Zürcher Derby against FCZ in 1897, the 7-2 victory also a fixture in the inaugural Swiss league. The next spring, wins over teams from Lausanne and Geneva made Grasshoppers Switzerland’s first champions.
Most players, including GCZ’s, were expats. Anglo-American Club Zürich won the Swiss title the following year. In 1909, Grasshoppers moved to Hard, an industrial district north-west of the city centre by the river Limmat, away from the coffeehouses of the foreign elite.
It was a Hungarian, though, Izidor ‘Dori’ Kürschner, a member of the twice-crowned MTK side of the early 1900s, who introduced tactics. Escaping the chaos of Budapest after World War I, Kürschner came to Switzerland via Germany and became assistant coach of the Swiss Olympic team who gained silver behind later World Cup winners Uruguay at the 1924 Games in Paris.
The two goals that took the Swiss to the final were scored by Max Abegglen, prolific striker at Grasshoppers until 1941. Joined by his brother André for four seasons on Hardturmstraße, ‘Xam’ Abbeglen was a legendary figure who lent his nickname to Neuchâtel Xamax, the home-town club he co-founded in 1916. Under Kürschner’s leadership, Grasshoppers won three titles and two cups, moving to the newly opened Hardturm stadium in 1929.
After Kürschner left to revolutionise coaching in Brazil, he was replaced by the great strategist Karl Rappan, father of catenaccio, whose fluid Grasshoppers side won five more titles.
Grasshoppers provided nearly half the Swiss squad who shocked Germany with a 4-2 win at the 1938 World Cup, two goals coming from André Abegglen and one from a 20-year-old Alfred ‘Fredy’ Bickel, a major figure at the Hardturm until the mid 1950s.
The next great Grasshoppers side came in the 1970s. Under Helmuth Johannsen, who had led Eintracht Braunschweig to a surprise Bundesliga title in 1967, GCZ won the Swiss title, reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup and beat Real Madrid in the European Cup, all in 1978. Leading Bastia 3-2 after the home leg, Grasshoppers missed out on the UEFA Cup final when strikers Ruedi Elsener and Claudio Sulser failed to score on a quagmire in Bastia.
Stalwart midfielder Heinz Hermann, still the record-holder for Swiss caps, stayed at the Hardturm to win three consecutive titles for Grasshoppers in the early 1980s. Always edging Servette by the narrowest of margins, GCZ gained a third straight crown in 1984 thanks to an extra-time penalty by André Egli in the play-off in Berne.
Later that decade, still in his thirties, Ottmar Hitzfeld arrived as coach, having worked miracles at his first major post at Aarau. Bringing over New Zealand striker Wynton Rufer and young midfielder Ciriaco Sforza, Hitzfeld won the Swiss Cup in his first season, the double in 1990, then the title again in 1991. Snapped up by Dortmund, Hitzfeld left for a gilded career in Germany’s Bundesliga.
Two years later, Zürich-born Christian Gross, a GCZ midfielder as a boy, took over coaching duties. Already on the books was teenage defender Murat Yakin, fashioned by Gross into a cultured centre-back of international renown. Alongside, Ramon Vega had already won the championship under Hitzfeld when only 19. Grasshoppers took back-to-back titles in 1995 and 1996, competing in the group stages of the Champions League, before Gross left for a miserable time at Tottenham, taking Vega with him. Yakin headed for Stuttgart but returned to play under Gross and make Basel the dominant force in the Swiss game.
Back at the Hardturm, Gross signings Viorel Moldovan and Kubilay Türkyilmaz provided the goals to grant Grasshoppers a 25th title in 1998. GCZ then failed to get past Gheorghe Hagi’s Galatasaray in the subsequent Champions League qualifying stage.
With the surprise buy from Dortmund of star Swiss international Stéphane Chapuisat, still in his prime, and dead-ball expert Richard Núñez from Danubio of Montevideo, Grasshoppers won a dramatic title play-off round in 2001. Despite their goals in high-scoring European ties against Porto and Leeds but GCZ failed to progress in the Champions League and UEFA Cup.
