Felix Bingesser and Stefan Kreis
Matthias Hüppi is in box number 7 in the Kybunpark. «All the boxes have been sold. Things are improving in all areas. In sponsorship, in match income, in season tickets, everywhere,” enthuses Hüppi.
After a dreary autumn, FC St. Gallen is on cloud nine a week before the cup final. At the forefront is Matthias Hüppi. The soul of the club, the club’s first ambassador, the man with the green and white scarf, for whom managing FC St. Gallen is more than a mandate or a job. The identification with the club, with the region and its people can be felt in every sentence, the enthusiasm is palpable in every word.
Matthias Hüppi, where were you on May 26, 1969?
Matthias Huppi: In my grandmother’s room in St. Gallen. We didn’t have a television at home and when I was eleven I was allowed to watch the cup final at grandmother’s.
It is FC St. Gallen’s only cup victory so far. Did tears flow?
I do not know that anymore. I’m freaked out for sure. During this time, I was usually with my grandmother on Sunday evenings and watched “Sports at the weekend”. That was always a highlight. I knew one player particularly well back then.
The goalkeeper Jean-Paul Biaggi. My father was a lawyer and was involved with Biaggi. That’s why he came to lunch with us a few times. I sat at the table with my mouth open in awe. He has now written to me that it would be nice if we could see each other in Bern. We invited him too. It has come full circle.
St. Gallen won against Lugano on the way to the final and defeated Bellinzona in the final. A good omen for the duel with Lugano?
This cup final is a fifty-fifty game. There are no omens and no favourites. This is a duel at eye level that can tip over to either side.
You always said winning the cup was your dream. Did your dream come about back then in your grandmother’s room?
Maybe that’s where the first enthusiasm for this competition was awakened. For a club like FC St. Gallen, the cup is the chance to win a title. Especially for the players. There are a lot of professional footballers who never win a title in their career. Sunday is a huge opportunity for every individual. Yes, the Cup has always fascinated me. In 1998, when we lost the final, I was there as a fan. And otherwise I was lucky that I was allowed to accompany a lot of cup finals as a television commentator.
Her uncle is former Federal Councilor Kurt Furgler. Have you ever been there as a TV commentator and your uncle presented the trophy?
I can’t say exactly. But it’s very possible. In any case, one of my dreams has come true: that this enthusiastic football region can now take part in this event.
How will you experience the day?
I’m certainly not going to give a speech to the team and I’m not going to talk about my dream either. As always, I’ll be there for the final training session. And then I want to experience the whole atmosphere. I will arrive by train and take part in the whole fan march. I want to be part of this community and not be driven to the stadium in a limousine.
Given your fascination with this knockout competition, does it also mean that you’re in favor of changing the league mode with playoffs?
This discussion is not an issue for us before the cup final. We will coordinate well internally and then as a club decide on a common position and communicate at the appropriate time.
Is last year’s final defeat against Lucerne the biggest disappointment in your four-year term?
I really had to nibble at this Ghost Cup final. It was an awesome atmosphere. There were no spectators, and as soon as someone’s mask slipped under their nose, someone stood there and reprimanded them. The defeat as such is to be overcome, Lucerne was better that day. But this whole dreary, sterile event has gotten on my nerves. That’s why we said back then that we would like to experience such a day with our fans. Statistically speaking, the fact that it works just one year later is anything but a matter of course. The enthusiasm in Eastern Switzerland is huge. In the city, even the hydrants are painted green and white.
People waited in line for sixteen hours for a final ticket. Isn’t it bitter that not everyone can go to Bern?
We can’t change that, capacity is limited. I got a lot of reactions on this. In one case or another we could still help.
A 16-year-old girl stood in line for hours. And was then pushed backwards by a few bullies and finally got nothing. The mother wrote me a long message. The next day the girl had a ticket in the mailbox. Our team also does a great job behind the scenes.
Can Matthias Hüppi reap what has been sown in recent years in this happy spring?
