It took eight years for FC Thun to rise from amateur football to the UEFA Champions League, but two seasons on they are sliding back downwards.
It was a fairy-tale rise. Back in 1997, Thun were playing to crowds of barely 100 in the Swiss amateur leagues. In 2005/06, they were strutting their stuff in front of tens of thousands of fans during a UEFA Champions League group stage campaign which saw them finish third in a section which included Arsenal FC, AFC Ajax and AC Sparta Praha.
The success that was founded upon the relationship between down-to-earth coach Hanspeter Latour and sporting director Werner Gerber proved to be short-lived. Seven points adrift at the bottom of the ten-team Super League ahead of this weekend's final round, Thun are sure to be relegated following a season marred by high-profile sexual misconduct charges levelled at some of their players.
Latour's departure for Grasshopper-Club – and then 1. FC Köln – in the summer of 2005 was arguably the beginning of the end for the modest club's glory days. While his successor Urs Schönenberger led the club through the UEFA Champions League group stage, their subsequent defeat by Hamburger SV in the UEFA Cup prompted his dismissal, and Austrian Heinz Peischl was to have even less luck.
While the club invested the windfall from their European success in playing and coaching staff as well as infrastructure, results went into sharp decline. Thun finished fifth in the league in 2005/06, and with Peischl unable to find the right formula, seventh last season. His Dutch replacement René van Eck could not halt the slump this time round as Thun hit rock bottom.
'We made mistakes'
"The team never gelled," admitted club vice-president Beat Germann. "We made mistakes in putting them together." However, with president Kurt Weder – who was also involved in a serious accident this season – stepping down and 57-year-old Markus Stähli, who held the position for seven years in the club's amateur days, replacing him, the hope is that Thun can rebuild again from scratch.
The club Stähli is taking charge of have long since spent their UEFA Champions League money and have had problems fulfilling league licensing criteria, while plans to move to a new stadium in 2010 look ambitious. Thun can only hope that their worst days are now behind them. Having worked one miracle by getting into Europe, it may take another one to get back into the Swiss Super League.
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