Yes, good readers, I am making my grand return to the least aligned of all places in the known world, and indeed, human history. Switzerland shall be welcoming me once again with open arms tomorrow evening. Herein lies my broken promise: a matter of a few short weeks ago, I was experiencing Basel, the tranquil Swiss city in which my padre resides, for the first time. During my stay, I drank beers aplenty with him and my boy, Phil, who had flown over from London. Phillis, the name by which many know him, including myself, took quite nicely to Switzerland, as I felt I did too. On a side note, he is fully aware that ‘Phyllis’ is, in fact, the correct spelling of his chosen name technically, but equally feels the need to distance himself from association with the stereotypical old lady who goes by the same moniker, sat at home in a poorly upholstered armchair, sipping her Earl Grey tea from a china mug, surrounded by her 28 cats who provide her with her sole company. By the end of our trip to Basel, Phillis (spelt with an ‘i’) and I made the promise to each other to never again return to the nation of Switzerland, for reasons that shall soon be made known to you. Phil, all I can say is that I’m deeply sorry for what I am about to do: I am about to break that promise. I am about to go back to Switzerland…
My friend, who is not and never will be a cat lady (he hopes), and I, as a duo shared the purpose of the trip to Swiss lands; to venture to Sankt Jakob-Park, the home ground of FC Basel to watch the home side take on the mighty Chelsea, that team in blue which remains forever closest to our hearts, in the Champions League. Of course, my primary goal in Switzerland as a lone traveller and son, was to visit my daddy-kins. A goal which I accomplished with aplomb, might I add. Funnily enough, the language employed between myself and my taxi driver upon my arrival in Basel airport was Spanish given that my knowledge of the German language stands at the impressive total of ‘fuck all’! Thankfully, this helpful fellow, hailing originally from Algeria, boasted a passable level of Spanish in his arsenal, occasionally confused with Italian, which I ever so generously overlooked as I was truly glad of his ability to determine my destination in this unknown city. Of course, I would have simply pointed to a written address on a smartphone screen if I had simply had said address documented somewhere that day, which, as you have probably ascertained by now, I did not. Technology, namely texting services, failed me on this cold evening. I digress… I shall, however, be mentioning the cold again shortly.
The time spent with mein vater (check that out, I wrote something in German!) was short and sweet, for he had to jet off to Nottingham for work a few days after my arrival in Basel. We shared glasses of port and juice (on separate occasions), the latter of course blended by our fair hands, he showed me his technologically kitted-up flat, around the city, what to do, what to see, and by the time Phil was due to arrive, I felt that my dad’s Basel orientation class had served me well. At the city train station I picked up my trusty companion who had inexplicably decided against travelling to Switzerland without a coat (a truly foolish decision). After a dinner of pints of lager and pretzels and a night of spooning Phil on a sofa bed in my dad’s living room, not out of choice I hasten to add, he and I were left to our own devices in Basel. We scarcely ventured outside, due to the subzero temperatures on offer in the great outdoors, other than to frequent local bars and, on one snowy evening, for Phil to happen upon a water fountain into which he wisely opted to dunk his face and, moments later, a nipple (don’t ask). Strolling tipsy through the quiet streets of Basel proved quite enjoyable, as it is an attractive place to visit, despite the bitter cold which plagues the city at this time of year. For example, views of the Rhine are rather nice at night:
A word on this cold: it is really is freezing. Literally. Below freezing, in fact. And without any of the sweet nectar we commonly know as lip balm at hand during my stay, my face did suffer severely. With temperatures reaching lows of -4ºC on the night of this European football match, I cannot remember a time when I have been colder, other than perhaps atop an almost 20,000ft mountain in Africa – that was just obscenely frosty – but at least then I had the appropriate attire to combat such conditions. I hold it on good authority, too, that these kind of winter temperatures are typically considered as mild. MILD! Winter has apparently yet to truly arrive… Interesting, to say the least. Sat freezing my nuts off, so to speak, I would have surely perished had I spent much longer in FC Basel’s stadium, which to the befuddlement of myself and my friend seemed to be a shopping center that, perhaps by chance, happened to contain a football pitch within. Exaggerating, I am not. Pop in for a bit of Christmas shopping in this neighbourhood of Basel, buy yourself a nice wooly scarf and ‘Hey, while you’re at it, why not come and watch this match, happening right here, right now?!’ It’s quite fun, really. That is, apart from this spiteful cold which did seem to actively want to damage me so.
