Grasshopper Club Zurich vs FC Zurich, the Zurich Derby, is one of the oldest derbies in European football and the only intra-city rivalry in Switzerland. The first Zurich derby was played in 1897, and the two teams have played each other over 250 times (officially) since then. The rivalry was founded on the traditional class conflict – with GC representing the wealthy and FCZ being the working-class club. Nowadays, those lines are blurred but the rivalry continues to be a heated one.
Massive paper tifo in the FC Zurich end , welcoming the players as they walk onto the field.
Grasshoppers happen to be the most successful team in Switzerland (with 27 league titles and 19 cups) but in the past two decades they have struggled to add any silverware, barring a Cup success in 2012/13. In 2019, their decline was epitomized by relegation into the Swiss second division for the first time in 68 years. However, they returned to the Swiss Super League in the 2020/21 season.
FCZ, on the other hand, is the more popular club in the city and they have had much more success in the recent past. Since GC’s last league success in 2003, FCZ have won the league four times. In fact, they are the defending champions and their ultras, the Zürcher Südkurve, gained a lot of notoriety and praise for their travels to Arsenal, Bodø/Glimt, and PSV in FC Zurich’s Europa League campaign this season.
In the past fifteen years, the Zurich Derby has turned violent in the stands on multiple occasions. The worst of it occurred in 2011, when a league match had to be suspended in the 77th minute due to brawl in the stands spilling over onto the pitch. In 2021 and 2022, fans have clashed both outside and inside the stadium. The Swiss FA has fined both teams several times and has even considered banning away support for derby matches.
Studying abroad in Switzerland for four months, I simply could not miss the local derby. I got two CHF 20 tickets for the 22/23 Swiss Super League's third Zurich Derby, which took place on the 19th of February, and dragged my friend Jameson along with me.
This being a GC home game, we got tickets in the Nord Stand in the home section, adjacent to the GC ultras. Due to our packed travelling schedule however, we reached the Letzigrund only a few minutes before kickoff. Therefore, we missed the pre-match build up outside and inside the stadium and I had no time to buy a GC scarf – I was extremely disappointed. Just as we walked in and found our seats, Das isch GCZ, the Grasshopper’s anthem began playing. Considering it was only released 5 months ago, not many people sang along, but it might be my favorite club anthem yet. Then, as the players began to walkout through the massive grasshopper prop, the FC Zurich fans on the opposite Sud Stand choreographed a paper tifo that read FC Züri.
Having had my first taste of Swiss football a couple of weeks back, I knew what was coming once the game kicked-off. As soon as the referee blew his whistle, the Grasshopper ultras lit pyro and their FCZ compatriots did not hesitate to follow suit.
Pyro galore in the GC Ultras section, after an FC Zurich goal was disallowed by VAR.
The first half was extremely untidy. After watching Inter Milan just the day before, it was hard not to notice the decline in quality. Grasshoppers started the game on the front foot, and they came close to scoring in the very first minute. A scrappy build up put Hayao Kawabe through on goal but a strong hand from Yanick Brecher, the FCZ goalkeeper, kept the game level. Two minutes later, GC had another opportunity to open the scoring, but this time Dominik Schmid blazed over from 18 yards out. The GC ultras, who sat to our left in the Nord stand, were loud but they were no match for the Zürcher Südkurve on the opposite side. The entire Sud stand was packed with FCZ fans, with no empty seat in sight. The noise they made carried all the way to our side and drowned out the GC support beside us. I wish I knew why, but there simply were not as many GC fans to fill up the home section and the ultras’ section was quite small in comparison to that of FCZ on the opposite side.
Nevertheless, Grasshoppers were the better team on the field in the first half, and they took the lead in the 30th minute through a Renat Dadashov penalty kick. Now, the GC ultras got really loud and the mood in our stand was great.
