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

The Hofburg Palace.

Part X – Austria at Last

I stepped onto the platform at around 8:00pm. It was dark. For the last several hours, I’d heard nothing but the rush of the wind outside the nice ICE Train, the Inter-City Express that took me from Frankfurt to Vienna. I breathed in, looked around, and knew that I was back home.

So, today is going to be another short post. I have arrived in Vienna, but that of course means a few days of adjustment – buying groceries, realizing I’d left my towel at home, registering with the authorities (yes, this is something you must do), and generally trying to sleep off the jetlag. So, I don’t have much research for you.

Next week, I’m going to do some more on-the-ground type research. I think it should be good. But for now I’m just going to dive into what happened last week and what is going to happen this weekend.


 

Like I said last week, there wasn’t a whole lot going on in Austrian soccer. The national team had a match in the UEFA Nations League B against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unfortunately they lost at 1-0, putting them at the bottom of the table for the group. I managed to catch some of this match on replay, and Austria looked good with several shots, but they just couldn’t quite get it in the goal. We’ll see how they recover going forward. The next match in this league is on October 12 against Northern Ireland.

The League itself had a break this past weekend, so nothing has really changed there. This weekedn, though, should be a doozy! We have several matchups that have paired two teams that are right next to each other in the table. This is when the table will really start to take shape going forward. We have #1 Red Bull Salzburg vs. #2 St. Pölten, which should be an excellent match on its own. But we also have the Wiener Derby, with #4 Austria Wien facing #5 Rapid Wien. Further down we have #7 vs. #8 with Wolfsberger vs. Wacker and then, desperately trying to avoid relegation, we have the bottom two, Hartberg and Altach, facing each other. Like I said, these should all be great matchups. And for once, I’ll actually get to watch some in person!

The full schedule and my picks are below (picks in bold, game I’ll be watching marked with an *):

Saturday

Hartberg vs. Altach

Admira vs. Sturm Graz

*Red Bull Salzburg vs. St. Pölten

Sunday

Mattersburg vs. LASK

Wolfsberger vs. Wacker Innsbruck

*Rapid Wien vs. Austria Wien

Hopefully next week I’ll be able to have a bit longer post with some more details and fun bits. But for now, Auf Wiedersehen!

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

Austrian National Team, 2 June 2018.

Part IX: Calm Before the Sturm*

Note: This is Part IX of an ongoing series. If this is your first time reading, you may want to begin with Part I: Introductions or with the first part of my recent two-part post on Matthias Sindelar and what his legacy means for Austrian history — Part VII: The Rise of the Paper Man.

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet. I’m headed to Austria in just a few days and, because of that, haven’t had much time to get a long post together.

But this all just means that soon I will be able to have even better, more detailed posts. I’ll be able to give you more inside information about the culture and the matches themselves (i.e., what this series was originally intended to do). So take heart! Soon I will be there for all of you!

Also, there are no club matches this week! So I won’t have any predictions for this week’s matches in the Bundesliga, but there is still plenty to recap and a little international action to look forward to.

The clubs had a little bit of a rest on the international stage, but the Austrian National team played a fun friendly with Sweden. The National Team pulled off the 2-0 win with a Swedish own goal (though it was caused by the disruptive play of Guido Burgstaller, who plays for Schalke 04 in the German Bundesliga) and an interesting shot from David Alaba, who you may know plays for Bayern Munich.

It’s worth noting that a 16 of the 23 men in the roster for this match play for clubs outside of Austria. Most (13) play for German clubs with just a couple in British clubs and one (the keeper) in a Swiss club. I may do another post later about the problems the Bundesliga seems to have with keeping its players in the league and out of the hands of the Germans, but not today.

Another little international development is that UEFA is considering restructuring the “away goals” system in its Champions League (and presumably Europa League) matches. As Tim Armitage, an analyst for the Bundesliga, said, this wouldn’t exactly hurt Austrian teams…

In the league itself, last week’s matches went about as I expected. On Saturday, Austria Wien managed to finish off Mattersburg, 2-1 after two late back-to-back goals (78’ and 79’), the first a PK and the second just a good shot. FC Wacker also pulled out a 2-1 win over Hartberg, as did St. Pölten over Altach. The three losers from Saturday’s matches are now the bottom three of the table.

On Sunday we had a little more interesting developments, but it was still about as I predicted. Sturm Graz and Rapid Wien managed to play to a 1-1 draw, with Graz’s goal coming on a PK in the 37th minute and Rapid’s coming on a left-footed kick in the 78th. Red Bull Salzburg topped Admira 3-1, adding fuel to the speculation about Admira’s chances this season. And LASK beat Wolfsberger 2-0.

