Austria Wien v Rapid Wien
Ernst Happel Stadion / Austrian Bundesliga / 12th February 2017
If someone was to ask you to name Europe’s most influential football cities, I’m sure many would reply back with a list of cities that house European football’s esteemed glitterati: Milan, Barcelona, Madrid, Munich, Manchester etc. I would imagine that Vienna would probably be a long way down people’s lists. Vienna is meant to be an aristocratic, cultured city, not a city where something as primitive and brusque as football should be renowned. Vienna is the city of grandiose architecture, the majestic arts and of musical maestros such as Mozart and Strauss. When people think of Vienna, I imagine football features low on the list if at all. However, Vienna actually had a massive impact on the game we cherish today – arguably more so than any of Milan, Barcelona, Madrid, Munich or Manchester.
During the 1930s Vienna would see the birth of ‘coffeehouse culture’ – a phenomenon where an urbane, bohemian mix of classes would converge to discuss, deconstruct and theorise over a plethora of topics. With football booming across Central Europe in the 20s and early 30s, football would take centre stage in many such discussions. For many football was still a rather barbaric sport, but the intelligentsia of this society were beginning to intellectualise it and turn it into an art form and something far more ‘cultured’. At the centre of Austrian football’s intellectual enrichment was Hugo Meisl’s Austrian national team, who through intelligent play and elaborate discussion of the game became one of the most majestic and greatest national teams ever assembled. These days, that team are remembered by one moniker: the ‘Wünderteam’. Their star player was Matthias Sindelar, considered by some across Europe to be the first true genius footballer. However, Sindelar held strong views opposing the ever-growing power of Nazism and died in suspicious circumstances at his flat (officially he died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his flat) in 1939, as the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany was beginning.
As well as starring for the nation’s Wünderteam, Sindelar was also fronting a golden era for FK Austria Wien. The club were soaring and providing much of the personnel for the elegant Wünderteam. Sadly, with many Jewish players at the club, FK Austria’s success would be stopped in its tracks by Nazism and World War II. But, the seeds were sewn in those ‘coffeehouse’ years: Austria Wien were the elegant, technical team of the city and the team of the city’s bourgeoisie and more prosperous . Because of this, they were never going to get on with their neighbours, Rapid Wien. As well as being the city that can claim to have been the catalyst for a renaissance in footballing intellectualism, Vienna also holds one of Europe’s most fiery intercity rivalries. FK Austria Wien v Rapid Wien is actually the third most played intercity derby in all of Europe – behind Scotland’s big two derbies, Celtic v Rangers and Hearts v Hibernian.
FK Austria and Rapid both hail from the District 13 area in the northwest of the city, but both have moved away since their formations in the opening decades of the 20th century. Both have moved in very different directions philosophically and culturally too. The derby has come to be known by some as the ‘Clash of the Classes’: FK Austria are generally known as the club of the wealthy and bourgeois and almost try to embody their supposed opulent background by having a reputation for playing (or at least striving to play) silky, technical football; Rapid, who still reside in the suburbs, are the club of the working class and historically try to channel this by playing the more passionate and robust football that their fans demand. Copa 90 did an excellent 12 minute documentary chronicling the clubs’ differences a couple of years ago, which you can watch here. With such contrasting clubs dominating the city, the derby can be a volatile affair. So, I couldn’t think of anywhere better to spend my Sunday afternoon than in the Austrian capital amongst the fans of Austria’s two biggest clubs, seeing if this derby was as intense as I had heard.
My destination for the derby would be the Ernst Happel Stadion; this is the country’s national stadium, where me and Craig had visited back in November for Austria’s 1-0 loss to the Republic of Ireland. This season has seen Rapid move into a shiny new, redeveloped stadium and clearly FK Austria do not want to fall behind their rivals and so have began developing their stadium too. This means that FK Austria will be frequenting the national stadium for the next 2 seasons (just like Rapid had done between 2014 and 2016 whilst their stadium was being jazzed up).