At halftime, I went looking for a place that sold Grasshopper scarves. I found a singular stall selling GC gear, but they were all sold out of scarves – tragic. With nothing else to do for the remainder of the break, I returned to my seat and formulated some thoughts on the stadium: The Letzigrund, which has been the home of both Zurich teams since 2007, is a unique stadium. It is a large, single-tiered, oval bowl with a massive running track separating the stands from the field. Sitting behind the goal, you can barely see any of the action at the opposite end. What you can see however, are distant mountains peeking over the roof of the stadium – typical Swiss. Despite how ‘anti-good footballing atmosphere’ this place might sound; it gets quite colorful with all the pyro and smoke bombs. And the lack of proximity to the pitch does not stop the fans (FCZ’s in particular) from making a lot of noise - which travels with intensity to all parts of the ground.
Going back to the game, the second half started much the same as the first – to a pyro display from both sets of fans. In the 54th minute, GC came extremely close to doubling their lead off a corner, but Dadashov’s header went agonizingly wide. FCZ, who were now attacking towards the Südkurve, were piling on the pressure in an effort to find the equalizer. In the 59th minute, they managed to put the ball into the GC net and the Südkurve went berserk – flares, noise, everything. However, the goal was checked by VAR and eventually ruled out for a handball in the buildup. Now, it was GC fans’ turn to celebrate and they did not hold back.
Unfortunately, the joy in the Nord stand did not last long as FCZ’s Tosin Aiyegun put the ball in the net just seven minutes later and this time there was no debate. The place around me went silent, while the FCZ players went to celebrate in front of the Südkurve. Later in the 73rd minute, Aiyegun scored again and FCZ turned the game around. The noise drifting our way from the Südkurve was now louder than ever and I could not help but feel sorry for the stunned GC fans around me.
The Zürcher Südkurve celebrating FCZ's second goal, long after the game has restarted.
In the 85th minute, FCZ nearly extended their lead through a Cheick Condé long range drive but GC goalkeeper André Moreira made an outstanding fingertip save which kept his side within one. For the remainder of the game, GC tried desperately to find the equalizer. They won several corners and a dangerous free-kick, but could not find the elusive equalizer - FC Zurich had earned a famous comeback derby victory.
‘Simply devastated’ is how I would describe the emotions of the GC fans around me. I waited to see the reaction when the Grasshopper players came over to acknowledge their fans and it was one of the most interesting interactions I have ever seen. The players walked across the field, jumped over the advertisement boards (onto the running track) and simply stood in front of the GC Ultras, almost as if in apology. It reminded me of a dog with its tail-down, looking up at its owner for forgiveness. Many of the GC ultras applauded timidly, while a minority shouted out words accompanied by aggressive gestures (Not knowing a word of Swiss-German, I can only assume they were curses).
On the opposite side, the FCZ fans celebrated loudly and lavishly with their players. The noise they made was immense, even at our end, and the Zürcher Südkurve were in no hurry to leave the stadium.
Walking back amongst the GC fans was quite depressing. I could not help but wonder how enjoyable this walk could have been if GC had held on to their early lead. As we neared the tram station where we got off, we saw dozens of cops in full riot gear and barricades blocking trams from going through. As a result, we had to walk the distance of two-three tram stops to reach the nearest functional one and catch the necessary tram. While researching for this blog post, I discovered that the post-game tram access to the Letzigrund has been blocked since February of 2022 as Swiss authorities had deemed that the safety of tram operators and passengers is no longer guaranteed in these circumstances.
Once we eventually made it back to Zurich HB (the train station) for our journey back to Geneva, I noticed hundreds of teenagers/young men wearing FCZ sweatshirts, and none with GC. Perhaps it would have been different if Grasshoppers had won, but after all I have seen at the derby, I am not so confident. GC just does not seem to be a very popular club in Zurich, from what I have noticed both inside and outside the stadium. Nevertheless, I feel very fortunate to have been able to catch the Zurich derby while in Switzerland and this experience has given me some burning questions about football in Zurich and this country as a whole.