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From Liechtenstein to Darlington

Paul Fletcher | 08:00 UK time, Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Heard the one about the Liechtenstein international signing for Darlington?

His last five fixtures read as follows:

Macclesfield (away), win 6-0
Germany (home), lose 6-0
Azerbaijan (away), draw 0-0
Port Vale (home), win 2-1
Accrington (home), win 3-0

In case he has not reached your radar yet, his name is Franz Burgmeier, his preferred position is the left wing and he must rate as one of the most unusual signings of recent times.

burgmeier438.jpgThe north east, of course, is no stranger to seasoned internationals. It is just that not many of them sign for Darlington - and even fewer are initially spotted by the chairman's grandson.

Burgmeier was a member of the Liechtenstein side that lost 2-0 to England in a Euro qualifier at Old Trafford in 2003 and Max, the then seven-year-old grandson of chairman George Houghton, was impressed with what he saw.

Max was reminded of Michael Essien and mentioned Burgmeier to his granddad and Quakers director David Jones, who carried out some research into the player and kept tabs on his progress.

Earlier this summer, Burgmeier returned to Swiss side Basel after a spell on loan at FC Thun. After talking with coach Christian Gross, once of Tottenham, it became clear that his future lay elsewhere and the final year of his contract was paid up.

There was interest from French side Metz and a couple of offers in Switzerland but Darlington made their move and offered the 26-year-old a trial.

Was he keen? "Two days later I was there," explains the likeable Burgmeier, a man who comes across as being extremely happy with the way events have turned out.

Darlington might be dwarfed by neighbours Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Sunderland but the winger had heard about his prospective new club from Gaetano Giallanza, who had a season with the Quakers and used to play with Bergmeier in Switzerland.

Once he arrived, Bergmeier quickly impressed manager Dave Penney and has gone down a storm in his adopted town, with the fans of Darlington really taking to their Liechtensteiner.

The feeling seems to be mutual.

"The lifestyle is different from Switzerland but the people have been very friendly and the players are really helping me," explains Bergmeier.

"I like the British lifestyle. They are nice people, they don't worry too much about things."

When he first came to England with Liechtenstein he wasn't overly enamoured with the food but has been pleasantly surprised this time around and - no major surprise here - cheerfully reports that he has never drunk so much tea. A trip to a traditional English pub is on the cards.

Since arriving Burgmeier had been living in a hotel but moved into an apartment on Monday and with no international fixtures until he travels to Wales for a qualifier on 11 October the winger is relishing time to properly settle in.

And while he speaks good English I thought the fact that Bergmeier described Gross as his "gaffer" at Basel suggests that the new boy is starting to pick up one or two colloquialisms.

Talk to him about trips to old-fashioned grounds such as Macclesfield and he speaks with great enthusiasm about how much he enjoys being so close to the crowd, reckons that you can really "feel the atmosphere".

Bergmeier netted his debut goal in the 2-1 win at home over Port Vale and made the other one. "He can play on both the left and the right, and is certainly a threat," was the assessment of manager Dave Penney. Last Saturday Burgmeier impressed again, delivering quality balls from out wide as Darlo swept aside Accrington. On the pitch the early signs are that Burgemeier will be a success at his new club.

Not everything is perfect. The weather has been miserable and he is missing the mountains a little, but the 26-year-old from Vaduz is living his dream of playing professional football in England.

Burgmeier, who is closing in on 50 caps, lists his favourite footballing memory as Liechtenstein's 2-2 draw with Portugal in the autumn of 2004. He played on the left side and was up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Ferreira.

It might not be as sexy, eye-catching or spectacular but he is hoping that he can surpass the draw with Portugal by winning promotion with Darlington.

"I think Darlington should be in a higher division," he said. "Look at the stadium. The club should be in at least League One or the Championship."


  • Comment number 1.

    Brilliant. I love stories like this. Absolute testament that where you are born should make absolutely no impact on how good a footballer you can be.