The top 3 teams (Red Bull Salzburg, St. Pölten, and LASK) have begun to separate themselves, but it’s not the strongest of holds. And the middle of the table is still pretty open, with only 4 points separating the 4th place team and the 8th place team. The bottom still has some room to move around as well, but it’s looking bad for Altach, who with just two points is all but certain to be relegated.

This week is going to be very quiet. The only real match will be the Austrian National Team in the UEFA Nations League B. Austria is in Group 3 with Northern Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with their first match on 11 September in Zenica against Bosnia and Herzegovina. This B&H team is a little interesting. They managed to win their last friendly 3-1 against a decent South Korean team, who you may remember sent Germany packing in the World Cup. So it will be fun to watch the National Team come back to competitive international play for the first time in a while.

And that will just have to hold us over for the rest of the week, as that’s all we have to look forward to until next weekend – my first weekend in Austria. I’ll preview those matches sometime next week, but it promises to be a very good round with several matches that should help determine what the final table will look like. But until then, I’m off to Austria! Auf Wiedersehen!

* Forgive the pun. I couldn’t let it go.

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

The Austrian Wunderteam in 1934

“A new dawn is breaking. One in which the sport will face something completely different than that of the old regime.”

– Official announcement of the dissolution of the Austrian Bundesliga in Fußball-Sonnatag. June 5, 1938.

Part VIII: Man and Myth

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

Hallo again! Today we’ll be continuing my look at Matthias Sindelar, picking up where I left off last week. If you haven’t read that, you may want to give it a look first. Like last week, I’ll also pick up with a discussion of what’s going on around the league over the last week and what to expect this weekend. We had a big Europa League Group Draw just this morning, so don’t miss it! If you don’t feel like reading the narrative on Sindelar (why not?) you can simply scroll down to the bottom for my recap and picks for this weekend. Enjoy!

 


 

In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria into his newly-consolidated German Reich, making Austria the “’Nazis’ First Victim.” Or at least that’s how the story went. In reality, Nazi sympathy had been making inroads in Austria for years. Following a short civil war, in which several hundred were killed and thousands wounded, the Austrian government under Engelbert Dollfuss ushered in a new period of “Austrofascism.” Though Austrofascism was intended from the outset to separate itself from the German brand of Nazism, it nonetheless provided an area for fascist ideology and (ultimately) support for the Nazis to flourish.

Dollfuss was eventually assassinated by Nazis, and though his successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, continued to try to preserve an independent Austria, on the morning of March 12, 1938, tanks rolled across the German border with little to no resistance. The Austrian Army had, in fact, been ordered not to resist. And thus, the Nazis were welcomed into Austria with open arms, waving flags, and cheering crowds – a view that surprised even Hitler.

Through all of this, the Austrian national soccer team remained a point of interest. The Austrian Wunderteam, led once again by the Paper Man, Matthias Sindelar, had once again qualified for the World Cup – this one to be held in 1938. But then they withdrew. Because of the Anschluß, the somewhat euphemistic name for the annexation, the German government declared that the Austrian team was now a part of the German team. And since Germany had also qualified, the Austrian players – or at least the non-Jewish Austrian players – would play for them in the World Cup. But first, to commemorate this momentous occasion, one final match was scheduled for the Austrian national team – between them and their new overlords.

The match occurred on April 3, 1938, less than a month after the invasion. It was scheduled to be in the Prater Stadium, not far from where the first soccer match in Austria had been played in 1894. It started out rather boring. Sindelar seemed off his game… or perhaps he had been directed to miss. He took shot after shot that seemed to go wide, high, wide again. These shots should have been easy, but they were conspicuously not making it into the back of the net.

But then, it seemed that Sindelar had enough. The Paper Man hit a rebound into the back of the net, seemingly defying an order that had been given before the match to preserve a draw. And then, following suit, his teammate hit in a penalty kick. They were up 2-0 at the end of the match. Sindelar celebrated (perhaps a bit too loudly) in front of the Nazi dignitaries’ box as the final whistle was blown. Then, adding insult to injury, Sindelar refused to give the Nazi salute at the end of the match. Sindelar never played again.

After this final match, Sindelar announced his retirement from soccer at the ripe age of 35. He claimed he was too old, but everyone knew the truth – he refused to play for the Nazis.

