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Liechtenstein

Small country between Austria and Switzerland. In terms of population it is about the size of an average Premiership football ground and at a recent count only 482 of them were unemployed! There are seven football clubs in the principality – to give it its proper title – and they all compete in Swiss competitions.

In fact, most aspects of life in Liechtenstein have a strong Swiss flavour. The Swiss Franc is the official currency and Switzerland has responsibility for border control and the defence of the country. Liechtenstein does, however, issue its own stamps and consequently, most of the tourists it attracts are philatelists.

I visited in the summer of 2001 to see a World Cup Qualifier against Israel. There are three main points of entry to the country (landlocked, no airport): from Austria via Feldkirch, or from Switzerland via Buchs/SG or Sargans; I chose the latter, which is the most direct route from most places in Switzerland. In actual fact, I travelled by train from Lyon in France, which took the best part of 7 hours (changing at Geneva and Zurich). The journey was hampered by my excesses the night before which resulted in an unplanned lie-in and two missed trains (including my emergency reserve train). However, the Swiss railways are fast, clean and efficient so all was not lost and I arrived at the tiny border village of Sargans in mid-afternoon, the breathtaking scenery en route having helped to clear my head.

The capital village Vaduz with a view across the Rhein to SwitzerlandFrom Sargans it is a simple, 30 minute ride on the ‘postbus’ into Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. There are three an hour and one was waiting outside the station as I arrived. The nearest airport, in Zurich, is only 1h 9mins by train from Sargans so this is clearly the easiest port of entry for anyone coming from the west. The other Swiss frontier village, Buchs/SG is 4 1/2 hours from Munich on the train and does have a rail connection through to Feldkirch in Austria although not many trains run along this branch line and fewer still actually stop in Liechtenstein. You can, however, take a direct bus from Buchs or Feldkirch to Vaduz.

The bus from Sargans crosses the Rhine and then travels north along its eastern bank through the string of riverside villages that characterise lowland Liechtenstein. Most of the population live here, at the bottom of the Rhine valley, on a narrow strip of flat land between the river (which forms the Swiss border) and the mountains, which make up most of the country. The tiny ski resort of Malbun is high up above to the east.

As we drove along I began to ponder the figures. What sort of human resources could Liechtenstein realistically draw on for their national football team? With a population of 31,320, roughly half of these would be female. Of the remaining 15,000 or so, most would be either too old or too young to be considered for international football. A population pyramid for the year 2000 shows that there were roughly 5,900 males between the ages of 15 and 39, from whose ranks the best 11 footballers could be selected. Of course, this is not strictly true. Some of these will have disabilities, injuries, or be otherwise unfit to play international sport, some are likely to be foreign nationals (especially Swiss), and many others still will have absolutely no interest in the game of football. By my reckoning, this leaves a pool of at most 2,000 prospective players, not too dissimilar to the resources available to a large British university team (where almost everyone is in the relevant age group). This puts their achievements into perspective as they have turned out a few half decent performances in the past. I don’t know of any university team that could compete on a comparable level.

It didn’t take me very long to find my bearings in Vaduz. The tourist office (open till 5:30) is number 37 Städtle (a pedestrianised street) and they were happy to provide me with a map and guide to the country, directions to the stadium, and a souvenir stamp for my passport. With a few hours to kill until kick off I began the short trek upwards to the castle that overlooks the village. The ‘Schloss Vaduz’ is the capital’s only real tourist site and, although you can’t go in, the walk is well worthwhile for the outstanding views across the valley into Switzerland. Back in the village, I struggled to find a bar and headed for the stadium early enough to be sure of obtaining a ticket.

The Rheinpark-Stadion is a neat, modern construction that consists of a small, covered stand along each side of the pitch. There was no access to the open areas behind the goals. Official capacity is 4,548 for club football, and about 3,500 when the national team is playing. Most of the ground is simply surrounded by a wire fence which allows those outside to see a large proportion of the action but the view in is likely to be blocked for big matches.

The Israel game hadn’t proved very popular amongst the Liechtenstein public and most of the home supporters were probably relatives of the players. There was no segregation and the atmosphere was provided by the vociferous away support that made up a large proportion of the crowd. Tickets were cheap and sold on the gate, security was fairly tight and involved searching the bag that contained all my possessions for a 5 day holiday. Programmes could be picked up for free and weren’t bad considering – they may well be fairly collectible. The catering was of a good standard and instead of pies there was a choice of sausage in a bun (I tried both), although be warned – they could struggle to cope with demand during big matches.The Rheinpark-Stadion

It was nice to see a brass band on the pitch before the game and it was even nicer to hear them play ‘God Save the Queen’, which I could only presume was in honour of my presence. Somewhat disappointingly, I subsequently discovered that the tune doubles up as the national anthem for both countries. The game itself was no spectacle and the Liechtensteiners posed little threat to the disciplined Israelis, who ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.

Leaving Liechtenstein after an evening game can potentially pose a problem as there are only a couple of buses scheduled after 9:pm and if you miss these you’ll almost certainly miss any connections. I spent some time before the game trying to gather information on bus routes and times as I had booked onward travel through Austria and into Italy overnight. I needed to get over the border to Feldkirch to catch the train to Innsbruck but it was proving difficult to get any reliable information on when to take which bus from where. In the event, I needn’t have worried as they had put on some ‘football specials’ from the stadium car park taking people back to Feldkirch, Sargans and Buchs/SG. An added bonus was that people in possession of a match ticket could travel for free.

Liechtenstein proved to be a delightful place for a daytrip and a picturesque setting for a football match but don’t expect much in the way of nightlife – just make sure you have somewhere to go after the game. For more information try the following websites:

http://www.tourismus.li/
Liechtenstein Bus information (in German)
Liechtenstein Online (in German)
Lonely Planet Liechtenstein

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