Diesen Text von Jacob Sweetman gibt es hier auch auf Deutsch.
When I was last here, what seems like a lifetime ago, in the press conference before the first leg of the first leg-‚Relegationsspiel‘ against Stuttgart, Urs Fischer had seemed a little nervous. A muscle in his cheek kept twitching slightly. It was a small thing but ever so slightly perceptible when you looked hard enough. It’s understandable when one starts to read about him. He is a man obsessed by winning, and he knew that the first leg would be the one to define the tie.
But now, speaking before the Leipzig game, he seems much more relaxed. He speaks at length about his players, about the technical differences between Sebastian Polter and Sebastian Andersson whilst using glowing terms for both. He talks about how hard they’ve worked as a team, about how well the new players are fitting in, about how much they’ve scouted the opposition. He is easy, florid, open and smiling, he looks like he enjoys the jokes about how many new faces there were inside the press room.
It’s never been this full
For it had never been this full before. There are eleven TV cameras at the back filming him.
He says how the difference really isn’t that great between Halberstadt and Leipzig, it’s just a game of football after all. And he just wants to think about that. Nothing else. It’s simple, really.
But then comes the question about the planned silent protest in the first fifteen minutes on Sunday. It comes somewhere near the end, from somewhere near the back, from one of the cameras, and it really put Fischer’s back up. He’d spent twenty minutes talking about how this was just another game. He’d even started the whole thing off by making a statement about how they had to blend out all the other stuff that’s been going on, the extraneous bullshit, whether self-imposed or not, that will inevitably follow any football club thrown suddenly into the limelight as Union have been over the last chaotic and joyful few months.
It didn’t last long but quick as a flash a glimpse of the old Fischer came through.
Nowadays, people at Union talk of him in hushed tones as a master communicator. He makes a point of shaking the hand of everyone in the room after his press conferences, a trick that always served Claudio Ranieri well when he needed some good will from the press. Certainly the line he gave in the flush of promotion will be remembered in certain quarters of the city alongside JFK’s „Ich bin ein Berliner“ as a masterstroke of using a colloquialism in a foreign language.
„Einfach geil“, is better though, because the new President needed his translator to conjure up his sentence for him. It remains the greatest uncredited quote in history, but Fischer’s came out naturally.
He had softened just a little.
A former team-mate once said of him that „his only instrument was a whip.“ He meant it as a compliment, they would do anything for him, but Fischer would have been hard work to be around too. They said he was obsessed by the game and he has certainly spent most of his life trying to master it, to get it to bend to his will.
There’s a story about when Fischer was a kid that was told in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung years ago. He threatened to never speak to his mother again if she betrayed a single word to his coach about the forty degree fever burning his insides up on the morning of a game. It’s tempting to think of him there and then looking just like he does today but as a little kid with a slightly pudgy face, spiked hair out of a square topped head in black framed glasses, his limbs aching, his tongue numb, cold sweat sitting pallidly on his back as he begged to be allowed to play, before a flash of anger at the unfairness of it all pierces his eyes.
Urs Fischer and his obsession with football
He was obsessed by football, and by success, too. That’s why he was so pissed off when Basel sacked him having won two league titles. He didn’t deserve it, he was certain he was better than that, and he knew he could do better, that there was more to come.
I keep looking back at the eleven TV cameras in the room. Even before the first leg against Stuttgart when we all went through the same thing, the same old dance, there were only seven. I know, I counted both times. The three rows of desks are full.
Matze Koch, one of the old guard, those who have been here forever, asked him then what he’d do if Union won the games against Stuttgart? Fischer laughed. He said it was one of the best questions he’d been asked, „maybe in the top ten,“ but he couldn’t say yet.
The chances are he went fishing. Or back to his home district of Affoltern with mountains rearing up behind and the city of Zurich sprawling out below. To streets that run in endless looking circles up hills and down verges towards forests.
It’s not only the eleven cameras and the full benches that remind me how far Union have come in the last decade. It seems like just the blink of an eye ago that the press conferences here would take place in a Portakabin, roughly where the Union shop now stands. It was drafty and cold, the walls betrayed the leaks in the roof, and the PA would often be given up on as it broke out into Sun O))) feedback. Uwe Neuhaus would smoke Marlboro Lights outside of the door nearest the forest, while the journalists would use the other one. Neuhaus was approachablae back then, but he wouldn’t talk business over a fag. He’d save that for the press conference.
But you could still catch him afterwards. And all the local journalists would, saving their questions until after the official dealings were done, it was a different world. There’d be almost no-one there because Union were nothing back then and no-one outside really cared. Now the press conference is full. Eleven cameras tells you all you need to know.
Fischer spent a while back home in Affoltern after being sacked by Basel, too. Planning his next move.
There’s a street there called Glaubtenstrasse. Glaubtenstrasse’s ways amble around lazily, running around corners, doubling back on themselves. Turn left off Glaubtenstrasse and you are on Glaubtenstrasse. Turn right off it and you find the same. It must be hell to be a paperboy there. It looks like it was planned by a drunk.
And no matter what you do, you can always end up back at the same point. Just like here, in a packed press room talking about the game on Sunday against a team who play in Leipzig. The question about the planned protest was inevitable but it still jarred.
Poignant and beautiful
He’s wearing a tight training top, Fischer. Black with red shoulders – and one of the contentious logos of a sponsor that he’d also been asked a hundred times about to be seen, with black tracksuit trousers, gleaming red trainers conspicuously peeking out below. His black glasses are there and the front of his hair on his still square head is still spiked like it has been since forever.
Fischer’s smile cracked. He asked why he had to answer this question again, when he was sure he’d made his point perfectly clear twice already. „But if you like I can repeat myself again…“ Of course he’d rather have the bedlam of the stadium behind him for 90 minutes rather than the planned 75, but he certainly wasn’t going to die on this hill. „It’s the fan’s decision…“ he said. There was nothing he could do about it. Nothing he’d want to do about it.
He would refuse to criticise the protest even if it is really not how he’d like to begin his Bundesliga career. For he knows the route that Union have taken to get here, and he knows the blood and sweat that has been shed by the fans whose faces will be held poignantly, beautifully up as the Union Hymne plays on Sunday.
Fischer’s anger didn’t last long, it was just a flicker, a flash, a dragged back memory from a man whose drive to win games of football is as undimmed as ever. And before he left he shook everyone’s hand, even though it took longer than ever before.