After his retirement, Sindelar found himself in the middle of a purge of Austria’s Jewish population. Though he was Catholic himself, he was friends with many Jews in Favoriten. He notably bought a café in his home district from a Jewish man for a fair price, at a time when fair prices were hard to come by for Jews. What happened next, though, is a bit of a historical controversy.

On January 23, 1939, nine months after his final game, Sindelar and his girlfriend were found dead in their flat. The reason was carbon monoxide poisoning linked to a faulty chimney flue. Over the years, many have suggested that it was actually suicide or, more commonly, that it was the Nazis who secretly assassinated Sindelar. After all, he had helped the Jews, he had refused to play ball with the Fatherland, and he had even disrespected the Nazis. Another rumor spread that he and his girlfriend were, themselves, crypto-Jews (though this last one is even more absurd than the others).

As a historian who has examined these kinds of things closely, I can’t definitively say that the Nazis killed Sindelar. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say that this didn’t really match their style. The Nazis had no problem throwing high-profile people into a concentration camp. And swift retribution was more the norm for slights. This was a means of preventing them in the future. Quietly waiting nine months to discretely get rid of someone was simply not their style. If it were the Nazis, I suspect it would have been quite obvious. Of course, this, like others, is just speculation. We may never know the truth of the matter. But for now, I think it’s a bit out of their normal MO for the Nazis.

What is more important than the conspiracy theories surrounding Sindelar’s death themselves is, to me, how this story of Sindelar – that of the noble resister, the Paper Man who scored when he wasn’t supposed to, the victim of the Nazis – seems to persist today. It follows what Tony Judt described in his monograph Postwar, when he said that in Austria “there was a strong disposition to put the past away and start afresh, to follow Isocrates’ recommendation to the Athenians at the close of the Peloponnesian Wars: ‘Let us govern collectively as though nothing bad had taken place.’”

It’s easier to remember the ones who resisted and then make them emblematic of the whole, rather than coming to terms with the fact that even though Sindelar resisted, the other members of the team (at least those who were not ousted for being Jewish) did not. Sure, there are some who claim that the Germans lost in the 1938 World Cup because of the intentionally lackluster performance of its Austrian members, but this too rests on a certain amount of faith in the myth.

I believe I’ve said before in this series that sport and history are intertwined in many ways. When I say that, I don’t just mean that sports happen at the same time as historical events, or even simply that history shapes the sport itself. But sport is, itself, a form of myth that works within History to create and maintain the narratives by which we structure our lives. Sindelar resisted. Austria was the Nazis’ first victim. These are the things that history remembers, because it’s what history wants to remember. The “collective amnesia” that Judt describes is, in some cases, necessary to carry on. But it’s also an excuse to avoid coming to a reckoning with your own past. And while we can and should celebrate the glorious past of Austrian soccer in Matthias Sindelar, the Paper Man, we must also remember the shortcomings of Austrian soccer. These, just as much as the triumphs, make up its history – and this should not be forgotten.

 


 

Thanks for reading that post! I actually thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing it. It’s always interesting to me when my passions intersect, and this whole project seems to be one giant intersection.

Before we get to the Bundesliga itself, let’s look at what happened internationally.

This last week Salzburg, unfortunately, became the last Austrian team to get knocked out of the Champions League. They ended up going out on away goals after a 2-2 aggregate against Red Star Belgrade. But that just means they join the hunt in the Europa League!

In the Europa League, Rapid Wien continued to advance on a 4-3 aggregate against FCSB from Romania. They’re looking good, but they’re going to need to dig deeper in order to get past the group stage.

Speaking of which, we had the group draw yesterday morning, so we now know who Rapid and Salzburg will be facing, and they should be some very interesting matches!

Group B:

Red Bull Salzburg

Celtic

Red Bull Leipzig

Rosenborg

Group G:

Villareal

Rapid Wien

Spartak

Moscow Rangers

As you see, this could be a fun couple of groups. We’ll have the Red Bull Derby with Salzburg against Leipzig. Rapid vs. Villareal should be a lot of fun to watch as well! But we’ll dig deeper into those soon.

Back in the Bundesliga itself, we saw some good matches and, to be honest, some boring matches. On Saturday, Red Bull Salzburg won over Altach (though Altach did better than I expected), and both St. Pölten vs. Austria Wien and Wolfsberger vs. Sturm Graz ended in draws. On Sunday, LASK beat Hartberg and Rapid Wien beat Wacker, while Admira continued its slump, drawing to a lackluster Mattersburg team. As I said before, if Admira doesn’t step it up, they could see themselves facing the bottom of the table for the first time in a long time this season.

