SECOND-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.
FC ST PAULI first came to light for me whilst at art college in the mid 1990s. The Hamburg-based football club’s anti-fascism Gegen Rechts! sticker shared a double page spread with the Leeds United anti-racism fanzine, Marching Altogether in Liz McQuiston’s definitive work on protest design, Graphic Agitation, a book which still sits faithfully on my desk to this day.
With a decidedly alternative fan scene with social inclusion at its very core, St Pauli are the archetypal kultverein (cult club). So it was no surprise to learn on my trips to see another, Austria Salzburg, that my genial hosts at Fanclub Absolut were frequent visitors to the Millerntor, the German club’s home near the famous Reeperbahn.
I was intrigued to discover a year or so ago that St Pauli had a growing official supporters club in Leeds. I thought they’d make for an interesting collaboration on something or other, and so it proved with this brand new pair of YSP v TBG t-shirts. You can buy them from the Yorkshire St Pauli Shop and read more from me about the designs on the Yorkshire St Pauli website.
FOUR promotions into their epic journey back to the Bundesliga, Austria Salzburg face new competition for a fifth – from none other than Red Bull, whose rebranding of their club prompted fans to reform it in Austria’s footballing basement in 2005.
Saturday’s 3rd division topspiele der woche saw second-placed FC Liefering enter Salzburg’s violet quarter to face the side they trail by a single point. From their red & white colours to the familiar styling of their club badge, FC Liefering are Red Bull in all but name; a monstrous club, a patchwork of body parts from pilfered graves – all because one team’s seemingly not enough for the drinks firm’s Dr Frankenstein, Dieter Mateschitz.
The story goes a little something like this. A few years ago, Bundesliga reserve sides were prevented from playing any higher than the 3rd tier: the Regionalligas East, West and Central. This was much to the annoyance of Red Bull, whose reserves had remained in Regionalliga West having won it in 2011. So they paid off cash-strapped USK Anif and changed its name to FC Liefering, then handed FC Liefering Red Bull Salzburg’s reserve squad, then formed a new club called FC Anif and gave it Red Bull Salzburg’s reserves’ league spot.
Confused? Well there’s another team, FC Pasching, under Red Bull’s evil wing now too, so there. The upshot of all this is that Red Bull have control of three 3rd division clubs – FC Anif and FC Liefering in Regionalliga West, plus FC Pasching in Regionalliga Central – and claim none of them are reserve sides, therefore all should be able to be promoted.
Furthermore, because promotion from the Regionalligas is clinched via a sequence of play offs, it’s conceivable that FC Liefering and FC Pasching could contend a bizarre end-of-season decider between two Red Bull teams. The Salzburg FA say they’re powerless to prevent this, but the Austrian FA surely face an administrative headache if such a situation were to arise.
On Saturday, a nervy tussle between Regionalliga West’s top two ended all square, with all the action saved for a fantic last 15 minutes which featured both goals and a red card for Red Bull in front of a rapturous Maxglan full house. With three games to go before der winterpause, Austria Salzburg remain undefeated in their latest exhilarating tilt at what could turn out to be their most impressive feat yet.
IT crescendoed from nothing. What was a whisper when I left the country on Friday had become feverish takeover talk by the time I returned on Sunday. By Tuesday, Leeds United were in lockdown.
How fitting it was to be in Salzburg as such revelations, and potentially a regime, were unravelling. When Austria Salzburg’s then-chairman Rudi Quehenberger sold the club to local energy drinks magnate Dieter Mateschitz in 2005, he congratulated himself and the city on a job well done. With Red Bull’s millions, and a shiny new stadium built for Euro 2008, the side who’d just finished one place from the drop were installed as title favourites and alles war gut by the River Salzach.
However, when Mateschitz flaunted his investment ahead of the new season, fans found that the violet & white football club they and their families had followed since 1933 had vanished. Austria Salzburg’s colours, name, even its foundation date were no more. “The red bull can’t be violet, or else we couldn’t call it Red Bull,” Mateschitz said. “This is a new club with no history.”
When I read those words in When Saturday Comes’ September 2005 issue, I too was coming to terms with a new regime at my own club. If Mateschitz’s shift at Red Bull Salzburg was seismic, Ken Bates’ at Leeds United was more a case of creep. Though at his first potty-mouthed press conference he spoke of how Beeston’s wastelands meant he could build “Elland City instead of Chelsea Village,” I didn’t hear the sirens until a typically self-congratulatory interview, with administration just over a year away, saw him speak of his “local nationalist” Leeds United in the way that nutter Sam Hammam used to talk about Cardiff City equalling Wales.
Neither Bates nor Mateschitz care a hoot for fans, and both men’s policies have decimated their club’s crowds and with it, the atmosphere. Bates stretched our wallets to the limit and smashed our independence with his beefed-up Members Club and sycophantic media which enabled him to write off sceptics as “sickpots“, “morons”, and “dissidents”. Mateschitz’s idea of dealing with sustained terrace opposition to his aggressive rebranding of Austria Salzburg was to dismiss it as the work of “hooligans” who should “get another club”.
