Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
The funky frontier city of Basel might be the hotbed of Swiss football culture but the league title has gone to the financial capital of Zürich more than twice as many times.
Switzerland’s largest city is the only one to host a long-running top-flight cross-town rivalry – between record champions Grasshoppers and the more recent winners, working-class FC Zürich (‘FCZ’ or ‘Eff-Tsay-Tszett’).
Each won titles at the last turn of the century – in fact, the Swiss crown didn’t leave Zürich for its first five years.
Both clubs currently share the Letzigrund, built by FCZ members in 1925. Shortly afterwards, Grasshoppers, referred to locally as Grasshopper or GCZ, moved into the nearby Hardturm. It later saw an absurd amount of goals – including a 9-0 and a 7-2– at the 1954 World Cup.
By then, Zürich had long been the headquarters of football’s governing body, FIFA. The city had already enjoyed periods of domination of the domestic game, from Grasshoppers’ first unofficial title in 1898 onwards.
Formed in 1886 by a student from England, Tom Griffith, and adopting the blue and white of Blackburn Rovers, Grasshoppers had already won 14 titles by the time the 1954 World Cup arrived.
City rivals FCZ were created a decade later, with Swiss roots. One of the founding members was Hans Gamper, born locally, who went on to set up FC Barcelona.
As Zürich was rapidly developing as a business and industrial centre, with a major railway station and stock exchange, it attracted a wave of foreign employees. Just as Grasshoppers have a British background, so the local team who won the Swiss title in its second year, was the Anglo-American Club Zürich. Little is known about them today, but the names of the 1899 title winners – Bachelor, Smith, Morris – aren’t exactly Swiss.
Also on the scene were Viktoria, who would become FCZ, Fortuna and, sadly long buzzed their last, Fire Flies Zürich.
The Zürich derby, therefore, is Grasshoppers against FCZ, who have enjoyed their own purple patches since their initial championship of 1902. For short periods of the 1960s, 1970s and 2000s, FCZ overshadowed their richer rivals, who were forced to leave the Hardturm for good in 2007.
The following year, a rebuilt Letzigrund staged three games for Euro 2008 – this time with few goals – and became the shared home for Zürich’s two clubs.
This shared home, though, was to be the Stadion Zürich, built on the site of the demolished Hardturm – the original first choice, in fact, for the city’s Euro 2008 venue. In 2013, after years of legal hurdles, the proposed Stadion Zürich (aka Zürich West) was rejected by nearly 51% of local citizens in a referendum.
Opened in 2016, the FIFA Museum is part of a mainly underground complex unveiled in 2007. See below What to see.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
Zürich’s airport is at Kloten, 13km (eight miles) north of town, linked by regular national rail services and S-Bahn trains (both SF6.60 one way with 1hr onward transport, SF13.20 24hr pass/return, 12min journey time) to the main station and beyond to elsewhere in Switzerland. A taxi (airport recommended +41 848 850 852) should cost about SF70.
City transport consists of trams, buses and S-Bahn lines, tickets available at machines by most stops. A single is SF2.60, a day pass SF5.20/SF8.60.
For regular city taxi 444, call +41 44 444 44 44).
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
Zürich is where strong Hürlimann beer came from, before being taken over by Carlsberg – but you’ll still see plenty of it around the age-old bar hub of Niederdorfgasse, tucked in behind the Limmat embankment on the other side of Bahnhofbrücke from the station.
There, the Züri Bar (No.24) is a real cult/locals’ spot, though it’s lost its touches of FCZ iconography. (Typically, while FCZ fans could gather at a dark bar out of a David Lynch film, Grasshopper supporters convene at the upscale Heugümper restaurant run by the club.) In any case, the Züri leads through to a late-night bar/disco, the Kontiki.
On the same street back towards Bahnhofbrücke, Big Ben is more bar than pub, more celtic-oriented than London-themed, and goes big on rarer ales, Punk IPA and Robinson Old Tom, for example. TV football, too.
Of the expat pubs elsewhere, Kennedy’s near the station is generally the busiest, with a huge terrace and plenty of TVs. Irish-owned Paddy Reilly’s has a large screen and ten plasma ones. The Lion is more refined and restaurant-like – but still has TV sports. Dublin City Irish Pub (‘…where you can discover Irish character’) feels Euro identikit but has a screen in the corner.
Elsewhere, Zürich is dotted with complete curiosities, bar-wise. Kaiser Franz is an arty corner bar, themed after Beckenbauer, a meeting place for the staff of equally cool Swiss football magazine Zwölf.
It also shows football – unlike sport-free Sport, a cocktail hang-out.
The excellent Le Calvados, a self-styled bar sportif, is tastefully done out with images of Zidane, Maradona and Pelé, and pictures of major Swiss players when they were teenagers. Located on Idaplatz, and opening from mid-afternoon, Le Calvados has a full menu – and a busy terrace filling this little square on big-match nights.
It’s in the general direction of the stadium, off Badenerstraße, where the Versus Bar at No.281 is an honest-to-goodness venue for football fans. FCZ iconography decorates a large barroom, with live TV action from around the world. Pre-season closure before 2017-18 is hopefully temporary while more FCZ bunting goes up.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the stadium and city centre
Right by the Letzigrund, the H+ Hotel Zürich is the former Ramada, still business-friendly with a gym and sauna. Also on main Badenerstraße, one tram stop nearer to town, three more hotels are also within easy reach. First, lining a large section of the street, the sleek four-star Crowne Plaza Zurich offers a heated indoor pool, high-spec Holmes Place fitness facilities and a decent breakfast in the LetziLou restaurant.
Around the station, the St Gotthard is a good-standard, renovated four-star dating back to 1888 while the Schweizerhof combines the tradition of a classic railway hotel with contemporary features. Guests gain access to Holmes Place fitness centre nearby.
What to see
The best football attractions in town
Since 1932, FIFA has been based in Zürich. In 2007, a new, glass-fronted headquarters was unveiled, most of the complex actually set underground. Surrounded by a themed garden, off-limits to the public, and sports pitches, the HQ contains a meditation room and time capsule containing bags of earth from all 208 member countries. Apart from the lobby, until recently there was little else to see.
In 2016, a three-floor World Football Museum (Tue-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 9am-6pm; SF24, SF15 7-15s, under 7s free) opened, covering 3,500 square metres, and also containing the Sports Bar 1904, cafeteria and souvenir store.
To reach FIFA, from Bahnhofstraße or the Central tram hub in town, take regular tram 6 to Zürich Zoo, the terminus 15mins away. From here, cross Dreiwiesenstraße and walk a little further down it. To the left, FIFA is signposted, down the little road of FIFA-Straße.