I arrived into Vienna shortly before 10am and, courtesy of the city’s brilliant metro system (a measly €7 for unlimited 24 hour usage of all trams and underground), I made my way to the more central and typically Viennese Museumquarter. It was near here that I’d be meeting European football aficionado Dan Scanlon, who is now living in Budapest and had travelled up that morning for this Sunday afternoon derby. With no real designated meeting spot, I headed to the first bar I thought looked half decent; I felt the bar Centimeter II fitted such ‘looking half decent’ criteria. The bar had good beer and a bizarre combination of rulers, bottles and breaded pretzels hanging from the ceiling to enhance their attempt at a quirky vibe.
After Dan had arrived and we had had one more beer, we headed just down the road to one of my favourite Vienna bars. In my other blogs about my trips to Vienna I have stated my love for the mighty 7 Stern Brau and this blog will be no different: 7 SternBrau is brilliant! It’s a cool bar, but more importantly it brews the incomparable chilli beer. I was happy to introduce Dan to the wonderful zingy world of chilli beer, as we discussed the strange idiosyncrasies of groundhoppers.
Next, we crossed through the city past the statue of Mozart and the usual parade of lavish concert halls and museums. It seemed that I was not feeling particularly adventurous or experimental regarding Viennese bars on this Sunday afternoon, as I stuck to what I knew. So I directed us towards another favoured city drinking hole: 1516. Plus, I knew it would be to Dan’s liking as the ceiling is covered in an eclectic mix of European football scarves (he was particularly happy to spy a scarf of his beloved Red Star Belgrade). Some of 1516’s fine Slippery Ale was consumed whilst Villarreal v Malaga played out in the background.
Having visited the stadium just a few months before, I was confident on how to get there, so I suggested we enjoy one more drink across the road in the city’s chief Irish pub, Flanagan’s. The suggestion was also inspired by the fact that I knew they had my beloved Punk IPA on tap (even if it was priced at a rather wallet-hammering price).
Indeed, within I found the exquisite elixir of Punk IPA, while a video compilation of the best bits of Fernando Llorente’s Swansea career played on TV; Punk IPA and watching Fernando Llorente be good at football is about as heavenly a combination as there is for me. However, with an hour and a half until the kick-off for Viennese football’s main event, we left Fernando and Punk IPA and headed for the underground.
We had noted that considering the city was hosting its main derby that afternoon, there was little to no sign around the city that it was a big matchday at all. Getting to the Ernst Happel Stadion is remarkably easy via the metro (just head to the clearly-named ‘Stadion’ station) and it wasn’t until aboard the metro that we found ourselves amongst football fans, as the purple of FK Austria and the green and white of Rapid became more prominent. We wanted to be part of derby day, so we forced ourselves to chat to some Austria Wien fans, but as we exited the station it seemed that we hadn’t done enough to truly pique their interest and they ditched us rather quickly.
Last time I was outside this stadium the only light resided from the floodlights’ hue, but in the light of day the stadium looked as huge as I recalled. However, the daylight did make it quite clear that the stadium is just a large, grey, concrete bowl and maybe not the most fanciful or inspiring sight from the outside.
Just like before the national game I attended there, there were stalls set up around the stadium selling beer – mainly rogue traders dealing cans of Ottakringes. We decided to aid their business with some can purchases to keep us watered before entering the stadium.
I’d heard a lot about the ferocity of the Wiener Derby, so I was a bit surprised to find both sets of fans mulling around each other freely in groups outside the stadium with little authority in sight. The rival fans weren’t exactly chatting and mingling happily with each other, but there was no sense of sheer abhorrence to be in the other’s company from either set of fans either; at least that’s what it looked like from where we were on the one side of the stadium nearest the metro station. It was a nicer sight than a police heavy presence at least.
