SKN St. Pölten v Admira Wacker
NV Arena / Austrian Bundesliga / 17th December 2016
As the UK gears up for the traditional Christmas orgy of football, across Europe things are very different, as football turns it light off for the cold winter months. Slovak football had begun its winter hiatus last weekend and football here won’t recommence until mid-February – the same as the majority of the surrounding countries and their leagues. Of course, I was going to try to squeeze as much football out of 2016 as possible and so, for the weekend before Christmas, I found myself scanning the fixtures across Europe looking for which nearby leagues were still crowbarring in one last football weekend in December. It came down to two realistic options: Krakow in Poland or St. Pölten in Austria. With a lot of travelling ahead of me over the Christmas/New Year weeks, I opted for the less travel-heavy (and the financially-lighter) option of crossing the Austrian border rather than the Polish one.
Shortly after 10am, I was arriving into Bratislava and it was here that I was meeting my newest Lost Boyos regular. Ju had come with me to Žilina v AS Trenčín and Slovan Bratislava v Spartak Trnava just two weekends before and here he was again, back in Slovakia after pouncing on another cheap Leeds-Bratislava flight deal. This was his fourth time here in Slovakia since September, so he must really love this wonderful country!
It was then onwards to Vienna, where we’d be presented with a whole host of trains to take us onwards to St. Pölten, located about 60km west of the Austrian capital and a mere 30 minutes on the train. On arrival, we chose not to venture out into Vienna properly and instead headed into the large Admiral Sports Bar housed in the vast Vienna train station. There was a slight problem getting in the bar though: I headed towards the large automatic door of the bar’s downstairs entrance and found it very frustrating when it wouldn’t recognise my presence and open up for me; it turned out that this was because it wasn’t an automatic door at all, but a plain ordinary window. D’oh. Once I’d learned that I can’t walk through panes of glass and entered the bar, we enjoyed a few pints of Gösser and watched the German football on offer on the wall I dubbed the ‘wall of sport’: a huge multi-screen wall showing a host of sports – mainly football – from around the continent.
It had cost me €19 for a Trnava-Vienna return train ticket, so we were both a bit surprised to learn that the 30 minute journey to St. Pölten would cost €20. Admittedly, it was a mega fast, swanky train to Zürich and at least it had a bar – although they refused to sell us alcohol until the train actually started to leave the station. So Ju instead turned his attention to chatting up the waitress Isha, much to the amusement of her manager background it seemed.
St. Pölten was the charming, quaint, medium-sized town I had seen in photos. Or as Ju kept repeatedly referring to it – having done some brief research before visiting – ‘a 2nd century Roman town.’ The train station is conveniently placed right in the heart of town and on exiting the station we were immediately onto the high street, amongst locals completing a final weekend Christmas shopping trip. There was more of shopping high street than I expected, but we were failing to spot pubs. Instead we thought we’d seek out the Christmas market (we didn’t even know if there was one, but this just seemed the sort of town that would definitely have one). We asked a group of lads, outside of what appeared to be cafe, where was good to go and they said we should head inside the establishment they were smoking outside with the promise of ‘good beer.’ We opted to listen to the locals.
Cafe Im Palais Wellenstein was architecturally wonderful and I guessed that we were inside some sort of old chapel, now renovated as a plush cafe/bar. The beer, as promised by the smokers outside, was good too, although Ju was more interested in who was serving it. Our barmaid Claudia was a friendly soul who was intrigued by our visit to her hometown; Ju was more than intrigued by her too declaring her as ‘sex on legs’ and comparing her to her namesake Claudia Schiffer. He was soon in pursuit of her phone number.
Next, we ended up in some small bar around the corner because I had a ‘good feeling’ about it. Here we met some more locals who were also a bit bemused at two Brits solely in town to watch the local football club; I got the impression that folk from St. Pölten are used to tourists sticking to Vienna. There wasn’t too much to see here though and when some of our fellow bar-dwellers informed us that the Christmas market was about to open and was located just around the corner, we decided to head there.
