The tranquil shores of Lake Constance that divide Switzerland from Germany and Austria are where the game of football took root in Europe. Tucked inland, on the Swiss side of the waterfront, St Gallen is home to the oldest club side still in existence on the Continent.
On 19 April 1879, an advert was placed in the St Galler Tagblatt announcing a meeting at the Hörnli on Neugasse near Marktplatz, with a view to starting a football club. The newspaper and the restaurant are still in operation but no original documentation survives.
Behind the initiative were former pupils from an educational institute in nearby Rorschach, right on the lake, whose classmates had included young football enthusiasts from England. As an academic and ecclesiastical centre, St Gallen had long been welcoming international students.
Games were arranged with other scholarly bodies but the earliest recorded match played by FC St Gallen was a May Day fixture with Grasshoppers Zürich in 1892. Subsuming various little local sides that had sprung up, the club became Vereinigte FC St Gallen, the name it went under for its Swiss Serie A debut in 1899-90. Dropping the ‘United’, the re-renamed FC St Gallen won the Swiss title in 1904.
Remarkably, the Grün-Weißen then went almost an entire century without repeating the feat.
For a while, in fact, FC St Gallen weren’t even top dogs in their own backyard. In the 1890s, SC Brühl came to prominence, although the club’s official foundation date is 27 March 1901.
Also on the scene were Blue Stars St Gallen, who played the Swiss Serie A in the early 1900s. League rivals FC St Gallen and Blue Stars hired their members from the higher echelons of local society. SC Brühl represented the working man.
As the Blue Stars disappeared from view before World War I, FC St Gallen and SC Brühl moved into grounds near each other on the east side of town. For St Gallen, their long-term home of the Espenmoos provided the club with a nickname, Espen. Across the A1 motorway and the main road to Rorschach, Brühl have played at the same Krontal ground since 1911.
In 1915, SC Brühl claimed their only league title, a 2-1 play-off victory over neighbours St Gallen settling the preliminary group. Outside-left for the champions was Paul Grüninger, later club president. As a local police chief, in 1938 Grüninger falsified the papers of the many Jewish refugees streaming over the border from Germany. Put on trial, sacked, fined and refused a pension, Grüninger spent the rest of his life in ignominy and poverty.
Rehabilitation, of sorts, came in recent times when SC Brühl named the Sportanlage Krontal after their heroic title-winner.
Espenmoos has its own history. Inaugurated in 1910, in 1912 it it staged Switzerland’s first international in St Gallen, a 2-1 defeat by Germany. Generations of home fans stood on the Stanzgrün, the terraces taking up 7,800 places of the 11,300 capacity.
Its record attendance of 16,200 was set in 1985 with the visit of Internazionale in the UEFA Cup. Fifteen years later, it witnessed St Gallen lift their first league title in 96 years.
The Espenmoos now hosts St Gallen’s women’s and under-21 teams. The senior side moved out to a new-build that opened on the eve of Euro 2008, Switzerland christening the AFG Arena with a pre-tournament 3-0 win over Liechtenstein.
Before the 2016-17 season, the stadium, set by a retail park and the A1 motorway beyond the western outskirts of town, was renamed kybunpark.
On the other side of the city at Krontal, the Paul-Grüninger-Stadion last saw a bumper crowd for a rare derby in 2011. SC Brühl had made an equally rare ascent into the second-tier Challenge League, St Gallen had slipped down for one season, and 5,500 gathered to witness the visitors beat the underdogs 3-1.
SC Brühl now play in the third-flight Promotion League, along with the reserve sides of FC Basel and FC Zürich. Current top scorer is Alessandro Riedle, son of former German international striker Karl-Heinz.
The PGS-Stadion (Grütligasse 27B) holds 3,900, with 900 seats in the main stand. Frequent bus No.7 runs from St Gallen main station to Grütli (every 10-15min including Sundays, direction Neudorf, ten stops, 10min journey time). The Grütlistraße stop is also close, on the regular No.1 route from St Gallen. Buses also call at central Marktplatz.