Salzburg is beginning to separate itself from the rest of the table, and it seems the two halves of the league are beginning to shape up as well. Over the next few weeks we will really see if the mid-table can switch up or if they are already destined to their fate. This weekend’s games could really make that line more stark… or it could further muddy it up. We’ll see. Sunday’s games are more interesting in my opinion, with both Sturm Graz vs. Rapid and LASK vs. Wolfsberger promising to be good matches, but they should all be fun. The schedule for this week and my picks are below (game I will be watching marked with an *):

Saturday

Austria Wien vs. Mattersburg

Wacker Innsbruck vs. Hartberg

*Altach vs. St. Pölten

Sunday

*Sturm Graz vs. Rapid Wien

Red Bull Salzburg vs. Admira

LASK vs. Wolfsberger

Anyway, that’s it! I’m about a week out from the big move to Vienna, so next week may be a bit more sparse as I get ready for that. But until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

Update: You can continue this series with Part IX: Calm Before the Sturm.

 

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

Matthias Sindelar kicking the ball as a helpless player looks on in the background.

“He would play football as a grandmaster plays chess; with a broad mental conception, calculating moves and countermoves in advance, always choosing the most promising of all possibilities. In a way he had brains in his legs, and many remarkable and unexpected things occurred to them while they were running.”

– Obituary for Matthias Sindelar, by Alfred Polgar

Part VII: The Rise of the Paper Man

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

Hallo everyone! Today is the first half of my look at the legendary Austrian soccer player, Matthias Sindelar. While I wanted this to be one post, it just became too big. If you’re just here for the recap of the league and the preview of this week’s games, you can scroll on to the end. But I hope you do read this and the next part, as I think it’s an interesting story that should be read and understood to truly understand the history of Austrian soccer and Austria itself. So, here it goes!

 


 

When I first mentioned my idea to do a series following the Austrian Bundesliga and examining the relatively unknown history of Austrian Fußball to my friend (and fellow contributor to this blog), John Illg, his response was simply “Sindelar! Sindelar!”

I will admit, I didn’t know much about Sindelar at the time. I had seen the name before, I knew he was a part of the 1934 “Wunderteam,” but that was about it. As I dug deeper, though, I began to understand who he was and why the memory of Sindelar has persisted. The humble roots, the almost arrogant kindness, and the untimely death (complete with conspiracy theories) all combine to create a vision that was more myth than man. But there is a darker side, too. One that is rooted in the postwar reconstruction of memory in Austria, and a myth of a different kind – the myth of Austria as the Nazis first victim. But more on that in a bit…

Matthias Sindelar was born on February 10, 1903 in Koslau, Bohemia. At that time, Koslau was a part of the Habsburg Monarchy, but today it’s known as Kozlov, in the Czech Republic.* His father was a poor bricklayer and his mother was a housewife. However his family moved from Koslau when he was two years old, settling in the tenth district of Vienna, Favoriten.

Today, Favoriten is known as a center of Vienna’s Muslim population, but at the time, it was a burgeoning industrial and trade district. The rail lines ran through Favoriten, so that meant freight did as well. Like many Habsburg subjects, Sindelar’s family hoped that they could find a new life in the Imperial capital. Sindelar’s father could use his talents to help build this new district and, perhaps, provide for his family.

However, like many in Europe, disaster soon struck. The war goes by many names – the Great War, the War to End all Wars, World War I, die Ersten Weltkrieg – but Sindelar would know it simply as the war that took his father. In 1917, Sindelar’s mother would be forced to find work. Sindelar, too, would find work, apprenticing for a locksmith. But he had also found another passion. Soccer.

Sindelar began his soccer career for the youth team ASV Hertha. It was there that he began to develop a style of no-contact in order to make up for his slight build. It was for this reason that he got his nickname, “Der Papierene,” or “The Paper Man.”

Sindelar’s career continued despite the collapse of ASV Hertha and a near devastating knee injury. This injury is actually credited as forcing him to perfect his nascent no-contact style, as he was afraid that too much contact would only exacerbate the injury.

After Hertha, Sindelar ended up playing for the Wiener Amateur-Sportverein (WAS), also known as the Amateure. In 1926, this team would eventually come to be known by the same name we know it today – FK Austria Wien. It was also in this year that Sindelar would join the world stage, playing for Austria’s national team.

