Soccer-Euro-Swiss banking on vocal Basel crowd

By Mark Ledsom

BASEL, June 7 - When Switzerland kick off Euro
2008 in Basel on Saturday they will be hoping to tap in to some
of the history and fervour that has helped turn the northern
city into the country's soccer capital.

Located at the meeting point of the Swiss, French and German
border, Basel and its inhabitants claim a passion for football
more in keeping with their international neighbours than with
the generally reserved nature of rival Swiss cities.

"It's hard to explain the reasons but the people of Basel
have always been very proud of their status as the country's
leading football city," Christoph Kieslich, co-editor of the
BaslerZeitung broadsheet, told Reuters on Friday.

"Of course, the local club FC Basel have a lot to do with it
as a very traditional club that was founded back in 1893. Basel
is an industrial town and there has been a long-standing
relationship between the club and the general population."

FC Basel's St Jakob Park stadium will host all three of
Switzerland's Group A matches, including Saturday's opener
against the Czech Republic, along with two quarter-finals and a


The locals should already be in a party mood after seeing
Basel wrap up the Swiss league and cup double here last month,
prompting the usual raucous celebrations in the city's old town.

"I don't know why there is such a passion for football in
the city," Switzerland's Basel-born playmaker Hakan Yakin told
Reuters at the team's training camp.

"Perhaps it has to do with the closeness to Germany and
France but the support from the fans has always been great, even
when the club was in the second division.

"The stadium is really tight and the noise and atmosphere
transmits really well on to the pitch."

Yakin, now with Basel's league rivals Young Boys Berne, is
one of nine Swiss squad members to have played for the side at
some point in their career.

The squad's three strikers, Alex Frei, Marco Streller and
Eren Derdiyok were all born in and around the city along with
Yakin, midfielder Benjamin Huggel and right back Philipp Degen.

"It's the most beautiful city in Switzerland and with our
young team it will help to have a huge crowd behind us," former
Basel Champions League goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbuehler told

"We'll be hoping that the Basel cauldron is spilling over on