It’s not about me, it’s about the club. But it’s too early to harvest, we don’t sit back. We work sustainably and for the long term. Of course we have a great spring now. But we didn’t lose our composure and calm in the fall either. And are now being rewarded for it.
But you’ve had one or two sleepless nights during the autumn crisis, haven’t you?
Of course, that was a very stressful situation, so you have a lot to think about. We spoke plainly internally and didn’t spare ourselves. But we never panicked and avoided anything that could have weakened key exponents.
Does FC St. Gallen currently have the squad with the greatest potential in Switzerland?
We have a young team with very interesting players. This also means that one or the other moves on to take the next step.
Again, looking ahead to this spring, is this a squad you can play for the title next season?
I don’t know that. We are ambitious. And we’re doing everything we can to keep this team together. The team is hungry for success.
This spring the performance was at least on par with YB and Basel.
I don’t want to judge that. I can see that we have a great team. Fabian Schubert recently said: We have a team in which everyone likes to give the other everything. That’s the key message for me. And that comes from a player.
Isn’t that a little romantic? Is there something like that in the football business?
Yes. I see that in the gestures and in many details. This team spirit is lived.
Is goalkeeper Lukas Watkowiak an example of this?
And now Zigi has to go to the bench in the cup final.
He also accepts this in solidarity and is happy for Lukas. We stand together behind every decision made by the coaching team and are also consistent on this issue. Lukas is a top goalie.
In the last twenty years, have you actually spoken more with Bernhard Russi and Alain Sutter than with your wife?
In all the decades, Bernhard and Alain have spent many hours together. With Bernhard, of course, even more than with Alain. I learned a lot from Alain when he accompanied the national team. We are united by a consensus that no longer requires so many discussions.
Will Bernhard Russi make it to the cup final?
I invited him. But he’s in Scotland. Golf is more important again (laughs). He follows our path in St. Gallen very closely and supports me. But all ex-presidents are coming. And even our son-in-law, who lives in France, flies in.
What is your relationship with FC Lugano?
A traditional club that I followed when goalkeeper Mario Prosperi was there. At the moment the club is not as firmly anchored in Ticino as it used to be and needs foreign investors. I don’t want to judge that – it’s her way.
And you still have your highland cattle Fränzi on an alp in Ticino?
Yes. Bernhard Russi initiated this project. His cattle are in central Switzerland, mine in Ticino. I get photos of him from time to time. It is well cared for, it is doing great. But my future is not in cattle breeding.
You will retire at FC St. Gallen.
I am 64 years old and recently renewed my contract. It cannot be assumed that I will become active in completely new sectors…
Don’t you ever get tired?
I also feel the stress in certain situations. The job is extensive and demanding. If we play well and still fall behind, then it will be difficult and I have to go away for a bit to collect myself.
Is it possible to be a fan and a decision maker at the same time?
I succeed because I want the best for the club. I have a certain distance, I’m not to death if we don’t win. And I never raise my voice to a player or the coach. And I’m not running around in hysterics either.
How do you stay balanced?
I do a lot of sports. Endurance, strength training, I’m an active person, but I can also recover very well.
Where do you relax?
At home. With family and friends. We have a large table, a kitchen island, where we can spend hours with a good bottle of wine. This is my balance.
22 years ago, when FCSG won the last title, you moderated the championship celebration for Swiss television. your memories?
It was a Sunday, St. Gallen had won two days earlier and were waiting for the result of the game between Servette and Basel. A draw would have been enough to win the championship. Servette equalized in the 88th minute, and then the marketplace boiled over. The crew sat indoors, some weren’t even there. But television took it so seriously at the time that it was broadcast.
Were you the driving force?
I know that far, far from me (laughs).
How did it go?
There was a huge party. And I moderated from the start. Unforgettable.
What is planned for a cup win?
It would be presumptuous and disrespectful to send out the program for a possible celebration in advance. We never did that and I would never want us to do that. Now let’s play the game and see how it turns out.