I’ve spent the past 5 years of my life living in Manchester, a city which has one of the most renowned Christmas markets in the UK; I virtually never frequented it, aside from walking through it on the walk home from work. It’s been a completely different story since I began living in this part of Europe, as it feels like I’ve spent the majority of my December out in the cold, warming myself up with festive wine in Christmas markets across Slovakia and Austria. So here I was again at another one and St. Pölten’s festive offering was one of my favourite ones I’ve been to. The market was crammed into the pretty town square with a huge Christmas tree standing proudly at the centre. We acquired some wine and a big plate of warm crisps (a new and now much-loved concept for me from my trip to Ostrava a few weeks ago).
With our festive spirits enhanced, thanks to a jolly old time at the market, and with over an hour until kick-off, we began the walk to the ground. We’d spied the modern home of St.Pölten from the train and it looked a fair old distance to trek to from the town, but the locals were all insisting that it was just a 20 minute walk away. I was happy to trust the locals’ know-how over our estimates, although it soon became clear that 20 minutes was a tad optimistic or that the ‘St. Pölteners’ (?) are just fast walkers.
The town centre presents a lovely, charming Austrian town, yet our journey to the outskirts was far from lovely and charming with it being a stroll past endless retail and industrial estates alongside busy main roads. The hue of the flooldights had been ahead of us for a long time, but despite my optimism (“Oh, it’ll only be another two minutes,”) they just did not seem to be getting any closer. Eventually we veered left towards another business park and there was a lad in a hi-vis jacket at the end of a dark road – a road which would lead us to the NV Arena.
It’s certainly not in an eyecatching setting, but the stadium itself looked mighty impressive from the outside with the six floodlights soaring from the roof and sending a pleasant glow towards the darkness engulfing us. I was immediately a fan of St.Pölten’s home, thanks largely to it being a bit different to the usual generic new-build stadiums you find. The stadium’s unusual circular roof really added a unique feel to the structure, plus, bonus eccentricity points for seemingly building the stadium into the natural landscape with the stadium nestled in some sort of grassy bowl setup.
The current guise of SKN St. Pölten have only been in existence since 2000, after FCN St. Pölten went out of existence. The new team surged back up the leagues and has spent most of the last ten years in the second tier, before achieving promotion to the top flight for this season. Although they’ve only been in the top flight a few months, they have been playing in their top of the range stadium since 2012.
As today counted as a ‘foreign ground’ it meant the club met my ‘scarf purchase’ criteria and so the first port of call was the club shop. My most cherished football scarf is my KVV Oostende – thanks to it being the softest feeling scarf ever – however, my St. Pölten scarf certainly ranks high in my collection for its garish yellow/blue/red colors and ultra-cool slogan: “WIR FÜR DIE WÖLFE” (‘We are for the Wolves’). St. Pölten’s nickname of ‘Die Wölfe’ was plastered everywhere and some of the wolf symbols placed around the stadium made it feel like we’d stumbled into the base of a Game of Thrones clan rather than an Austrian football club; admittedly, I was a fan of this.
Such a modern stadium had a suitably lavish bar. The place was huge too with it being part bar, part restaurant, part conference room. Once we had beer and I’d done a bit of posing with my lovely new scarf, we got chatting to the locals who were all very friendly. Joszef, whose English wasn’t the best, gave me another chance to practice my German and I once again surprised myself with my broken German getting me through a whole conversation again – even including a spot of ‘banter’ in German.
During our beer drinking in the bar, I quickly headed off to the ticket office to buy two tickets (€18 each – a far cry from he cheap tickets I’m now use to in Slovakia) and it was soon time to head to the turnstiles of the Südtribune to use said tickets. It proved a difficult task for one of us. I was through straight away, but Ju was held back claiming there was something wrong with the ticket I’d bought him. I went back through to investigate and I soon realised the problem: he was showing the steward his Bratislava to Vienna return train ticket. I found this hilarious and it made me feel better that Ju had committed an idiotic act on par with me trying to walk through glass earlier in the day. With the relevant ticket found and displayed, we were into the NV Arena.