At the ground, the Kronen Lounge is a traditional bar/restaurant for a traditional club, open on match days and from 5pm during the week.
St Gallen has its own airport, St Gallen-Altenrhein, base for the People’s Viennaline service with the Austrian capital and private jets. It’s 23km (14 miles) out of town at Lake Constance, diagonally opposite Friedrichshafen 80km (50 miles) from St Gallen. There, on the German side, Bodensee-Airport has a winter weekend service with London Gatwick. From the airport terminal, the half-hourly Bodensee-Oberschwaben-Bahn (BOB) train runs to Friedrichshafen Stadt, then the habour stop of Hafen, tickets €2.10, journey time 6min and 12min. A taxi should cost €12. From Hafen, wonderfully, the hourly train service to St Gallen includes a ferry across Lake Constance, overall journey time 1hr 15min, including changing from boat to train at Romanshorn on the Swiss side. A single ticket (Friedrichshafen Hafen-St Gallen) is €20 from Deutsche Bahn.
The nearest major international airport to St Gallen is Zürich 87km (54 miles) away. A half-hourly train runs direct from the airport to St Gallen, journey time 50min-1hr, single ticket SF14.50. If you’re going straight to kybunpark stadium, then with the hourly ICN train, you can get there from Zürich airport in 1hr, changing at Gossau for Winkeln. With all others, change at St Gallen main station.
All local buses pass via the station. A single ticket in central zone 210 (Kurzstrecke, valid 30min), including Winkeln for St Gallen and Grütli for SC Brühl, is SF2.40. A day pass Tageskarte is SF6.40. Machines by stops accept cash or credit cards, or you can download the OSTWIND transport app onto your phone.
The station is close to the city centre, but you’ll need public transport for each stadium, a local train for St Gallen and a bus for SC Brühl.
Based near St Gallen station, Herold Taxi (+41 71 2222 777) accepts credit cards.
Near the kybunpark stadium, the modern 83-room hotel one66 is a handy three-star with weekend deals currently at SF125/double, SF90/single use, a café-bar, and underground parking on match days.
Also close, the New Star is in similar vein though less geared towards St Gallen games. It does have its own car park, restaurant, bar and terrace. The hotel offers dine & sleep deals, and a weekend package that includes a free city tour.
Staying near the stadium means that you’ll be a long way from the city centre. Of the many hotels in town, near the station the Metropol has been serving rail travellers for over a century while the four-star Walhalla St Gallen features a popular brasserie and private parking.
By Marktplatz, traditional Hotel am Ring gleams with historic chintz, grand staircases and stained glass, and has recently entered the 21st century by introducing WiFi. Across the street, the Weisses Kreuz is another great find, mid-range rooms, a modern bar and a free city transport pass.
Across the city centre, the Hotel am Spisertor comprises 12 two-star rooms with limited reception hours at weekends. Staff at the on-site nursing home take care of check-ins on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Rates, SF105 single/SF145 double at cheaper weekends, include a buffet breakfast in the in-house restaurant.
As well as the little bar hub around the parallel streets of Augustinergasse, Engelgasse and Metzgergasse near Marktplatz, St Gallen has plenty of sport-friendly pubs dotted around the city centre.
At the station end of town, the O-Five Pub provides jugs of Guinness, Swiss lager or cider & black to go with the European match action. Busy Da Sláinte Inn, the longest established Irish pub in town, goes more for live music than sport.
On Metzgergasse in the bar zone, Gallus offers those watching a whole St Gallen game on the big screen a free drink should the Green-and-Whites win.
Still going after all these centuries, the Restaurant Hörnli on Marktplatz is where the first meeting took place to form FC St Gallen, a traditional, wood-panelled restaurant with a fair range of Swiss and German beers on draught and by the bottle. No evidence, though, of the 1879 rendezvous.