Sindelar took the world by storm, scoring multiple goals in Austria’s international matches. Eventually, this Austrian team became known as the “Wunderteam,” because of their domination of the game through quick passes and control of the ball – the style personified by Sindelar.

The Wunderteam’s success came to a climax at the 1934 World Cup in Italy. The team fought through the bracket, defeating France and Hungary, only to lose in a controversial match to the host country. This was, of course, the period of the rise of fascism. Though (as far as I can tell) it has never been proven, rumors have long swirled that Mussolini himself hand-picked either friendly or intimidated referees who would call the match in favor of the Italians. The idea was that this was not just a soccer tournament, but a referendum on fascism itself. Thus, Italy had to win. But this would be far from the Austrians’ last run-in with Fascism.

 


 

Next week, we’ll continue looking at Sindelar and the fate of Austrian soccer during World War II. But for now, I wanted to go over some of the happenings in the league!

In the Champions League, Red Bull Salzburg’s match ended in a 0-0 draw to Red Star Belgrade. I managed to watch this match, and I have to say, it was eerie. The Red Star supporters had been banned from the match for “racist chants.” This was after they had almost been banned last season for (no joke) supporting the war criminal Ratko Mladic. Needless to say, the team has gone down quite a bit in my estimation. The next match will be played in Austria on the 29th, and thankfully will have a much more interesting crowd.

In the Europa League, Rapid Wien won their first match against FCSB 3-1. This puts them in a very good position to advance to the group stage in their next match, which will be played on the 30th.

In the League itself, the matches went about as expected. St. Pölten beat Wacker 2-0, despite putting a curse on them by picking them to win. Wolfsberger beat Mattersburg by a crushing 6-0. Wolfsberger is looking hot. You definitely should not sleep on them. Red Bull Salzburg, predictably, beat Hartberg 2-0. On Sunday, Altach and Sturm Graz drew 1-1, and LASK defeated Rapid Wien 2-1 (my only real miss last week, since I don’t count predicted draws). The last game to talk about was Austria Wien’s stomping of Admira, 4-0. Admira did not look good. They really need to step it up or they will risk being in the talk for relegation. Admira finished 5th last year, 6th the year before that, and 4th before that. So, being in the bottom half of the table (much less third worst) is not exactly normal for Admira. So we’ll see how they respond in the weeks to come.

Next week there are some more interesting matches. The schedule and my predictions (in bold) are below. I’ve marked the match to watch for each day with an asterisk (*).

Saturday

Altach vs. Red Bull Salzburg

*St. Pölten vs. FK Austria Wien

Wolfsberger vs. Sturm Graz

 

Sunday

Hartberg vs. LASK

Admira vs. Mattersburg

*Rapid Wien vs. FC Wacker

 

Anyway, I think we could see some interesting results here, with the table beginning to really shake out. Make sure to stay tuned next week for the next part of my look at Matthias Sindelar. But until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

Update: You can continue this series with Part VIII: Man and Myth.

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

Allianz Stadion

Part VI: Gimme a Break

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

I know that last week I promised you a little more soccer history, but everything is starting to move quickly as I get ready to go to Austria. So, the post on Matthias Sindelar, also known as “The Paper Man,” that was planned for today will have to wait until next week.

In the meantime, a quick recap of the Bundesliga over the past week.

On the international stage, Red Bull Salzburg advanced to the playoff round of the Champions League with a 4-0 aggregate versus Shkëndija. Next week they’ll match up against Red Star Belgrade from Serbia. This looks to be the best battle of the Reds since the Sino-Soviet split.*

In the Europa League, things didn’t go quite so well. Sturm Graz had a disastrous day, losing on a 0-7 aggregate to AEK Larnaca, and LASK, despite winning the second leg 2-1, lost on away goals with a tied aggregate 2-2. As such, both are eliminated from the tournament. Rapid Wien, however, did manage to move forward, winning their second leg match 4-0. This was enough to put them over the top of a 5-2 aggregate score. They’ll take on FCSB from Romania in the first leg of the playoffs next week.

Back in the Bundesliga, Hartberg managed to get their first win of the season in an upset of Mettersburg, scoring 4 and allowing 2. Red Bull Salzburg continued their winning streak, beating FK Austria Wien 2-0 and maintaining their spot at the top of the table. Meanwhile, Altach moved to the bottom of the table after losing to Wacker Innsbruck. Elsewhere, LASK beat Admira (1-0), St. Pölten managed to get over Sturm Graz (2-0), and Rapid Wien and Wolfsberger drew at 0-0.

