“Finance or the arts. Those are the only reasons for a Swiss person to be in London,” said Benjamin, an actor. We were in the basement of St Moritz, a Swiss fondue restaurant in Soho. Switzerland were playing Ecuador and Benjamin was describing the quiet Swiss ex-pat scene in London.
Arriving just before kick-off, we edged our way down some old oak stairs to a pocket of space in the second of the three low-ceilinged rooms. Red light bulbs gently lit the Swiss-flag bunting hanging on the walls. The atmosphere was calm and polite. We asked a Swiss fan for a prediction and he replied without confidence: “2-1 to Ecuador I think”. Shortly afterwards the crowd let out a civil and contained “Noooooo…” as Ecuador took the lead.
At halftime we met Kathy, a 30-year-old who works in marketing for a hedge fund. She’s an Arsenal fan and enjoys trips to the emirates. Kathy wore a Swiss flag top and seemed to feel her national identity strongly. She told us about the games of “Jassen”, a Swiss card game played in teams, which happen at St Moritz once a month. It’s a very Swiss event because you need to know how to play and you need friends who know too.
It was unbearably hot in the basement bar and it felt like the air was running out as the second half started. We left Kathy in search of a cooler position and met Laurent, an entrepreneur who is planning to emigrate to the US.
Laurent told us a little about Swiss society. “You have the French, the Germans, the Italians, but always divided, and it’s been that way for a long time” he said. “Even in here they are divided, you have the Germans here, French there and the Italians in the other room.” Even in a bar in London the different Swiss ethnic groups had organised themselves in their cultural regiments. Yet close to the TV there was a small mixed group who were perhaps more interested in the football than anything else.
Laurent was proud of Switzerland and its democracy but he acknowledged that the immigration issue has bitterly divided the country. In a recent referendum, 50.3% of people voted to introduce strict immigration quotas on all migrants. Laurent was one of the 49.7% who voted against the new law. He said: “Immigration is not the problem but politicians blame many problems on immigration and they try to score a point.” He explained: “Unemployment is not a problem in Switzerland, we have three or four percent. And migrants do jobs that Swiss people don’t want to.”
The rest of the game was evenly contested and at 1-1 a draw looked likely. Yet by the finest of margins, much like the referendum, Switzerland tipped the result in their favour. In the very last minute of the match, Haris Seferovic, an ethnic Bosnian, grabbed a breath-taking winner.