Austria Salzburg’s dream alive as another Red Bull duel looms

Fanclub Absolut's advertising hoardingSECOND-placed Austria Salzburg kicked off against FC Dornbirn on Saturday afternoon four points and 30 minutes behind FC Liefering, but as their players trudged in at the break a goal down and seven points behind the leaders, some fans wondered if they’d ever get going at all. “We were down, out of everything, it was over,” Harry from Fanclub Absolut told me on Sunday, reflecting on a remarkable sequence of second half events which saw them crush that deficit to just two points.

“All of a sudden,” Harry continued, “our announcer shouted through the PA, ‘Altach have equalized at Liefering!’ at the top of his voice. Not even 10 seconds later, Austria equalized. The place was magic. Next thing was the end in Liefering; we knew they had drawn and out of the blue our chance started to live again. The terrace was buzzing and people felt that the team needed us, today, more than ever. We pushed them, everyone, people in the stands were not sitting anymore. Our team ran like animals and five minutes later, Vujic scored and it all simply boiled over.”

After the top two drew in October, I wrote on FC Liefering’s controversial involvement with Red Bull and how it threatened to derail Austria Salzburg’s route back to the Bundesliga. But what Marko Vujic’s Tardelli-esque celebration on Saturday tells us is that going into Wednesday’s return fixture, the on-field momentum at least is with the good guys in violet and white.

On Tuesday the Austrian FA (ÖFB) decide which of the sides vying for promotion from the regional third tier would be granted licenses to play in Bundesliga 2 next season. The Fairnessimfussball initiative has articulated the myriad sporting and ethical concerns about Red Bull’s involvement with FC Liefering (plus FC Pasching and FC Anif, two more clubs under Red Bull’s wing) and the implications of their potential promotion into the national league system.

Owners are prevented from operating more than one club in either Bundesliga 1 or 2, and Red Bull already have the one they bastardised when buying and rebranding Austria Salzburg in 2005. The drinks firm say their relationship with FC Liefering is a “cooperation” and not an ownership, but it’s a cooperation which extends to FC Liefering wearing Red Bull Salzburg’s colours and playing at Red Bull Salzburg’s ground.

The day after Tuesday’s verdict, it’s where an extraordinary crowd of 10,000 are expected to see the Regionalliga West’s top two slug it out with more than mere promotion and local bragging rights at stake. For eight years now, the fans of Austria Salzburg have exerted the same unbreakable pride, tradition and passion Red Bull thought they could buy in 2005. Red Bull were wrong, and whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s ÖFB meeting, Austria Salzburg aim to make them pay.

Main pic courtesy FMT Pictures, and features the advertising hoarding I designed recently for Fanclub Absolut.

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