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Stand up for the Austria!

Stand up for the Austria!

In a nutshell, that’s what yesterday, Sunday 25th March, was all about. The story has been told a thousand times, but that’s because there’s a story to tell.

Seven years ago Red Bull took over a financially crippled club known as Austria Salzburg and after initially playing along with the main fan groups’ wishes to retain the club’s name and colours, they decided not to. In 1994 Austria Salzburg hatched out of its provincial shell and triggered nationwide euphoria by progressing to the final of the UEFA Cup. It was a fantastic time to be here and there was a real buzz in the town. Ultimately, that was the peak of the club’s success and as the team failed to live up to its own expectations, results dropped off and crowd number dwindled.
It’s hard to compare Salzburg to teams in other parts of the world as the relationship of the average Salzburg citizen to his/her football club has always been opportunistic. Clubs like Man City, Newcastle and Leeds have all been relegated one or two divisions over past twenty years, but all of them still managed to attract crowds of 50% upwards of those they had in the top division. The love of football’s just not in their genes; it’s not a flesh and blood thing. But there is a hardcore that does see it that way, and they’re the people who couldn’t stomach the idea of being told their club didn’t exist anymore. 
When Austria Salzburg went on a bad run in 1995 crowds dropped below 50% of capacity and at the start of the noughties with the team in danger of slipping out of the division the only people making any noise were the official fan clubs – your friends when life is shit and the chips are down. Those were the people buying the shirts and scarves, making banners and singing the songs; ultimately the only ones who really cared what happened to the club – the flesh and blood fans.
It was no surprise that when Red Bull decided to snuff out a 72-year-old club, the average reaction was ‘he who pays the piper...’, ‘...if they invest money...’. An identity is something you actively create. All those who had stayed with the club and invested time, money and love into following and supporting their team around the country, were sick to the stomach at the idea of losing something they had fought for week in – week out when nobody else seemed to care.
Long story cut short; those were the people who founded the new Austria Salzburg in 2005 when Red Bull announced it had founded a completely new club with no history. After a brief and pointless merger with a local police team, which was never going to be a good mix, the fans decided to go it alone in 2006 and started off right down in the very bottom division (at that time the 7th division).
I had never understood how people could be so blasé about their team going out of existence and began going to watch games at the back end of 2006. Keeping it short again, after a distillation period of seven years Red Bull is currently topping the Austrian Bundesliga with average home crowds of just over 4000, while our regional third division ‘away’ game with Red Bull’s Junior team – bearing in mind we started the day in tenth position – attracted...
Before we got to the rather grandiosely titled ‘Red Bull Arena’ (imagine Roman chariots, warriors slaying lions, lions mauling thieves and peasants in front of 30,000 citizens of the city of Juvavum) there was a gathering at the site of the old stadium which has been transformed, respectfully enough, into a library, shops and flats, all built around a patch of grass where the pitch used to be.
That was where I met up with the others and was introduced to a bloke from Newcastle who has also written stuff about Austria Salzburg as a freelance journalist as he was talking to Walter – man of the people – Windischbauer (Peter Griffin from Family Guy for those who require an animated visual approximation). Andy, I think his name is. I can’t do names, sorry mate! I remember what my mother’s name was, I still know my dad’s name and I know my girlfriend’s name. Everybody else needs to show me their passport, otherwise I just call them ‘Hi’. He also asked me what happens on a match day; whether the boardrooms get together in the VIP section. A reasonable question, but third division football in England is professional and in Austria it’s amateur. That means boardroom is seldom a solid piece of infrastructure. Mostly it’s a snug in the nearest pub or restaurant, and the likelihood of two clubs getting together that don’t recognise each other’s legitimacy, is negligible. Sorry Andy(?) if I didn’t spend long enough chatting. Maybe it made the question sound naive. Wasn’t my intention, but it was the same for me when I came to Austria and watched televised top division football played at ground with grassy banks behind the goals.