This week, there are some good mid-table matches. I don’t think Red Bull Salzburg is in any danger of losing the top spot, even if they’re facing a freshly ego-boosted Hartberg. The match to watch this week is LASK vs. Rapid Wien. Also, after being down on them, I’m on the St. Pölten train (which, if you’ve followed my picks in the past, could be their death knell). All the matchups and my picks are below.

Saturday

Wacker vs. St. Pölten

Mattersburg vs. Wolfsberger

Red Bull Salzburg vs. Hartberg

Sunday

Austria Wien vs. Admira

Sturm Graz vs. Altach

LASK vs. Rapid Wien

Like I said, next week I’ll be diving into quite possibly the best/most famous soccer player in Austrian history – Matthias Sindelar. But in the meantime, I hope we can all enjoy some fun soccer this week! Until next week, Auf Wiedersehen!

 

*What do you mean that joke hasn’t been relevant since 1985?

Update: You can continue this series with Part VII: The Rise of the Paper Man.

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

Salzburg in the Champions-League qualifier 3rd round vs Shkëndija this past Wednesday

“The Champions League is the competition everyone wants to be in.”

– Steven Gerrard

Part V: The Champions (League)

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

Last week was a bit disappointing for me. I’m still in the U.S., and streaming was even more difficult than normal. When I finally did manage to get a stream, it was inconsistent at best. I have just a few more weeks before I will finally be in the middle of the action, but until then, I’m afraid I’m just going to have to scramble to get what I can, when I can.

All that said, we saw some interesting results last week, even if the league as a whole was a bit light on goals. Graz kept the win alive against Wacker, despite a late run for the draw, 3-2; Red Bull Salzburg surged to the top of the table once again after defeating Mattersburg 2-0; Admira managed to pull in a win after a disappointing first match, defeating Hartberg 1-0 (sending Hartberg to the bottom of the table); and Wolfsberger upset FK Austria Wien with a single goal in the 72nd minute. Rapid Wien drew 1-1 with Altach, as did LASK and St. Pölten, 0-0.

We also had a little bit of action in international competitions, but before I go into that, I think it’s time I gave a little bit of a view of what happened last year. After all, the participants in these international competitions were determined by last year’s matches!

Last year, the final year of the ten team league, Red Bull Salzburg found themselves at the top of the table for the fifth year in a row – an impressive feat in any league. As such, they qualified for the UEFA Champions’ League. Also qualifying was runner-up Sturm Graz (it’s worth noting that, despite being runner-up in the league, they actually won the cross-league ÖFB Cup).

For those of you who don’t know, the Champions League and its lower-ranked counterpart, the Europa League, have many stages, in which different teams qualify or are eliminated and replaced by other teams. This system is generally based on the UEFA country coefficients ranking, which takes into account that country’s performance in past tournaments. Austria was ranked 15th, so the runner-up (Sturm Graz) entered the tournament on the League Path during the second qualifying round while the champion (RB Salzburg) entered on the Champions Path in the third qualifying round.

Sturm Graz was eliminated after losing 2-0 and 3-1 (5-1 aggregate) to AFC Ajax from the Netherlands. They were then sent to the Europa League, which we will discuss shortly.

Red Bull Salzburg, however, played their first match on Thursday against Shkëndija from the Republic of Macedonia, entering in the third qualifying round. They managed to pull out the win, going 3-0. They will play their second match on August 14th, but with a 3-0 head start in the aggregate (the score that really counts in the Champions League), their chances are good to advance to the next round.

Over in the Europa League, Austria sent Admira, LASK, and Rapid Wien. Admira and LASK came in at the Second Qualifying round. Admira was knocked out after losing by a 6-1 aggregate to CSKA Sofia from Bulgaria (not great), but LASK managed to move on after winning by a 6-1 aggregate (weird how that worked out) against Lillestrøm from Norway. This sent them on to the Third Qualifying round, where they were joined by Rapid Wien and, after losing in the Champions League, Sturm Graz.

All three teams now in the Europa league played on Thursday, and, unfortunately, all three lost. Sturm Graz lost 0-2 vs AEK Larnaca from Cyprus, Rapid Wien lost 1-2 vs Slovan Bratislava from Slovakia, and LASK lost 0-1 vs Beşiktaş from Turkey. But those scores aren’t so bad as to make the clubs panic. Rapid and LASK are both just one goal behind on aggregate, and Sturm could easily close the gap with a good day.

