Heart defeats money
SV Austria Salzburg 1-1 USK Anif (18:09:10)
by Andy Hudson
Making his EFW debut Andy Hudson of Gannin' Away takes us on a journey to Austria to see SV Austria Salzburg:
On November 13th 2010, the fans of SV Austria Salzburg will hang their violet and white flags up at Wals-Siezenheim Stadion. They’ve done this many times since the stadium opened in 2003, and for 50 years prior to this it was a routine played out at Stadion Lehen. The Austria Salzburg fans will gather in their favoured areas and will spend the afternoon roaring the Violetten on.
Except this will be the first time these fans have been to this stadium since 2005. And these fans, in their historic areas of the stadium, will be the away fans. The match: Red Bull Juniors v SV Austria Salzburg in the Regionalliga West, the third tier of Austrian football.
In an attempt to make further brand inroads into sport following their acquisition of Jaguar Racing in 2004, Red Bull purchased Salzburg Sport AG, of which belonged SV Austria Salzburg, on 6 April 2005. The fans were excited with the prospect of financial security; after all, the club was almost out of money, and a local company taking control which had Franz Beckanbauer as their football advisor could only be good. The resigning chairman, Rudi Quehenberger announced that “years of hard work for the benefit of football in Salzburg” had finally paid off. A new era beckoned.
Unfortunately for the Violett-Weiss, the fans of Austria Salzburg, this era was to very quickly destroy their soul. Rumours of a change of club name and colours were rife, and the fan groups quickly organised demostrations and petitions to preserve their 72 year old heritage. A general assembly held on 4 June resolved to keep the violet and white colours. 9 days later a press conference was arranged by the club and the players for the new season were introduced as FC Red Bull Salzburg, walking out in new kit colours of red, blue and white.
The fan clubs were aghast; but worse was to follow. Red Bull changed the year of formation to 2005 (The Austrian FA later forced Red Bull to revert back to stating 1933 as the year of formation if they wished to use the top-flight license) and all player profiles were changed to state “previous club: SV Salzburg”. The team who had lifted the Austrian Bundesliga title six times and were UEFA Cup runners-up in 1994 were no more. Red Bull stated they were a club “with no history and no records”.
Still the fans fought on. The Violett-Weiss Initiative (IFW) was formed to restore tradition back to the club. Red Bull decided to meet with IFW only after media pressure was damaging the brand image; the brand strategists pushing the club into the same room as the fans. Four sessions took place, with the club’s final ‘offer’ being rejected and the fans then walking away from further talks. What was this glorious final offer? A purple adidas logo on the kit, a purple captain’s armband and purple socks for the goalkeeper.
As fans without a club, there appeared only one option: to create a new club. The fans’ club was to begin life in the Austrian 7th Division. At the same time as the new club was being created, spectators at the Red Bull Arena were treated to live commentary of the matches via the stadium PA system as the game was played in-front of them. Red Bull’s wings certainly didn’t understand the fan or match-day culture.
The club was officially registered on October 7th 2005 under the original name of SV Austria Salzburg, using the original club badge and playing at a small stadium out towards the city airport. The phoenix had risen from the ashes and continued skywards with four successive promotions to start the 2010/11 season in the third division. On August 7th 2010 they eventually played against a Red Bull team, the reserve team named Red Bull Juniors, and defeated the professionals 2-1. The club formed in 1933 from the ashes of the working class team, Rapid Salzburg, are back in the control of the fans and delivering a bloody nose to corporate sport. I had to visit this club.
Arriving in Salzburg by train, I took the number 27 bus from the train station to Kugelhof. After some confusion as to where the ground actually was, I asked directions and after some debate as to who I meant (“you mean the big club, their stadium is quite a distance away”, “no, I want the fans’ club that play somewhere close to here”) I found the MyPhone Austria Stadion down the road, taking the first right and tucked away beyond the large Spar store and tennis club. Mountains loom in the background, a metaphor for the challenge facing the club in the years to come.
