Football’s Neighbours: An Uneasy Relationship in Zurich

The importance of a stadium to a club’s
identity and its relationship with the local community has grown in resonance over the
past few years. West Ham fans complain that the London Stadium doesn’t provide the same
atmosphere as the Boleyn. Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur supporters have grown frustrated at
the delays in construction to their new ground. However, those experiences pale in comparison
to Grasshopper Club Zürich. The most successful side in Swiss history, with 27 league titles,
Grasshoppers are still waiting for construction to start on their new stadium after their
former home, the Hardturm, was demolished in 2008. On the 25th November 2018, the people of Zürich
finally voted to approve the construction of a new stadium on the Hardturm site. Switzerland
uses a system of direct democracy, involving frequent referenda. This was the third referendum
on the Hardturm in the past fifteen years. In a country renowned for its neutrality the
topic has polarized the citizens of Zürich, with the delay being a result of both local
politics and international events, leaving the home city of FIFA without a purpose-built
football stadium. The Hardturm was a venue with an illustrious
history. While the 1954 World Cup is remembered for ‘The Miracle of Bern’, it was in Zürich
where eventual winners West Germany secured their place in the knockout stages, with a
7-2 win over Turkey. The Swiss national team also has fond memories, as it was where they
secured qualification for the 1994 World Cup with a 4-0 win over Estonia, marking their
first appearance at the finals for 28 years. In the early 2000s, plans were unveiled to
modernize the Hardturm to a 30,000-seater as a venue for the 2008 UEFA European Championships.
The project, financed by Credit Suisse, was approved in a referendum on the 7th September
2003 with 63.3% of the vote. However, it was soon caught in legal limbo. The proposal included
plans for a shopping center and the VCS (Swiss Transport Club) claimed that the resulting
traffic would violate environmental law. Meanwhile, local residents filed objections concerning
groundwater and the potential shadow cast by the stadium’s pentagon design. With these legal challenges delaying construction,
Zürich faced losing its right to be a host city. In response, they accelerated plans
to upgrade the Letzigrund, home of Grasshoppers’ local rivals FC Zürich. As well as meeting
UEFA regulations, the renovation aimed to improve it as a venue for the Weltklasse Zürich,
an annual athletics tournament. During construction, FC Zürich moved into the Hardturm for its
final season, winning the league there, much to the displeasure of Grasshoppers supporters. On the 1st September 2007, Grasshoppers played
the final match at the Hardturm, a 2-1 defeat to Neuchâtel Xamax. Both Zürich clubs then
moved to the Letzigrund, where they would play until construction on the new Hardturm
was completed. Neither club was happy with this arrangement. Similarly to the London
Stadium, the Letzigrund was criticized for its running track and lack of atmosphere.
Attendances dipped, as both clubs started to pay more in rent than they were making
in match day revenue. In June 2009, Credit Suisse pulled out of
the project to redevelop the Hardturm, citing delays and the global financial crisis. The
land was sold back to the city, which proposed a plan to rebuild the stadium using public
money. Its plans included a number of social housing units. However, due to the spiraling
costs to the taxpayer, estimated at 216-million francs, it was rejected in a referendum on
the 22nd September 2013, by just 50.8% of the vote. In 2015, the city ran a competition for investors
to put forward their proposals for the ground and in July 2016 it was announced that ‘Projekt
Ensemble’, led by HRS Investment AG, was the winning bid. Its proposal consists of
an 18,000-seater stadium, 174 social housing units and two towers for commercial and residential
use. These will stand at 137 meters, which is higher than the current tallest building
in Zürich, Prime Tower. The proceeds from these will help finance the stadium, which
once completed will host both Zürich clubs, leaving the Letzigrund for athletics and concerts. This was met with resistance from locals,
who in the intervening decade have reclaimed the ground upon which the Hardturm stood.
An association called Stadionbrache Hardturm was tasked with overseeing the temporary use
of the land for non-commercial use. What was a wasteland transformed into a flourishing
public garden, including skate parks and food stalls. Both the Green and Social Democratic
parties campaigned for a NO vote in the November 2018 referendum, arguing that one of the last
green spaces in the city should be protected. While football clubs are seen as inextricably
linked to their communities, the demolition of the Hardturm removed that pretense. For
many locals, the land now serves far more communal value than it would as a football
stadium. However, on the 25th November 2018, Grasshoppers celebrated as 53.8% voted in
their favour. The result came through just before their match against FC St. Gallen at
the Letzigrund, which they then won 2-1. Grasshoppers have been here before, though.
After the vote, FC Zürich President Ancillo Canepa, expressed his hope that it won’t
be dogged by delays. Of particular concern are the two towers, with the 10th district
of Höngg being the only one to vote against the project, out of opposition to their height.
As a result, there are doubts whether Grasshoppers will meet their target of 2022. Given the
cost of playing at the Letzigrund, failure to do so could see the club’s very future
at stake. Prior to the November 2018 vote, Grasshoppers President Stephan Anliker suggested
that if it didn’t go their way, they might have to withdraw from the league. While Grasshoppers
would see a successful return as an overdue homecoming, considering how the land has been
used in their absence, they may find the neighbours far less welcoming than they used to be.

