As I sit by the fire warming the life back into my feet, I thought it would be a good moment to put down few observations about Austrian Football and my first away game following Austria Wien.
A door to door journey of about 50 minutes saw Charly and I arrive in Mattersburg and the stadium with about 45 minutes to spare before kick-off. Mattersburg is a small town of about 6,300 inhabitants which is located to the south of Vienna in the northern half of the State of Burgenland. This rural wine growing area is home to SV Mattersburg, our opponents for this premier league match, whose stadium has a capacity of 17,000 but today would play host to a crowd of only 2,300, almost half of which were Austria fans. This may have had something to do with the weather and the time of year but also seemed to be linked to their lowly position in the league – second from bottom at the start of the day. What was surprising to discover was that in their promotion winning season, five years ago, and when newly promoted they would attract crowds of around 15,000 people and had the second highest average attendance in Austria.
Luck was with us as we parked the car, the third member of our little group arrived by accident at the same spot which meant we could progress directly to the stadium. Inside we made for one of the food stall as Charly wanted to purchase what he assured me (a vegetarian) was the best sausage you could buy at a football ground in Austria. So with our beer and the meat eater happy with his sausage we stood at a high table, at the top of the embankment, behind one of the goals – a moment you would definitely not experience at an English premiership ground.
Austrian premiership football varies between the level you find in the English Championship and that played in the English League One. In this instance the game moved up through these levels as we went from the first to the second half. Mattersburgs’ early lead did not make the temperature nor the football anymore enjoyable and the late first half equaliser only mildly improved matters for we away fans. As sometimes happens, when a team go down to ten men, Austria started to play after a valid sending off and eventually won 1:2 – when the second goal went in our little group agreed that ‘It’s warmer when you’re winning’.
Given the weather we had agreed not to stand in the uncovered away supporter’s zone but joined many other Austria fans in the one main (covered) stand where our supporters congregated at one end but mix in with the home fans as you moved further into the centre. Despite the small numbers the crowd was as usual loud. Drums and other instruments are common at Austrian football matches and there is usually a platform behind the goals for the one or more supporters, often with a megaphone, to conduct the chanting. Although they have now been band, flares were also in use to create additional atmosphere and as usual one of them got dropped causing fans to dive in all directions. Large flags are also a favourite behind the goals but I personally prefer to see a match than have the additional ‘atmosphere’ of a cloth obscuring my view of the play – but then I’m getting old I guess.
An unusual event at this game was listening to the announcer request the Austria fans behind the goal to stop throwing snowballs at the Mattersburg goalkeeper – as with all such public service appeals it had no effect whatsoever. The announcers at Austrian stadium get much more involved in the matches than their English counterparts without (it would appear) technically breaking the rules. When their team scores they will announce the scorer repeatedly and engaging the crowd in chanting the players name, which is sometimes extended to more generally encouragement of the team.
A tradition at the end of games is for the team as a whole to come over to their supports and take a bow. This caused some problems a year or so ago when Rapid Vienna visited Aston Villa in the UEAF Cup, as the players ended up fronted Stewards who tried to stop them from thanking their fans.
This was the last game before the winter break. Although much debated in England it is an absolute must here in Austria. At this time of year the crowds can often be seen rhythmically jumping up and down during games. This is sometimes part of the excitement and involvement in the game but mostly it’s about getting the blood circulating in your feet in sub-zero temperatures. Playing matches in these conditions is just not worth it, unless it’s the UAEF Cup and you are playing against a technically better Spanish team who just don’t like the cold.
One consequence of the winter break is that it creates two mini rather than one long season. With Austrian teams vulnerable in the transfer window to losing players to clubs from bigger leagues the teams that start the ‘second’ season can be very different. Given that the summer break is also shorter than that experienced in England you don’t get that same distinctive divide here that comes from the long wait of an English summer.