Friday, September 24, 2010

Are You Worried About Trivializing Such an Important Issue?

I returned home from a trip to Switzerland in time to catch Mr. Colbert's testimony before the House and was suitably impressed with the sheer scale of the stupidity of the above-captioned question, posed by a reporter with no sense of irony. Welcome home.

The visit to Switzerland was only my second trip to continental Europe and I had no burning interest in going to Geneva, so rather than work out what tourist attractions my daughter would enjoy, I spent my time trying to figure out how to get to a soccer game.

An initial idea of going up towards Neuchatel to watch fifth division FC Beroche-Gorgier take on Zurich's Grasshoppers in the Swiss Cup foundered when the Swiss Rail ticket agent quoted us a $150 round trip price for getting close to the stadium. (We missed a 9-0 drubbing where Grasshoppers were awarded a penalty in the opening seconds of the game and were up two goals by the end of the third minute). After that, I toyed with the idea of dragging a two-year old to southern France or northern Italy or, at my worst, to St. Jakob Park in Basel to see Grasshoppers in a league away fixture. Fortunately, I abandoned all of these options.

Short trips around Lac Leman impressed how well appointed the country is with football stadiums. From the train, verdant pastures opened up to beautiful modern stadiums. In Lausanne, I took my daughter up the hill from the train station to the Cathedral and Chateau St. Marie. From outside the Chateau, you can see the lights of the Stade Olympique de la Pontaise, the current home of second division FC Lausanne-Sport and the host, a week and a half ago, of Lausanne-Sport's fairy tale UEFA Cup tie against CSKA Moscow -- maybe a 3-0 defeat is not the prototypical fairy tale, but just being in the competition is amazing -- and will host Sparta Prague on November 4th and and Palermo on December 15th. FC Stade Nyonnais, another second division club, plays in Nyon at the neat little Centre Sportif de Colovray Nyon, while yet another second division squad, FC Servette, plays in the massive and stunning Stade de Geneve.

My visit and the Challenge League's schedule did not line up to facilitate seeing a game in any of those stadiums. Instead, we took in a third division derby match between Grand-Lancy FC and CS Chenois at the Stade de Marignac located across the rails from the Stade de Geneve.

A few reactions:

First, the game was much better than I had anticipated. The quality and skill of the players on the field was well-beyond anything I was accustomed to at home... my wife's take after five minutes was "this is really pretty good."

Second, something like the Stade de Marignac, even without seats, would be the envy of Real Maryland or Crystal Palace Baltimore and it just can't be that difficult to get some place in the DC-Baltimore metro area to welcome such use of currently un-utilized land.

Third, the regional liga system operated beginning in the third division in Switzerland (similar, I would imagine, to how leagues are organized in Germany and Austria) should be an extremely attractive option for reorganizing American soccer... even beginning at the second division. The costs of travel are clearly a significant part of a lower division team's budget and gate receipts, for most teams, cannot begin to offset the cost of away travel. But just as importantly, long distances between teams severely restrains the ability of supporters to check out away fixtures. There were not many people at the Grand-Lancy and Chenois match, but supporters of both Geneva-area based squads mixed easily on the terrace; passionate about their respective teams and respectful of their opponents. The USL2 league was basically reduced to an east coast regional league this season -- running from Charleston in the south to Harrisburg/Pittsburgh in the north -- and the new USLPro league seems to be headed down this route with the recent announcement of the addition of "building blocks" of a new Caribbean Division. The mid-Atlantic (leaving Charleston and Charlotte in a southern division) should have sufficient resources to be able to support a viable division of its own, but Richmond is probably the only solid club in the region at the moment.

Grand-Lancy won the match 3-0 with Laurent Dupraz giving his team a two-goal lead off of free kicks. Grand-Lancy's keeper, David Fontaine, had a fantastic game and fully deserved his clean sheet after some tremendous reaction saves when Chenois unleashed unrelenting attacks on goal in the second half. For about ten minutes in the second half, my daughter and I stood behind Fontaine to get a better sense of how much pressure he was under and to more fully appreciate his performance.

Not many tourists in Geneva are going to consider third-division Swiss football as a serious option to wile away an evening on holiday, but they should. The Stade de Marignac is easily reached from downtown Geneva on the number 15 tram, the people at the club FC Grand-Lancy are great, it is an inexpensive entertainment relative to most everything else in the canton (10 swiss francs general admission; 6 for women and children), and the football is decent.

A few shots from the evening:

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