Fascinating, passionate, unpredictable, exciting, eternal. We’re talking about Fribourg Gottéron. The Dragons are a little bit crazy but unique. With all due respect, they’re the most “schizophrenic” ice hockey club in Switzerland. Nothing is trivial when it comes to Gottéron. Their motto is “Fribourgeois pour un jour, Fribourgeois pour toujours”.
Mirko Stephani, Paolo Nidola, Ronald Wildi, Marco Lupatini. We’re talking about four friends from Ticino. And they’re also a little bit crazy.
What do Fribourg Gottéron and these four guys have in common? They have the “Dragon” in common. One thing is sure: Mirko, Paolo, Ronald ad Marco have endorsed the motto “Fribourgeois pour un jour, Fribourgeois pour toujours”.
There is more though. Not only are these four friends supporting Fribourg Gottéron but they’re also the four founding members of the “Dragons Tessinois”. A Ticino’s based fans club dedicated to the craziest team – for better or for worse – in Switzerland!
We had the chance to chat with Mirko and Paolo, president and vice-president of the fans club that saw the light in the summer of 2008. The 2008, however, was “only” the year during which their passion turned into something official… right, because the passion for the “Dragons” started much before. Towards the mid-1990s.
We were sayig, “Fribourgeois pour un jour, Fribourgeois pour toujours”. The first day, of the first time, that Mirko and Paolo got in touch with the “Dragons” goes back to the middle 90s. It was the Bykov – Khomutov era, the two players who formed the most lethal duo ever that we had the luck to see in our country.
Mirko attended the first games of his team at the Resega accompanied by his father among the hosting fans. He followed the games with the jersey of Gottéron hidden under his jacket. Paolo on the other hand was going to the games with his uncle, always at the Resega and always among the hosting fans.
Mirko’s next step was to attend the games of his favourite team in the visitors’ sector together with his older friend Ronald, always in Lugano and then in Ambrì. Finally, then, he even attended the first game in the Dragons’ den – the dear and old St. Léonard – on August 19th, 2000, to watch the Slava Bykov’s farewell game.
Game after game, the guys started to get to know each other. After all, there weren’t so many people among those that followed Fribourg Gottéron on the road in Ticino. Mirko and Paolo got immediately close. Mirko was focusing on individual performances while Paolo was the statistic guy. The conversations between them after a game – a won or a lost one – were endless.
And so, day after day, the passion for ice hockey and for this club that is a little bit crazy turned into a real love. And every self-respecting love then, has a breakthrough. The turning point, perhaps the decisive one, came during the break for the Spengler Cup of 2002 and 2003 when the sponsor Chicco d’Oro organized in Chiasso – home city of Mirko – friendlies between Ambrì-Piotta and Fribourg Gottéron. After the games it was possible to meet the players and the managers of the two teams… needless to say, that it was a golden and unmissable opportunity.
At that time Paolo already lived on the shores of the Sarine where he attended the HES SO (Haute école specialisé de la Suisse Orientale). Mirko for his part finished high school and enrolled at the university of Fribourg. We mean, it was all perfect for the two friends. They could finally follow their team together. That was an intense year during which Mirko and Paolo followed assiduously the Dragons both at home and on the road. A year during which, however, Mirko realized that his will to study was inferior to his desire to live in the city of Fribourg… that led him to abandon his studies and move back to Ticino where, after a gap year, he started the apprenticeship of landscape gardener.
The two friends’ path physically split but the passion for the Dragons remained the same. It started the times during which Mirko covered so many kilometres just to follow his favourite team… and during which a professor with the same passion for the Dragons “came into play”: we’re talking about Marco.
As we all know, every love has its ups and downs. Those years Gottéron had many downs and seriously risked being relegated at the end of the 2005-06 season. What did we say before though? “Fribourgeois pour un jour, Fribourgeois pour toujours”… the negative results were surely frustrating for our group of friends but certainly the love for the team was the same. Somehow, the negative results often help to realize how much you care about a team. Therefore, perhaps it wasn’t an accident that the Dragons Tessinois saw the light in the summer of 2008 when Mirko, at the end of his apprenticeship, wanted to recover the link with Paolo and Fribourg Gottéron.
