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Footballers give Thun an early present

FC Thun players celebrating their qualification for the knock-out stage of the Uefa Cup

(Keystone)

FC Thun's success in European football this season has not only given fans something to cheer about but has also boosted the town's image worldwide.

A goalless draw against Sparta Prague on Wednesday was enough to qualify for the knock-out stage of the Uefa Cup and offer consolation for missing out on further Champions League glory.

As players and fans celebrated the continuation of Thun's European dream, Mayor Hans-Ueli von Allmen revealed the impact the football stars have had on the town.

"Thun has profited a great deal from the accomplishments of the team," he told swissinfo. "The effect this is having on our image is priceless.

"I have recently spoken to people from South America, Africa and Arabian countries about our football success. It seems the whole world now knows about Thun," he added.

"When we played against Ajax and Arsenal we had dozens of travel journalists from Amsterdam and London come to visit. I hope many tourists now come to see our wonderful town."

Local support

Fans who could not make the trip to Prague crowded into the town's Ben Hur equestrian centre to watch the game on a big screen.

Several fingernails disappeared in the last tense minutes of the match, but the sound of the final whistle drew cheers that could perhaps be heard in Prague.

"I couldn't have wished for a better Christmas present," said Thun resident Nicole Suter. "Santa has come to Thun early this year."

"The dream lives on – I am so proud of the players," said fan Peter Speiser. "I wouldn't have been able to bear it if we had gone out of Europe and Basel [FC, who are competing in the Uefa Cup] had stayed in. We are a better team than them."

Other fans reflected on the growing fame of the small town in canton Bern that has been catapulted into the limelight on the back of football achievements.

"Our football team has put us on the map and people know who we are now," said Markus Lager. "Even people in London are talking about us after we played so well against Arsenal."

New ground

One potential benefit of FC Thun's European adventure is a proposed 10,000 capacity stadium, costing some SFr12 million ($9.2 million), that will be put to public vote in February.

The club's present stadium does not meet Uefa requirements, forcing FC Thun to play their home games in the Stade de Suisse in Bern.

"The club needs a new stadium and the players and manager deserve it after all their efforts. I hope the people vote in favour of it next year," said von Allmen.

Few would have predicted that FC Thun could rise from amateur status to rub shoulders with Europe's elite in the past ten years.

To celebrate their achievement, the town will hold a civic reception for the team on December 18 to allow supporters to congratulate the players.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Thun

Key facts

The town of Thun has a population of 41,000.
FC Thun only qualified for the Swiss Super League in 2002.
The club, with an annual budget of SFr5 million, stands to make an estimated SFr7.5 million from the Champions League knock-out stages.

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