The stadium, although maybe not as interesting looking inside as outside, was still a fairly impressive sight. We were behind the goal in the south stand, where we would find the more lively fans. The rest of the ground looked fairly similar with the roof raised above the stand, leading to the fairly chilly evening wind blowing through the stadium. The roof was quirky though as the inside support seemed to be made of wood, combined with the more shiny, steel exterior.
Of course, our first act in the stadium was to purchase beers from the open concourse at the top of the stand. I was annoyed to find that for the evening we’d have to endure one of those annoying fan card systems – a system I’d not had to endure since a weekend of top flight Belgium football 2 years ago. So, a fan card was purchased with enough money put on it for a few beers and then we headed down towards where the drumming and flag waving was coming from.
As I made my way down the steps, a lady thrust a large blue/yellow/red flag into my arms, much to my delight. I do love a bit of flag waving, but I learned a long time ago that I’m awful at such an art. It soon became clear to the smiley lady that I was a St. Pölten imposter and a mere football tourist, although she did leave me have a minute or two of flag waving before I submitted my flag waving duties to a more accomplished flag waver. What was clear straight away though was that the St. Pölten fans around us were extremely friendly and welcoming and this would remain the case all evening. There was not many of them (just under 1,500 apparently), but our fellow spectators in the Südtribune were a great bunch to spend a Saturday evening with.
The game was a bit of a slow burner entertainment-wise, although it did get going and there wasn’t too long to wait for a goal. In the 15th minute a miskick from the Admira keeper was seized by St. Pölten’s Lukas Thürauer and he cleverly cut into the box and fired low into the far corner.I couldn’t help but think that it served Admira right for not playing Lost Boyos hero Manuel Kuttin in goal; I’d seen Admira beat Ried 1-0 earlier in the season, with Kuttin in goal for Admira that day and delivering my favourite assist of the season to help Admira win in the 90th minute. There were scenes.
It was to be an unfamiliar face for me, but a familiar name, who would make it 2-0 to the home team. Like I’m sure many other football fans, there are some players you grow to love purely through their Championship Manager/ Football Manager persona. One such player for me during my Football Manager life (now 6.5 years clean of it) was Daniel Segovia, who was a playmaking maestro for me at Rayo Vallecano many, many moons ago. I’d completely forgotten the name until I saw his name appear on the home team’s teamsheet this evening. His name would be the next one on the scoresheet much to my delight.
Just past the half hour mark, St.Pölten’s no.25 launched a powerful left foot volley from the edge of the box, which appeared to be heading towards the bottom corner only to be blocked by an opposition player’s hand. There weren’t too many arguments when the ref awarded a penalty. Up stepped the Spaniard Segovia to drive his sidefooted effort into the corner, even though the goalie guessed the right way. Great penalty.
St.Pölten seemed to be in control, but then, from nowhere, Admira equalised. The goal came from a throw in by the home team that eventually led to an Admira attack from the halfway line. A stretched volleyed pass was directed over the St.Pölten defence and Christophe Monschein ran on to fire in from a tight angle.
Half-time: St.Pölten 2 – 1 Admira Wacker.
I went to get more beer, whilst Ju was busy talking to some more girls – the lad was out of control! I realised I was rather hungry and hoped that there’d be klobása on sale; it seemed not, but this proved to be a good thing as instead I was reminded of another part of the Austrian football cuisine. When me and Craig visited Vienna for Austria v Republic of Ireland at the Ernst Happel Stadion, Craig didn’t fancy a hot dog and instead opted for this weird-looking burger. I had to try some too and it was immense. I’ve since learned that this is leberkäsesemmel and it is apparently THE football food of choice in Austira. Loosely translated, ‘Leberkäse’ means ‘liver cheese’ and Wikipedia continues with: ‘It consists of corned beef, pork, bacon and onions and is made by grinding the ingredients very finely and then baking it as a loaf in a bread pan until it has a crunchy brown crust.’ This is then put in a roll and the results are quite frankly beautiful. I decided to stand at the top of the stand drinking my beer and eating my leberkäsesemmel as I waited for the second half to get underway.
