“The club of a thousand hooligans.” That’s how Red Bull regard the nuisance of Austria Salzburg’s violet and white traditionalists. Since two and a half thousand of them ringed a Nonntal field on Saturday evening with barely a hint of bother, it’s a claim which is looking pretty foolish.
Violet, white, red, yellow and black mingled in spectacular scenery ripped from a perfect sheet-blue sky in the most un-Austrian temperatures imaginable. On show were the exotic motifs of St. Pauli, Kickers Offenbach and Unterhaching. Almost one hundred had travelled from Borussia Dortmund. A bunch even came from Barletta in the deep south of Italy, and others represented Udinese. Plus, of course, there were three Leeds United fans.
That’s right: three. Roger from Batley stood proudly in his Leeds shirt, having beaten Simon and I to Salzburg by about fifteen years. A fine chap, and very well-versed in the subtleties of local life – mainly drinking heavily whilst perching on a twenty-foot long trestle table – he barked out violet standards in a broad West Yorkshire accent.
Sadly, mine’s not as pronounced as it used to be. This trip confirmed as much, for even the untrained Austrian ear can tell that ten years living in the North East of England has left it slightly worse for wear. Another tradition under threat. Bah. Nevertheless, it provided an Austrian radio station with plenty of material for their cutting room floor. “Are you Leeds Ultras?” the reporter asked. He’ll not be opening that can of worms again in a hurry.
The infectious enthusiasm of the real Ultras reigned supreme throughout, with a season’s worth of banners to unfurl in a single evening. Six goals later, it shifted itself into a beer tent which butted ominously right up to the goal-line.
Before we took ourselves inside, Oliver Trappl – the sort of big number nine who makes Mark Viduka look like Jimmy Krankie – offered a gulp from a trophy big enough to take a bath in. We obliged; I spilt most of my share down my shirt.
Once under the canvas, we quickly lost our hosts amid the chaos. But it didn’t matter: they’re a broad church and after we’d belted out a few goes at “Marching On Together”, we led some locals in a “We Are Leeds” or two. More pints were taken, chins were wagged, and as we bid farewell there was little sign of an end to it all. In the city which inspired a priest to pen the song “Silent Night”, this was anything but.
The following day, Salzburg awoke with a sore head but glowing admiration. An ORF TV report heralded the rise of the “three-times champions of Austria”, rubber-stamping their rightful claim to seventy-odd years of tradition and shaming Red Bull’s synthetic approach.
In football’s simplicity, lies its beauty. Everything else just gets in the way.