After that I had to grab hold of thingy (Mikko) to get my ticket, because you never know what the police have devised for you as a means of keeping friends apart. Mikko was having a grumpy start to the day but gave me the ticket anyway. I guess just over a thousand Austria Salzburg fans took part in the march from the site of the old stadium to the new stadium originally built for Austria Salzburg.
I figured there would be something like a moral boycott on buying drinks and food at the stadium and everybody seemed to be well kitted out with bottles and cans of beer. The march led through the back streets of Lehen and onto the main road heading to the motorway. It was one of those badly behaved school tripper marches with empty bottles and cans being disposed of ‘as and when’ and as we went past a petrol station any notions car drivers might have had of going for a ‘quick fill-up’ were dashed by 150 fans emptying the coolers of every stockable form of alcoholic beverage – as fast as you can say ‘empty the coolers’.
Up ahead the road forks off in the direction of the stadium at two places on its way to the motorway. The really naughty school trippers headed off for the motorway and the lazy and cowardly ones, like us, took the short cut past a school on the way to the shopping centre. Obviously, if beer goes in – beer comes out, so the back roads route was a good opportunity to reduce the load again. As we stragglers turned the corner to the shopping centre the first of the bad school trippers came up to meet the pack, so they’d obviously turned off before they got to the motorway. A wise decision.
As we got past the shopping centre ‘The Golden Palace of Excess’ known as ‘Europark’, I got into a Monty Python-esque discussion with Walter ‘El Presidente’ Windischbauer about ‘What you ate, coal? You were lucky’. All I said – not even directly to Walter – was, ‘When I was young there were no mobile phones and if you wanted to make a phonecall you had to arrange for you and the other person to be at their respective phones at the same time’.
Walter wasn’t having this and trumped me with his ‘blow-you-out-of-the-water’ argument: ‘I grew up in an underground block of flats in a rubbish dump where we had to share one telephone for a whole part of the city and all we had to eat was the rust and bacteria we could lick off the old cans of corned beef thrown away by the American soldiers and the acid we could suck from their jeep batteries’. Some people are just so competitive!
Anyway, we got to the stadium to a relatively restrained police presence and were quickly round at our gate. As usual in Austria generally, what began as a slightly undisciplined queue, with the ground staff making ‘sort-of’ checks to see if we had any explosives and guns and stuff – ended up with calls of ‘open the gates’ while everybody dived under the barriers for a quick security pat on the pocket to negotiate turnstiles that had been set to turn whether you put a ticket in or not – so theoretically we could have got in for free.
Just like on school trips, the kids do exactly what they’ve been told not to do. First we heard that someone had pushed a TV cameraman down a hill, which is daft and dangerous in the extreme. Don’t we want people to come and report on our games? Then a glance to my right revealed a million of our fans buying beer and eats. So much for moral boycotts. Whatever else we do at Austria Salzburg, ‘moral’ is not one of our strong points.
I headed off down with Mikko and the others to get in close to the main mob as it’s more fun when you join in. The sun came round to our section about 20 minutes before kick-off and at around ten minutes to kick off our market criers Salva and Sappo kicked the monkey and cranked up the machine. In a two-tier metal stadium the acoustics are great and if anything there were slightly more of us than the last time we were there and apart from about forty kids behind the opposing goal, the Red Bull pitchside sector was no fuller than it had been the last time. Same people: season ticket holders, senior citizens, kids, onlookers, unmotivated mildly interested individuals...
This time their provocative banner had been up, I presume, by the club itself. As with most things, Red Bull allows nothing to be done without their express permission or they simply organise stuff themselves. This time it was four banners featuring the four (three) names of the club from the past to the present, the final one being erroneously Red Bull, who had originally claimed the club was not merely a continuation of the old one under a new name, but then they decided it was after all.
After a seemingly good test match series through the winter break and partial rebuilding of the team being conducted by our new trainer, Thomas Hofer, we were expecting our team to roar at them from the off, but after two minutes it was already clear who was fielding amateurs and semi-amateurs, and who was training up young professionals for the future. At the end of the day the sporting day ended at kick-off and rediscovered itself in the final quarter of an hour. However well we had trained, there’s a difference between players that train ten times a week and who are being preened for the market, and talented enthusiastic amateurs – one or two of whom might one day be taken up by larger clubs.
This time round we let them play cat-and-mouse and we just didn’t see the ball. It looked like we were trying to stay compact, but it simply left spaces for overlapping players to open us up over the wings. I guess the idea was to avoid making fouls and getting out of position, but we were beaten for pace and skill, and the only thing we could have offered was muscle – but for that we weren’t up close enough.
After 20 minutes they got behind us down their right flank and a stiff, low cross to the centre went in off Christian Paulsen to break the deadlock. As is tradition, Salva got the terraces concentrated on picking up the team, but you could sense there was too much realism in the air. This time it looked crass. Alleoni made it 2-0 on 42 minutes and at half time we already knew the game was up. We’d probably used up all our luck in the previous three encounters.
Ten minutes after the restart it was 3-0 and strangely enough that seemed to focus minds on the more important task of making everybody aware of why Austria Salzburg wasn’t allowed to die; because the fans wouldn’t allow it. Slowly in the second half with nothing to play for Austria Salzburg sensed the vast majority of the crowd was on their side, and began to put weight behind their tackles and move the ball around. Sometime around that juncture the was a big cheer as one of our lot had got up into the seat where Red Bull had placed their banners and ripped down the one featuring Red Bull as the ‘legitimate’ successor.
On 82 minutes Rapael Reifeltshammer’s pig-headedness paid off as he threw his head at a loose cross and pinged it in for 3-1. For a second there was the hope they might buckle as the support sensed a couple of lucky goals could change the course of the afternoon. It got loud in our corner of the ground as there was the sense of shoving history down renegade throats as the Austria Salzburg anthem – ‘Go, go goal!’ was sung to remind them of the days when they sang it too. Likewise the nostalgic song from the UEFA Cup period ‘Stand up for the Austria’. I bet there were one or two of the older ‘fans’ at the other side who felt a bit weird not being able to stand up to and sing what are their own songs – if they want them to be!
Not that it really mattered to us. In the 93rd minute we let in another and at full time we had lost 4-1 ‘away’. That was when the true irony of the situation must have sunk in for the other side. The boring sitters and moaners on their side of the pitch had not made a noise all afternoon so the Red Bull players went over to celebrate with their 50 ‘Bullenfront’ fans behind the opposing goal – in a 30,000 capacity stadium. We had lost 4-1 and around 3000 Austria Salzburg cheered their team for a good 5 minutes.
There’s so much more I could tell you, but the most important thing was that we ‘stood up for the Austria’.
See you next week!
FC RB Salzburg Amateure - SV Austria Salzburg 4-1 (2-0)
Austria Salzburg played with:
Eisl; Kreuzwirth, Paulsen, Milosevic (20. Seidl), Hirsch; Rajic, Mayer, Reifeltshammer, Schriebl (76. Wührer), Federer (63. Pavlovic); Vujic
1-0: Paulsen (19., own goal)
2-0: Alleoni (42.)
3-0: Krenn (56.)
3-1: Reifeltshammer (82.) (Assist: Rajic)
4-1: Bulut (93.)
Shots total: RB 19 / Austria 13
Shots on target: RB 9 / Austria 4
Shots blocked: RB 0 / Austria 2
Corners: RB 4 / Austria 10
Fouls: RB 21 / Austria 15
Offsides: RB 4 / Austria 4
Yellow cards:
RB: 1 (Pamminger, 9./foul)
Austria: 2 (Schriebl, 33./foul; Mayer, 72./foul)
EM-Stadion Kleßheim, 7000 spectators
Ref: Sebastian Gishamer; Assistants: DI Christian Rigler, Peter Mittendorfer

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