Neuchâtel, Swiss football away days 8
My next Swiss football trip brought me to the pretty city of Neuchâtel, halfway between Geneva and Zurich and in the heartland of the celebrated Swiss watchmaking industry.
Neuchâtel (“Newcastle”) is a small city and the capital of the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel located on Lake Neuchâtel, in the shadow of the Jura mountains and facing the Alps, in West Switzerland, not too far from the border of France. The French speaking town has a population of about 34,000 people and was originally part of the Holy Roman Empire and later under Prussian control from 1707 until 1848. (Prussia, a historically prominent German state, in case you didn’t know!!)
The city of Neuchâtel established itself at the edge of the lake, and from prehistory to today it has grown from the shore up to the river Seyon and beyond.
Neuchâtel also has a pretty castle overlooking the city, built by Rudolph III of Burgundy way back in 1011, highlighting its long Burgundian History (East Germanic tribe)
Neuchâtel is well renowned for its watch industry (the home of the first Quartz watch in 1967), but not only that it also has a fine reputation in the micro-technology and high-tech industrial fields. During the last 20 years, the city and its surrounds have attracted many leading companies in the high-tech sectors such as medical technology, micro technology, biotechnology, machines & equipment, IT and clean technologies. Tobacco giant Philip Morris is one of the main employers in the city, in the suburb of Serrières, with 1,200 employees in its cigarette manufacturing plant and in its international research and development centre.
As for a day out, Neuchâtel’s has an attractive Old Town, with about 140 street fountains, a handful of which date from the 16th century, and classical Burundian architecture with rows of contiguous narrow houses on three or four storeys and through corridors. The beautiful Alps far off in the distance on view from the lake also offer something to behold.
Getting to the city is easy enough, as Neuchâtel railway station is within easy reach from Olten (and so Bern/Zurich/Basel) and Geneva, and has a high speed TGV connection to Paris, within 4 hours. On the road, Bern, Geneva, Basel and Zürich which are respectively 58 km (36 mi), 122 km (76 mi), 131 km (81 mi) and 153 km (95 mi) away by car.
PMU Race Cafe
Address: Rue de Gibraltar 1, 2000 Neuchâtel
This place wasn’t to far off the stadium so ventured in. Was intrigued as it had horse racing on, and seemed to double as a betting shop, a first for me to see in Switzerland. Fancied a flutter but unfortunately (or fortunately) it was only French racing so let that pass.
Was heaving with Xamax fans who were very boisterous and all good fun. Had a few cheap lagers and sat down to enjoy the “show” the home fans were putting on…….smoke bombs and pyro, horse play on the roundabout, all good fun.
Good, friendly service, and not a bad spot to drink so close to the ground.
See that on Google maps it has the “Sultan Restaurant & Bollywood Bar” as the same address, but I think that might be upstairs from this joint.
Antidote Lounge Bar
Address: Place de la Gare 1, Neuchatel 2000
Had a few beers, well quite a few, in this bar, waiting for my train. Bar is dead handy as it is right next to the train station which is just damn perfect for me! Bar right at the door, dont have to make any effort so! Managed to grab a Bulmers cider, so long since I had one, sure why not. Straight from the bottle, nice and cold. Add to that a good few more.
Small bar, but quite busy, as you can imagine what with it beside the train station. Service wasn’t exactly very friendly, bit grumpy in fact, dont think they were Swiss to be honest. A fella, serving behind the bar, Jesus a smile wouldn’t kill you! The waitress wasn’t much better. Ok we get it, a lot of noisy football fans are in town, but Jesus no one is forcing you to do work in a bar!
Anyway the bar has a small seating area outside, and this is where I met a nice man who makes a living doing side video shots at football and sports events, and sells them on to the TV. He was very friendly telling me all about his business, and was good to chat to while I was waiting for my train, for the few hours or so I was there (it wasn’t delayed, I was!). Perhaps I will meet him again at another Swiss match, I hope so as I really was intrigued by his job.
Bar was fine, tell the staff to lighten up, that’s all!
Neuchâtel Xamax FCS
Arena/Stadium: Stade de la Maladiere
Location: rue de la Pierre-a-Mazel 10, Neuchatel 2000
Manager: Michel Decastel
League: Swiss Super League
Swiss Championships: 2 (Last 1988)
Neuchâtel Xamax FCS, based in the city of Neuchâtel, are a funny team in that they have had a few different incarnations and guises. Originally there was a team called FC Xamax founded in 1912, but that merged with FC Cantonal Neuchatel (Swiss champions in 1916) in 1970 to form Neuchâtel Xamax.
The name Xamax (and club nickname) comes from legendary Swiss international ‘Xam’ Max Abegglen, one of the founding members of the club.
In 2012 the club had hit a severe financial explosion and was declared bankrupt, ceasing to operate as a club. The club was still in existence but this time in the 2. Liga Interregional, the fifth tier of the Swiss football league system. They came out as champions at the end of the season, winning promotion.
