Austria v Republic of Ireland
Ernst-Happel-Stadion / World Cup 2018 Qualifier / 12th November 2016
Oh, it’s international week. ‘It’s boring,’ ‘Can’t wait for the Premier League (best league in the world) to return’, ‘I hope *insert star player for club team* doesn’t get injured’ etc. My Twitter feed is a constant stream of ire as the international week descends upon us. I soon realise that it is in the English who in general are the main source of the pooh-poohing of international football as their national team falls further into a state of blandness, whereas the rest of the world still seems to thoroughly enjoy the concept. As for me? I love international football – always have and always will.
International football is brilliant in my eyes. Even when Wales were well and truly in the doldrums, I loved going down to Cardiff to watch them (usually be humiliated) in my teen years. Ironically, since their success in recent years I’ve not been able to make it to watch them anywhere near as much as I’d like to and it breaks my heart at times. But, now I live on the continent, I certainly have options when it comes to international football. So with Craig visiting for the weekend, we decided what better way to enjoy ourselves than indulging in two World Cup 2018 qualifiers over the weekend: Slovakia v Lithuania on the Friday night; then Austria v Republic of Ireland on the Saturday evening.
With me feeling physically unattached to Wales at the moment (certainly not emotionally unattached), Slovakia have taken on the role as my surrogate football nation; plus, they’re in England’s group which makes them much easier to support. You’ve probably noticed in my blogs over the past few months that I’ve quickly grown to love Slovakia, so subsequently I have a lot of affection for the national football team. I felt a stab of pain as England scored an injury time winner here in Trnava. At the same time, I felt pure joy as the Slovaks tore a 3-0 hole into an abject Scotland team a month later. This Friday, v the Lithuanians, Slovakia were rampant with a 4-0 win featuring probably the best goal I’ve seen on my travels so far this year: a 20 yard rocket from AC Milan’s Juraj Kucka after the most wonderful of passing moves (watch it in all its glory here). It was a superb evening in the company of English, Scottish, Slovak and French folk. The evening finished in Lokal Pub, before we moved on to Partizani as Craig decided he wanted to try the lethal local delicacy, Tatra Tea. And this is why we woke up on Saturday morning slightly groggy. But not to worry, the appeal of a snowy Vienna got us hurrying on to Trnava station and onboard the 8.34am to Bratislava and then the 9.38am to Vienna.
Last time, I went to Vienna, back in August (I visited Wiener SK and Admira Wacker), temperatures were hitting 30 degrees and shorts, t-shirts and sunglasses were the order of the day; this Saturday, it was freezing and even snowing lightly. The cold weather forced me and Craig to escape the streets of Vienna and head underground to the subterranean transport network of Vienna.
Back in August, I opted to walk everywhere to see more of the city and to bask in the resplendent sunshine, but with us having to jump about the city quite a bit on this cold November Saturday, we bought ourselves a 24 hour tram/metro pass. We learned quickly that Vienna’s transport links are outstanding and great value too considering we paid a measly €7 for our pass; it proved invaluable during our stay in the Austrian capital.
We emerged into Stefansplatz at 11.30am and it was a wonderful scene. Towering above us was St. Stephen’s Cathedral and below this was a small, snow-dusted Christmas market. With snow still falling, we warmed ourselves up on the streets of Vienna by ordering some warm beers in Christmas-y, boot-shaped mugs. We both enjoyed the initial warmth they gave us, before the concoctions became a bit sweet and sickly for us once they cooled. Plus, if it was warmth we sought, I queried why we were out on the street?
My favourite bar that I discovered in Vienna last time out was the superb 1516 Brewing Company’s bar. It was here I enjoyed some superb sour beer back in August, so I insisted we head that way. It wasn’t long before I was back under the plethora of European football scarves that adorn the bar’s ceiling, but I was sad to see that the sour beer was no longer on the menu. Fortunately, the 1516 lot have a host of fantastic alternative ales and Craig even found himself some cider. We’ve learned from Craig’s two trips over to Central Europe that cider is a rather elusive substance in this part of the world – and he refuses to switch to beer. Once we had devoured a mighty portion of immense potato wedges alongside ours drinks, we were on our way.
Next up, Craig wanted to see some stereotypical Vienna, so I led him towards and then through the rather grandiose and palatial walkways of the leafy Burggarten and the Museum Quarter. Ostensibly, this was to show Craig some of Vienna’s more extravagant beauty, but also I wanted to lead us in the direction of another favoured bar of mine.
