The magic of a midweek cup game. The big boys coming to town. There’s tobacco and bratwurst smoke in the air, creating a thick fog of excitement and anticipation. It’s a recipe for a once-a-season dream for the locals.
In one pocket on the north west side of Vienna, Wiener Sportklub (5th in the equivalent of a Conference East) brace themselves for the arrival of Red Bull Salzburg; Bundesliga powerhouses with not just the energy of the Austrian top flight behind them but the energy drinks backing of Dietrich Mateschitz too.
Despite there only being 24 places between these two teams, in terms of magnitude this is Manchester City vs Bromley; the sugar daddy from out west versus the historic battlers from the capital with heritage stretching back over a hundred years. In terms of importance however, this was Milton Keynes Dons versus Royal Engineers; a franchised club with less than a decade on the clock versus the cup winners of a bygone age.
But I’ll touch on that later. With an average attendance of 1300, it was an encouraging sight to see over 6200 fans packed into the Sportklub Platz. This was a small and compact stadium, but three sides of terracing for us and one seating stand for them brought back memories of being in the Kop. Packed in like sardines, every one of us. We were all here for one thing and one thing only; to see the mighty Wiener SK come rain or shine, win or lose.
The game kicked off at 20:30 and from this point on there was a roar from the Friedhofstribüne which lasted the whole game. “Sportklub, Sportklub”. This was something I hadn’t experienced, not even with the Town. 90 minutes of completely solid singing, both in English and Viennese dialect. The diversity was fantastic; we had variations on the Indiana Jones theme, Guantanamera and other English classics such as “We love you ___, we do” and my personal favourite, a constant bellow of “We’re going to win the game” to the tune of For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.
As for the on the pitch action, Salzburg opened up a two goal lead inside 15 minutes. Who were we kidding? You would have to be delusional to deny the gulf in quality, and the Wiener SK players knew this too. But it didn’t stop them trying. Perhaps lacking composure and decision making in the final third was a hindrance, but Sportklub constantly plugged away and the fans appreciated that. Every single pass, every single interception, every tackle, every header, every dribble, anything Wiener did with the ball was met with rapturous noise and applause.
Then on 31 minutes, something happened. A blitzing run from the Wiener left winger saw him speeding into the box at a tremendous rate of knots. The centre-back came across, the winger cut inside to give him the slip… he goes down. No penalty! But this didn’t concern Pollack; Salzburg couldn’t clear their lines with a player on the deck and the Wiener #9 crashed the ball into the far corner. 2-1! A goal for the minnows, in front of the whole country.
This was as good as it got for Sportklub. After that, the goals flew in at the wrong end. It was 4-1 at half time and an incredible 12-1 at full time. Had the occasion gotten the better of them? Maybe, maybe not. I asked some fans about it and they all commented about how Wiener had some defensive frailties. Sometimes in football, you have to admit that the other side has much more quality and today this was emphatically demonstrated.
Strangely enough though, this didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the game. I loved it, not just because I saw 13 goals as a neutral. The constant singing, the idiosyncratic action of everybody jangling their keys when there was a set piece, good food and 100% effort from players and fans in the face of serious adversity made for a thrilling evening for this Wrexham fan.
And that’s what brings me to the title of this essay; real football. What is that magic X Factor? It’s the atmosphere. It is being amongst your fellow supporters, no matter your background, getting together and putting a big smile on each other’s faces as your heroes strut their stuff. It felt brilliant.
My next challenge on Football Manager will be taking Wiener Sportklub back to the Bundesliga.
How can I sum the night up? Well there I was, a Welsh guy, living in Slovakia, watching a football game in Austria.
Football Without Borders: Priceless
After the game, I caught up with a senior member of the WSK fan club to ask him on his thoughts not only about this game, but about some topics in Austrian football generally.
I mentioned earlier on that Red Bull Salzburg are somewhat comparably with Milton Keynes Dons. SV Austria Salzburg were a proud club going about their business until they were taken over by the Red Bull group in 2005, when their name and club colours (from violet to red) were promptly changed. A group of fans set up a new SV Austria Salzburg were placed in the 7th tier of Austrian football.
From the brief chat I had, I happily found that many people dislike RB Salzburg exactly because of their Borg-like assimilation of Austria Salzburg and sugar daddy backing. Furthermore, the club board actively discourage the traditional football culture and actively try to run every facet of the club’s life. Let me tell you, it was a big shock that 1200 fans saw their team score twelve goals in one game yet remain completely silent throughout.
They have won 5 Bundesliga titles and 2 Austrian cups since their 2005 rebranding but for football fans, there is a happy ending on the horizon. SV Austria Salzburg 2005 have rocketed through the leagues over the last 9 years and have won 4 promotions to find themselves in the third tier, one off the league system and two away from the top flight. They are actually now in the same tier as Wiener SK but in the western division as opposed to the eastern. In two years time, we could have the Austrian version of Manchester United vs FC United.
But what of Wiener SK? How do they regroup following a 12-1 drubbing? They are currently 5th in the Bundesliga-Ost. Having finished 16th last season and therefore narrowly avoiding relegation, this season is about consolidation. They will improve their defence and look towards a real promotion challenge next season. Sound familiar?