In what I hope will become a regular feature, I am going to spotlight a club that had previously made an impact in the Champions League, UEFA Cup or one of the older competitions like the Cup Winners Cup. I will give you some background on the club and take a look at their recent fortunes.
With qualifying ongoing and some of Europe’s smaller clubs trying to make it to the big dance, I thought FC Thun would make an excellent candidate for this first installment. FC Thun were the ultimate underdog story and the 2005-2006 season will always standout in the club’s history.
Though they had been established as an amateur football club back in 1898, it was only nine years earlier that Thun was still playing third division football in front of crowds of, at most, a couple hundred people. After finishing 2nd in the Swiss League in the 2004-05 season, Thun entered the second round of qualifying for the 2005-06 Champions League season.
With a budget of around 2 million Euros, the little club from the Bernese highlands pulled off a win against FC Dynamo Kyiv and then knocked Swedish club Malmö FF out in the third qualifying round. FC Thun then found themselves drawn into a group with European veterans Arsenal, Ajax and Sparta Prague. Astonishingly, they managed to finish 3rd ahead and were competitive in their matches with Arsenal (A 1 goal difference in both matches) and Ajax(A scoreless draw and a 4-2 loss). A win and a draw against Sparta Prague were enough to gain the club a UEFA Cup parachute berth.
Partially because of their European adventure, Thun’s league form suffered and a run of one victory in ten league matches led to manager Urs Schönenberger’s firing. This came just days before their UEFA Cup debut against Hamburger SV in the Round of 32.
The firing brought to a close a roller-coaster 13-month spell for Schönenberger, who was named manager in January of 2005. The club invested the windfall from their European success into playing and coaching staff as well as infrastructure but the results continued to go against them.
With new manager Heinz Peischl, Thun finished fifth in the league in 2005/06, and with Peischl unable to find the right formula, seventh last season. He was sacked and unfortunately his Dutch replacement René van Eck could not halt the slump as Thun were relegated from the Swiss top flight in the 2007-08 season.
Thun hit rock bottom earlier in the year when police accused nine past and present Thun players of having sex with an under-age girl. Club president Kurt Weder fell down a flight of stairs at his home and was forced to resign his post as he recovered from his injuries. Compounding their problems, Thun were refused a playing licence by the Swiss FA on financial grounds but the team was able to appeal and stay afloat.
Weder was replaced by 57-year-old Markus Stähli, who was the club president for seven years during the club’s amateur days, and the hope is that Thun can rebuild again from scratch. The club Stähli is in charge of have long since spent their Champions League windfall and their onetime plans to move to a new stadium (with some public funding) in 2010 look ambitious but there is talk of private investment so the project may yet occur. One can hope that Thun’s worst days are behind them as they begin the climb back into the Swiss Super League.
Hans Ruedi Baumann has replaced van Eck as coach after the club failed to impress in the Challenge League (Swiss 2nd division) under van Eck’s guidance. Baumann, formerly a striker for Thun, had previously coached Thun’s U18 and U21 teams before taking charge of the senior side. They currently sit 6th in the Challenge League with 7 points from 4 matches played.
I was unable to find out more on Weder, the last reports I could find were that he was at a paraplegic centre. If anyone has heard anything more recent, please send me a note and let me know how he’s doing.