It seems like an unlikely coming together – Newcastle and the small landlocked country in the heart of Europe that is famous, in the words of Graham Greene, for enjoying “500 years of peace and democracy with only the cuckoo clock to show for it”.
But more and more links are emerging between Newcastle and Switzerland, possibly with many more to develop in the future.
The biggest connection to be made in recent months has been the announcement back in January that it is the Swiss manufacturer Stadler have been awarded the contract to transform the Tyne and Wear Metro by building no less than 42 new trains.
The new trains promise a level of luxury never before seen on the Metro with air-conditioning, tube-train style seating as well as on-board wi-fi and charging facilities.
Much of the cost of the new trains will be met by a £337 million grant from the Department of Transport, with the whole deal costing £700 million and also making Stadler responsible for maintaining the fleet up until 2055.
However, the awarding of the contract has not been controversy-free. Another bidder was Hitachi, who have a factory in County Durham where parts of the trains would have been built if they had been successful. But officials stated that they could not have chosen the Japanese firm just for their local links.
The second, less high profile, connection between the region and Switzerland is the growing local popularity of an online casino based in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. Players throughout the North East have been attracted by the wide range of games on offer as well as having the chance to play in glamorous live casino titles – perhaps not quite as thrilling as actually being in the mountains, but quite a close second.
Thirdly, there’s the football connection. Newcastle United have a history of having Swiss players in the squad, with Kevin Mbabu being on the club’s books between 2013 and 2017. Currently, and enjoying far greater success than Mbabu had in his time at St. James’ Park, there is Fabian Schär.
The 28-year-old centre back was signed from Deportivo de La Coruña in 2018 and has secured a first team place ever since then, appearing for the club 28 times in his first season and scoring four goals. He’s been an equally regular name on the team sheet in the 2019/20 season hitting some pretty impressive stats in the process. As he’s one of only five Swiss players currently in the Premiership, Newcastle are lucky to have secured his services.
But it’s not everything Swiss that’s doing well in the city. Back in 2017, there was great fanfare at the arrival in the Metro Centre of the first dessert bar from the country’s luxury ice cream brand, Mövenpick. Unfortunately, the shoppers of Newcastle failed to be won over by its charms and it closed a year later.
So, let’s hope the trains receive an altogether better reception.