LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

FC Basel

Rotblau’s title run dries up but Europe always beckons

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Founded in 1893 by Hans Kamper, the later Joan Gamper who also founded FC Barcelona, FC Basel are the top dogs of Swiss football. Title winners eight times running, conquerers of Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United in recent European appearances, FC Basel have dominated the Swiss game since the turn of the millennium.

After that fateful founder’s meeting at the turn of the last century, though, it took FCB (‘Eff-Tsey-Bey’) exactly 40 years to gain a major honour. The 4-3 win over Grasshoppers Zürich in 1933 not only brought the Swiss Cup to Basel, it instigated a long and bitter rivalry between FCB and the two clubs from Switzerland’s banking capital.

A league title didn’t come until exactly 60 years after FCB’s foundation, thanks to 32 goals in 26 games from Seppe Hügi. Basel-born Hügi was also the hero a year later, his brace sending Italy out of the 1954 World Cup.

FC Basel Museum/Peterjon Cresswell

The game was played at the St Jakob Park, built for the tournament. ‘Joggeli’ replaced Der Landhof, where FCB had played since 1893.

The club’s first golden era came in the 1960s and 1970s, with seven titles in 13 years. After another cup win over Grasshoppers in 1963, FCB hit a purple patch under coach Helmut Benthaus. Swiss captain Karl Odermatt and later managerial legend Ottmar Hitzfeld provided and scored the goals.

With Hitzfeld leading the line, FCB won back-to-back championships in 1972 and 1973, and played with reasonable distinction in Europe until Benthaus left in 1982.

A fallow period ended with manager Christian Gross, and coincided with the reconstruction of St Jakob Park. Under Gross, FCB won the double in 2002, Basel-born striker Hakan Yakin scoring a goal every other game. Argentine strike partnership Julio Rossi and Christian Giménez starred in the subsequent Champions League campaign, beating Liverpool in the group stage. The decisive 3-3 draw with the Reds at the Joggeli lives in the memory.

St Jakob Park/Peterjon Cresswell

As FCB continued to win titles, the rivalry with FC Zürich boiled over into a riot in the title decider of 2006. With FCB on a record unbeaten run, and holding back-to-back championships, FCZ’s Iulian Filipescu scored a last-minute winner to steal the crown. During the subsequent pitch invasion, Filipescu was attacked and incidents went on into the night.

After Gross, ex-Bayern star Thorsten Fink came in, signing Basel-born Alexander Frei from Dortmund and blooding from FCB’s impressive youth set-up.

In 2010 saw the first of six consecutive titles, a double win, repeated in 2012. In between, under caretaker manager Heiko Vogel, FCB beat Manchester United 2-1 at the Joggeli. Frei’s late second goal sent Basel to the last 16 of the Champions League, a first.

FC Basel shop-museum/Peterjon Cresswell

Bringing in swift Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah, Basel recovered from a shock defeat to CFR Cluj to set the Europa League alight in 2012-13. Holding Spurs to two 2-2 draws in the quarter-finals, Basel won the penalty shoot-out, only to fall to Chelsea in the semi-final.

Penalties went against FCB in the 2013 Swiss Cup Final with Grasshoppers but they bounced back in 2013-14 to qualify for the Champions League group stage. Beating a complacent Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Basel repeated the feat at home but still failed to make the knock-out rounds.

Title-winners again in 2014, FCB brought in Paulo Sousa as coach and soon had the Joggeli rocking with a 1-0 win over Liverpool in the Champions League. A 5-1 defeat to Real Madrid had hardly been the ideal start for the Rotblau, who recovered to gain a crucial 1-1 draw in the last group game at Anfield. Reaching the heady heights of the knock-out round, FCB went ahead early at home to Porto but superior experience won out.

FC Basel shop/Peterjon Cresswell

Missing out on Champions League football in 2015-16 – Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s Eran Zahavi has the stupendous knack of scoring vital goals in vital qualifiers – FCB faced their recently departed manager Paulo Sousa when fate pitted them against Fiorentina in the Europa League. Incoming Basel coach Urs Fischer would have taken huge satisfaction from his team overturning a 1-0 deficit in Florence to win 2-1, then a 2-0 deficit at the Joggeli to draw 2-2 with the Italians.