Craig was happy with his fill of ornate buildings and fancy architecture and so I led us a bit further up the street to 7 Stern Brau. I was back here for one thing and one thing only: chilli beer. It is exactly what it says on the tin and offers one hell of a kick. There was no cider here, so Craig opted for Coke. I did force him to try some chilli beer though – I suffered berating for the next ten minutes as he complained that it had destroyed his taste buds, as he dubbed me some sort of sadist for drinking it.
The time was now ticking towards 3pm and with 3 hours until kick-off, we thought we better try hunt down our hotel near Schönbrunn in the west side of the city. A couple of tram changes and we found the street, but finding the hotel was harder work. Even when we found the exact building there was little to suggest that it housed a hotel, until we spotted the hotel’s name on the buzzer. There was no answer, but we climbed the stairs to the 5th floor of this apartment to find the door to the hotel’s reception locked. Phone calls were made and eventually the owner answered and said he’d meet us outside to discuss the hotel he had moved us to. Being moved to a new hotel was news to me and I struggled to restrain my anger and frustration as he made excuses about the room and why he’d booked us elsewhere. Despite reassurances that our new Viennese abode was nearby, our map confirmed that our new hotel, the Hotel Allegro, was in the south and over an hour walk away. Thank god for Vienna’s fine transport system getting us there easily and quickly enough.
Check-in complete and with an hour of our time wasted, we decided to head straight from our hotel, conveniently located directly opposite Matzleinsdorfer Platz tram stop, to the stadium. There was just over an hour and half until kick-off, but we felt that there’d be a lot of metro congestion later with around 50,000 expected at the game. All had seemed fairly low-key until we hit the metro stops near the city centre and then we were soon packed together like a pack of Austrian and Irish sardines. The Irish were already in good voice and there seemed to be a nice atmosphere amongst both sets of fans; a friendly vibe which that was maintained throughout the whole evening as far I could tell.
It took us about 30-40 minutes from our hotel to cross town to the Stadion tram stop – a stop built right next to the stadium especially for when Vienna’s main stadium hosted games during Euro 2008. Both me and Craig expressed awe as the stadium came into view from the tram. It couldn’t really be missed as it looked absolutely huge. It was a similar sense of awe to when I visited the Olympiastadion in Berlin years before and it looked very similar to it with it also being a large, circular block of concrete. The stadium being completely lit up against the cold Vienna sky did add some majesticness to the place.
The Ernst-Happel-Stadion is one of UEFA’s 28 five star stadiums, meaning it can host Champions League finals – and it has certainly done that. The most prestigious final in European club football has been held here 4 times: in 1964, 1987, 1990 and 1995, the year Louis Van Gaal’s young Ajax team thrilled the world of football by lifting the ‘Big Ears’. Additionally, the stadium has hosted the UEFA Cup final in 1994 and older Manchester City fans may remember it fondly as the scene of their triumphant 1971 European Cup Winners’ Cup final win against Górnik Zabrze. Also, it was here where Spain finally overcame their international hoodoo in 2008 and triumphed over Germany to win Euro 2008 (and to win me a nice bit of money from a bet actually). Now, Lost Boyos had visited too, so the stadium’s prestige was now fully verified.
The stadium was originally called the Praterstadion, but was renamed after Austrian Ernst Happel in 1992 – undoubtedly one of the greatest football managers of all time. Happel was the first manager to win the European Cup with two different clubs (Feyenoord and Hamburg) and is still one of only five to achieve such a feat (quiz time: name the other 4 managers to win the European Cup/Champions League with two clubs. Answer at the end of thIs blog). Equally impressive was that he won the league in 5 different countries. The guy seems fully deserving of having a stadium named after him in my eyes.
Outside the stadium, we found stall after stall selling a range of scarves, as well as cans of beer from a series of crates. It was now far too cold to be holding cans of beer in the area by the tram stop, so once Craig had bought a scarf and we’d got pass the long line of Irishmen pissing down a small banking, we headed straight to our turnstile at Sektor A of the ground.
Once we were through the usual body checks and ticket scanning, we found a lot of concrete. A lot of concrete! Our seats were up in the upper heavens of the stadium and so began our ascent up the stairs which ascended amongst huge, concrete supporting pillars. There was no concourse to talk of and the staircase emerged straight into the stand itself. My favourite part about visiting huge stadiums is that moment when you emerge pitch side and the pitch is dwarfed by the stands around it; I feel this has even more impact when it is under the lights. I could sense this stadium would deliver one of those great ‘wow’ moments and stated as much to Craig as we as headed up the final staircase. We arrived at the top and practically in unison declared ‘wow’ – for a number of reasons.
The stadium looked equally huge from within with this evidently helped by the blue running track going around the outside of the pitch (another similarity with the national stadium in Berlin). Around the running track circles the large sloping stands which virtually remain the same height all the way around the vast stadium. Austria’s home looked impressive, but undoubtedly the spectacle in the stands around us added to the sense of wonderment the stadium had already created.