    I love success stories from Europe's micronations (we all love an underdog, don't we) and I wish Burgmeier the best of luck.

  • Comment number 2.

    What a great story - its good to hear that the English pace of life is slower than that of which he is used to - first time for everything I guess! It reminds you that there are footballers out there that are in it for the love of the game and appreciate the atmosphere created by fans in the lower divisions - the fans who go to every game hoping to see a bit of magic or perhaps that sniff of something to make them believe the club has a future without a Sugar Daddy Russian or an Arab Consortium!

    Good luck to Darlington and their new International signing - more importantly get the Chairmans grandson on the board or give him a Head Scout position - can the other scouts or management lay claim to spotting such talent...?!

  • Comment number 3.

    I heard on 5 live that a Burgmeier had scored for Darlo and I thought 'could it be him?' As a N I fan, I will always remember his brilliant curling shot into the right of the net past Maik Taylor in our 4-1 win in Vaduz. As we were winning 3-0 at the time and as the home supporters were comatose, we cheered it as loudly as the Healy hat-trick. He is a quality player and good to see the foreign imports aren't just from the big boys, He deserved a good few seasons in the English league.

  • Comment number 4.

    He's been a revelation for us, this boy's got genuine class and will be playing higher up the Football League before long with or without us.

  • Comment number 5.

    fair play to the lad, he is a great example to everyone of not being afraid to uproot and go try something somewhere else.

  • Comment number 6.

    Im a Boro fan but I work in Darlo. I really hope they get promotion this year. It will mean a lot to the area. They have a fantastic stadium too.

    Its a article this, and I hope he does well.

  • Comment number 7.

    What a lovely story.

    And a 7 year old kid pointed him out to his grandfather? Is this kid now the chief scout of the club? i think he should be!!

  • Comment number 8.

    The signing of Franz gave all Darlo fans a big lift after a summer when our playing budget was cut.
    He is definately a class act at this level and he appears to be keen to graft too.
    I saw his goal vs NI on youtube when it was first rumoured he had signed and it certainly wet my appetite, he nearly scored a carbon copy on Saturday against Accrington.
    His record playing for Darlo speaks for itself
    3 starts and 3 wins.
    Whipped in a great corner on Saturday for the 3rd goal too. Wish he'd retire from international football then we wouldnt have to share him with Leichtenstien !

  • Comment number 9.

    His 7 year old grandson was reminded of Michael Essien? In 2003?? A quick consult of Wikipedia reveals he played for Bastia then! Bastia?! What, was he a big obscure French league fan then??? Bit odd that. Seems a great signing though, there's plenty out there for the imaginative

  • Comment number 10.

    Franz has the makings of a great player for our club. I have been very impressed with his performances for us. He can play with either foot and delivers a very good set piece.

    The goal, mentioned above, that he scored against NI is a good example of his ability. It is very exciting to have a player of his class playing for us!

    It was also nice to hear him on the radio seeming to be genuinely happy about playing for Darlo! Long may it continue but I don’t think we will have him for long

  • Comment number 11.

    I read this in The Sun (the shame) the other day. It said the Grandson in question is now 12 and has dossiers on loads of players and the chief scout has indeed, left the club!

  • Comment number 12.

    This story is nowhere near accurate, as pointed out already, Essien would not easily be noticed by a 7yr old in 2003, but also since when has the start Burgmeier has had at darlo been classed as a good one? I'll admit he does put the odd good ball in, but for a winger he has such little pace its just irritating. Him, Poole and Griffin are 3 of the most annoying players I've seen at the club, their unwillingness, and lack of ability to go around people is a joke, and we all know theyl end up playing it straight back to Austin and Purdie.
    Personally I cant wait until Valentine is back to give us the option of playing Purdie further forward.
    (Also, I'd like to point out I am not against the odd pass backwards as most darlo fans seem to be, but there is a limit to my patience)

  • Comment number 13.

