Next stop in THE OUTSIDERS series takes us to the tiny state of Liechtenstein.
BY JEZ ROBERTS
William Cook, writing in the weekly conservative magazine The Spectator, describes Liechtenstein as ‘utterly ridiculous’. It is a tax haven that has more registered companies than people, In August 2009, the British government department HM Revenue & Customs agreed with Liechtenstein to start exchanging information. It is believed that up to 5,000 British investors have roughly £3billion deposited in accounts and trusts in the country. To put the size of the country into a British context, its population is similar to Milton Keynes. You’ll find something familiar with their national anthem, it is sung to the same tune as ‘God Save The Queen’. The capital of Liechtenstein is the sleepy town of Vaduz – the home of FC Vaduz.
Vaduz could be described as not much more than an accumulation of houses huddling around the rock face in the shadow of the symbol of the nanoscopic principality, the castle. It holds the seat of the national Parliament. As of 2014 it has 5,425 inhabitants making it the second largest town in Liechtenstein behind neighbouring Schaan, which is home to just a few hundred more. It is one of the only capital cities without both an airport or train station. The nearest Airport is Zurich which is 74 miles away, while the nearest train station is 1 mile from the centre of Schaan.
Vaduz is the most internationally known town in the principality. This is mainly due to the aforementioned castle which is home to the reigning Prince of Liechtenstein, Hans-Adam II. Just to give an idea of the wealth within this nation, Hans-Adam owns banking group LGT and has a family fortune of $5billion according to Forbes in 2011, making him the richest reigning monarch in Europe.
FC Vaduz, are the largest club in Liechtenstein by some margin. They play their matches at the Rheinpark Stadion which holds 7,838. FCV, however, are part of a small group of teams that do not play their league football within the nation they are situated.
Teams from Liechtenstein have been playing in the lower levels of the Swiss leagues since 1932. The primary reason for this is that there are only, in fact, seven senior teams based there, discounting the second teams which make up the national cup. Interestingly they are the only UEFA member that does not have its own national league, Gibraltar and San Marino, despite being nations with smaller populations both have national leagues. Gibraltar has twenty teams in its 2.6 square miles, with eight of those making up the top division. That makes the formation of a Liechtenstein league very difficult and would lead to serious stagnation. You only have to look at the previous winner of the Liechtenstein Football Cup to see that Vaduz are head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. Indeed, FC Vaduz were barred from entering in the three seasons from 1963 to 1965 because of playing two or more levels above all other Liechtenstein clubs in the Swiss league structure.
FCV are required to pay a fee to be able to compete within Switzerland. There have been calls for this to be revoked, but discussions have meant that a permanent arrangement has now taken place for a Liechtenstein representative to be allowed to participate in the Challenge League or Super League in future.
The Liechtenstein Football Cup final has been competed for by FC Vaduz every year since 1995, where FC Schaan defeated FC Balzers 4-0. FC Vaduz have won the competition a record 43 occasions. They overtook Linfield who have ‘just’ the 42 cup wins in Northern Ireland. The Liechtenstein Football Cup is the only route by which teams from the principality can make it into European competitions, as they are barred from claiming a Swiss place in the Champions League or the Europa League, should they ever finish in a league position that would usually allow qualification.
FCV finally climbed their Everest to play in the big league in the 2007-08 season, although their ascent to the Swiss Super League was not welcomed by all. There are many reasons for this; the dubious nature of the club’s finances and plain old nationalism. After FCV’s promotion to the upper echelon of Swiss Football at the start of the 2008-09 season, the Swiss FA imposed strict conditions on their top flight participation; they were forced to pay a fee of 250,000 Francs to eat at the top table. They would also not receive their full share of TV and marketing revenue.
The promotion made FCV the first team from outside of Switzerland to reach the Swiss Super League, but as mentioned before, the reaction to them was negative. “Every day spent by Vaduz in our top division will damage Swiss football” A fan of Basel FC, the second most successful team in the history of the Swiss Super League wrote online.
There was – according to politician Paul Vog – a feeling that the side was ‘basking in the reflected glory of expensively imported foreign professionals’. There were only five players from Liechtenstein in the squad. Without 31-goal Brazilian Gaspar they wouldn’t have been promoted. However, just behind in the goal charts was the locally raised Benjamin Fischer.
When promotion was won, there was no open top bus parade in Vaduz. Instead, the team were greeted by a scene that epitomised the size of the club and its fan base; just 300 fans turned up. The squad was then taken to the town hall by the local fire department where they received symbolic gifts of an umbrella, a fountain pen and, of course, gold.
However, the joy was short lived: FCV were relegated back to the Challenge League after just one season in the top flight.
FCV, who gain a place in Europe through the winning of the cup in Liechtenstein, have never reached the group stage of the UEFA cup or the Europa League. They came very close this season when they lost on away goals to FC Thun. They have been defeated in the past by the likes of Brondby, FC Basel, PSG and Besiktas. They have reached the third qualifying round of the Europa League three times since 2009.
In 2014, FCV achieved promotion again into the Swiss Super League. The 2014-15 season will go down as their greatest achievement to date. FC Vaduz ended the season in 9th place, steering clear of relegation.
However this season has continued in the same vain as the last ended. After 16 games, FCV find themselves at the bottom of the Swiss Super League with the lowest average attendance in the league. Despite this, FCV have recently extended the contract of coach Giorgio Contini until the summer of 2017 in recognition for the fine work he has done for FC Vaduz.
They will be looking to get to the winter break and to re-group. In 2015 they started a co-operation with BSC Young Boys, who sent them a couple of players on loan. They may call upon these links to re-enforce their squad even more over the winter break.
The future for FC Vaduz is, however, bright. They will struggle in the league again this season but the luxury of playing European football every year is something not many clubs of their size have. Their future success will be determined by how many seasons they stay in the Swiss Super League and how far they can advance in Europe. They may be the best side in Liechtenstein but their presence in Switzerland will never be welcomed.