Servette FC vs FC Sion: My Stade de Genève Experience
Updated: May 13
Last week I went to Dortmund and checked off a bucket list football experience. This weekend, I wanted to take a shorter trip, to Bern, and watch BSC Young Boys play. However, I was informed that Sion would be visiting Geneva to play Servette in the Swiss Super League, a game that is known as the derby du Rhône (derby of the Rhone). I decided that this would be the ideal scenario to watch Servette play and cancelled my travel plans. While I did expect fireworks, I did not think I was going to see them literally. So, here is my derby day Servette FC experience from the beginning.
Smoke clouds over the field as fireworks are set-off by Sion fans in the away end.
The game was scheduled to kick off at 4.30 PM, so we (my study abroad friends Caleb and Jameson) left a good ninety minutes in advance to get there and take in the pre-game energy. We took a packed bus from Jonction to Stade de Geneve (a ten-minute commute) and got off at the main plaza, right outside the Nord Stand, where we were supposed to sit. The place was buzzing with local fans, and we could hear the Section Grenat (the Servette Ultras) who had already made their way into the stadium an hour before kickoff. I made my way to La Boutique des Grenat (a fan shop outside the stadium) to get myself a Servette scarf. I must say, I was a little disappointed with the selection of scarves they had (after being spoiled by the vendors outside Signal Iduna park last Sunday), but for a relatively smaller club like Servette, that is to be expected. I ended up getting a semi-decent one for CHF 25 but that was the best quality to price ratio they had. I also looked at the beanies, but they were CHF 35 and way out of my budget.
With about thirty minutes to kick-off, we met some more of our study abroad friends and headed into the stadium. The central sectors of the Nord Stand were packed with Servette Ultras, with a more scattered but respectable crowd in the adjacent stands. Meanwhile, the Tribune Principale and Tribune Est, that lined the touchline, were getting filled up by families. The travelling Sion fans were packed into a corner of the Sud Stand and the remainder of the stand was left completely empty to prevent any clashes between both sets of fans.
To paint the picture ahead of this Swiss Super league clash, this was Servette FC’s first game back after the World Cup interval (since their away fixture at Winterthur got postponed last week). They came into this game in 4th place (one point off second), with a game in hand. Meanwhile, 8th placed Sion were fresh off a loss to Lugano, but still seven points off the drop.
As the teams walked out onto the field before kickoff, the Servette anthem began to play, and the 15,000 odd home fans joined in. Section Grenat, who were on their feet and in full voice since warmups, welcomed the kick-off by lighting dozens of flares. The first half was a scrappy affair with Servette marginally dominating possession. In the 17th minute, Chris Bedia opened the scoring for Servette. Gaël Clichy (former Arsenal and Manchester City fullback, who now plays for Servette) was defending right in front of us during the first half, and it was impressive to see this thirty-seven-year-old veteran compete against younger attackers. Around the mid-point of the first half, the Sion fans began to set off fireworks which stopped the game for a minute or two. I had never seen this at a football game, in person or on TV, and it was very amusing because Sion was a goal down. However, this was just the first of many more times that the game would be interrupted by the pyros.
In the 33rd minute Chris Bedia took the ball down the left wing, dribbled past Sion’s Dimitri Cavaré, and finished past Heinz Lindner for his and Servette’s second goal of the game. With the Servette Ultras sitting just two sectors away from us, it was hard not to focus on them instead of the match. I heard some familiar tunes coming from Ultras section, but the lyrics were in French, so I could not join in. Nevertheless, the noise was immense, and it was only helped by the fact that it was a very physical, emotionally charged game. Players from both teams were going full-blooded into fifty-fifty balls and Sion racked up three yellows in the first half. In fact, Sion’s Wylan Cyprien was shown two yellow cards in the 41st minute - for a rash tackle followed by sarcastically applauding the referee - and Sion headed into the break two goals and a man down. During halftime, I decided to explore the inside of the Stadium and I found some beautiful murals, painted on the inside walls of the Nord Stand, that depicted the history of Servette FC.
When I walked back out to my seat for the second half, the floodlights were on, and the vibe was completely different. I was taken completely by surprise when Mario Balotelli (former Manchester City striker) was subbed on for Sion at the half. I had no idea that Balotelli (who is such an infamous figure in the footballing world) played for Sion. In fact, I did not even know he still played professional football. Anyways, Sion scored five minutes into the second half, somewhat against the run of play, through substitute Giovanni Sio. The flares were back in the away section, and it was game on once again. Although stunned, the home fans did not take long to restart their songs and revitalize their team. As the half progressed, Servette gained momentum and had some great moves towards the goal. However, the Sion fans constantly set off their fireworks to disrupt the game and kill Servette’s momentum. Once the skies completely darkened, around the 75th minute, the lightshows began. Both sets of ultras lit up smoke bombs, parachute flares, and pyros and the game was stopped once again. Eventually, the smoke clouded over the pitch, and we could barely see beyond the half line. This was a stereotypical European football scene, something I always dreamed of witnessing when I lived in India and in America.
Section Grenats, the FC Servette Ultras, setting off pyros during the second half of the derby du Rhone.
While it might seem like the fans were the highlight of the experience, both teams played some very laudable football. Servette had some sharp passing combinations, that ended in well-weighted through balls while Sion had several spells of intricate passing within the Servette box. Players from both teams showed incredible dribbling skills to get out of tight spaces and the football on offer was not to be underestimated. In the 85th minute, Sion won the ball in the midfield and scored off an unfortunate deflection off the foot of Servette’s David Douline. Sion had equalized and their players ran off towards the far corner to celebrate with their fans. Meanwhile, the area around us was in a temporary shock. A ten-man Sion team had just fought back from 2 – 0 down at the break and were looking to hold on for a well-earned point on the road. The last few minutes were extremely tense as Servette attempted to find a late winner. Despite having a couple of late free-kicks and multiple late corners, Servette failed to find a winner and the derby du Rhone ended in a 2 –2 draw.
After the whistle, both sets of players went to their respective fans to applaud them and thank them for their support. Meanwhile, we just sat there and recounted what we had just witnessed. My study abroad friends, who had no prior knowledge of football, loved the experience and they felt it was 20 CHF well spent. I was just blown away by how incredible the fans and football were in this game, despite it being between two uncelebrated European football teams.
Some happy friends and I (left) posing in front of an incredible Servette mural, painted on the walls of the Nord Stand, during halftime.