Instead of heading down into the small bustle of fans in the Südtribune, I stayed at the top to watch the majority of the second half unfold.
The first half had turned into a fairly entertaining spectacle and the second half was similar without ever truly exploding into life. It was certainly the away team putting on all the pressure though and it felt like a matter of time before they got their equaliser; especially after a few half chances and a very good claim for a penalty.
Whilst Ju was chatting away to the local female fans, I ended up talking to Gregor, purely because he was wearing a flat cap. It turned out that he worked for the supporters’ club and so he told me all about the club and the move to the stadium and the club in general. Gregor was a great lad and good company as we watched the second half.
For the last 15-20 minutes, I went back down the front with Gregor and with Ju and his new fan club. It seemed word had spread of the British amongst the home fans and several fans came over to say hello and to generally say how happy they were that we’d visisted their club. Purely because of the lovely welcome we’d had, I really wanted St.Pölten to hold on for the 3 points, but it wasn’t to be.
Admira substitute and no.93-wearing Srđan Spiridonović had been causing the home team a lot of problems since coming on at half-time, but it would be Morschein again who would grab the equaliser for Admira in the 86th minute. A scramble around the box led to a shot at goal being saved, before Morschein came in to fire the keeper’s parry into an empty net.
Full-time: St.Pölten 2 – 2 Admira Wacker.
Having been 2-0 up, it was obviously a disappointing result for St.Pölten, but the fans stayed behind to clap off the home players, who came over to show their love too. They were off for their winter break and we were off for our train home; even though I was very tempted to join Gregor and the rest of the supporters’ club in the bar having been kindly invited to join them post match.
Ju was at it again and he insisted we get a taxi back into town this time, so that we’d have a chance to revisit Cafe Im Palais Wellenstein, so he could make one last romantic play towards Claudia. Alas, she had sadly finished her shift. Instead we were treated to the company of two young Austrian women, who were both back in town for Christmas. They weren’t into football, but like everyone else in the town, they found us amusing it seemed.
By 9.30pm, we were back at St.Pölten train station and soon well on our way back to Slovakia. Admittedly, the highlight of travelling back was when Ju disappeared from our seats and came back with a half drunk bottle of prosecco someone had given him. There was no complaints from me and on getting back to Trnava after midnight, I’m sure the prosecco was the final aid in putting me straight to sleep as soon as I got through my bedroom door.
So that’s me done with my European football travels in 2016 – it has certainly been a blast! St.Pölten was a pleasant way to wrap up proceedings with a lovely town, a lovely stadium and, generally, just a lovely club.
Following a Christmas and New Year away from Slovakia, I’m returning to Trnava at the start of January, but I’m not sure when my European football conquests are going to restart – could be February or maybe January if I fancy flying off to the Bundesliga or Serie A for a weekend (which is being considered). I write this days before Christmas and I have my own non-football-related voyage ahead of me, as I head to Prague on the 23rd and then fly to Paris on Christmas Eve. From there, I’m off to central France, where my parents have decided in recent months that that’s where they want to spend their future. Christmas in the French countryside sounds lovely to me!
Although I said my European football adventures are done with in 2016, that doesn’t mean I’m done with football in 2016. There remains one more game to attend in 2016 – a game back on British shores and a league ground I’ve done before, but will likely blog about as I went there for a mere preseason friendly last time. Until then, Merry Christmas…
Highlights: St.Pölten is a nice town, Cafe Im Palais Wellenstein, great Christmas market, nice, modern stadium, good club bar, beautiful scarf purchased, welcoming fans at St.Pölten, seeing Daniel Segovia, free prosecco.
Low Points: cost me more to get to than expected, trying to walk through windows,ground away from town, fan card system.
See all my photos from St.Pölten here.