You may have heard about a problem that arose at the Sturm match today. I’m not really going to get into it here, not because I want to sweep it under the rug, but because I’m planning on doing a post on hooliganism in Austrian soccer soon. But just know that there was an incident in which a fan threw something (a cup or bottle, it’s unclear) at one of the refs, cutting his face and forcing UEFA to consider abandoning the match. Obviously, this is not a good look, and the Sturm organization has condemned it. But like I said, that may be something for this series to revisit on another day.

As far as expected results are concerned, it’s worth noting that an Austrian club has never won the Champions League or Europa League final. The closest they’ve come is a Europa League runner-up with Red Bull Salzburg in 1994. This Salzburg team is fairly stacked, so they have a chance to go pretty far in the tournament, but how they do overall has yet to be seen. Once they begin facing some of the harder hitters of the tournament, we’ll be able to see their true mettle.

Coming up this weekend in the league proper, we have another six matches. The matches and my picks are listed below (picks in bold):

Hartberg vs. Mettersberg

Altach vs. Wacker

Red Bull Salzburg vs. FK Austria Wien

Admira vs. LASK

Rapid Wien vs. Wolfsberger

St. Pölten vs. Sturm

Last week my picks didn’t go so well, so we’ll see how this week goes!

Next week I’m hoping to have a bit more on Austrian soccer history along with my picks. But until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

Update: You can continue this series with Part VI: Gimme a Break.

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

Vienna Cricket and Football Club, 1897

“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)

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

Generali Arena before a match.

“The first 90 minutes are the most important.”

– Sir Robert William “Bobby” Robson

Part III: It Begins

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

Today begins the official season of the Austrian Bundesliga, with FK Austria Wien and FC Wacker Innsbruck kicking off six straight weeks of league play. But first a little correction…

Earlier in this series I mentioned that I would probably get some things wrong along the way. It seems I was right… though I didn’t think it would be quite this early!

Last week I said that the games being played were inter-league friendlies.

Oops.

Last week was actually the first round of the major “ÖFB Cup,” which is played throughout the season between members of the Bundesliga, the 2. Liga, the Regionalliga, and some of the even smaller Landesliga winners. I was actually able to watch (and live-tweet) several of these matches, being played in some of the more remote areas of Austria. Places like Gurten, a tiny town where 94% of the land is covered by fields and forests, and Parndorf, a town of about 4,600 whose stadium was surrounded by lovely windmills. I watched as a storm rolled from one end of the country to the other, reminding me that Austria is only slightly larger than South Carolina; if it were a state, it would rank 40th in terms of area.

Overall, the first round of the ÖFB cup went about as expected. The teams from the Bundesliga dominated, with all but one winning their contests (FC Flyeralarm Admira surprisingly lost their match to a team from the Regionalliga Ost, SC Neusiedl am See). The 2. Liga also did well, with only two teams (SKU Amstetten and FC Blau-Weiß Linz) falling to teams from the Regionalliga (Deutschlandsberger SC and ATSV Stadl-Paura, respectively).

I’ll talk more about the ÖFB Cup in another post, since I’ll actually be in Austria for the next round (September 25 and 26). But for now, let’s get back to the opening of the Bundesliga.

Today’s game between FK Austria Wien and FC Wacker Innsbruck at Generali Arena in Vienna opens up the 107th season of the Bundesliga (well, kind of… I’ll get to that in another post). As I mentioned before, this will be the first season in which the Bundesliga has had 12 teams after their recent expansion. It’s the first season Wacker will be in the league since 2014. It’s also the first season that I will be following. So a few firsts and a 107th. Sounds about right.

As far as the opening game itself goes, this will be the first time that FK Austria Wien and FC Wacker Innsbruck have met since 2014 – a game that ended in a 1:1 draw.

Wacker has been in the 2. Liga since 2014, having been relegated at the end of the 2013/14 season. This is their first time to win promotion back into the Bundesliga since then, aided in part by the league expansion. They’re hoping to capitalize on their promotion and continue to be in the Bundesliga as a permanent fixture.

FK Austria Wien is a permanent fixture in the Bundesliga, having never been relegated out. They finished in the lower half of the table last year, with a poor record of 12 wins, 7 draws, and 17 losses. However, two years ago they were runners-up to win the league, so they shouldn’t be too concerned.

