After a season marred by financial scandal and crowd trouble, football chiefs are hoping the new campaign will be remembered for all the right reasons.
Ahead of Wednesday’s season opener between Neuchâtel Xamax and Young Boys, league director Edmond Isoz spoke to swissinfo about his hopes for the coming season.
Isoz says he is confident that new measures approved last month by 28 club presidents should help the Swiss Football League (SFL) to monitor the financial health of the game more closely.
He also hopes the arrival of the 32,000-seater Stade de Suisse, the new national stadium in Bern, will help to boost flagging attendances.
swissinfo: The SFL introduced new security directives last season to tackle hooliganism and increase safety in stadiums. But a number of matches were still blighted by crowd trouble. Why isn’t the situation under control?
Edmond Isoz: If you do something new, it usually takes some time for the measures to become effective. We need to wait a while before we can say whether they are working or not. If you look at other countries such as England, it took several years to sort out the problem of hooliganism.
In Switzerland we hope it will be quicker. In a year and a half we expect to have new legislation in place and we hope that both measures – the SFL directives and the new law – will enable us to correct all our hooligan problems.
swissinfo: Last season saw Servette go bankrupt, Neuchâtel Xamax also admitted financial difficulties and Grasshoppers Zurich cut their budget. How concerned are you about the financial health of the game in Switzerland?
E.I.: We are really concerned – that’s clear. We lost Servette last season, and Lugano and Lausanne two years ago. But we are not alone: many small countries in Europe are in the same boat as us. We all need more money to try to bring in good players for the fans, television and sponsoring. But it’s a really difficult exercise.
We have lost three big clubs and I think people now see that they have to run clubs more carefully. We hope that we will not have any more bankruptcies over the next few months but you can never be sure.
swissinfo: Can the SFL do anything to improve the financial situation for clubs?
E.I.: When a club like Servette goes bust you always have to ask yourself whether you have done your best to ensure that the right rules and regulations are in place.
We are introducing new measures this season to monitor the clubs’ finances and ensure they are paying salaries, pensions and social security. We will be checking every month to make sure they are doing so.
Football’s image has suffered and we are probably also partially responsible for this situation, but we cannot decide who is responsible for running the clubs.
swissinfo: Average attendances in the Super League have been slipping. What can be done to reverse this decline?
E.I.: The launch of the Super League saw average attendances rise from around 7,000 to 9,000. But with the bankruptcy at Servette we lost a big club with a big following both at home and away.
The problem is we are losing clubs like Servette and Lausanne and their places are being taken by the likes of Yverdon and Schaffhausen, which have a much smaller fan base.
There is a risk of seeing a further drop in spectator numbers this season but perhaps with the arrival of the new stadium in Bern we might be able to hide this a bit.
swissinfo: Five years ago almost half the teams in the top division came from the French-speaking part of the country; now there are just two. Is this evidence of a lack of passion for the game in western Switzerland?
E.I: I don’t think you can say that. French speakers account for 20 per cent of the population and two out of the ten clubs in the Super League come from western Switzerland. But it’s fair to say that [Neuchâtel] Xamax and Yverdon clearly don’t have the same aura about them as the likes of Servette, Sion and Lausanne.
But bearing in mind the economic situation and the size of the population, I don’t think you will ever see more than two or three clubs from that part of the country in a Super League made up of ten teams.
swissinfo: Swiss clubs have not fared well in Europe since Basel enjoyed an impressive run in 2002/2003. Why have they failed to progress and will it be a similar story this time around?
E.I.: The problem we face in Switzerland – and it’s the same for most small countries – is that it’s difficult to make it through in the Champions League if you’re not seeded. Look at Thun: they have been drawn against Dynamo Kiev in their qualifying round and face an extremely difficult task.
People forget that two years ago Basel eliminated a Liverpool team containing several players who went on to win last season’s Champions League. You can see how much they have improved since then through playing in the English Premiership, but Basel end up playing too many easy matches in the Super League. They are not used to playing regularly at the highest level where if you make the slightest mistake you pay for it.
swissinfo-interview: Adam Beaumont
Champions Basel start the season as clear favourites to maintain their dominance of the Super League.
Last season they finished ten points clear of second-placed Thun and 20 ahead of Grasshoppers in third place.
Yverdon are this season’s newcomers, after winning a close-fought race to win promotion from the Challenge League.