Rapid Vienna v SV Mattersburg
Allianz Stadion / Austrian Bundesliga / 9th December 2017
As I’ve certainly mentioned on these pages before, I do love a football shirt. Sports Direct seems to have mainstreamed themselves these days, but I used to love going in there in my teen years and rummaging through their cheap, random European (and beyond) football shirts. As an 18-year-old, I thought I was really cool and hipster by turning up to 5-a-side in a random football shirt – of course, being a student back then, it had to be for a budget. After a quick rummage of the football shirt rail of Swansea’s rather chaotic branch of Mike Ashley’s finest sportswear chain, I found what I was looking for…
The next day I turned up at football wearing a 06/07 Rapid Vienna away shirt, purchased for a measly £10. I thought I was the dog bollocks. Rapid Vienna are synonymous with the colour green, but my away shirt was a garish half red, half navy-blue Adidas number. I thought it was cool, even if opinion was divided amongst my uni pals.
Despite owning the shirt, I had little real knowledge of Austrian club football then, apart from the odd occasion an Austrian team would pop up in European competitions. Rapid were always the name that stood out though – ‘Rapid’ is just a cool name for a team isn’t? And Rapid Vienna just sounds beautiful to me )or Rapid Wien in their native tongue). For that shirt alone, I suppose Rapid Vienna were sort of ‘my Austrian team’ – if anyone brought up in the South Wales valleys could have a ‘Austrian team’.
Since living in Slovakia, trips to the Austrian capital have been semi-regular. I’ve mentioned it countless times, but I’ll say it again: Vienna is magnificent. Like really, really awesome. If you’ve not been, then I can’t recommend it enough. It is stunning all year round, although maybe its beauty soars even further when Christmas time hits and the festive markets arrive in the city. A day of festive Vienna and a trip to Rapid Vienna on a Saturday? Sounded like a good Saturday to me.
The winter break is frosting over the football season in Central Europe, so this would be my last game on the continent probably until February 2018. Just like last year, when I finished my autumn/winter football at St. Pölten, I was finishing in Austria; also, just like that trip to St. Pölten, I was joined by my pal Ju.
I was up bright and early in Trnava and before 9am we were aboard the City Shuttle from Bratislava to Vienna. Vienna is famed for its coffeehouse culture and its fine caffeine, but on arriving at Wien Hauptbahnhof, I stuck to my usual tradition: Starbucks. There are about 2-3 branches of the famed coffeeistas in Bratislava, but otherwise Slovakia is devoid of Starbucks; and, as a big fan of the place, I miss getting my fix.
St Stephen’s Cathedral.
Always beauty to be found on the streets of Vienna.
With Starbucks in hand, it was onto the ever efficient and cheap Viennese transport system (€7 for a 24 hour all tram, all underground pass – bargain!) and to head for the heart of Vienna, Stephanplatz. Ju had never properly gone into the midst of Vienna before so I told him to brace himself for the beautiful view that awaited him atop the underground station steps. The sight of the St. Stephen’s Cathedral stills impresses even after seeing it many times now. Less impressive though was the fact that it was 10.30am and the Christmas market stalls at the foot of the cathedral were not open yet. Nevermind – this gave us a chance to stroll Vienna’s wondrous streets, where there is something pretty or interesting to see around every corner. Having visited Vienna around Christmas time last year, I recalled there being some Christmas market action around the Museum Quarter, so that’s the way we headed.
Through the Burggarten we headed, waltzing past Mozart (well, the statue of him) and the Hofburg Palace, until we arrived into heart of the Museum Quarter and the majestic and monumental buildings that make up the area. There was indeed a Christmas market, but, again, closed. Ostensibly, I had led us to this area to sample the Christmas market, but deep down I knew my true intentions were to get us nearer 7 Stern Brau.