Before kick-off I had a drink in the bar which overlooks the stadium’s main entrance. I then spent some time with the club President, Walter Windischbauer. Our conversation was interrupted several times as everyone passing stops to shake his hand and to have a quick chat; this is my first experience of the special bond within the club, where everyone knows each other and greetings are made with handshakes and friendly back-slaps. Walter emanates pride in the club, and is rightfully delighted at the progress made so far. He is also acutely aware of the club’s current position, and displays sensibility in equal measure to passion: “we need to consolidate this season; we’ve grown so quickly, more than we imagined in this space of time. Our fans were surprised when we won our first league title, again with the second, and still to this day what we achieve surprises us. We’ll deal with any promotion as it comes, but for now we’d like at least three seasons in this league to improve our stadium, attract sponsors so that we can progress further and to catch our breath and make sure the infrastructure is right off the pitch”. If the club were to finish in the promotion places this season, they would be unable to move up to the second division due to their ground not being of sufficient standard. The main stand has 400 seats with 1000 being required for the next level with the floodlights also needing to be improved.
The club want to represent Salzburg and Salzburgers. Crowds are increasing and the fans are no longer viewed as “black sheep”. Respect is given where it’s due by the city. “People have their choices, we offer heart and passion. Red Bull offers an event, how can that compete in football? Look around and all you see are people who love football. We all love football and that is why we could never give up. We care only about this club, not Red Bull. This is football right here. We’ll tell our kids and grandkids that there was once a team formed in 1933 for the people of Salzburg. That team is still here for the people of Salzburg, playing in violet and white. We don’t have plastic fans. We are the true Salzburg club”.
As Red Bull struggle to qualify for the Champions League, the main objective of the corporation, there’s a sense that sights will be diverted elsewhere. They already have RB Leipzig playing in the German fourth division with a stated aim of being amongst the German elite within ten years. Were Red Bull to withdraw their money from the Austrian team then that club would fold. “We don’t really care about them anymore”, Walter tells me. “They have no fan culture. They have no fan groups and the club pays for people to travel to away games with them. If they were to no longer exist then people could have a look at what we have here and see what they’ve been missing.”
We wind our conversation down with the teams about to make their way out for the match. Walter leaves with a final comment: “Remember, real football comes from the heart. The heart will always defeat money”.
The main stand, seating to the left and standing to the right, has turned violet. Flags, scarves, t-shirts – if it’s violet then it’s on display. Despite having a capacity of around the 1400 mark, the noise suggests that there are many more packed in. I stand amongst the fans, a freshly poured pint of Stiegl Bier in my hand. Salzburg fans expect their team to have pride in their performance, even if they themselves don’t always expect a result. Many expect USK Anif to provide tough opposition and any result will be a good one. The Violetten control much of the first half; Anif rarely look like scoring until midway through when a quick breakaway is thwarted by a superb Stefan Huber save in the home goal. I spend my time talking to David Rettenbacher, leader of one of the fans’ groups, about the club and both European and English football, drinking Stiegl, watching more Salzburg attacks, and taking in the colour and noise of the home supporters. The home side take a deserved lead on 39 minutes with Nico Mayer, a constant danger to the Anif defence, pouncing on a loose ball and sliding it into the net. I look to my left and there’s bedlam in the stand. Flags and scarves are sliding down the terraces as the goal is celebrated by a violet tidal wave. Anif come out for the second half a different team. They pass the ball around and the match becomes a challenge. Both teams look to attack and as tiredness takes over they take turns to panic the opposition’s ‘keeper. It’s Anif who strike an equaliser though, a clever finish by Ingo Enzenberger on 67 minutes setting up a frantic close where both teams exploit space looking for a winner. A winner fails to arrive, but the standard of play is impressive for amateur players. The home tradition in the second half is displayed in the 33rd minute, a heavy nod to the original year of formation being 1933. A topless fan (male I hasten to add) appears on top of the tunnel to my left, moving between whipping the standing fans into a frenzy and turning to the seats and doing likewise; the whole stand rises to their feet waving scarves and singing. With the final whistle comes appreciation from the players towards the stand, with another point for Salzburg towards their already impressive early season tally.
After the game I join the fans for more beers, with plenty of them milling around inside the ground; glass after glass of Stiegl is thrust into my hand from different directions. I meet the topless fan, now wearing a home shirt that his son, an ex-player, gave him seconds after the team clinched a league title. I meet fans who were once disillusioned with football and the widening gap between the haves-and-have-nots. Now they have returned with a purpose, re-energised and enjoying their Saturday afternoons amongst “family” at the football. I’m told of how proud these fans will be when they travel to “the farmer’s disco” on November 13th and they can finally overcome the hurt of having a piece of their soul ripped away by standing for one last time watching their beloved violet clad Salzburg in their old stadium.
Read more of Andy's work on the excellent Gannin' Away blog.
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