Swiss Frankly Expensive
The European season has been an enjoyable one for United this year; back in the Champions League again with 4 wins from 4 and 10 goals along the way. With us all but qualified for the knockout round a trip to Switzerland was almost a formality as we looked to secure top spot in the group, even if there were likely to be European giants waiting for us.
Our opponents, FC Basel, are actually the only Swiss team we’ve ever played – this our sixth match against the Swiss champions, with our last visit there in 2011 the defeat which succumbed us to our first taste of Thursday night football in the Europa League. The signs were better for this trip, Switzerland became my 20th country to have seen United play in, whilst the matchday was sandwiched by an insignificant birthday for me and a 60th for my dad. Whatever happened we’d be celebrating post-match, if we found a cheap enough place to drink…
Travelling to Basel
Visiting the 5th most expensive city to live in the world (a top 10 that features no less than 7 Swiss cities) was obviously going to have to be a considered trip. We opted for just the two nights, a fairly quick visit but enough time to see the city, the match and the prices. Booking straight after the draw we got a decent flight, with a quick stop at Heathrow. £167 with British Airways seemed like a good deal as there was minimal messing around and the flight times were reasonable on both legs. Stuttgart and Zurich were the two closest big cities offering an alternate link, but we managed to skip these by booking quickly and going direct(ish).
A 35 minute Manchester to London flight was new for me, great clear views of the city when coming in for landing. The experience on BA was nothing to shout about – not positively anyway. Given their positioning as a premium airline I failed to see the difference between them and any of the budget airlines. Granted it’s not the deal maker, but no free in flight refreshments was a bit of a disappointment, especially when the like of KLM and Lufthansa are so good for it. Not to worry too much, we managed to get into the airport lounge at Heathrow to top up.
The City of Basel
Basel is a unique city in that it’s so close to the border of two other countries, so much so that Vodafone sent us messages welcoming us to Switzerland, France and Germany. Our hotel, the Youth Hostel Basel, set the tone at £60 a night – for a hostel! A twin room to be fair, but twice the price that we paid in Lisbon just a month ago, and a little grey and prison-like in appearance. How many hotels sell knives in their reception too? It’s what makes the European season a bit more of an adventure, just 3 months ago we were negotiating the Bulgaria/Macedonia border, stuck for hours in passport checks on a rickety bus with the knowledge that there were cheap pints on the other side. But back to Basel.
One immediate positive on arrival at the airport was that if you had a hotel reservation you could get free travel around the city, with the buses and trams providing every route we needed for our stay. This helped to keep travel costs down, albeit slightly, and meant we could roam around the city. Some reds opted to go north to the German border (half an hour or so on the tram) for slightly cheaper pints; we stayed fairly central for most of the trip and just put up with the average £6 pints, eased a little with duty free whiskey picked up on the way.
Two nights in Basel seemed like more than enough. Our hostel was very close to the Rhine river which like many European cities split the place in two. The Southern side had more (of the few) sights, with the Gothic looking Basel Minster on view from most areas and the famous Town Hall not too far away. We wandered around this central area and briefly over the historic ‘middle bridge’, but in a city so full of wealth it was no surprise to see countless art galleries and museums, notably the Kunstmuseum. The Roche Tower, the tallest building in Switzerland, north of the river was about the only modern looking building in sight.
The beer (Feldschlösschen), although pricey, was well accompanied with local food. I went about as diverse as possible, given the geography of the area, with French snails, Germany wurst and Swiss rösti. Despite it being pretty clear and crisp it wasn’t as cold as we’d planned for, though we knew the best way to keep warm. Much of our drinking took place around the aptly named Steinenvorstadt, though many reds kept themselves to the less authentic Paddy Reilly’s and Mr Pickwicks.
The St Jakobs stadium was just a few miles south of the city, easy enough to reach on the free tram. After an afternoon in the city centre we headed out to the ground a short while before kick off, thankfully met with a few outdoor bars and even better a load of open fire pits in amongst the crowds. There’s a few reasons why these haven’t quite made it to the Tollgate or other pubs around Old Trafford just yet.
The ground has a 38.5k capacity and the attendance was just a little under this, as it often is due to UEFA required segregation, with our corner full with an allocation of 2,000. Searches was a strict as ever going in, with anyone who’d took a phone charging unit in finding this confiscated; a little unnecessary since we were netted into the away end as usual. The stadium was full of colour, including Basel’s tifo display (‘if he is needed he is ready’) and they were clearly out to get a result that would help them through to the knockout round. United only needed a draw to top the group and came close, with Rojo hitting the bar and Felliani the post, but we really didn’t make much of our changes and were punished with a goal just before the 90th minute.
Whilst a loss didn’t succumb us to the same fate as 2011, it was still a bit disappointing to see a United so full of goals in the past few months really struggle against a much lesser side. There’ll be bigger tests to come and still a job to do in our final game against Moscow. The age old ‘game is the least important aspect of the trip’ still rang true, as we were quickly back in the bar (for once not locked in at all after the match!) and so come midnight we were back in the bar and celebrating my old man turning 60. Over 20 years since we first went to a match together and now in Switzerland, my 20th country with United. It’d be great to see a top United side competing with the big teams in Europe again, but the reason we keep travelling the world to watch them is the shared passion we enjoy.
Thanks to a busy end of year schedule I’m actually completing writing this with qualification secured! Despite permutations potentially leading to us finishing third in the group and fear of the Thursday nights, we managed to see off Moscow easily enough to top the group. As it stands we could face any of Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk, Porto, or you know, the big ones; Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus. We’ll know soon enough but February should be fun if our form continues to improve.
Total travel costs: £167
Miles travelled: 1,208
Accommodation: £60/night (twin room – £30pp)
Match ticket: 50 CHF (£40)
Average cost of pint: £6 (8 CHF)
United allocation: 2,000
Result: FC Basel 1: United 0
Match played 22/11/17