Vienna is a huge, expansive city, yet it seems every time I visit I always seem to shun trying new establishments and go to the same two pubs I always go to. 7 Stern Brau is one of them (the other one is coming up shortly). I’ve described 7 Stern Brau in a few of my other Vienna blogs, so I will put it in a nutshell here: it’s the place e that makes chili beer. Most think this zesty concoction is flawed, but I love it (Ju also joined the ‘not a fan of it’ list’).
It was now midday and it seemed the stalls of the numerous Christmas markets had sprung open citywide. Back through the Museum Quarter we headed and despite it now being full of life and looking generally lovely, we had now decided that we didn’t fancy standing out in the cold drinking overpriced mulled wine. As an alternative, I suggested heading onwards to my favourite bar in Vienna.
Again, 1516 has graced these pages several times. I love the place and still holds the crown of ‘my favourite Vienna bar’. Their in-house beer is good, the service excellent and cheerful and the multiple of football scarves adorning the ceiling keeps me interested each time. Oh, and they have the finest potato edges around too. It was only a few minutes into the afternoon, but we decided that we were quite content to stay here sitting at the bar until we would need to leave for the nearby Karlplatz underground to get to the west of the city: Rapid’s side of the city.
Perhaps my love for 1516 can best be summed up by the gentleman sitting at the bar next to us, who began speaking to Ju and asking where he was from. When Ju began to explain who I was, our new friend interrupted him and said, “Oh, I already know him – he’s in here all the time.” I’m not sure if it is a good thing that a bar regular also considers me a local in a city or a country I don’t even live in. Anyway, this was Karl, originally born in London, but who had moved to Austria at a young age. We liked Karl lots and when I gave him a #NoFlatCapNoParty sticker, he requested two more; apparently these were to give back to me the next two times he saw me in 1516, perhaps as some sort of proof that I frequent there as regularly as he claimed.
Shortly before 2.30pm, we were at Karlplatz underground ready to the ride the U4 route 20 minutes to the end of the line at Hütteldorf, where we would find the glistening Allianz Stadion. It was not like we were stupidly early and so initially we were surprised that we couldn’t see anyone wearing the distinvtive green of Rapid, but as we got to within 2-3 stops of Hüttledorf, they soon started appearing. And then the stadium did, right across the track from us. It is an absolutely beauty of a stadium for a modern, new build.
The Allianz Stadion, or the Weststadion as many call it because of its westernly location unsurprisingly, is only 18 months old; in fact, the opening game there was a friendly between Rapid and Antonio Conte’s Chelsea. The new stadium was built on the site of the club’s old ground, the Gerhard-Hanappi-Stadion – a name that comes from a former player, which is not exactly unusual in football; however, what is unusual is the fact that the ex-player was also the ground’s architect. Back to the current stadium, the new ground is a glitzy structure with the standout part definitely being the tube-like exterior of the one stand that juts out from the north-west corner with the word ‘RAPID’ sitting imposingly in the middle. Overall, the stadium is suitably sparkling and gleaming from the outside, yet it also certainly exudes some character with it plastered in the green of Rapid.
Conveniently, Hütteldorf tram stop is just a couple of minutes down the road from the stadium and so we disembarked with a crowd of green-clad Rapid fans. We figured we’d find a bar near the ground and indeed one could be spied just opposite the entrance to the west stand. It looked busy, so instead we headed into what was essentially a beer garden where the pub had set up a mini-winter wonderland of sorts.
Here, we ordered some sort of orange-flavored warm wine and we drew the attention of some Rapid fans who chatted to us whilst we drank our wine. The language learning app Duolingo is now telling me that I’m 52% fluent in German, although judging from the way the Rapid lads kept insisting on speaking to me in English, despite me trying to speak German to them, it led me to think that that 52% may be slightly inflated and exaggerated. Instead of letting me practice my German, they seemed more interested in hiring me as an English teacher for their one pal whose English was apparently weaker (I declined before fees were discussed). The lads were in the festive spirit though and bought me and Ju a small shot bottle of Jägermesiter each. A group shout of ‘down it!’ later and I remembered that I never really got on the Jäger hype and have never really liked it. It’s like sickly Calpol to me.