It seemed like a crazy idea, but everything is crazy when it comes to the Dragons, after all. So, Mirko got in touch with Isabelle Soom – responsible of the fans – and the fans club became a reality. A fans club that immediately took a liking among to the other fans club of Fribourg Gottéron.
And a fans club that immediately realized that being supporters of Fribourg Gottéron means that you must be ready to suffer. A lot. Let’s take the first season of existence of the Dragons Tessinois for example… Gottéron had an only decent regular season but then blossomed during the post-season. The Dragons made it to the semi-finals where they went 3-0 ahead in the series against Davos. Finally, though, the Ibexes made a memorable comeback and qualified for the final and even won the title.
That painful experience though, didn’t have any impact on the love for the team. Quite the contrary. The Dragons Tessinois continued to follow the team despite the logistical challenges. In fact, only Paolo has remained faithful over the years not only to the team but also to the city on the banks of the Sarine.
Years pass and we arrive in 2012 when the Dragons Tessinois became closer and closer with the Magic Dragons – fans club of Fribourg Gottéron based in the Canton of Vaud – and the two groups together celebrated the twinning as they made a sweatshirt during the 75th year of the existence of the club.
That season the Dragons made it to the final when they suffered the umpteenth defeat at the final stages against the bitter rivals of Bern. That was yet another defeat hard to digest but that at the same time made all the fans proud because of what the players achieved.
Those were happy years for the Dragons anyway, that reached two semi-finals and one final in three seasons.
After that, with seasons passing by, also the group started to follow Fribourg Gottéron less frequently. Mirko got married and even had a son… we mean, freedom wasn’t the same. Paolo on the other hand often travelled abroad. We mean, the fans club was less present.
One thing is sure though. The fans club, that nowadays counts approximately twenty people, was less present but not dead. The guys took every opportunity to make the fans club alive and in 2018 created a scarf to celebrate their 10 years. It was an initiative that the other fans of the Dragons appreciated a lot and that made clear how the Dragons Tessinois were, nevertheless, always present. At least with their hearts.
A heart that was put to the test at the end of the following season. A disappointing season in terms of results despite the arrival of Reto Berra. The negative results led the Dragos Tessinois to write a letter to the board of the club… that was probably a crazy idea, Mirko said. And instead, Mirko and Paolo had a call from the club and had the chance to meet Raphael Berger for a discussion. The latter gest made clear that the Dragons Tessinois earned some respect over the years. In fact, the possibility to talk with the club’s GM was worth almost like a title for the fans club. That’s obviously an exaggeration, however the Dragons Tessinois seriously appreciated the gesture that, if possible, made grow even more their passion for Gottéron.
A passion that obviously the friends from Ticino live in their own way. For example, they don’t feel that much the rivalry against the other “romandes” – even though considering Genève Servette and Chris McSorley it wasn’t certainly love at first sight… – but they rather feel the rivalry against Bern and have strong feelings when Gottéron face the two Ticinesi. According to them, it’s “easier” to digest a defeat suffered against the likeable and “poor” Ambrì-Piotta than to suffer a defeat against the “rich” and “hated” (sportingly speaking) Lugano.
A passion that Mirko loves to describe with a number. The number 20, that represents the number of jerseys collected.
A passion that, anyway, will last forever. Because, we say it one more time, “Fribourgeois pour un jour, Fribourgeois pour toujours”. Always with a life-long dream: the one to see this crazy team win the title!
That would be an unforgettable moment. Also, obviously, for Mirko, Paolo, Ronald and Marko ….. and the Dragons Tessinois. A fascinating, passionate, unpredictable, exciting, crazy… and eternal group of supporter.
Thank you guys for telling us this fantastic story of cheering and sport!
All the facts and photos are from Mirko Stephani and Paolo Nidola.