Luxembourg – Football in the Duchy

Situated in northern Europe Luxembourg is one of Europe’s safest and cleanest countries.  Luxembourg has land borders with the much larger Germany, Belgium and France and sits landlocked between most of Europe’s big guns. Unlike its neighbours, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is not known for its association with football.  Instead, this is an affluent country more known for its connection to banking, finance and heavy industry.

Previously part of the Holy Roman Empire Luxembourg had become an independent state in 1354 one of a number of such small states in medieval Europe. It is the only such Duchy to survive today as an independent country.

Throughout the intervening centuries, Luxembourg has come under an Austrian, Spanish, Belgian, French and Dutch rule. After the Second World War (during which Luxembourg was occupied by the Germans) Luxembourg became a founder member of NATO and in 1957 it joined the EEC.  It continues today as a constitutional monarchy with a single legislative body headed by a prime minister.

The Grand Duke Henri is the current head of state.

The northern part of Luxembourg (Öesling) is part of the densely forested Ardennes mountain range.  It is an area dominated by rivers and the area is more rugged and picturesque than the south with wildlife in abundance.  In contrast, the southern part of Luxembourg (Bon Pays or Gutland) consists of plains, hills and dense farmland.  The capital Luxembourg City is located in the southern part of the country.

Iron ore deposits in the south of the country contributed to the development of a thriving iron and steel industry. These deposits are now less abundant and other industries such as food processing, chemical manufacturing and tyre making have grown in importance.   It’s now a country more known for being one of the official capitals of the European Union and seat of the European Court of Justice – the highest juridical instance in the EU.  Its culture, people and languages are highly intertwined with its neighbours making it essentially a mixture of French and Germanic cultures.

Football in the Duchy

Luxembourg has a long connection with both club and international football.   The Luxembourg national football team played its first ever international match on 29 October 1911 in a friendly match against France – a game that resulted in a 1–4 defeat. This is a scoreline trend that continues to this day.

The Federation Luxembourgeoise de Football was formed in 1908 and became a member 0f UEFA in 1910 when a domestic league competition also commenced.  To this day the set up remains semi-professional with players attracted from all walks of life including foreign players and students.  The national team continues to be pulled from players who play in the national league with some of the most capped players spending most of their careers with the top domestic sides.

Of those, the best known are Louis Pilot who played for Standard Liege and Antwerp. More recently Jeff Strasser, who spent a number of years in the both the French League and in the Bundesliga, gained nearly 100 caps.

The three dominant towns represented in the top National League are Luxembourg City, Differdange and Esch.  The latter has produced the best-known side in the country in Jeunesse Esch and they have won the league title on 28 occasions between 1921 and 2010. Despite being one of the few Luxembourg sides to progress in Europe heavy defeats to larger sides are the norm.

These days with the changes in UEFA fixture schedules, clubs from Luxembourg often play early round qualification games against sides from Lichtenstein, Andorra and Malta.  As a result performances over two-legged ties have improved.  Fola Esch gained a credible 1-1 draw against Dinamo Zagreb before suffering the predictable comprehensive 3-0 defeat at home in the second leg.

Just occasionally the Luxembourg national side has tasted qualification success. From the lows of a 0-9 defeat to England in 1982 nowadays even the likes of Spain have struggled to break the side down. The Swiss were beaten 1-0 as were the Macedonian national team in qualification for Euro 2016 by the same scoreline. Moreover, respectable draws have been attained against the likes of Italy and Belarus meaning that Luxembourg is now no longer the whipping boys of international football.

However, the overall the record for World Cup qualifying since 1934 makes grim reading:

Played: 124

Won: 4

Drawn: 7

Lost: 113

Goals Scored: 61

Goals Against: 403

The top sides in Luxembourg tend to have well-known shirt sponsorship deals and be well-run football clubs. However, attendances tend to be on the small side with some of the top clubs having small stadiums with capacities of less than 2,500. Watching football is not high on the list of ‘to do’ activities for residents of Luxembourg City with the capital more known for its business centres, dining out and theatres than any sporting excellence.

Located in north-west Luxembourg City

Watching football can be expensive for what is on offer as well with few good players of note. Such as with most areas of life in the highly affluent Luxembourg, it’s not uncommon to see more than just a few hundred at matches.

Of the major stadia, the largest remains the home of the national side the ‘Stade Josy Barthel’.

Opened in 1940 and modernised on numerous occasions the stadium was once known as the Stade Municipal and was named after the famous Luxemburgish athlete Josy Bartel in July 1993.   Considered an outsider for the final of the 1500m race of the 15th Olympic Games in Helsinki, Barthel won the Gold Medal on the 26th of July 1952.

See some images from Luxembourg here.