In May 2013 a merger happened between Neuchâtel Xamax and FC Serrières, another side from Neuchâtel, to create Xamax Neuchâtel FCS, to continue top tier football in the city. The quick success continued as the team won back to back promotions to find themselves at the Challenge League division, three successive promotions to the second tier of Swiss football. And then in the 2017–18 season, the club were finally promoted back to the big time, to the Swiss Super League. It was has if the near death of the club had never happened!
In terms of honours and achievements, the club has won the Swiss Super League
twice, back to back Championship wins in 1987 and in 1988. The club took part in five Swiss Cup finals, but never managed to win one, with their last defeat against Sion in 2011.
As for Europe they have had some small success, relatively speaking for a small club. In the 1981–82 season they managed to get to the last 8th of the Uefa Cup, beating Sparta Prague, Malmo, Sporting Lisbon along the way before eventually losing to Hamburg, narrowly 2–3 on agg. If you thought that was impressive, well in 1985–86 season they repeated the trick, once again getting to the last 8th of the Uefa, but once again losing out 2–3 on agg, this time to the mighty Real Madrid, not without a brilliant 2–0 home win though. Pretty good stuff I think. They haven’t since reached those heights, but they did knock out Celtic in the 1991–92 UEFA Cup, four of those goals coming from the Egyptian footballing legend, Hossam Hassan, a result I well remember at the time as the Scottish giants were definitely not expecting their trashing, 5–1 in Switzerland. In that competition they were knocked out by Real Madrid, 4–1, but not without a lovely one nil win at home. In the 1987–88 European Cup, they also had an impressive victory over Bayern Munich at home, 2–1, but alas going out 2–3 on agg. So one can see, for a small club, they have had some notable achievements in European football.
Legendary players to have played for the club include Bulgarian defender Trifon Ivanov, him of the sullen eyes, Egyptian star Hossam Hassan, Joseph Ndo who later became a huge hit in Ireland, Senegalese pair Henri Camara and Papa Bouba Diop, Irishman Don Givens and Alain Geiger and Christian Gross (of London tube fame). As for managers, Roy Hodgson had a two year stint with them in the early 90’s.
The team play in red with black stripes and line out in the Stade de la Maladière stadium where the club play its home games. Opened in 2007 the ground has a total capacity of 12,500 supporters. The attendance record stands at 25,500 spectators in the undeveloped Stade de la Maladière when, in 1986, Real Madrid came to town in the second leg of the last eight of the Uefa Cup to see the team win out 2–0 which sadly wasn’t enough to overturn the tie. Nowadays the stadium has been renovated to include a shopping centre, a sports halls and even a fire station! But its not all that impressive as the ground has a fucking plastic pitch, urgh! It is owned by the city council.
FC La Chaux-de-Fonds could be considered their rivals in a cantonal sense, but the two teams are separated by a few divisions, as La Chaux play in the third tier, Xamax in the first.
To the game
Neuchâtel Xamax 1–1 FC Sion
07.10.2018 • Stade de la Maladière
Nuzzolo 37′ (Xamax)
Getting to the ground was dead easy as its not too far from the station, and you head downwards. The Maladière stadium is near the lovely Lake of Neuchâtel, and a stones throw from the red bricked Notre-Dame Cathedral that dominates the local skyline, you really couldn’t get a better location for a ground.
Apparently this is considered the French-speaking derby of Switzerland. I didn’t know that before I got the tickets, but I had a sense that there was a bit of a bite to this game as the atmosphere pre game was interesting! Also there was an army of coppers everywhere!
Not the best game in the world, few chances, a lot of slow build up play, and huffing and puffing and hard endeavor, but will little quality on display from both teams.
Xamax had the first chance of the game when a header came off the far post, but it was actually FC Sion who grabbed the first goal, when a fabulous through ball by Bastien sends Lenjani clean through, easily slotting home for the opener. A good goal, nice one.
But the lead didn’t last that long, as Xamax equalized when Nuzzolo hit into an empty net after a cross caused all sorts of havoc in the Sion defence.
After that chances were few and far between, with both teams having an opportunity to steal a winner, both the game petered out for a draw. A fair result to be honest.
Shout out to the Sion fans who were excellent throughout, singing all game, and some quality pyro. Top job.
Clashes between the Sion fans and the police after the game or so I read the next day in the papers. Not surprised as the police operation was overkill. It really is taking the mick to expect fans not to react to that kind of show of strength by the coppers. Funny how I always miss the real fun, its not that I avoid it, but I am forever stuck in a bar and never get to see any action. Ah well, next time……………..lol
Goals of the game here.
Enjoyed my day out in Neuchâtel, a pleasant enough city, had good craic in both bars, and the game atmosphere was good fun, from both sets of fans. Ground is ok, bit non-descript, but handy to get to and back again to the station. Would have liked to have spent more time in the centre of the town, but I guess that just gives me an incentive to return for another day out.