We arrived into the stand to find a sea of red and white flags being waved around the whole stadium and some epic Austrian power ballad booming into the cold evening air. In unison at the end of every chorus the whole stadium patriotically belted out the closing line “I am from Austria!” (apart from the Irish of course). Thanks to Google, the next day we learned that the song was indeed called I Am From Austria and is sung by iconic Austropop singer Rainhard Fendrich. Me and Craig loved its cheesy, jingoistic epicness, so much so that we listened to it several times on the train back to Slovakia the next day. You should give it a listen too (here you go).
We took to our seats in the upper part of the upper tier, right next to the big screen (irritatingly, meaning we couldn’t see what was on it). We were happy to find that we had been given free flags too, although they lost their patriotic feel slightly as I realised they had the beer brand ‘Stiegl’ in big letters written on the middle of them. It was also quickly evident that there were seemingly as many Irish people around us as Austrians; we’d expected this, as 1) We were right next to the green-doused away end and 2) there had been a flood of Irish shirts, flags and hats entering the home gates with us. Like I said earlier, this was no cause for concern with a jovial feel to proceedings. Plus, everyone likes the Irish don’t they?
Kick-off loomed, but before the real action got underway, we were treated to what for me was my favourite part of the whole Ernst-Happel-Stadion experience. I mentioned in my blog about my trip to Budapest-based club Soroksár SC how their ‘intro music’ of The Alan Parsons Project song Sirius rivalled Pontypridd Town’s grand use of the theme music to 90s TV show Gladiators as their match intro song. Well, Austria threw down their challenge for the Lost Boyos crown of ‘Best prematch intro music’ with the whole stadium entering a fit of rapturous flag waving as Johan Strauss’ played. Of course, only Austria could get away with using classical music to fire up their home support. It was suitably immense. This was partnered with a huge tifo over the opposite side of the stadium to us unveiling a huge, glittering number 12; we assumed this was in homage to the fans being the metaphorical ’12th Man’ but may have been for some other occasion – we were unclear.
After such a resounding buildup in the stands, the teams eventually emerged onto the pitch to the less lauded tune of the FIFA anthem. Craig was particularly excited to finally see Stoke’s Jon Walters lineup for Ireland. It’s a long story, but the headlines are that Craig once got drunk enough at a Crystal Palace v Swansea game that he somehow convinced himself that Stoke had just proceeded to the World Cup final to take on Barcelona (they were beating Liverpool 6-1 at the time) and that the mighty Jon Walters was the leading contender for the Ballon d’Or. He had enough Jäger in him to genuinely believe both ideas were true. He’s become a favourite of his since.
Anthems were performed and we sat down on our cold, steely seats to take on complete neutral stances with the Austrian and Irish nationals around us. As well as that, both feature in the same group as Wales and so I surmised that a draw would probably be best for my home nation.
The game started off at a good pace with the Austrians coming out strongest and placing the Irish under intense pressure for the opening exchanges. The erratic genius of Marko Arnautovic was shining through in the first half in particular as he caused repeated problems for the Irish defense.
It wasn’t long before I’d sort of fallen in love with the Austrian no.14 Baumgartlinger, who seemed to be everywhere in midfield. He was controlling everything from the middle and seemed to win every ball and every tackle. Although it was his partner in crime, the much-heralded David Alaba of Bayern, who had my favourite moment of the half with a glorious slalom run through some tackles followed by a wonderful roulette turn on the ball away from another subsequent tackle. The gentleman next to me threw much derision Alaba’s way. It then dawned on me that the abuse had come in German and my confusion was heightened by the fact that he was urging Ireland on for the whole game in German and literally wooping at every Austrian mistake.
Craig was complaining of hunger and with no obvious concourse here, he went off in search of food with a remit to buy me a hot dog if he found any. Him leaving on the half hour mark proved a poor choice as he probably missed the most frenzied few minutes of the half. Firstly, Austria’s Marcel Sabitzer went through on goal and dinked the ball over Darren Randolph in goal, only for his chip to hit the bar. The ball fell in the box and the ensuing scramble saw Austria somehow fail to score.
Moments later, the ball was up the other end and Robbie Brady was whipping in a superb cross. Walters was going to get on the end of it and I feared Craig was going to miss his Ballon d’Or tip score. However, Walters had to stretch too much and his effort from close range sailed over the bar.
Half-time: Austria 0 – 0 Republic of Ireland.
It’d been almost 15 minutes since Craig left for food and I was close to putting up “Missing” posters of him around the ground and getting his face printed on the side of milk cartons. Just as I was open to report him as a ‘missing person’ he appeared with my hot dog and some sort of strange-looking burger for himself; it had some sort of thick pink -ish ham in the middle of it (it wasn’t a ham sandwich). He enjoyed it though.