With about 45 minutes until kick-off, we found ourselves under the large Rapid sign and just underneath the tubular stand we found the club shop. A huge and very impressive club shop at that, although admittedly some of the prices were rather exorbitant. I really wanted a nice Rapid scarf and for such a piece of ‘merch’, I eventually had to cough up €18. At least it was a very pretty scarf.
At the southwest corner, we entered the stadium easily enough with our tickets purchased online and printed at home beforehand. Again, compared to the prices I’m now used to paying in my part of Europe, the price was a steep one: €25. I expected such pricing to be honest, as on my previous trips to Austrian football, I’ve found it more in tune with German Bundesliga prices rather than its more easternly next door neighbours. And plus, there’s the added aspect of Rapid being the biggest team in Austrian football.
Despite just two Austrian championships to their name over the past twenty years (the last league title they claimed was 07/08) they are still the clear ahead in terms of titles won with 32 overall (Austria Wien are 2nd on the all-time list with 24).
Concourse beer prices were akin with prices back home in the UK with it costing €4.20 for an Ottakringer. More frustrating though was the fact that we needed to buy one of those bloody fancards to put money on beforehand; a system I still despise, but which seems to be getting more popular across Europe.
With beer in hand, we went up to our seats in the southwest corner. We were not really sure what had suddenly happened, but it seemed that the temperature had dropped massively in the 10-15 minutes since entering the ground. The chilly wind led to us positioning ourselves at the very top row of the stand to protect ourselves from the elements. We also had a great view of the stadium from atop the stand too.
Just like outside, the ground was very nice inside with it all looking neat and tidy, along with the added pleasant sight of the hills around Vienna standing in the background behind the East Stand. However, the most impressive sight in the stadium comes from the West Stand: the home of the Rapid Ultras. When I went to the Vienna derby at Austria Wien’s temporary home at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, it was incredible that the travelling Rapid fans could generate any noise at all up in their corner of such a vast, half-empty 50,000 seater stadium; they certainly did make plenty of noise though and one particular show of pyro in the 75th minute (more on that later) made it look like their corner was practically on fire. Needless to say, I was excited to see how Rapid fans would be in their own home. Fairplay to them, they did not stop singing for the entire 90 and were as good a set of fans as I’ve seen on my adventures on the continent.
Rapid would be taking on league strugglers Mattersburg (a small town about an hour south of Vienna), as Rapid sat in the Europa League places in 4th. However, league leaders Salzburg and 2nd place Sturm Graz had already put a lot of points between themselves and the 3rd and 4th spots, so it would take a whole lot of winning after the winter break for Rapid to pull themselves up to those top spots. A win against lowly Mattersburg would be a good place to start.
I think it may have been as much to do with the cold as the football on show, but the first half seemed to drag. Rapid were clearly the superior team, although they were creating very little.
The main entertainment throughout the first half was undoubtedly the Ultras to our left, who began the game with a huge flag display, before basically become a wall of noise throughout the half with the odd intermittent pyro. They were mightily impressive and they’d certainly encourage me to score if I was on the field for Rapid.
The first half may have been slightly blurry thanks to the alcohol we had switched to. The beer on tap was freezing cold, which was not a particularly good thing in the wintry weather. The bar on the concourse was selling some sort of cheap warm rum-based drink, but they soon out of whatever was mixed with the rum. Like frozen homeless folk, we pleaded for something warm to kept our blood flowing and eventually the guy serving us decided to give us a new concoction for a discount: this new more festive concoction was warm white wine mixed with rum. Surprisingly good, and it provided the warmth we desired; admittedly, it went straight to our heads.
Half-time: Rapid Vienna 0 – 0 Mattersburg.
We decided on a different tactic for keeping warm for the second half: we’d tried using the back of the stand for shelter and we tried silly drink mixes, so now we thought we’d try body warmth by putting ourselves in amongst the crowd in the lower rows of the stand. Of the three warmth-generating strategies we tried, this was the one that easily worked the best. And now closer to the action on the pitch, the game suddenly got a hell of a lot better too…
Rapid started the half playing some lovely football and were now threatening to score. It seemed a matter of minutes until they opened the scoring. However, we would soon see a goal, but it would be for the away team from absolutely nothing.