    This story is good and its great to see a player with so much enthusiasm, does he fancy signing for us? ( Bradford City ). We could do with a quality winger and after watching him play for both Darlo and his country ( notice i did not spell Leichenwhateveritsspeltlike ) i belive he is just that.

    In regards to Andbon95 the chairmans grandson probably saw Essian play for Ghana in internationals.

    Anyway good look lad if your reading this......ill have a word with Stuart McCall.haha.

  • Comment number 14.


    'Since when has the start Burgmeier had at Darlo been a good one?'.

    Since we won every game hes started in, scoring 11 goals in the process and conceding one, and since he created goals in each of those games and scored one. He clearly has technical quality on the ball and ability to both cross and dribble. No hes not lightning fast, but if he was then he'd have been playing in the Premiership for a while by now. Hes quality at this level. And advocating Ryan Valentine to come back into the team, well thats just daft. The only thing your right about is Griffin. He's rubbish. Stick to the glory supporting mate.

    Oh and Danlovesleah since when are Bradford in need of a winger? They surely have two of the best in the divison already in Daley and Colbeck.

  • Comment number 15.

    Darlo fan or not (I'm not). Everyone should read the book "Stamping Grounds" which is all about the Liechtestein national team and their attempts to qualify for the World Cup. Best football book ever!

  • Comment number 16.

    I too have worked in both Darlington and Switzerland, so I can tell you that this boy knows something about quality of life. They are both special places with special people.

    If he is missing the mountains all he has to do is head west up Teesdale into the Pennines. The English mountains may not have the towering grandeur of the Eiger, but I think they have a softer, gentler beauty. And he doesn't have far to go to the Riverside to see a decent game of football.

  • Comment number 17.

    As a Donny fan I always check to see how Darlo get on and am always rooting for them - let's hope Dave Penney can set them on the same road upwards as he did for us!

    Most of all, it's nice to see players genuinely enthusiastic about playing in the lower leagues. It's still a different world to the mercenary shallowness of the Premiership, and hopefully it always will be.

  • Comment number 18.

    Also, as previously pointed out, even if a then Bastia player Essien has been known about by a seven year old, why is he comparing a left winger to him?

  • Comment number 19.

    Two people at least have made the comment, how can a 7-year-old spot a player playing for Bastia.


    "Burgmeier was a member of the Liechtenstein side that lost 2-0 to England in a Euro qualifier at Old Trafford in 2003 and Max, the then seven-year-old grandson of chairman George Houghton, was impressed with what he saw."

    Looks to me like he played at Old Trafford for Liechtenstein. I would guess he saw him there.

    I must admit I did wonder how a winger could be compared to Michael Essien, but I imagine a few other attributes took his eye rather than "similarity to position played".

    Give 7-year-olds some credit, people. You were one once.

  • Comment number 20.

    Franz doent just play on the left wing. He also plays on the right wing for us and often at full back for his country. I understand that he is also really a right footer which makes it all the more impressvie he can swith flanks so easily.

    Perhaps thats what the lad meant?

  • Comment number 21.

    Now then,

    Thanks for all your comments.

    DarloRH79 is correct. Franz told me that he can play on both wings and indeed played at full-back in Azerbaijan.

    As for Michael Essien - who knows? Apparently grandosn Max has an excellent knowledge of players on the continent because he plays a lot of football manager games. Maybe it was when he was asked recently that he said he was reminded of Essien and had not thought that straight away at the time. Either way, I think laying into him for his Essien point is harsh in the extreme. After all, despite his tender years he has played his part in Darlo signing a player who is shaping up to be very decent indeed.

  • Comment number 22.

    For some random reason i got liechenstein football team on my desktop seen him a few times before in various places, great player could easily be in the championship.

    Good luck!!!

  • Comment number 23.

    I agree lay off getting on and i play a football management game and its amazing the depth of the things.

    I think the lad should be offerd a scouting job!.

