Relegation completes demise of most successful Swiss club
Homeless for 12 years and with a constant turnover of coaches and presidents, Switzerland’s most successful club, Grasshopper Zurich, suffered a fresh humiliation on Thursday when they were relegated after 68 years in the top flight.
Grasshopper were left 12 points adrift at the bottom of the Swiss Super League with three matches left after being hammered 6-1 away to champions Young Boys Bern.
Although this season was especially chaotic, with three different coaches and two matches abandoned because of violence by their own fans, the writing had been on the wall for the 27-times Swiss champions for some time.
In fact, they would have gone down in 2011 had Sion not been deducted 36 points for fielding ineligible players and Neuchatel Xamax not had their licence revoked for financial and administrative irregularities.
Since winning their last league title in 2003, Grasshopper have been beset by financial problems which have been reflected by constant changes in the boardroom and problems on the field.
They have had 13 coaches and eight presidents since then while problems have been exacerbated by the lack of a home stadium after their Hardturm ground was closed for rebuilding in 2007.
The project then got bogged down in a planning quagmire.
Grasshopper have been playing ever since at the Letzigrund athletics stadium, the home of their rivals FC Zurich with a lukewarm atmosphere.
Although Grasshopper finished second in the league and won the Swiss Cup under Uli Forte in 2013, it proved to be a false dawn. The coach accepted an offer from Young Boys Bern and Grasshopper began to struggle again.
In November last year, there was finally good news when voters in a local referendum gave the green light for a new stadium on the Hardturm site to be shared with FC Zurich.
Yet November was also the last time Grasshopper won a league match, 2-1 against St Gallen.
Coach Thorsten Fink hung on until March when he was fired and eyebrows were immediately raised over his replacement, Tomislav Stipic, who had never coached a top-flight team and had twice been relegated with lower league sides in Germany.
He was fired after six games — three draws and three defeats, including a match at Sion which was abandoned early in the second half as Grasshopper fans threw pyrotechnics onto the field.
Forte was recalled, generating protests from fans still resentful of his departure six years earlier.
In the meantime, there had been more shuffling in the boardroom as Stephan Anliker stepped aside as president, while remaining as the majority shareholder, and was replaced by doctor and businessman Stephan Rietiker.
On Sunday, Grasshopper’s match at Lucerne was also abandoned when their fans threatened to storm the pitch with the team losing 4-0 and giving another abject performance.
Had the result been immediately confirmed, they would have been relegated then, but the decision was left in the hands of the disciplinary commission which is not expected to make a ruling until next week.
“Now, we must build a team that can achieve immediate promotion,” Forte said. “For this goal, I will do everything in my power. Because one thing is clear: Grasshopper Zurich is an institution and belongs in the Swiss Super League.”
REUTERS/Reporting by Brian Homewood, Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond