The bitter rivalry between Basle and Zurich produced an early-season flashpoint…but not one you might have imagined

By Brian Homewood in Berne
Swiss football has apparently never seen anything like it. Basle goalkeeper Franco Costanzo had what can best be described as “an Oliver Kahn moment” when he grabbed his own team mate by the hair following the 1-1 draw at home to FC Zurich in the season’s first meeting between the two bitter rivals.

The Basle captain and former Argentina youth international lost his temper with defender Beg Ferati as the final whistle went and television pictures showed Costanzo remonstrating furiously with Ferati, who pushed him away and, in doing so, enraged the keeper even more. The keeper then put his hand on Ferati’s head and grabbed him by the hair before team-mates and a Zurich player came in to separate the feuding pair.

The way in which Costanzo manhandled Ferati was reminiscent of the infamous moment when Kahn grabbed Bayer Leverkusen striker Thomas Brdaric by the neck during a Bundesliga match in 2002.

Not surprisingly, the scenes caused consternation in a country where using the vacuum cleaner at an inappropriate time can earn a ticking off from the neighbours.

“These scenes are unheard of in Swiss football,” commented the tabloid newspaper Blick, while Basle immediately ordered Costanzo to pay an undisclosed amount to a programme which promotes responsible fan behaviour.

“He lost his composure in an unacceptable way and overstepped the legitimate emotional boundaries,” read a club statement. “The club will not accept its own players giving a bad example on or near the field of play.”

Costanzo immediately came out to face the TV cameras and apologised, saying: “Everyone who knows me knows that it’s the first time in my career I’ve done a stupid thing like this. I have made a big mistake which, of course, I cannot excuse. This will never happen again.”

Basle also fined striker Alex Frei, the national team’s all-time record scorer, after he petulantly got himself sent off in injury time. Frei, signed from Borussia Dortmund at the start of the season, was booked and then, furious at the decision, threw the ball at Johan Vonlanthen to earn himself a second yellow card.

Fierce rivalry
Vonlanthen had given Zurich an 87th-minute lead but Benjamin Huggel fired in the equaliser from a Frei backheel two minutes later. Zurich had been reduced to 10 men early in the second half when Alain Rochat was sent off.

The two clubs share one of the fiercest rivalries in Switzerland. The most notorious incident happened after Zurich won 2-1 at Basle to clinch the 2005-06 championship at the expense of their opponents. Furious Basle fans stormed onto the pitch and attacked visiting players who were celebrating.

There was more trouble in May, when Basle won 1-0 at Zurich, a result which was not enough to prevent the hosts eventually clinching the title. Basle fans again invaded the pitch and both teams were ordered to play one home match behind closed doors.

Ivory Coast striker Seydou Doumbia, last season’s top scorer in the league with 20 goals, is in prolific form once again this term, scoring six times in the first six games for early pace-setters Young Boys Berne.

Meanwhile, the country’s most successful club, Grasshopper, were struggling near the bottom of the 10-team table after losing four of their opening games.