The cliché ‘it’s a game of two halves’ was perfectly fitting for this game, as Austria were the better team the first half, before then delivering a completely anonymous showing in the second half. Ireland were given all the room in the world to control the game.
Austria’s abjectness would be punished in the 48th minute as Ireland broke from their own corner flag and Wes Hoolahan played through James McLean. McLean bursted towards goal and from an acute angle fired past Austria keeper Ramazan Özcan. The Irish fans went crazy in the away end and those around us ran to the front fence of the upper tier to embrace and celebrate together. We sat and clapped politely with me now quietly hoping for an Austria equaliser to help the Welsh out in the group. The Irish were now belting out choruses regarding James McLean and his apparent hatred of the Queen.
There wasn’t too much going on in the second half, as the Austrians failed to rise to the challenge of overturning a goal deficit. Ireland didn’t create too much either, but their lead never really looked in jeopardy.
Full-time: Austria 0 – 1 Republic of Ireland.
We headed back out into the bitter cold with no plan whatsoever where to go to start our night out. Getting the metro from the Stadion stop was a no-go with the long queue in the cold not looking particularly appealing. We walked towards the city centre to keep warm until we hopped on the metro at the less busy Messe-Prater and headed towards somewhere in the centre. We eventually ended up walking down the side of the Donau canal, until we opted to go in Hard Rock Cafe for beer (and cider) and warmth. Those flags advertising had worked as I sunk a pint of lovely Stiegl.
While in Hard Rock Cafe we realised we had absolutely no plan with what to do with our night. Instead of coming up with one, we just decided to wing it by flittering in and out of random Viennese bars – including one fancy bar which Craig had to fork out about €9 for a double vodka and coke (of course, no cider). The bar’s pretentiousness was diminished slightly by the fact they had a weird Austrian cartoon involving an aardvark playing on the big screen; it seemed to be a bit of a poor man’s Road Runner.
As the night got later, we began to think of our end game. There was only going to be one option: a karaoke bar. With both of us big lovers of showing off our crappy singing voices, we googled our way to a nearby place called Lemmon. Seemingly, it was closed, but on opening the innocuous looking front door we learned it definitely wasn’t.
Lemmon was awesome! The bar was full with a nice mix of locals and Irish fans still revelling in their win. We took a seat at the bar where we were supplied with a constant flow of beer and cider by the barmaid; we were big fans of the ultra-cool barmaid who was running the bar while simultaneously MCing the karaoke. We learned that a mulleted Austrian can make Smells Like Teen Spirit an unlikely karaoke stormer, whilst the Irish opted for a slightly disturbing version of Tenacious D’s Fuck Her Gently.
Me and Craig discussed our karaoke options. In Manchester my beloved James’ rousing and anthemic Sit Down always went down extremely well, so I hoped it’d have a similar effect on my Viennese/Irish audience. It did. Craig was slightly weirder as he revealed his passionate love for the Swedish band Roxette with It Must Have Been Love being a strange favourite of his. Whatever floats your boat – I let him get on with it. I can’t say I’m a fan of the song, but he gave his all and the entertainment factor of his performance was further heightened, thanks to the middle-aged Austrian woman who insisted on dueting with him. It was compelling yet strange viewing.
After the second performance of the Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way of the night (they are still loved in Vienna it seems), we called an end to our night and began our metro/tram/taxi hopping from the city centre to our hotel.
It had been a belter of a weekend. From the first beers in Trnava on Friday evening to the stumbling out of a Viennese karaoke bar in the early hours of the morning – and everything in the middle. Vienna really is spectacular once you get your bearings and learn your way around the superb transport system. Although it’s not the most extravagant of elite stadiums, the Ernst Happel Stadion proved to be an impressive structure too and the prematch Strauss playing is a memory will live long in the memory – I’m still whistling the tune. The game wasn’t too bad either really.
God, I love international football and look forward to it returning.
Highlights: obviously, Vienna is beautiful, return to 1517 and 7 Stern Brau, excellent public transport system, great stadium, prematch music and flag waving, decent game, Julian Baumgartlinger showing.
Low Points: hotel messing us about, ticket was quite expensive at €31 (I’m used to very cheap tickets now though).
Quiz answer: Jose Mourinho (Porto in 2004 and Inter in 2010), Carlo Ancelotti (AC Milan in 2004 and Real Madrid in 2014), Jupp Heynckes (Real Madrid in 1998 and Bayern Munich in 2013) and Ottmar Hitzfeld (Dortmund in 1997 and Bayern Munich in 2001)