Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sometime in the midst of the 70s vast survey was conducted in Europe, looking for the most popular sport and the social position of the sportsman. Football was – predictably – number one, except for 4-5 countries, having a lot of snow. The only surprise was Republic of Ireland, but Switzerland, belonging to the snowy states, was not. As for social position, the football player did not count anywhere – people still preferred their children to become doctors, lawyers, and teachers. Footballers ranked very low, no matter how much money and fame the profession was bringing already. Solid, quiet, traditional useful professions were much more desirable and respectful. And which country would be more solid, quiet, and respectful than Switzerland where trains run on time, streets were clean, people serious, and business sound and fair. No wonder the clock is the ‘symbol’ of Switzerland… and football there – lowly, and – as respectful things go – boring. Flamboyant fun and unpredictable artistry belonged to the unruly South… and not surprisingly in football terms the Swiss – so far – were hardly famous: they organized and hosted the World Cup in 1954 and had Karl Rappan. Not much for otherwise long football history, since the game started earlier in Switzerland than most countries. Well… Rappan was Austrian, but never mind… Swiss football was solid and sound, topped by their tidy 14-team first division. Period. Period? Swiss football was as mysterious as the Greek one – the Greeks run officially ‘non-professional’ league in which professional clubs and players kicked the ball. They did not officially allow foreign players, yet imported since 1959. Their football was ridden with corruption and scandals. But what can you expect from the South? Sound and fair game belongs to the Swiss… usually the Swiss football was called ‘semi-professional’, notoriously unclear term. When Ferenc Puskas, Zoltan Czibor, and Sandor Kocsis defected from Communist Hungary in 1956, the Hungarian Federation complained and FIFA and UEFA banned the defectors from playing anywhere. Kocsis played for Young Fellows (Zurich) until the ban was lifted – in the 1957-58 season he scored 7 goals in 11 games for the Swiss club. So, the Swiss did not really follow ‘sound and fair’… but even more curious is the club enjoying the services of the great star: Young Fellows are obscurity today (actually, they don’t exist anymore – they merged with another club), and were pretty obscure back in the 1950s as well. Lowly, yet able to disregard FIFA and EUFA, and pay for a world class star. In 1972 Otmar Hitzfeld played for Basel specifically to be able to maintain amateur status and play at the Olympic games for West Germany. His Swiss teammates were not considered amateurs, though… at least not the national players. Let’s imagine that stateless Kocsis was living on donations for refugees; Hitzfeld – on German welfare cheques, or student grant, or was born rich; and the countless Yugoslavians were ordinary gastarbeiters, playing football after 8-hour shift in the clock factories… but imagination ends in 1973, when Teofilo Cubillas joined Basel. Can you imagine, that the best ever Peruvian player went to Switzerland just because liked the snow of the Alps better than the snow of the Andes? Cubillas was professional player and nothing else. The ‘semi-professional’ football was no longer mostly ‘amateur’, it seems… but was it elevated to fully professional? Looks similar to Greece… although football is structurally murky: except for North America, even today theoretically an amateur club can climb up to first division and win a title. Less theoretically, it is possible to win the national cup of any country. In reality – never happens, but it is not impossible by the rules. And may be because of that there was no need to announced fully professional football in Switzerland, but by 1975 there was no doubt that it was professional.
Basel, by then without Hitzfeld and Cubillas, were good enough to win the Cup.
No amateurs here… Basel still strong, but beginning to give way to others – Swiss football never had really dominant club. FC Zurich, traditionally strong and one of the ‘usual suspects’, won the championship. They did the same the previous year, so they were not just one-time wonder. However, in 1974 they finished 12 points ahead of the second placed Grasshoppers – in 1975 Zurich was only 6 points above Young Boys. They also lost more matches then 1973-74 – 6 in total, vs only one the previous year. Either Swiss football was becoming more competitive, or the champions weaker… but who would criticize winners?
Front, left to right: Rene Botteron, Daniel Jeandupeux, Max Heer, Karl Grob, Kobi Kuhn.
Back row: Ilija Katic, Pirmin Stierli, Renzo Bionda, Hilmar Zigerlig, Rosario Martinelli, Ernst Rutschmann.

As a whole, typical Swiss team… good, solid, sound… far from greatness. The West German coach Timo Konietzka was the mastermind, but he was, at best, solid professional. The team had one of the best Swiss players at the time – Kobi Kuhn. Had perhaps the second-best goalkeeper in the country. Had foreign attackers – the Yugoslav Ilija Katic and the Italian Rosario Martinelli – who were strong enough for Switzerland, but hardly real stars. But it also had two young players, who were considered the big hope of Swiss football: Botteron and Jeandupeux. With players like that it looks like the Swiss were destined for better days… since in the 70s long hairs indicated greatness, Botteron had hair so long, that there was no doubt he was to pull out the Swiss game from mediocrity. However… Jeandupeux moved to play in France and Botteron got a haircut… and the Swiss had to wait until the 1990s, when to be a football player was preferable than to be a schoolteacher.