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

“It is often said in soccer that a country’s particular style of play bears the fingerprints of its social and political nature. Thus the Germans are unfailingly characterized as resourceful and organized, while Brazilians are said to dance with the ball to the free-form, samba rhythms of Carnival. In the husk of cliché lies a kernel of truth.”

– Jere Longman, The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World.

Part IV: The First Match

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

Last week was the first weekend of matches in the Austrian Bundesliga! Things went about as expected. There was great soccer being played all around the league, including a stunner in the St. Pölten vs. Wolfsberger match (the only match I picked incorrectly), with St. Pölten scoring two goals – one at 88’ and one at 90+2’ – to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. This week looks to be just as interesting, but before I get to the matches and my picks, I wanted to start off with a bit of history.

As I mentioned in my first post, I am a historian, so learning about the history of Austrian soccer has been a lot of fun. But it’s also been really complicated. In fact, this history of Austrian soccer really is the history of Austria in the 20th Century. So throughout this series, I hope to introduce you a little to Austrian history through the lens of the Bundesliga, starting at the very beginning of Austrian soccer.


 

The foundations of what is the Austrian Bundesliga go back more than a century to the first game of soccer played in Austria – well, kind of…

You see, the year was 1894, and “Austria” as we know it today did not actually exist. At this time, it was a part of the Austria-Hungary, the dual monarchy ruled by the Habsburgs that included what is today Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia, along with parts of modern day Poland, Romania, Italy, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, and Montenegro. It would not be until after World War I that the monarchy would be abolished and the rough borders of the “First Austrian Republic” would be formed. What had once spanned a third of Europe would become merely a rump state made up of just a handful of the monarchy’s former lands.

So, it’s a bit disingenuous to talk about Austrian Soccer in terms of the Habsburg Monarchy. But at the same time, it’s also disingenuous to pretend like the Habsburg history has nothing to do with Austria today. So, keeping all of this in mind, let’s dive deeper.

1894 was, all things considered, a decent year for the Habsburg Monarchy. Over the course of the preceding decades, the Emperor Franz Joseph I had weathered a revolution, defeats in war, and a fundamental restructuring of the state into the “Dual Monarchy” of Austria-Hungary. After so much tumult, the Habsburg Monarchy was undergoing a period of relative calm while also experiencing a boom of artistic creativity that, in just a few years, would spark the Vienna Secession – one of the most important developments in the world of art.

It was on this hopeful backdrop (one that would come crashing down in two decades), that the first match would ever be played.

The two teams were First Vienna FC and the Vienna Cricket and Football Club. The game was played on the Kuglerwiese in the Prater, a large public park that, in just a few years, would be able to boast one of the first (and from 1920-1985, tallest) Ferris Wheels in the world. About 300 people showed up to watch the match. After 90 full minutes, the Cricketers (which the First Vienna FC would note was made up almost entirely of Englishmen, as opposed to their “real” Viennese men”) would pull out a commanding 4-0 victory.

Over the years after the first match, First Vienna FC and the Vienna Cricket and Football Club would play on as their country weathered new storms looming on the horizon. After the first soccer match was played in almost-but-not-quite Austria, several soccer leagues would rise and fall in the Monarchy, splitting and joining together in a process that mimicked the culture of cooperation and competition that existed in the monarchy.

And then, in the waning days of World War I, the league would be stripped down to its constituent parts, to exist forever apart. And so, modern Austrian soccer, like modern Austria, would be born in a fit of rage and anguish – broken piece of its former whole, forever trying to achieve its former glory.

Today First Vienna FC continues on, playing in the Regionalliga Ost. But the Vienna Cricket and Football Club would unfortunately lose the “Football” part of the club after 1936, just two years before Austria would once again become a part of a larger whole – this time led by a man named Adolf Hitler… But more on that in another post!


 

We’ll continue looking at the history of the Bundesliga later in the series. But I think this is a good start.

This week, we have six more games! They are below with my picks in bold.

  • FC Wacker Innsbruck vs. SK Sturm Graz
  • SV Mattersburg vs. Red Bull Salzburg
  • SK Rapid Wien vs. SCR Altach
  • TSV Hartberg vs. FC Flyeralarm Admira
  • LASK vs. SKN St. Pölten
  • Wolfsberger vs. FK Austria Wien

Right now, Rapid Wien sits atop the table while Admira sits at the bottom after their 3-0 match last week. Like last time, I will probably be live-tweeting some of these games, so make sure to follow me on Twitter @TheRealThomasM for my incredibly detailed and knowledgeable (read: inconsistent and stumbling) commentary. But until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

Update: You can continue this series with Part V: The Champions (League)

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