Eagles, Elephants, Hornets, Foxes and even Goats are just a tiny selection of the animal-based nicknames adopted by football clubs around the world. However, only a tiny handful are actually named after the bird or beast which serves as a handy and memorable synonym. One of those is the second-oldest footballing institution in Switzerland after FC St Gallen, and the nation’s most successful club: Grasshopper Club Zurich.
Birth of an institution
GCZ were founded in 1886 by a group of English students led by Tom E. Griffith, the club's first president and captain. One of the earliest decisions made by the fledgling organisation was to elect its first honorary member, Colonel Hermann Nabholz, who donated the funds necessary for a proper leather football, as well as shirts, shorts and caps in blue and white, the heraldic colours of the municipality and Canton of Zurich. They remain the club colours to this day.
The reasons why the founders plumped for the name Grasshopper are shrouded in mystery and have sadly evaporated into the mists of time. The most likely explanation is that the GCZ pioneers were simply inspired by the idea of a grasshopper’s agility, movement and speed over the turf.
The maiden fixture took place the same year, a goalless draw with Polytechnic Football Club, a team based at Zurich Technical University. In 1893, Grasshopper became the first Swiss team to contest a match in Germany when they defeated Strasbourg, a German city at the time, by the only goal of the game.
The making of a legend
GCZ were founder members of the Swiss championship and claimed the inaugural league title in 1897/98. They would go on to seal the national crown again in 1900 and in 1901.
However, the club fell on hard times and slipped to a new low in 1909 when they left the domestic Football Association. The men in blue and white rejoined the FA seven years later and made a huge contribution to the game, establishing roots and earning mass acceptance in Switzerland over the following years.
After a fourth championship triumph in 1921, Grasshopper were also the first winners of the newly-introduced Swiss knockout cup in 1926. The club’s reputation spread beyond national borders, as shown in 1931 when a panel of experts from all over Europe declared GCZ to be the fourth-best team on the continent.
However, the club and its fans have rarely enjoyed long periods of stability and success, with numerous lows to match the highs. Grasshopper were relegated in 1948/49, but like the creature which gives them their name, sprung back to the high point of a domestic double on their return to the top flight two years later. The men from Zurich did the double again in 1955/56.
History was destined to repeat itself as a glorious era was followed by a long barren spell lasting 15 years without silverware. However, the Grasshoppers showed yet again they should never be written off, as the drought served only to strengthen their hand for a comeback.
GCZ rank as Switzerland's most successful club in both league and cup, and have won the double on seven occasions. Major success in Europe has eluded the venerable Zurich club over the years, although their history shows a number of creditable results against big-name opponents.
GCZ have twice qualified for the UEFA Champions League, and also once reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals. They made a quarter-final appearance in the same competition on another occasion, and once reached the last eight of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
The most recent trophy triumph came almost a decade ago with the domestic title in 2003. FC Basel and fierce rivals FC Zurich have nosed ahead of the Grasshoppers in more recent times, but the history of the men in blue and white and their proud domestic record suggests they will soon be contending for honours again.
Prior to 1929, Grasshopper played at a variety of venues, but in 1929 the club moved permanently to its own home ground, the newly-opened Hardturm Stadium, which staged the first floodlit match in Switzerland in April 1956. After several rebuilding and modernisation programmes, the capacity at the end of the 1990s was around 17,700.
The last match at the venerable Hardturm was played in 2007, after which the stadium was demolished to make way for a new arena to be shared by the big two in Zurich. However, the project ran into protracted trouble and Grasshopper have played their home games at the Letzigrund Stadium since then. The ground was rebuilt in 2007 for UEFA EURO 2008 and has a capacity of 25,000 for league matches.