Swiss cheesy humour
Our man in Germany soaks up the sun and Europeans’ idea of fun at the France-Switzerland game.
Funny lot, the Swiss. You sort of expect them to be pretty uptight. You know – don’t drop litter, don’t be noisy, don’t play with that state-issued firearm, etc.
So it was something of a surprise to arrive in the centre of Stuttgart on Tuesday to find that the Swiss had invaded. ‘Wir kommen Deutschland!’ said the t-shirts – and kommen they certainly had, in their thousands. The pavement cafés were full of red-shirted men, drinking pilsner, singing simple songs and chanting ‘Hopp Schwiiz’ in unison to the bemusement of the Stuttgarters in the run-up to the France-Switzerland game.
At first, I thought the French must have taken over a different part of town, but in fact they were nowhere to be found. The ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’, as Groundskeeper Willie once dubbed them in The Simpsons, were feeble in their support for their team, while the fervently neutral Swiss had, quite literally, gone to town.
The Swiss seem to display their support in a pretty direct, physical way, like those people who run the London Marathon dressed as a banana. It was as if an entire nation was saying, ‘You don’t have to be mad to be Swiss, but it helps.’ That is probably the standard-issue screensaver in Zurich.
Despite the close proximity of the two countries, there isn’t much ‘needle’ between France and Switzerland. The Swiss have been neutral, and therefore untouched, through most of the big conflicts in past decades. And the French are merely a bit condescending, rather than hostile, towards their neighbours. Besides, the Swiss hardly have a monopoly on being on the wrong end of a bit of French aloofness.
So there was little danger of any trouble kicking off at this game – although things got a little bit heated when arriving fans were kept waiting outside the ground because FIFA’s computerised ticketing system had died. Perhaps it wilted in the heat. Still, this gave us an opportunity to interact with the crazy Swiss. Some were wearing red suit jackets with white crosses all over them. Others had big hats, including some triangular ones in the shape of holey cheese. Crazy guys.
Inside the ground, our end, plus the two long sides, were dominated by red Swiss colours. Only the far end of the stadium had any signs of the tricolor. The Swiss were definitely in the mood to make some noise, even if ‘Hopp Schwiiz’ sounded like the name of French star ‘Henry’ from a distance.
Perhaps the French are saving their ticket money, and their days off from work, for bigger battles ahead. They must have higher ambitions than making up the numbers. The Swiss, on the other hand, will be fairly pleased if they get past the group stage.
On this performance, neither team looks up to much. The French are a shadow of their 1998 winning team. Henry might be better called ‘Thierry X’, so anonymous was his performance. Zidane is truly the ageing midfield general: he doesn’t venture to the front very often, preferring instead to direct operations from a safe distance.
The Swiss created the better chances, hitting the post in the first half and forcing a close-range save from French keeper Barthez in the second. But they lack pace; French defender Gallas easily outran the Swiss strikers whenever the ball was played into space. Neither team looks capable of making a big impact on the tournament.
Maybe it was just too damn hot to play football, as Sven claimed following England’s uninspiring win over Paraguay. We were unlucky enough to have tickets for the one part of the stadium exposed to the early evening sun. We baked in the heat. Our predicament was not helped by the fact that stewards confiscated our plastic bottles of water as we entered the ground. Apparently FIFA thinks such bottles are a menace. I can’t really imagine hooligans wreaking havoc with Evian and Volvic. I’ve never heard of anyone being maimed by a plastic bottle, but I know you can be made quite ill by dehydration – and it was hot enough for that in Stuttgart that evening.
The alternative was to buy water from the drink stalls at four or five times the normal price, and then have it poured into a FIFA-approved plastic beaker for which you had to pay a one-Euro deposit! Still, if you baulked at such piracy, you could always drink a Budweiser from the same receptacle instead.
Thankfully, we’d made a small profit on a spare ticket. We found a middle-aged French fan to sell to. We weren’t sentimental, charging him €100 for a €60 ticket, with the difference designed to fund a few drinks after the game. Why shouldn’t we make a small profit?
But the person who sat down next to us in the allotted seat was a young Mexican who had paid €225 for the ticket. Our ‘middle-aged French fan’ was a wily tout using the wife and kid for cover. Touts, eh? Disgraceful how they profit from ordinary fans.…
When the final ball was kicked, and 90 minutes of feverish activity had produced zero goals, we decided to walk back to Stuttgart instead of taking the fantastically efficient public transport system. On the way we were passed by four cavemen on bicycles, banging their inflatable clubs on the handlebars and singing a song, their red furskins adorned with a single white cross.
The Swiss: crazy country, crazy people.
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