Match officials come under attack in spate of violent incidents in Switzerland.

By Nick Bidwell
A country with one of the lowest crime rates in the industrialised world, Switzerland is a land where law and order was thought to be engrained in the national psyche. Ironic then that the footballing zeitgeist in the spring of 2009 is not only fans losing their self-control but taking it down a dark alley to give it a kicking.

Referee Jerome Laperriere, on the FIFA list since 2006, certainly would not disagree. At the end a goalless draw between Young Boys Berne and Neuchatel Xamax at the Stade de Suisse Laperriere was en route to the dressing room when knocked down by a lighter thrown from the crowd. Although he only suffered a nasty cut to his chin, the TV images of him spreadeagled on the floor will have done much more damage to the Swiss game.

“My first reaction was to think I’d been hit by a stone,“ said Laperriere, who lodged an official complaint with the police. “I still haven’t worked out why the some supporters were angry with me. What would have happened if I’d really made an error. “ The head of the country’s referees, Urs Meier, was equally shocked: “ Nothing can justify such an incident. A ref should be untouchable.“

Meier, of course, is no stranger to having a target painted on his back. After controversially ruling out a Sol Campbell goal in England’s penalty-shoot-out loss to Portugal at Euro 2004, he was the subject of UK media hate campaign, on the receiving end of abuse galore as well as death threats.

With the Swiss League taking their time to mete out justice – so much so that some question their competence – it was left to Young Boys to take the lead, promising to beef up stadium stewarding, lengthen the tunnel and to introduce a novel post-match ceremony, where the two captains and the referee meet in the centre circle for hand-shakes all round before walking off together. Excellent idea or empty gesture. Take your pick.

Sadly the Laperriere incident is not a stand-alone story of shame. A week earlier, at the end of a Swiss Cup semi-final which Sion won on penalties at Luzern, fans surged onto the field of play to confront one other. Unedifying, ugly scenes. Hoodies going hand-to-hand and foot-to-foot, police forced to use water cannon and rubber bullets to restore calm and the assistant-referee with a beer thrown over him.

Shame that the punishment handed out by the federation was indirect free-kick rather than penalty. Sion were fined Sion £6,250, Luzern £25,000, the latter deemed the guiltier of the parties since they were the host club and were judged not to have made sufficient security provision.

You know you are on the edge of the abyss when match officials are required to have a pair of bodyguards at every game, a recently-enacted statute in the Solothurn regional league in the north-west of the country. The reason for it ? A spectator who thought that a yellow card for his brother was reason enough to assault the referee.

In the Swiss Super League, defending champions FC Basle kept the title race alive thanks to a 3-1 win at pole position FC Zurich, a result which moved the former to within one point of top spot.

FCZ remain in charge of their destiny; victory in each of their final two games (at Bellinzona and at home to city neighbours Grasshopper) will make them uncatchable and they have the extra insurance of a far better goal-difference. But the Basler, who still have to go to Hoppers and host Young Boys, can take great heart from the nerves shown by Zurich in the big match. With the pressure turned up a notch or two, FCZ suddenly developed a timidity which no one had seen this term.

Basle’s win at the Letzigrund also served as redemption time for their Swiss international strikers Marco Streller and Eren Derdyiok, who contributed a goal apiece. Neither has set the world alight this season and media pundit, the ex-Switzerland frontrunner pundit Kubilay Turkyilmaz, even went as far as to question their mental strength. He has his response.