Hiden seek – Part 1

WHEN George Graham checked behind the ears of the defender he’d bought from Rapid Vienna in February 1998, everything seemed to be as advertised. Within days, Martin Hiden slotted straight into one of his stoic yet occasionally engaging Leeds United line-ups on an afternoon it was neither: defeated by a single goal at home to Southampton. Nevertheless, the new acquisition settled in and was present at some memorable on-days (5-0 at Derby County) as well as some forgettable off-ones (0-1 at home to Wolves in the FA Cup).

Martin HidenHomesickness, however, was soon to become a worry for Hiden. English football’s only other Austrian, Alex Manninger, kept goal 200 miles away and much worse: no matter where he looked, it seemed that nowhere in West Yorkshire sold speck, a peculiarly Austrian sort of salt-cured ham. Bruno Ribeiro told him about a shop in Harrogate that stocked chorizo, but it simply wouldn’t do. Nothing could replace the distinctive juniper flavours of his favourite brand of speck, and in the depths of despair he reached for the bottle.

Summer brought the first indication to George Graham that all was not how it seemed with his £1.3m man: when the once brown-haired Hiden turned up for pre-season training with a brightly bleached barnet. If there’s one thing Graham hated, it was peroxide. So much so, that Hiden’s roots were barely showing when the man who once frogmarched freshly-blonded Lee Sharpe and Jonathan Woodgate back to the barbers by their ear holes walked himself all the way down the M1 to Spurs.

Hiden’s experiments soon left him with a bonce so red it resembled David Hopkin’s as seen through a pair of infrared goggles. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, a pothole in the turf of that club who wear the same disgusting colour ended his Leeds career. With a sore arse from the treatment table, Hiden eventually skulked back to his homeland; his hair a footnote in Leeds United’s history yet, it turns out, a token of the chameleonic nature of Austrian football.

Believe it or not, Hiden still plays in the Austrian Bundesliga. With revenues a fraction of those enjoyed by the other one in neighbouring Germany, it’s a grotesquely commercialised league. Playing kits are pockmarked with logos and the turnover of sponsors buries clubs beneath a colourful array of names and motifs. The games of hide and seek played with identity suits sponsors more than clubs, and some deals are more intrusive than others.

svas74Take one of Hiden’s former clubs, for instance. Austria Salzburg were known officially as Casino Salzburg for a decade until an insurance firm, Wüstenrot, lent their name to the club in 1997. Throughout this period, the club wore its traditional hues of violet and white – until, that is, the hangover from a mid-90s purple patch that brought three Bundesliga titles and a UEFA Cup kicked in with a bang.

Amid cash concerns in the second half of the 2004/05 season, top flight survival was secured and Red Bull owner Dieter Mateschitz stated his intention to rescue the club. Outgoing chairman Rudi Quehenberger expressed his delight that “years of hard work for the benefit of football in Salzburg” had come to fruition, and the local company’s investment was roundly applauded. The strugglers suddenly became favourites for the title, but it quickly emerged that in brokering a deal with the energy drink firm, the club had sold its soul to the devil.

This article concludes here.

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