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Phillipe Furrer is late receiving legend status at SC Bern

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Phillipe Furrer is late receiving legend status at SC Bern

How much is club loyalty still worth? In Bern, Philippe Furrer has never been forgiven for ever leaving SCB. Nevertheless, he has now been elevated to legendary status.

The kick-off teams: Philippe Furrer (number 7, back) ended his career in Lugano and Fribourg-Gottéron. Nevertheless, he remained an SCBer at heart.

Gabriele Putzu / PPR

It has become common practice in Swiss ice hockey that the shirt numbers of deserving players are no longer given out after their careers have ended with their parent clubs, in keeping with the North American model. Felix Hollenstein (24) and Roman Wäger (21) at EHC Kloten, Ari Sulander (31) or Mathias Seger (15) at the ZSC Lions, Alfio Molina (1), Sandro Bertaggia (2) and Petteri Nummelin (33) in Lugano are immortalized in this way by their former clubs.

At HC Davos, Reto von Arx (83) and his brother Jan (78) refused to take part in the symbolic act. The unsentimental and somewhat stubborn Emmentalers would have preferred to wear it for another season or two instead of hanging up their dress.

In Bern, the retired numbers affect 14 players, five others are considered so-called “cult players”. Philippe Furrer has been missing from them so far. He wanted nothing more than that. This omission was made up for on Sunday, and Furrer says: “It means a world to me.” The ceremony for the national player and three-time champion took place on Sunday as part of a legendary game in which former teammates and Furrer’s three master coaches Kent Ruhnke (2004), Larry Huras (2010) and Antti Törmänen (2013) took part. Only around 2,000 spectators watched the act in the arena, which usually holds over 16,000 spectators. The traffic chaos in front of the arena was not caused by the legends game, but by a trade fair for motorcycle and scooter accessories that was taking place at the same time.

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In the sights of the tough, unforgiving SCB appendix

Furrer could also have been honored the evening before in the last qualifying home game of the season against Lausanne HC. The backdrop would have been significantly larger (16,250). But the SCB feared a protest from the partly fanatical Bernese supporters. The hard core of the supporters, the so-called Bäregräbeler, had announced that if Furrer was honored in the match against Lausanne, they would either stay away from the match or at least turn their backs on the ice during the ceremony.

Philippe Furrer is an SCBer through and through. The 38-year-old has been through all of the club’s youth teams since he was a child. He wore the SCB uniform for 24 years before he wanted to see something else towards the end of his career and moved to HC Lugano. People in Bern still accepted this with a frown. But he was never forgiven for the fact that after three years in Ticino he continued to play for Fribourg-Gottéron for four more years.

When it became rumored in fan circles that, contrary to expectations, the former player would still be honored, hate messages reached him on his social platforms. “You are not a real SCBer” or “you are not a legend of our club” were the most flattering messages. As soon as Furrer left the club, his shirt number 29 was passed on to Martin Ness, who only played 20 games for SCB and now plays for Olten in the Swiss League.

In order to understand the rejection and vehemence with which the fans reacted to Furrer’s departure, one must know the rivalry between the Bernese supporters and that of Fribourg-Gottéron. For a Bernese there is nothing worse than one of their own joining Gottéron. The aggressiveness between the two groups of supporters is notorious and regularly leads to police operations.

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The dislike is already instilled in the young players. When SCB defeated Gottéron in the 2013 play-off final with Philippe Furrer in defense and became champions, Christoph Bertschy burned a Freiburg scarf on the ice after the match for the fun of the Bernese supporters. The highlight of it: Bertschy, then 19 years old, is from Freiburg, started his career there and only joined the SC Bern youth team at the age of 14. Today he plays for Gottéron again and is the team’s third best scorer behind the Swedes Marcus Sörensen and Marcus Wallmark.

When Furrer returned to German-speaking Switzerland from Lugano in 2018, he would have liked to rejoin the SCB. But they didn’t want him there anymore. The powerful CEO Marc Lüthi in particular resisted this. Since then, Furrer has contributed a lot to the unforgiving atmosphere. He made negative comments about his youth club several times.

In an interview with the NZZ, Philippe Furrer said: “Appreciation is something very important to me. It matters more than material things. We have to be careful that it doesn’t get lost completely.” He once described the fact that in Bern it was stipulated that a player had to end his career at SCB in order for his shirt number to be retired as “Lex Furrer”. Last week he said: “If I had known that this was a requirement, I would never have left the club.”

Marc Lüthi no longer wants to comment on the matter

Furrer is not the only SCB legend who did not end his career at the club. Martin Rauch and Patrick Howald, two other deserving SCB players, also ended up playing for Gottéron. Nevertheless, their shirts have been hanging under the stadium roof in Bern for a long time. Marc Lüthi no longer wants to comment on the matter. He only said that if he would be in the stadium on Sunday, it would be spontaneous at best. He left the leading role in the ceremony to Rolf Bachmann, who sits on the management board as Chief Sponsoring Officer and is responsible for interpersonal warmth at the SCB. As Furrer’s dress was raised to the sounds of the Bernese March, everything in the stadium remained quiet.

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The whole affair seems like a provincial farce, a trifle that took on outsized importance because two men couldn’t overcome their pride. But it is also the product of the question of how much appreciation long-term employees are entitled to if this has not already been compensated through wages, which in the case of Philippe Furrer in Bern was not small.

The final qualifying round of the Swiss championship will take place on Monday. SC Bern plays away against Fribourg-Gottéron. In the Freiburg ice rink there are eight numbers hanging in memory of great players. Among others, those of Slawa Bykow (90), Andrei Chomutow (91) and the Canadian roughneck Shawn Heins (44), but not the 5 of Philippe Furrer. It never bothered him because he always remained a Bernese at heart.

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