Another piece of Swiss footballing history came close to falling apart recently as FC St. Gallen, the oldest club of all in the Alpine country, suffered under the burden of huge financial difficulties. St. Gallen were even threatened with direct relegation to the Prima Lega, the country’s third division.
Since the new millennium dawned, four Swiss clubs have been declared bankrupt: Lausanne (2002), Lugano (2003), Servette (2005) and La Chaux de Fonds (2009). Moreover, Grasshopper, the most successful club side in Switzerland’s history, are struggling to survive in the Super League, lacking the financial resources to reclaim their place towards the top of the table.
St. Gallen had debts of £10.1M, and of that £3.1M was due to be paid just last week. The club tried to find new financial backing with a plan named “Futura”. Local banks, public and private investors were all approached with a view to pumping money into the team to address what is a desperate situation; St.Gallen’s players agreed to a wage cut too.
Yet Futura was judged to have been a failure. St Gallen chairman Michael Huppi admitted as much during a press conference, stating: “The city government denied support to cover the first two million of our debt”, but refused to give up hope, “we are not finished yet. Many local businessmen are ready to do their part and we’re still waiting for the banks’ decision. Needless to say, their support is vital. St. Gallen are very sick, but not dead yet.”
And Huppi’s prayers were answered when local business leaders clubbed together to inject £6.4M into the club. The money may not have got St. Gallen out of the woods yet – the club must still demonstrate that its restructuring plan is viable – but it has staved off imminent danger and demonstrated clearly that the community will continue to support their side.
In this season’s Super League, St Gallen dwell in the lower reaches, only a poor Grasshopper keeping them off the bottom of the league. Last summer, coach Uli Forte lost several players of note: Ze Vitor, Moreno Merenda, Marc Zellwegger and, above all, playmaker Moreno Costanzo. This group had previously helped St. Gallen enjoy a steady 2009/10 campaign, culminating in a comfortable mid-table finish. The situation has been complicated further by the fact that Dutch newcomers Sandro Calabro and Tim Bakens – free transfers from VVV-Venlo and Volendam respectively – have so far flopped and failed to replace the quality which Forte has lost. Last but not least for the coach, experienced striker Mario Frick is often sidelined due to ongoing injury problems.
There is some good news for the AFG Arena outfit though, with a group of talented youngsters ready to step into the breach. Michael Lang, Nico Abegglen, Fabian Frei and Philip Muntwiler represent a so called “golden generation” for the club. Attacking midfielder Frei has stolen most of the plaudits so far and looks one to watch. The 21-year-old arrived at St. Gallen in July 2009, on loan from Basel, who had packed him off to gain more first team experience. Frei has so far proven his worth, scoring nine goals in 40 games and becoming a key man in Forte’s 4-2-3-1 system. At international level the youngster has begun to make an impact too. A former Under-16 and Under-18 Swiss champion with Basel, Frei has impressed with Switzerland’s Under-21s, opening the scoring in the country’s 4-1 win over Sweden in the 2011 European Championship playoffs.
Since St. Gallen were founded in 1879, the Espen as they are known, have picked up two titles and one Swiss Cup, the most exciting season in their history coming in the 1999/2000 campaign where the team surprised the entire country by topping the table by a comfortable ten points. Coach Marcel Koller and Ghanaian striker Charles Amoah, who ended the season as the league’s top scorer, were key to bringing the title back to St. Gallen after 96 years.
The glory days however didn’t last for long, and St. Gallen quickly slipped back into their familiar role of a solid mid-table outfit. In 2008, the club replaced the Espenmoos, their home ground, with a multi-use stadium named the AFG Arena. But, as the new ground was opened St. Gallen slid down into the Challenge League, and relegation dampened demand for the stadium’s VIP section, while business events also suffered. The AFG Arena was soon in the red, and this impacted on the club’s finances.
Bulgarian boss Krassimir Balakov was replaced upon relegation by former FC Wil coach Uli Forte and it took the Swiss-Italian just one season to bounce St. Gallen back up to the Super League; Forte’s side won the title by eight points over Lugano and set a new Challenge League record with an average attendance of 12,500. Outside of giants Basel and Young Boys, St. Gallen can attract more fans than any other Swiss club
Fonte: Inside Futbol