Fisch auf dem Trockenen: An American’s Journey Through the Austrian Bundesliga, Part II

“Slow down, you crazy child
You’re so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you’re so smart, then tell me
Why are you still so afraid?

“Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?
You’d better cool it off before you burn it out
You’ve got so much to do
And only so many hours in a day

“But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you get old
You’re gonna kick off before you even
Get halfway through
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you”

– Billy Joel, “Vienna”

Part II – The League

Note: This is Part II of an ongoing series. If this is your first time reading, you may want to begin with Part I: Introductions.

So, I’m still in the U.S. I won’t be in Austria for a couple of months, but the Bundesliga starts next week after a few friendlies that are going on as I write. Originally I was going to start this series with a long post on the history of the Austrian Bundesliga, but this spun out into a much larger introspective on Austrian history as a whole. Because that post deserves a bit more care and because the kickoff of the first round of the Bundesliga’s schedule looms heavily, I thought I’d go ahead and give a brief overview of the current state of the Bundesliga. Don’t worry, I’ll still get to that Austrian history introspective at some point soon, but for the moment, let’s look at the here and now. So here we go!

First a little clarification. When I say “Bundesliga,” generally I mean the “tipico-Bundesliga,” which is the premier league of Austrian soccer. This is a little complicated because “Bundesliga” also means the whole organization of professional soccer in Austria. Meaning it encompasses the lower leagues, youth leagues, and female leagues alongside the premier league.

As a whole, the men’s side of the Austrian Bundesliga consists of three main leagues: The tipico-Bundesliga, the 2. Liga, and the Regionalliga (which is, itself, split into three leagues). These leagues work together with a system of promotion and relegation, similar to most European leagues. I won’t get into their somewhat complicated system of winning the league right now, but I will at a later date.

The tipico-Bundesliga is the premier league of Austria. This has the top championship honor and is the league from which the Champions League and Europa League teams are drawn. This will primarily be what I discuss in this series, and so from this point on, when I say “Bundesliga,” I generally mean this league specifically.

The 2. Liga (Zweite Liga or Second League) is quite appropriately named, as it is the second league in the Austrian hierarchy. However, this is only the first year it has been named such, after years of the confusing name “Erste Liga” or “First League,” despite being the second league… The change was good. It has sixteen teams, all of which are eligible for promotion to the Bundesliga or relegation to the Regionalliga.

The Regionalliga (Regional League) is actually a collection of three leagues, East, West, and Central, with smaller teams that could potentially be promoted up to the 2. Liga (and conversely, to where clubs from the 2. Liga may be relegated). The Regionalliga is fairly huge, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Just know that if you like your team, you don’t want it to be in the Regionalliga.

Throughout the year, the teams from the various leagues will be playing each other in friendly matches. Today, for instance, will see many squads play against each other from Bundesliga vs. 2. Liga or even Regionalliga. So I will definitely cover some of the 2. Liga and Regionalliga clubs at some point during the year. However, for the moment, let’s focus on the Bundesliga.

The Bundesliga has actually just undergone a major reform, as this video explains (Warning: it’s in German). Among other things, the league just expanded from 10 teams to 12, with no side being relegated at the end of the 2017/18 season, since St. Pölten managed to win their playoff game. The clubs in the league now look like this:

  • FC Red Bull Salzburg
  • SK Puntigamer Sturm Graz
  • SK Rapid Wien
  • LASK
  • FC Admira Wacker Mödling
  • SV Mattersburg
  • FK Austria Wien
  • Cashpoint SCR Altach
  • RZ Pellets Wolfsberger AC
  • SKN St. Pölten
  • FC Wacker Innsbruck
  • TSV Hartberg

There’s a lot that can be said about those twelve teams, and I will discuss all of them in-depth at some point in this series. For the moment, a few things you need to know. FC Red Bull Salzburg managed to be top of the table last year, heading to the Champions League this year along with second place SK Sturm Graz. Third and fourth place Rapid Wien and LASK (out of Linz) are headed to the Europa League. No sides were relegated last year, but two teams, FC Wacker Innsbruck and TSV Hartberg were promoted up from the 2. Liga.

The first round of Bundesliga matches will be next week, starting on Friday the 27th with FK Austria Wien and FC Wacker Innsbruck. They’re hoping to kick the season off with a bang before the rest of the squads get their chance on Saturday and Sunday.

I will admit, I’m quite excited to watch these matches. I feel like I’ve been preparing for this moment for months (partly because I have)! But it seems a bit odd, since I’m still not in Austria. I’m not quite there, and they’re not quite here. I’m actually not even sure how I’m going to watch the game(s) yet. So we’ll see. The teams have friendly cross-league matches today, so that could give us a little insight into how they look, but I doubt there will be much to base the season on right now. For the moment, just watching German-language Youtube videos (like this preview of next week’s match) is getting me in an Austrian state of mind. I guess I’ll just need to slow down a bit. Vienna waits for me. It will just take a little bit of time for me to get there.

Update: You can continue this series with Part III: It Begins.

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