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When talking about football outside of Europe’s top ranked leagues, the Swiss league might only ever get a passing mention. Qualification into the Champions League group stage would be a huge achievement, similarly some of Switzerland’s teams in the Europa League would be targeting knock-out football after Christmas as a definite marker of success for a season.
Since the introduction of the Swiss Super League in 2003 FC Basel have completely dominated domestically, winning eleven titles in sixteen seasons including eight-in-a-row from 2010 – 2017. However the scrap for second and third, the much coveted Europa League spots, is fiercely contested with a whole host of clubs filling the spots over the last fifteen or so years.
BSC Young Boys, Grasshopper Club Zürich, FC Thun, FC Sion, Servette FC, FC Zürich, FC Lugano, FC Luzern and FC St. Gallen are all clubs that have finished in the Super League’s top 3 in recent times. However it is the last club on that list, FC St. Gallen that we are going to have a closer look at.
FC St. Gallen are based in the city of St. Gallen, the largest city in the canton of St. Gallen. Similarly how the USA is divided into 50 states, Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons. The canton of St. Gallen is located in the North-East of the country bordering Liechtenstein and Austria, and is only separated from Germany by Lake Constance.
Given its geographical location and history of settlers, St. Gallen has a very heavy German influence. German is the primary language in the area, often referred to as Sankt Gallen. Immigration accounts for around 25% of St. Gallen’s population, with Germans and Italians being the main two nationalities of these immigrants.
Fussballclub St. Gallen was founded in 1879, making it the oldest club in Swiss football and one of the oldest clubs from mainland Europe still in operation today.
Throughout their long history the club have only managed two top-flight Swiss League victories in the 1903/04 season and then almost one-hundred years later in the 1999/2000 season. They added a Swiss Cup in 1969 but that is all of their victories in the country’s two premier competitions. They have had some European adventures (which we will revisit later) but no major successes. So all in all, not an overly illustrious history.
FC St. Gallen play their home games at Kybunpark. This relatively new stadium was opened in 2008 and has a capacity just shy of 20,000. There is a standing section of around 4500 which is open for domestic football but not European games. The Swiss national team also use Kybunpark for some home games and in their six competitive games there they boast a 100% record.
As alluded to previously St. Gallen have had some European adventures in various forms of European cup competitions; the Europa League, the UEFA Cup & the Intertoto Cup. Without having had any major success and only reaching the group stages once in the 2013/14 season, St. Gallen have quite a formidable home record.
They famously drew 0-0 with Inter Milan in 1985, an Inter team with players such as Liam Brady and Marco Tardelli. Meanwhile since the turn of the century Club Brugge, Steaua Bucharest, Spartak Moscow, Swansea City and Kuban Krasnodar have all left St. Gallen with a point at best.
But what is valued as their greatest achievement in European was their defeat of Chelsea FC in the 2000/2001 UEFA Cup.
Having won the Swiss First Division the previous season they were awarded a place in the Champions League qualifiers, drawing European giants Galatasaray SK. They were narrowly beaten 4-3 on aggregate, coming away with a very credible 2-2 draw from Istanbul.
They dropped down to the UEFA Cup and were handed another incredibly tough assignment against Chelsea FC. A famous 2-0 home victory in St. Gallen sent them on their way to the famous European giant-killing. Despite losing 1-0 in West London, FC St. Gallen had knocked-out the mighty Chelsea FC managed by Claudio Ranieri with a team containing players like Roberto Di Matteo, Gianfranco Zola and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. It is considered the crown jewel of European results amongst St. Gallen fans.
So apart from a very small trophy haul & a good European home record, what else is to be celebrated about this particular club? The fans. Definitely the fans.
FC St. Gallen are known to have some of the best ultras in Switzerland, known for their very colourful and inventive fan displays in particular. Before the outbreak of Coronavirus halted fans attending games in Switzerland, St. Gallen had the third highest average home attendance in Swiss football for the 2019/20 season, with an average of slightly less than 14,000, behind only BSC Young Boys and FC Basel.
The west stand at Kybunpark houses St. Gallen’s ultras; Espenblock. It is this group in particular that are responsible for the colourful displays that have given St. Gallen the reputation of being amongst the best fans in Switzerland.
St. Gallen’s main derby game is against FC Wil. Wil is a much smaller town but is still located in the canton of St. Gallen so this would be considered the “St. Gallen Derby”.
However FC Wil have spent the majority of their existence in Switzerland’s second-tier, so a major rivalry has never fully formed. Instead St. Gallen’s fiercest rivalries come in their battles for European football. Zürich lies just 80km to the south-west of St. Gallen, so the Zürich-based clubs like FC Zürich and Grasshopper would provide derby-like games with very high stakes.
It is not unusual for European clubs to have developed fan friendships across international borders, but the bond between fans of FC St. Gallen and SSV Reutlingen 05 seems to be particularly special.
Never heard of SSV Reutlingen 05? Perfectly understandable. They are a small club just south of the city of Stuttgart and currently play in Germany’s fifth-tier. It is a 2.5hour drive from Reutlingen to St. Gallen so the ease of access has led to many appearances at Kybunpark by the Germans and vice versa. St. Gallen and Reutlingen have developed a very close bond down the years, epitomised by the display seen at Kybunpark in a league game versus FC Luzern in 2016.
There are countless examples of TIFOs that could be used to show-off the creativity of the St. Gallen ultras in the west stand of the Kybunpark, but the Batman inspired TIFO against FCSB Young Boys in 2020 definitely deserves an honourable mention here.
No they do not have the most illustrious history or have notable European pedigree, but FC St. Gallen are the pride of the canton of St. Gallen and have an incredible set of fans that hold their beloved team up on a pedestal as if they are the most successful team on the planet.