  • Comment number 24.

    You can't honestly say the football you have seen in the last few games as been good? We may well have won, but not through any great play of our own. The second half against Accrington was good, and the main reason for the 6-0 win was due to Hatch's debut. Burgmeier has by no means been poor, but has also not had the effect implied by this story and the resultant posts.
    I would even possibly like it if he tried a central midfield role, purely because as you say, his technical ability is clear for all to see, but i would rather we have some pace on at least one of the wings. Admittedly Kennedy has done a good job too though so fitting him in there wouldn't make sense.
    Overall with the current squad, Burgmeier included, I cannot see us getting promotion this year. However, I would love to be proved wrong and will gladly admit so if we do make it up.
    Finally its uncalled for bringing glory supporting into it... if that was the case why would I even have bothered with darlo in my lifetime?

  • Comment number 25.

    Both teams are crap.

  • Comment number 26.

    Mufcaholic - We beat Accrington 3-0 mate. It was Macc we beat 6-0.

    Accrington set out two ranks of 4 and played very deep. They were happy for us to have the ball in our half so we passed it around. In thier half they squeezed the ball and the space making it very difficult to break them down, yet we did, with two goals form clarke (the second perhaps the best at the Arena?) and a header from a Franz corner for white.

    At Macc we played very well and tore apart a poor side. Where, btw, Hatch lasted 60 minutes while Franz was a thorn in thier side for the full 90

    Franz was instrumental in each game, setting up at least three goals and scoring one.

    I have seen all the games, except Aldershot, this season (where Franz didnt play and we lost) he has made a difference to us and long may it continue. I think he could be a key player for us. Now only if Pav was ever fit..........................

  • Comment number 27.

    I have a soft spot for Darlington (having randomly picked them in a game) and I like their team and for the past few yrs they've always been lingering in League 2 and League 1( I think but mostly L2) Hope you can get promoted Darlington!

  • Comment number 28.

    Up the Darlo!

  • Comment number 29.

    rogwin, the Eiger is almost at the far end of Switzerland from Liechtenstein. The mountains around Vaduz are higher than anything N England has to offer but they are pretty small when it comes to the Alps.

    Vaduz is on the side of a mountain though - Darlington does not have that to offer.

  • Comment number 30.

    DarloRH79 - I meant the 2 seperate games, accrington 3-0 (good second half) and then the 6-0 against macclesfield was generally good throughout, although they were extremely poor. I probably could have phrased the sentence better though.

    Burgmeier is a decent player, but all I intended to point out is that its not the success story this article makes out. The amount of assists he has got is no more than should be expected with the amount of corners and pointless freekicks that dont beat the first man. Clarkes goal was quality though, although probably not the best, I still remember a Martin Smith strike from some way out, I think in JP trophy possibly? (obviously not Lewes in the FA cup, but probably same season)... that was the best for individual skill...

    I really hope he can make the difference, but so far I have seen nothing to really excite me is all. I also hope there isnt going to be too much expectation on Abbott, as good as he is, hes only one man...

  • Comment number 31.


  • Comment number 32.

    I can't stand that photo of Paul Fletcher. He looks like a smug wally. Please change it to something a bit more normal.

  • Comment number 33.

    "And he doesn't have far to go to the Riverside to see a decent game of football."

    Yeh, there was some quality on display there Saturday, though not at all by the home squad...

    Don't expect it will be much different across the river, though, not with Robinho and Jo having a visit today.

    Good on Franz, though! It's a great story for a club that deserves better. My new home shirt should be arriving here in the states any day now. Up the Quakers! League 1 or bust!

  • Comment number 34.

    And who has slotted the winner against Bradford in the 90th minute???


    Now, mufcaholic, tell me again how Franz isn't making a difference at Darlo...


    Come on you Quakers!!!

  • Comment number 35.

    Great performances by Franz over the last few weeks and a brave header to get the winner on Monday night - he is looking like a really good signing for us


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