The third most successful club in Swiss football history has been out of the limelight for most of the 21st century. In fact, until promotion from the second-tier Challenge League in May 2019, all Servette FC had to show for the last two decades was two cases of bankcruptcy and the solitary Swiss Cup win of 2001.
Based at the Stade de Genève since 2003, Servette won all of their 17 Swiss titles when based in the district they were named after, on the unfashionable right bank of the Rhône. Formed as a rugby club in 1890, its soccer section formed in 1900, les Grenats won a first championship in 1907, beating Young Fellows Zürich in one of the earliest games to be settled after extra-time in the play-off in Berne. Servette’s regular home was the Parc des Sports. The modest ground saw plenty of goals in the 1917-18 campaign, the prolific Robert Pache later starring for Switzerland in the Olympic football final of 1924.
Swiss coach for that tournament was Teddy Duckworth, a former Blackpool winger who led Servette to four more league titles in under ten years before the influential Karl Rappan took the helm in the early 1930s. As player-coach of Servette, the former Rapid Vienna wing-half adapted the classic 2-3-5 formation of the day to deploy a line of four at the back. This so-called verrou was soon mutated into catenaccio by the top ltalian teams of the post-war era.
As national coach, Rappan led his Swiss team to beat Germany at the 1938 World Cup and Italy at the 1954 finals, played in Switzerland.
By then, the Parc des Sports had become the Stade des Charmilles, built on the same site in 1930. Squeezed in by factory walls, it had a grey, industrial feel few would otherwise associate with picture-postcard Geneva.
After the war, Rappan returned to Servette, who could now count on the indefatigable Jacky Fatton for goals. In his 20-year career, most of it spent at Charmilles, Fatton was record Swiss League scorer in three different decades, helping bring four league titles to Geneva. His vital strikes for Switzerland included an equalising brace against tournament favourites Brazil in 1950, and a late fourth goal to see off Italy 4-1 in 1954.
Although Fatton missed out on Servette’s European Cup debut in 1955 – Real Madrid also making their bow in Geneva, in the tournament they would dominate – his return coincided with further European nights, and a hat-trick against Dukla Prague in 1961.
By then he had been joined by three key Hungarians, members of the national youth side also stranded abroad while the 1956 Uprising raged in Budapest, Péter Pázmándy, Valér Németh and Dezső Makay. The Magyar expat trio would not play European games behind the Iron Curtain – Dukla duly won that away leg in 1961.
Pázmándy returned as coach, his championship-winning side of 1979 includig another Servette hero. Umberto Barberis, Berto to all, linked up with Dutch midfielder, later head of youth development at Liverpool, Piet Hamberg, earning les Grenats a rare double. The pair scored within five minutes of each other when Servette overcame Young Boys 3-2 in the cup final replay.
Stalwart defensive midfielder Marc Schnyder was also in the Servette side that won the league six years later, with fellow international Jean-Paul Brigger scoring the goals. Centre-back Alain Geiger went to win 112 caps for Switzerland – and return to lead Servette back to the Super League as coach in 2019.
A mercurial half-season performance by later Monaco and Lyon star Sonny Anderson, just arrived from Brazil, helped Servette to the league crown in 1994, German World Cup star Oliver Neuville chipping in with vital strikes.
With Swiss international Alexandre Rey scoring the goals, another title arrived in 1999, meaning that Servette had won the league at least once every decade throughout the 20th century.
With a new arena, the Stade de Genève, being built at La Praille, south of town, a bright future seemed assured.
Claiming the scalps of Slavia Prague, Zaragoza and Hertha Berlin, Swiss international Alexander Frei among the goals, cup-holders Servette enjoyed a colourful European run in 2002-03, a rare foray into spring when a very useful Valencia side ended their progress in the UEFA Cup.
Servette again qualified for Europe after the first season of the Swiss Super League, to be easily defeated by Újpest of Hungary – then declared bankrupt halfway through 2004-05.