By this point of my thrilling tale of Basel, you must be wondering why Phil and I would decide to make the extreme commitment to never return to Switzerland. Before you begin to frantically ponder what atrocities we could have been subjected to that would provoke this reaction, let me assure you that this was a decision made purely for footballing reasons. For indeed, Chelsea lost. The loss we can reluctantly accept through gritted teeth, but it is the manner in which Chelsea lost which troubled us. On this bitterly cold evening (I think I have conveyed that it was cold, right?), Chelsea could not muster a single chance on goal. They did not shoot once! For much of the game, Chelsea played on the back foot, with Basel enjoying a home advantage boosted by admittedly excellent home support; these people do like their time over there.
In what turned out to be a fairly uneventful game, we had a fantastic view of the pitch sat practically next to the pitch, opposite the centre circle, thanks to the ample generosity of my dear father (Danke schön, vater – look, I’m at it again!). Bravely, we sat amongst the passionate and vocal Basel fans, and to our utter delight, Chelsea posed absolutely no threat to the Basel defence! Oh well, at least we had the consolation of seeing Chelsea qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament and, far more importantly, making our first TV appearance on Sky Sports (woop!), according to friends sat watching the game at home, looking cold and most likely disgruntled due to the evening’s proceedings. As minutes of play passed, Phil and I began to notice that not only did Chelsea look unlikely to score on this particular occasion, but they looked unlikely even to create chances. Not just chances, at that. Chances to shoot. And so comes half-time. No shots registered. No worries, we’ll surely step up the tempo in the second half. The game proceeds. Said stepping up of said tempo does not materialise. 75 minutes pass of minimal attacking threat from the boys in blue and it quickly dawns on the two of us that Chelsea are simply not destined to score tonight. We begin to hope for a shot on goal. Just a shot, one teency shot, anything on target. Sod it! Off target will do. Just something. Please. Clearly, this was too much to ask as Chelsea responded to our wishes for an attack on goal by conceding one of their own, clocked at the 87th minute, which was successfully converted by Basel’s Egyptian winger, Mohamed Salah (a very good player), as he dinked the ball over the Chelsea keepr, Petr Cech. Good! They lost the game and with that, so too did Phil and I lose the opportunity to see a Chelsea player kick the ball on target, between the posts of the Basel goal.
Strolling home in the freezing cold (I’m sure I must have mentioned that it was cold at some point!), we began to theorise that maybe the reason for Chelsea’s failure to shoot was that the manager, Mourinho, had actually instructed his players not to, as shots on target could result in goals, and goals could result in wins. And Chelsea would not want that. Either that or it was simply someone’s fault. We needed a scapegoat. Naturally, we soon landed on Switzerland. Of course! It was all Switzerland’s fault. Thus, we completely rationally and fairly agreed that if Chelsea had lost because of Switzerland, as clearly they had, then we simply had to boycott this country forever… On my part, this boycott has lasted all of a few weeks (sorry, Phil) as I recently booked another flight to visit my dad again this weekend, to be accompanied by my sister and for the three of us to celebrate Christmas together early. Phil’s efforts against the most neutral of nations remain successful. It goes without saying that for me to return to Basel, this once again means flying, which I am slowing coming to accept is quite a safe way to get around. Quite safe. I am yet to be fully convinced. My good friend, irrationality, reminds me that I am probably still doomed. Thanks buddy!
So, with my betrayal of Phil executed and my promise to him lying in tatters, onwards I march to Christmas in Basel.