Moments after Rapid had hit the post and appeared in total control, Mattersburg gained possession near the centre and broke forward. A low ball into the box eventually found its way to Japanese midfielder Masaya Okugawa, who rolled the ball into the net from 8 yards. An unexpected and unwarranted lead for the away team.
Rapid tried to remain calm, but lightning was to strike twice, as Mattersburg took an unlikely 2 goal lead 3 minutes after their first. More meandering on the ball in midfield led to Rapid losing the ball and Mattersburg breaking clear again. Via a few scrappy tackles and fortunate ricochets, the ball fell to the Mattersburg attacker who tapped into the net, before the team celebrated wildly in the corner with their small band of away fans. Rapid looked to have cocked up big time, but this game was to have more in store.
Mattersburg should have made it 3 from a close range header, but were denied by a wonder save, before Rapid finally composed themselves and then began to take the game to Mattersburg with new zest. For the final 30 minutes, it was one way traffic and so it was deserved when Rapid got their 1st goal of the game in the 71st minute. And what a goal too! With no run up, Joelinton, on loan from Hoffenheim, smashed the ball into the far top corner from just inside the box with the keeper not even moving for it.
The 75th minute was the cue for Rapid’s famous Viertelstunde. I wrote about this in my Wien derby blog, where admittedly the moment that day was much more impressive and pyro-heavy as the away fans in the corner of the Ernst-Happel-Stadion wanted to show a display of intimidation towards the rival Austria Wien fans. Basically, the Viertelstunde is a tradition that Rapid fans perform in the 75th minute of every game: essentially, it just means the whole stadium is supposed to make as much noise as possible for one minute and the Ultras usually pull out an arsenal of flags, banners, pyro etc. (although there were only a few flares on this occasion).
The equaliser was certainly coming and the only surprise was that it took until the 87th minute for Rapid to grab it, after being previously denied by some good goalkeeping and the offside flag. Their 2nd was a simple header into an empty net from a brilliant cross from the left.
The players ran back to the centre circle with the scent of blood in their nostrils and knew they could finish off Mattersburg here and now and get the 3 points. They almost did. Another great cross from the left was met by a Rapid head, but the header bounced downwards and beat the keeper, only for it to be bounc too high and up onto the bar. So, so close to a superb comeback – it wasn’t to be though.
Full-time: Rapid Vienna 2 – 2 Mattersburg.
Football really is the clichéd game of two halves: the first half was dire; the second half a thrill a minute. Great stuff in the Austrian Bundesliga eventually.
We followed the crowd back to the underground station and after initially getting on the wrong train, we soon corrected our error and were soon aboard the underground heading towards the main train station. I thought our plan was to maybe have another beer or two in Vienna, but it seemed Ju was challenging us to make the earlier train back to Bratislava. I soon became suspicious of us his sheer determination and I soon took a punt that it was something to do with a female in Bratislava (my assumption proved spot on). So not even an hour after kick-off, we were onboard the train back to Bratislava to conclude our day in Vienna.
I was delighted to have finally visited Rapid Vienna and it had proved a great day out. The first 45 minutes of dull football in the cold stadium could be ignored for a fantastic second half in a fantastic new stadium with a brilliant fanbase who sung for the whole 90, even when their team was struggling. If you were to do a football weekend in Vienna, I’d recommend a double combo of Wiener SK on one of their usual Friday games, followed by a trip to Rapid’s Allianz Stadion. Now, that sounds like an awesome weekend to me!
Now I still need to find that Rapid shirt…
Highlights: Vienna (again), trips 7 Stern Brau and 1516 (again), awesome public transport so easy to get to the ground, great new build, friendly Rapid fans, good atmosphere, great second half.
Low Points: dull first half, quite expensive tickets.
See all my photos from Vienna and Rapid Vienna here.