Hiden seek – Part 2

WHEN Dieter Mateschitz unveiled Red Bull Salzburg in June 2005 flanked by his private aircraft collection, there was no doubt that the club had become nothing more than another branch of his firm’s forays into novelty sports events such as skydiving, wakeboarding and Formula 1. There stood 11 walking billboards for a drink: red and white strips for home games with all blue when playing away from a ground tackily refitted with laser lighting rigs and a “supersonic” sound system.

rb002The insensitivity shown to Austria Salzburg’s identity alienated swathes of supporters, some of whom were further outraged at being denied entry to a pre-season friendly merely for wearing their traditional colours. “The red bull can’t be violet, or else we couldn’t call it Red Bull,” went Mateschitz’s response. “This is a new club with no history.”

Despite a successful start on the field, the club’s most dedicated fans moved quickly to safeguard its discarded past. Today, those who had egged-on the young Martin Hiden in the 90s are more likely to be found on the sidelines of Austria’s village greens than at Red Bull’s temple of mammon.

To the refrain of “scheisse Red Bull!” and backed by unprecedented terrace solidarity from fans of many European clubs, the Initiative Violett-Weiss – an alliance of Austria Salzburg’s 20 or so supporters’ groups – attempted to reason with Red Bull on the issue of colour. The firm filibustered, dismissing public objections to their takeover as hooliganism. During a home game against Austria Vienna, 1,000 pro-violet supporters noisily exited the stadium through a choking violet fug at precisely 19.33, the year of Austria Salzburg’s foundation. Vowing only to return with their resurrected club, the bearers of 76 years of Austria Salzburg’s history are now sitting on top of the fourth division: the halfway stage of their epic journey back to the Bundesliga.

svas011It’s not been easy. Their small community has suffered the loss of its grandstand to fire, and the life of young ultra Gerhard Weiss on a coach trip to visit a group of sympathetic fans of Borussia Dortmund. Those who Red Bull termed a “violent group of so-called fans” have welcomed supporters from all over Europe to Salzburg’s violet quarter. The demands of having a four-figure crowd in tow everywhere they go may present challenges to rural venues, but there’s more danger of being duped by tall tales about Martin Hiden’s supposed appetite for ham than anything else. In fact, the most violent act I’ve witnessed there was a bloke getting heartily slapped by his girlfriend.

Well, he probably asked for it – which is more than most football supporters do as the institutions we sustain with noise and with colour are bought and sold with increasingly frequency. Without our traditions, our culture, the lives we live and lend to our clubs, what would they be? What’s left when clubs exist for the benefit of those other than their supporters? In the third division, with ownership a mystery and Thorp Arch left unbought while plans for a commercial development estimated to cost over £80m sit on the drawing board, the endeavours of Austria Salzburg’s supporters is a timely reaffirmation of what we Leeds United fans already know: always question the motives of those running our club even when it’s on a roll. In fact, especially when it’s on a roll.

As for the only man to wear the all-white of Leeds United and the violet of Austria Salzburg, 36-year old Martin Hiden last year became the world’s first carbon neutral footballer (whatever that means), adding a righteous splash of green to an already extensive palette for one of the game’s least likely colourful characters.

Postscript: Martin Hiden’s fine credentials were somewhat besmirched by him seeing out his playing days with Red Bull Salzburg’s B team before becoming their assistant coach. He’s currently assistant coach at FC Pasching, who are also run by Red Bull.

2 Responses to “Hiden seek – Part 2”

  1. Really enjoyed that mate, nice one. Will have to get a subscription to the new Square Ball mag. On and on…

  2. Do it! It’s getting better and better by the issue. Great to have it back.

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