The rest of the league plays on Saturday and Sunday:

  • SK Puntigamer Sturm Graz vs. TSV Prolactal Hartburg (Saturday)
  • Cashpoint SCR Altach vs. SV Mattersburg (Saturday)
  • FC Red Bull Salzburg vs. LASK (Sunday)
  • FC Flyeralarm Admira vs. SK Rapid Wien (Sunday)
  • SKN St. Pölten vs. RZ Pellets WAC (Sunday)

Today’s match will be at 2:45pm Eastern time (8:45pm in Austria), but all of the matches on Saturday and Sunday will be at 11:00am Eastern time (5:00pm in Austria). I’m still not 100% certain how I’m going to watch these games here, but I will try to watch at least a little bit.

As a side-note, you can actually watch many (though sadly not all) of the matches from the ÖFB cup streaming on their YouTube Channel. That’s how I was able to watch so many last week. I’ll be posting about the next round before it happens, so hopefully you can all watch along with me.

I’ll have another post wrapping up this first round after it’s done, followed by a preview of the next round. But until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

Update: You can continue this series with Part IV: The First Match

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

Fans of Wacker Innsbruck

“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.

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

Red Bull Salzburg take on Rapid Wien in 2011

“You see, the thing about football is that it is not about football.” – Mr. Nutt in Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals.

Part I – Introductions

It was a Thursday afternoon in March, and I was driving from the grocery store back to the apartment, having just gotten the week’s groceries with my wife, who was also off work. It was a lovely (if a bit chilly) day, with blue skies and plenty of sunshine. I felt the familiar buzz of my phone that signaled an email. I don’t use my phone when driving, so I handed it over to my wife to see what it was. The first word was “Congratulations!”

I had just received a massive fellowship to complete my dissertation research in Austria. I had been to Austria many times before, but this would be the longest time I’d ever spent abroad – nine months of uninterrupted research time.

Over the course of the next few months, I began preparing everything to make the trip. I gathered all the necessary documents, emailed all the necessary people, and read all the necessary literature. I decided that this trip I would try to integrate as fully as possible. I would have an Austrian roommate, live outside the city center, speak German as much as possible, and absorb the Austrian culture. And for me, one of the most important parts of any culture is sport.

I have always been a fan of sports, though much more casually than many. I’ve never been the one who recall all of the stats at the drop of a hat, but I have an interest in the way sports make us feel. I do appreciate statistics, and I adore tactics, but for me sports have always been about the culture surrounding them. The sport molds the culture, but the culture also molds the sport. As someone who grew up in Alabama and attended Auburn University, this was most evident in my life through college football. However, globally, this is most evident through that other kind of football – that to which we here in the US profanely refer as “soccer,” a diminutive of the sport’s official name, Association Football.

So, in my preparation for my trip, I began researching the culture of soccer in Austria… And I realized just how little I know about Austrian soccer. I know Rapid Wien and Red Bull Salzburg, but other than that, I couldn’t name another Austrian team. I didn’t know how many teams were in the league, or, to be honest, what the league was called! I knew it was called the Bundesliga, but this made me doubt everything – “Is it really just the Bundesliga? How is that not confused with Germany? Wait, it’s called the Tipp3 Bundesliga? Oh, no, that’s what it was called… Now it’s the Tipico Bundesliga? Wait, the second league is called something different? Oh good lord…”

I quickly decided that this was something to be chewed and digested slowly – not something I could inject straight to my veins. It would take time. It would take patience. And it would take something at which I am actually quite good – research.

So, I decided that I would document this process for you in this series. I’m calling it “Fisch auf dem Trockenen,” which is the German translation of “Fish out of water.” Throughout this series, I’m going to be looking at who the teams are, what are their histories, how they play in the league, who their supporters are, what their chants are, etc. I’m also going to be tracking the progress of the table throughout the season. Though the season begins in just a few weeks, I will be in Austria for the bulk of it. My research (my actual, PhD research, not just my Bundesliga research) is going to take me traveling around to several Austrian cities, so I will be able to get multiple perspectives on the season and the different local teams in the league. I’ll be in the thick of it all, asking questions, watching games with the locals, and hopefully visiting a couple of stadiums.

I’m sure I’ll get some things wrong. I’m sure I’ll misunderstand a lot. But that’s kind of the point. I’m a “Fish out of water.” Hopefully you find all this interesting despite this. If not, then it will at least give me something fun to do throughout my time in Austria!

Next time, I’ll doing a little pre-season write-up of the different teams in the first league. And talk a little about the history of the league itself – which, like most sports leagues, tends to be intertwined with the history of Austria itself, for good or ill.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Update: You can continue this series with Part II: The League.