Wherein DF travels to Mitteleuropa and recounts his merrie adventures to his adoring broad readership.

Monday, June 13, 2005

FC Vaduz 0:1 FC Schaffhausen

I, broad r., am a football bloodhound. I can sense a game happening in the vicinity using just my own senses and keen instincts. Yesterday, for example, I ate dinner on the early side and then decided to climb up to the castle (it stays light out til nine thirty or so). On my way to the top, I was continually assailed by what sounded like distant drums, some chanting, even cheering. There was a football game afoot in the principality. I could sense it. When I got farther up toward the castle, I saw floodlights on at the Rheinstadion in the distance and all was confirmed. I ran the rest of the way to the castle, snapped a quick few shots (its really nothing much in comparison to Prague, Budapest, or Salzburg), and raced back down the hill. I had no idea how long the game had been on, what it was about, or if I`d be able to get in. Plus, the castle is high along the hillside of Vaduz, while the Rheinstadion is on the far side of the town, along the Rhine river, about 2-3ds of the country away. That said, getting there took me about fifteen minutes on the trot.

Some background: the local professional team (or at least, the best of the local professional teams) is FC Vaduz, and they play in the Swiss Second Division. Unlike in the US, there is a flow among the major and minor leagues so that the last few finishers in the top football league in a country are usually sent down to play in the second division ("relegated"), while the top few finishers in the league below are sent up to play in the top league ("promoted"). Thus it is possible that a top team one year can be playing in the second flight the next, or can tumble all the way down the ladder to obscurity; contrariwise, it is possible that a team that is unheard of can climb the ladder through the various divisions to become one of the elite.

FC Vaduz has been perched on the precipice of the Swiss elite league for some years now. They`ve been a top team in the Swiss second division for a few years, and last year earned a playoff place against Xamax, one of the lower finishers in the Swiss top flight, which Vaduz lost. This year, they finished second in the second division, earning a playoff against Swiss top league side FC Schaffhausen. In the first of the two-game series, Vaduz drew one-all at Schaffhausen, a good result meaning that they had only to win at home to advance to the top flight. That game was yesterday.

By the time I arrived at the Rheinstadion, the game was all but over. It was in extra time, and the scoreboard told the unfortunate tale: Vaduz 0, Gast 1. Schaffhausen had broken a scoreless tie in the 75th minute, and as I watched from a hill alongside the stadium with lots of hopeful Liechtensteiners, time expired, Schaffhausen celebrated their narrow survival in the top flight league, and Vaduz left the field in dejection.

It would have been great fun--and would have had fantastic obscurity cachet--if I had been able to see the game in its entirety. My obsessions with Liechtenstein and football have intersected before: I follow FC Vaduz a bit, pay more attention still to the Liechtenstein national side, and am still angry as hell at Charlie Connelly for stealing my idea for a book about the team that he published as "Stamping Grounds" (a great book, but I could have done better). And the coincidence that I was here on a day of such importance for the country`s football is unbelievable. I still can`t decide if I was lucky to have seen a sliver of the game or unlucky to have missed most of it.

One thing is clear, though: I am awful luck for the home team. After watching three games in Europe so far this year, the home team has won none, tied one (Hertha Berlin, but that was a tragic result), and lost twice (Vitesse, Vaduz--the latter with particularly devastating implications). The home team has gone scoreless in 270 minutes in the games I have seen, including a missed penalty, and the visitors have scored three. Given my track record, I should be barred from the grounds of any team that has any desire to win a game.