71 thoughts on “Football’s Neighbours: An Uneasy Relationship in Zurich

  1. Just a small note: the tenth district is pronounced “heuh-nk”. I used to live there and it’s quite high above the city so that might explain their reservations.

  2. The greener the better. I love football but there are waaay too many contructions and another stadium would be bad for the enviorment

  3. Why do they HAVE to build additional buildings? Why can’t they just vote on build the stadium instead of voting on 2 towers, 176 social homes AND the stadium?

  4. As a swiss citizen and a long time fan of Grasshoppers I have to say that this a really well researched video. Great work!!
    Though what a f*** up story it is… 🙁

  5. Another crazy story is AEK Athens in Greece that have been playing on the Olympic Stadium since 2004. The construction of their new ground is a long way from being finished.

  6. Please do the same for AEK ATHENS. AEK is building now its new stadium in the original area in NEA PHILADELPHIA but the old one was destroyed in 2003. AEK is playing for 15 years without its home!

  7. So glad that this issue got international attention and you picked up the story. I spent my entire childhood next to the Hardturm and also became a Grasshopper fan. You wouldn't even wish your worst enemies to play your home games in your biggest rivals stadium. The problem in Switzerland is generally that, anyone (literally anyone even a homeless guy) can raise a complain with the project, which then has to go thorugh the court and delays the entire process. Particularly in Höngg rich house owners fear, that the towers could impact their scenery of the city…

  8. Brilliant video! I visited Zurich in August and did not know about this part of it's footballing history! It is a truly beautiful city, albeit very expensive.

  9. Very good! As a Zurich citizen knowing quite a bit about the issue, this is a better outbalanced and accurate summary timeline than has ever been produced by our local newspapers. Looking at things from a distance surely can help to see the forest instead of only a whole bunch of trees.

  10. I love football, but I think I support the power of community organizing more in this case. If the deal was going to be done, it would have been best to do it with public money years ago. That's the people's land now.

  11. Do a video about Belenenses in Portugal. To put in perspective, it’s just a new mk dons/ afc Wimbledon case in football

  12. An idea for a vid about clubs without stadiums of their own: Universidad de Chile has played in Estadio Nacional for pretty much its entire existence, with a number of projects shut down. Funny is, its the 2nd most winner club in the country, one of the 2 to ever win an international tourney and arguably in the 1st or 2nd spot in popularity nationwide.

  13. you never mentioned dalymount park, the ancestral home of Irish football where 2 of the oldest Dublin clubs in senior football will ground share after redevelopment. what is more striking is that both Vienna and Dublin are 2 of the wealthiest city's in the world, yet there seem to be no need to look after football at grassroots…

  14. you should do a video about Dalymount park & Bohemian & Shelbourne imminent ground share, ancestral home off Irish football and the 2 oldest dublin clubs in senior football locals rivals for last 30 Years to boot!! all money, shopping centres, redevelopment, council votes, planning permission, debt, success on the field, in 2 of the richest citiues in the world (vienna Dublin )

  15. Hey guys! A video about CD Guadalajara (aka Chivas) of Mexico and a little bit about their policy to ONLY have Mexican players in the squad and how they’re the second most winning club in Mexico. They’ve had a downfall between 2010 and 2016. Would be awesome, great work!

  16. Can't be many clubs in the world with a worse stadium situation than Bristol Rovers. 2 previous stadiums burnt down by rival fans, a 10 year exile to a different city and now a 25 year stay at a "temporary stadium" due to planning issues with redeveloping the ground and financial issues barring them from buying and starting from scratch.

  17. Very good video, if you're already on the topic of Switzerland: do a video on the recent domination of FC Basel, that saw them win 12 league titles and 7 Swiss Cups between 2002 and 2017, beat countless PL Teams in the European competitions (Liverpool, Chelsea, ManUtd, ManCity, Spurs and Fulham) and produce countless World Class players (like Rakitic, Salah, Shaqiri, Xhaka or Sommer)

  18. Swiss people know what the rest of the world already forgot a long time ago; Football isn't the most important thing in life! In fact it's just a game!

  19. Love how they want to keep Letzigrund for concerts but the government will only allow 4 concerts there per year.

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