With just over half hour until the kick-off of the 320th edition of the Wiener Derby, we headed around to the turnstiles to get us into Sektor E. After a brief search from security, we headed up the steps, engulfed in the mass concrete innards of the structure, and into the large bowl of the Ernst Happel Stadion. I went into the history of this FIFA Five Star rated stadium in my Austria v Republic of Ireland blog, so I won’t go into all that again (there’s a lot). I will say again though that I’m a fan of the stadium without completely falling head over heels with the place. On this second visit, I could certainly see a lot more of the stadium with the crowd reaching an attendance of 15,577 in this vast 50,000 seater stadium; this obviously meant that one side of the stadium was virtually empty creating a rather strange atmosphere. We were positioned in Sektor E down the one side of the pitch, in the sort of middle ground between both fans set of Ultras. Instead of taking our seats in the lower section of this stand like our tickets stated, we headed up to the middle of the stand (as far as back as possible) to get a better view of proceedings.
We had acquired beer (something I was surprised at, as I had met Rapid fans in the past who had informed me that beer is usually prohibited by the police at this fixture) and we prepared ourselves for the start of this famous derby. We could see that behind the goal to our right the purple band of FK Austria ‘fanatics’ had their tifo ready to be unveiled, whilst the Rapid fans, housed right up in the top corner to our left, were increasing their noise level dramatically. The emergence of the two teams was the cue for the two sets of supporters behind each goal to show their support as Austria’s tifo went up over their heads and Rapid held up boards to create a stripey red/white and green/white pattern with a cross in the middle (the national colours and Rapid colours? Not sure of the significance of the pattern otherwise). Of course, this was then followed by the usual unleashing of pyrotechnics with the Rapid end certainly looking the more ablaze.
Derby games can be full-throttle, full-blooded classics, but more often than not they can be nervy rather dull affairs on the pitch. Labelling this game ‘dull’ may be a tad harsh, but it was definitely far from a glorious footballing spectacle. In fact, I’d say most of our entertainment within the stadium came from watching the rather rambunctious Rapid fans in the corner. They really were brilliant and they were definitely the far more buoyant of the two sets of fans over the 90 minutes.
At kick-off, Rapid found themselves 5th in the league and just one place behind FK Austria, yet there was already a 10 point gap between them. However, it was Rapid who were the far better team in the opening stages. There were half chances for the away team and at one point the home goalie inexplicably dropped the ball in the box, after failing to seize a whipped in freekick, but Rapid made nothing of such an inviting opening.
FK Austria went on to have the best chances of the half, as they really should have scored with a near post head from a freekick. They definitely blew their best chance to go ahead though thanks to the greediness of Kayode, who broke through the defence and only had to pass across the box to his team-mate to set up a clear one-on-one; instead, he tried to run it all by himself and was tackled, much to the frustration of his team mates.
Half-time: Austria Wien 0 – 0 Rapid Wien.
My last game in Austria – when I went to St.Pölten the week before Christmas – saw me enjoy a mighty fine leberkäsesemmel, a sort of meat roll that is prominent at football in Austria. So at half-time I went in search of such a treat, but my mission proved unsuccessful (probably largely due to the fact that I had forgotten the name of it at the time). It was rather ashamedly that I headed back to my seat with a different football meal instead: popcorn. Buying popcorn at a football stadium has to be the most ‘modern football’ thing I’ve ever done – and I once willingly went to watch MK Dons. Dan looked disgusted with me as I returned to our seats. On buying the popcorn I realised I was defying the gods of football food, but ultimately, on seeing it being served, I really did just fancy some popcorn. I can’t imagine that there was much popcorn being passed around the Ultras behind each goal though; holiding popcorn whilst wielding a flare would be a nightmare.
Once again, the main spectacle in the second half was in the stands, as the Rapid fans up in the upper tiers continued to relentlessly sing and be generally raucous. It was in the second half too that I properly began to notice just how many Rapid fans there were in the home stand with us. There appeared to be little animosity towards them from those in purple though, even when the invading Rapid fans in our stand cheered on their team openly and loudly. Maybe this derby didn’t have as much hatred involved as I had previously thought? Anyway, in the 55th minute those Rapid fans would have something to really cheer.