Playing two divisions down, and fielding their Under-21 side, Servette slowly climbed back up, and won a memorable promotion play-off against Bellinzona in 2011, Brazilian striker Eudis the lynchpin.
A creditable campaign saw Servette even qualify for Europe by the back door, a late away goal by Rosenborg Trondheim ending another European dream.
Relegated in 2013, Servette were again in dire financial straits by 2015, when the Swiss FA refused the club a licence to compete in the second-tier Challenge League. This meant third-tier football – and rare derby fixtures against Étoile Carouge – in 2015-16.
It needed three tries but, under Alain Geiger, Servette eventually gained promotion from the second flight in 2019. A crowd of 20,000-plus witnessed the club’s 3-1 win over nearest rivals Lausanne that May. Fittingly, Bosnian international Miroslav Stevanović was on the scoresheet, his goals keeping Servette in contention since 2017.
The 30,000-capacity Stade de Genève has seen a lot of prestigious football since opening in 2003, the national sides of Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Spain all using it for showcase friendlies. It also hosted the likes of Bruce Springsteen and The Police.
But in terms of club football, the move here from the old Stade des Charmilles ground has coincided with the worst period in Servette’s history. Unwanted firsts have included bankruptcy, relegation and lower-flight football.
Now back in the Super League, Servette are expected to attract five-figure crowds once more.
The pitch is the same top-quality Mixto Hybrid Grass as used at Real Madrid, Ajax and Atlético Bilbao. Around it, up close, are four stands: the Tribune Nord for home fans and Sud for visiting supporters behind each goal, the main Tribune Principale and Tribune Est opposite, which isn’t open every game.
Around the ground is La Praille, a hotel and retail complex with chain cafés and eateries.
The easiest way to reach the stadium is to take the train to Lancy-Pont-Rouge – they usually leave every 15min from main Cornavin station, platform 2. Journey time is 5min, single ticket SF3. Trains back run past 10.30pm, even on a Sunday.
From the station, you’re 5min from the nearest transport stop of P&R Étoile. From there, it’s a 7-8min walk along the main road of route des Jeunes to the stadium or jump on bus D, 21 or 43 one stop to Stade de Genève. The stadium is on your right.
Alternatively, bus D runs directly from central hubs Stand, Palladium and Jonction, overall journey time 10-15min.
Availability shouldn’t be a problem at Servette. Advance tickets are distributed through ticketcorner outlets such as the one at La Praille by the stadium, at Swiss post offices, large department store Manor on rue de Cornavin in town. The club shop, the Boutique des Grenats (Wed-Fri 11.30am-6.30pm, Sat 11am-6pm, 1hr before kick-off) at the stadium also sells tickets.
Online sales are French-only.
On match days, the ticket windows open 1hr before kick-off.
For Super League games, the cheapest admission is in the home end, Tribune Nord, SF23 in advance, SF28 on the day – these tickets do not specify a certain seat. Students and seniors pay SF18/SF23. For numbered seating over the halfway line in the Tribune Principale, it’s SF55/SF60, SF44/SF49 for students and seniors. If the Tribune Est is open, it’s SF35/SF40, SF28/SF33. Children aged 6-16 are charged SF10/SF15 across the board.
La Boutique des Grenats (Wed-Fri 11.30am-6.30pm, Sat 11am-6pm, 1hr before kick-off) at the stadium sells maroon or white away tops at SF100 (!), scarves and flags, as well as match tickets.
Many gather at Molino, a standard Italian restaurant with a terrace, alongside the Ramada Encore hotel and part of La Praille retail centre. A house Molino pizza with ham and mozzarella will set you back SF23 but on match days they’re used to supporters just ordering a small Moretti (SF6.50) or half-litre of Erdinger Weissbier (SF8.50).
There are few alternatives in the area – a couple of bland eateries around P&R Étoile are barely worth the bother.