Persuaded to quit as successful coach of St Gallen in 2002, Marcel Koller returned to the club where he had won seven titles as a GCZ player. With Núñez still imperious, Grasshoppers pipped Basel to the title in 2003 but a late strike from the Uruguayan wasn’t enough to take to Athens in the final qualifier of the Champions League.
Before leaving for Atlético Madrid, the South American had one more trick up his sleeve, the winning goal in extra-time of GCZ’s remarkable 6-5 win over city rivals FCZ in the semi-final of the Swiss Cup in 2004. Grasshoppers then lost to underdogs FC Wil in the final.
Behind the scenes, financial and boardroom upheavals saw a swift turnover of coaches – Koller’s departure from the only club he ever played for wasn’t purely because of defeat by AEK Athens. Old boys Sforza and Alain Geiger also came and went as FC Zürich and Basel monopolised the Swiss championship.
The demolition of the Hardturm and subsequent failure to set up a new-build groundshare with FC Zürich in its place have dictated economics since 2007. The one-season managerial reign of Uli Forte in 2012-13 brought the best results in a decade – another cup semi-final win over FCZ in extra-time then a penalty shoot-out to snatch the trophy from Basel – before the former Red Star Zürich defender was lured by more money at Young Boys Berne.
Zürich-born Albanian attacking midfielder Shkëlzen Gashi stayed, though, repeating his swashbuckling form to take Grasshoppers to a second consecutive runners-up spot and pushing Lyon close in a Champions League qualifier. Gashi, too, had gone by the time Lille swatted Grasshoppers aside in the same competition a year later.
Opened in 1925, the rebuilt Letzigrund has been the main stadium in Zürich since GCZ’s Hardturm was closed in 2007 and this arena became the groundshare home of both the city’s top clubs.
Grasshoppers supporters occupy the Fancurve GC in Sektor B, B13-B16, at the Baslerstraße end of the ground. Away fans are allocated blocks 27-31 in Sektor D on Badenerstraße.
For more stadium information and details of Transport and Bars, see Letzigrund.
Tickets are sold online via the GCZ website and on the day from the Tageskassen on Baslerstraße. These open 1hr before kick-off or 90min if Basel or St Gallen are the visitors. Payment is Swiss francs in cash or by credit card. A voluntary SF1 contribution to a Swiss sports fund (SHF) can be added online – an across-the-board SF5 levy is charged for match-day purchases.
Standard prices are set at SF25 for the home end (Fancurve GC or adjoining sectors B9-B13), SF20 for away fans to sit or stand, SF50 in the sideline Gegentribüne and SF70 in the main Haupttribüne.
Under-26s and under-16s are charged the same price, SF20, in the home end, SF35/SF25 in the Gegentribüne and SF50/SF35 in the Haupttribüne. There are no reductions in the away sector. Under-6s are admitted free.
With the closure of the club store on Häringstraße, the main outlet for Grasshoppers merchandise in Zürich is at general football store Fussball-Corner Oechslin, Schaffhauserplatz 10, in District 6 north of the river. It’s right by Schaffhauserplatz tram stop, on the same No.2 line as the Letzigrund.
On match days, a stand sets up on the corner of Baslerstraße and Herderenstraße, and the club runs an extensive online operation, with retro shirts from the Chapuisat era, flip-flops, sew-on patches (remember those?) and cigarette lighters.
As well as the many bars and restaurants near the ground – see Letzigrund – there are two venues in the city particularly geared towards Grasshoppers.
Opened in 2011, Sächs Foif refers in local dialect both its address – Heinrichstraße 65, near Limmatplatz tram stop – and the scoreline of the epic Swiss Cup semi-final of 2004, city rivals FCZ on the receiving end, of course. It’s very much a GCZ fans’ bar, closed whenever Grasshoppers have an away game, but otherwise decorated with classic line-ups down the decades, set against logo’d blue-and-white wallpaper. There’s TV football, too.
Management and business clients gather at the club’s upstairs restaurant of the well-to-do Heugümper, right in town on Waaggasse near Paradeplatz. Accessed via a staircase lined with tasteful black-and-white photos of famous GCZ players and classic match action, it opens to the general public on weekday lunchtimes. The restaurant itself only operates for daytime and evening meals Monday to Friday, main courses in the SF35 range on the weekly changing lunch menu, SF50 à la carte.