After beating St-Étienne in the first knock-out round thanks to a late, late goal from Luca Zuffi, Basel then succumbed to holders Sevilla. Winless in the subsequent Champions League group stage of 2016-17, FCB still dominated the domestic game, doing the double thanks to goals from on-loan Ivorian Seydou Doumbia.

A complete change in the boardroom, and the pre-season promotion of FCB youth coach Raphäel Wicky to the first-team bench, have not met with optimal results in the league for 2017-18.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

The 38,500-capacity St Jakob Park, or ‘Joggeli’, is two miles south-east of the city centre, part of a shopping complex and opposite a group of sports halls and arenas.

This is not the St Jakob of elegant 1950s design built for the 1954 World Cup, but a late 1990s rebuild, inaugurated in 2001, for Euro 2008.

FC Basel’s first home was Der Landhof, part pitch, part velodrome, on the other side of the Rhine, also used for events such as the visit of cowboy Buffalo Bill.

Though moving to the Joggeli after 1954, FCB played at Der Landhof until 1967.

Set beside a railway line on one side and the St Alban stream on another, there was little room for expansion when Basel was awarded hosting rights for Euro 2008. The solution was to rebuild.

St Jakob Park/Peterjon Cresswell

Carried out by Basel-based architects Herzog & De Meuron, of Tate Modern and Allianz Arena fame, this reconstruction cost some SF 220 million and created a three-floor retail complex of some 30 shops.

While capacity for Euro 2008 was 42,500, seats were later removed to provide more spectator comfort, reducing the maximum accommodation to 38,500. Considering the huge numbers heading from Liverpool, the wisdom of holding the 2016 Europa League Final at such a relatively small arena was questioned.

Today’s Joggeli comprises four stands, lettered A-D, A being the main stand with the best seats, and bars and restaurants behind it. Stands B and home end D are behind the goals. Away fans are allocated sectors B1 and B2 between Stand A and B.

GETTING THERE

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The St Jakob has its own train station behind Stand C, with a regular direct connection (8min) with Basel SBB station on match days only.

Regular transport is provided by tram 14 (direction Pratteln) that runs every 7min from downtown Barfüsserplatz eight stops away. It also passes through Aeschenplatz, linked by tram 15 to the station. Allow 10-12mins from town. The tram drops you right by Main Stand A.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

There’s a ticket office (Mon-Fri 9.30am-6.30pm, Sat 9am-6pm) at the back of the club shop behind Stand A, as well as distribution through the more modest souvenir outlet near the train station, the Fanshop Markus Vogel (Küchengasse 16; Tue-Fri 11am-6.30pm, Sat 10am-5pm). German-language online sales are also available but require registration.

The best seats in Stand A are SF65-75, while  a decent spot in Stand C opposite is SF48-59. Tickets behind the goals, and in the away sector are SF25.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Behind Stand A, the FC Basel Shop (Mon-Fri 9.30am-6.30pm, Sat 9am-6pm, match days) stocks a weird array of souvenirs, from doormats to FCB-branded condoms. In an underpass near the station, the Fanshop Markus Vogel (Küchengasse 16; Tue-Fri 11am-6.30pm, Sat 10am-5pm) offers a more modest selection.

At the back of the main store is a ticket office, beside which is a discreet FCB Museum. Among the artefacts in a handful of display cases is a photo of the teams before Basel took on the great Uruguay side, Olympic champions in 1924.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The only venue near the ground is the Wirthaus St Jakob (St.Jakobs-Straße 377), a traditional restaurant that has been serving guests since 1526. Closed on Sundays and Mondays unless there’s an FCB game, the Wirtshaus comprises a terrace and several rooms, the main one displaying historic images of the city. It’s beside the stadium, diagonally opposite the tramstop.

At the stadium, behind Stand A, the Rotblau Bar-Bistro, formerly the Hattrick Sport Bar, is decorated with old newspaper cuttings outside, tasteful football iconography, sundry Americana and ‘Hopp Schwiiz’ scarves. In a large bar-room centrepieced by an equally large island bar, the menfolk can lay into big burgers and Schlossgold beers while kids get their own menu and a table football table. There should be a stash of cult local football monthlies Fuss Bâle by the door.