Cup final between GC and Lausanne, 1946 in Bern.
Cup final between GC and Lausanne, 1946 in Bern. Swiss National Museum / ASL

Types of men in football

The image of masculinity has changed constantly over the past few decades. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the football pitch. A look back at the stadiums of the past.

Mämä Sykora

Mämä Sykora

Mämä Sykora is editor-in-chief of the football magazine ‘Zwölf’.

‘There are no real characters today.’ Fans, trainers and ex-players often grumble about the current generation of professional footballers. Much of the time, they’re hankering for a return to the days of a different type of manliness – a type that has mostly disappeared from the world’s football pitches. The image of the footballer in Switzerland has changed over the past few decades: from the swashbuckling adventurer to the thuggish fighter, and now the health-conscious model. Six footballer prototypes represent six sporting and social eras.

The adventurer: 1930s to 1950s

There was no television, and the faces could barely be made out in the photos in the newspaper. ‘All the same, the prominent figures on our football pitches were widely known even back in the 1930s,’ says sports historian Christian Koller. Pictures of them came with chocolate or cigarette packs, and they appeared in advertising – often for alcoholic drinks or tobacco. In 1933 the National League was launched. Football had long since reached a broader public. ‘While the sport in its early days tended to attract quite an academic following, more educated circles were now turning to handball,’ says Koller. Footballers wore their hair short, and pomade held it in shape. ‘Actually there was only one hairstyle back then: tidy mainstream,’ according to Koller. ‘The footballers took care to ensure that it was neat at least at kick-off.’
It wasn’t just the hairstyles of their idols that the nation’s young fans emulated. On school playgrounds, they practised the tricks of the stars. The technically skilled players with their acrobatic performances, such as Fredy Bickel and Lajo Amadó, were especially popular. Only a handful of players could execute a bicycle kick, and with the equipment at the time the manoeuvre was not without risk either. ‘Defying danger was really something to aspire to in those days,’ says Koller. People flew across the Atlantic in rickety crates, explored hostile lands and went to war in order to become heroes. Quite a few footballers, like Swiss national goalie Frank Séchehaye, also tried their hand at high-risk sports such as bobsleigh or motor racing, alongside or after their career. For a long time, the ‘top lads’ were those who continued to play even with serious injuries. Substitutions were not yet allowed. Sometimes this ended tragically: in 1927 the Chilean player David Arellano, one of the earliest bicycle kick specialists, died following a match that he was determined to finish after being involved in a violent collision. And Bert Trautmann became a legend in 1956 after playing on for Manchester City with a broken neck, in the FA Cup final. ‘The ideal of men in general and footballers in particular didn’t change until the 1960s, when so much changed in society,’ says Koller.
Illustration of a football player.
Illustration: Laura Herter

The son-in-law: 1960s

‘A star? How could I have been a star on 2,000 francs a month, including bonuses?’ asked Karl Odermatt. In the 1960s he was one of the high-flyers in this country, claiming title after title with FC Basel, playing in the World Cup, and of course being recognised everywhere he went. ‘It was crazy. Everywhere I was “our Karli”, and people would cluster around me. Even the tram-drivers used to ring their bells when they saw me.’ But at that time he wouldn’t have been able to flaunt his wealth. In the early days of his career, his mother earned more than he did. Airs and graces probably wouldn’t have gone down well anyway. Europe was going through an economic miracle and a baby boom, and everyone was expected to contribute – including footballers. Odermatt, who also worked for a coffee machine distributor, said: ‘Not having a real job outside sport was frowned upon.’ The foreign players, at most, could afford that, and the public tended to look askance at such behaviour.
Working hard and starting a family was the ideal to which even the top footballers aspired. Odermatt became a father for the first time at the age of 22. But he always enjoyed a glass of wine in good company. ‘A beautiful woman is still a beautiful woman.’ However, society was not accepting of womanisers. On the contrary; minor stories such as those about the married Köbi Kuhn at the 1966 World Cup, where a harmless little drive with two Englishwomen culminated in a scandal that went on for months, were all it took. So, the footballers restrained themselves, appeared frequently in the company of their families and were seldom out painting the town red. Odermatt: ‘We had to go to training after work and then we often played twice a week as well.’ Any time you did push the boat out, it was with the whole team, ‘at the Fasnacht carnival or a beer festival’. And afterwards you went straight back home to your family, which in the 1960s was where a good, hard-working man should be.
Illustration of a football player.
Illustration: Laura Herter

The almost-rebel: 1970s

Moderation in all things. The Swiss footballer of the 1970s was characterised by moderate rebelliousness and innocent eccentricity. In other countries, football had produced its first celebrities: George Best, still a familiar name also for his off-the-pitch antics, and Günter Netzer, whose ‘Lover’s Lane’ disco in Mönchengladbach was always especially well patronised when he had parked his Porsche out the front. In Switzerland, excess was still a foreign concept. ‘We didn’t have a star cult around footballers,’ says Daniel Jeandupeux, one of the defining figures of Swiss football at the time as an FC Zurich forward. It was probably bon vivant Fritz Künzli who was most in the public eye, due to his relationship with the singer and actress Monika Kälin. Jeandupeux, on the other hand, who later served as Switzerland’s national team manager, was seen as a bit of a sophisticate, a Swiss-French pretty boy who wrote poetry. ‘Obviously, it was a nice side effect that you attracted a lot of female attention as a footballer.’ But actually benefitting from that attention would have been another matter. Even then, a healthy lifestyle was important for professionals.
The youth movement of 1968 also crept into football. However, as with most of Swiss society, it crept in somewhat timidly, and its impact was mainly on fashion. Long hair was de rigueur. René Botteron’s hair hung almost to the middle of his back, and at GC the Niggl twins strutted about with the most spectacular manes. But a career was too much to risk for a show of anti-authoritarianism. Jeandupeux relates how at one point, the army ordered him to take up service as a sergeant. ‘I wanted to refuse, but I wouldn’t have been allowed to play in a national team match against Luxembourg, where I knew Bayern would be watching me. So I agreed. The dream of [playing for] Bayern was stronger.’ Around that time, the way the players interacted with one another socially started to change, and there was a new openness, says Jeandupeux. ‘There were parties where alcohol broke down the barriers, where the teammates let their masks slip. It was at those moments that we felt closer to each other, because we were doing something forbidden together.’ Fancy that!
Illustration of a football player.
Illustration: Laura Herter
In the second part you can read how the fighter became a pop star, and then a model.

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