Rapid got the ball just outside the Austria box and played a ball out to the left-wing. A cross into the box was slightly behind Rapid’s Georgian forward, Giorgi Kvilitaia, but Kvilitaia superbly adjusted his body in the air and fired a bullet header goalwards. The keeper had no chance and soon Kvilitaia was running towards the stand celebrating where the Rapid fans were going mental at the top. 1-0 to Rapid.
Rapid seem to be on the ascendancy and as another shot was aimed at goal from within the box by Brazilian Joelinton, it was heroically blocked by the impressive centre back Lukas Rotpuller. Rapid’s momentum was soon derailed though, thanks to the aforementioned Joelinton getting a second yellow and thus the away team going down to ten men.
FK Austria were now battling for an equaliser, yet as we entered the final 15 minutes all eyes turned to the Rapid fans again. This was because they were performing the traditional ‘Rapid Viertelstunde’ (rough translation: the Rapid quarter of an hour). There are conflicting stories of how the Rapid Viertelstunde begun, but it largely comes down to Rapid garnering a reputation as making glorious comebacks in the final 15 minutes and playing until the death; this tradition is believed to stretch back as far as a 100 years ago. Essentially, the 75th minute is the cue for Rapid fans to go really, really crazy and today was certainly no different. The clock struck 75 and immediately a roar went up in their section and soon their part of the stadium was a ball of fire and a real football fan inferno, as pyro smoked into the stadium roof. It really was a mighty impressive sight and probably my highlight of my whole time at the derby.
In true Rapid tradition, the team kept fighting to the very end, even with ten men, but it would prove to not quite be enough. The clock had past 90 minutes and we were well, well into injury time. FK Austria’s Rotpuller had impressed me in defence all game (it was probably the ponytail, but he reminded me of a calmer, slightly less mental Chico Flores – the former erratic Spanish centre back of my beloved Swansea City). However, it would be his heroics at the other end of the pitch that would rescue the home team a point. One final long ball in the box, met an Austria head and the ball went across the six yard box for Rotpuller to beat the keeper to the ball and slide home. Rotpuller took off like a madman, hurdling the hoardings around the running track to celebrate with the jubilant home fans. An equaliser with virtually the last kick of the game in a derby game. Scenes.
Full-time: Austria Wien 1 – 1 Rapid Wien.
A fun and lively derby to attend, but ultimately it was obvious that the big stadium hindered the atmosphere significantly. I have no doubt in a more standard sized stadium – such as Rapid’s new home – that this derby would be a simmering cauldron of noise and passion. Fairplay to both sets of fans on the day who were great – especially the Rapid fans – but the Ernst Happel Stadion just isn’t the best venue for a derby with 15,000 spectators. I’ll definitely be trying to attend another derby some time at Rapid’s stadium or perhaps even at FK Austria’s new stadium some time in the not too distant future.
We were away from the stadium easily and quickly enough and back on the metro towards the centre. I said my goodbyes to Dan as the metro got nearer the tourist heart of the city and I switched metros to head onwards to Vienna’s main station, before making the journey back across the border to my Trnava abode.
It seemed I had just under an hour to wait for my train east, so I was delighted that I had an excuse to visit the ever excellent Admiral Sports Bar; the bar I always rave about thanks to its wall of sport – a large wall covered in TV screens showing sport (mainly football) from all over the world. I sat down for a beer and got talking to the gentleman at the bar who was vehemently cheering on FC Köln, who were playing on one of the screens; it turned out he was not a real Köln fan, but just merely cheering on the team as they are managed by Austrian, and Vienna born, Peter Stöger. My new friend, Kristian, decided that I was ‘nice’ and gave me a can of beer out of his accompanying carrier bag to see me back to Trnava.
The city of Vienna, a famous derby, pyro and a strange man giving you a can of beer for the train home is all you could possibly want from a Sunday afternoon.
Highlights: Vienna (again), great bars, easy to get to stadium, Rapid Wien fans particularly good, the Viertelstunde, Lukas Rotpuller.
Low Points: ticket cost 28 Euros (I’m used to much cheaper now), stadium too big for such a derby.
See all my photos from my day at the Wiener Derby here.