Under a thick fog of violet smoke at a home match against Austria Vienna in September 2005, that’s exactly what they did. Leaving Red Bull’s stadium on the poignant 33 minute mark were a thousand or so vocal reformers with no option but to go it alone. I’d stood with them twice before: in 2006, at a 3-0 win against Liefering in the 7th division, then again later that season as they beat Nussdorf 6-0 and celebrated the title with maximum gusto. Three further, consecutive promotions made the road back to the Bundesliga look like something of a cakewalk, but their ascent has arrested somewhat in the Austrian third tier.
Though they were destined for a mid-table finish, and since my last trip have moved from downtown Nonntal to a suburban site in Maxglan, the club I encountered in the Friday evening sunshine was immediately familiar. As big Chrie cheerfully manned the merchandise stall, Gebhard and Corinna got the beers in while Harry and I raised the Absolut banner. I’d worked on it with them a couple of years ago, in thanks to the 30-strong group of Violetten who’ve always welcomed me to Salzburg as one of their own. Formed in 1994, Absolut are one of the many independent supporters groups who formed the Initiative Violett-Weiss to protect their club’s proud history.
Much like at our back to front, inside out, upside down United, consensus between Salzburg’s democratically-aligned groups isn’t a formality. Two seasons without promotion have lead to some discontent in the ranks, but nonetheless the place feels overwhelmingly familial. I lost count of the number of youth teams proudly parading before kick off, and was pleased to recognise some of their coaches as ex-Austria Salzburg players. As the retiring tormann Alex Trappl applauded from the front cover of the free match programme and ex-stürmer Mario Schleindl eagerly milked the crowd chanting his name, the present-day Austria Salzburg and their opponents TSV Neumarkt took to the field.
It goes without saying that this Austria Salzburg, five years on and three leagues higher, is leaner, fitter, and better than the sides I’d seen before, and in 23-goal Marko Vujic they possess a forward of genuine quality. His cool finish just before half time levelled a speculative lob, and his 73rd minute penalty gave his side a 3-1 lead right up until Neumarkt’s Christoph Hübl – due to make the switch to violet & white this summer – rudely dashed the hopes of his future employers with an 87th minute equaliser.
Players for the club often speak of the adrenaline rush of playing lower league football in a Bundesliga atmosphere, and though the game lulled, as end-of-season fixtures so often do, the enthusiasm of the Ultras was relentless. Just in case anyone was thinking of leaving all the racket-making to them, the legendary Schützei popped up in the second half, standing on top of the players’ tunnel to whip the two halves of the main stand into a frenzy in the folkloric style of the Gelderd End’s very own “Collar”.
Refreshingly, the bar stayed open for a couple of hours after the game, providing me with plenty of time to mingle. Munich being just over the border, there was genuine delight at Bayern bombing at home in the Champions League, but the Premier League, would you believe, far from being The Best League in the World™ is somewhat unloved and spoken of as being bloated and boring.
Can you imagine the difficulty in explaining to an Austrian that I haven’t set foot inside Elland Road since sacrificing a life-size copper bust of Ken Bates? It wasn’t just to them either. European football’s best-kept secret is clearly getting out, because Marc had come from Dortmund and Darren was an Englishman who, like me, was on his third trip to Salzburg. Being a Wednesdayite, just imagine his delight at travelling all that way only to be introduced to a West Yorkshireman. But he was a cheerful sort, and with good reason – his club dodging the Bates bullet put mine right in the firing line.
As we bade farewell and poured into taxis bound for the city, it occurred to me how lucky I was to be there. The Maxglan ground only houses 1,566 for a club that recently took over 7,000 on a short, supercharged away trip to their former home to play Red Bull Salzburg’s reserves. There’s no doubt about Austria Salzburg’s potential but the need to build a new ground – “Eine Heimat für die Austria” – is obvious. Funding is an obstacle, but there’s certainly no shortage of will, and since the match sponsors were the local Labour party the political wind in the city seems favourable.
Many find football players inspiring, but for me, it’s the fans. Salzburg teaches us that co-operatives are the future; that individuals can wring all the cash they want from the game today, but fans, clubs, local councils and media working together will build the great clubs of tomorrow. Different minds can still sing in tune, and real fan power lies not in club-branded drinks, hotels or radio stations, but instead in standing in unison, in numbers, in independence.
Sooner or later, one way or another, Leeds United will learn to listen to its fans and the tracks we’re making will ensure that we will be ready. Whoever the club’s next owners are, let’s support fan-led initiatives now, join the Supporters Trust and be Leeds because we are Leeds. Our big questions for any owner shouldn’t be about how much they’ve got to spend, but about where we fit into their plans. For 7 long years, we’ve been nowhere. Whatever life after Bates brings and whenever that may be, I want fans to be independently represented on the board. We may not agree on everything, but we are the club’s beating heart.
THE BBC’s Alex Riley visits Salzburg to discover how, and why, energy drinks firm Red Bull hijacked the city’s football club, and to meet some of the resilient fans who are making real football history of their own.
After 2005’s restart in the Austrian 7th division, Austria Salzburg are presently two promotions away from going back to the Bundesliga.
DECADES spent in the shadows of a two-club town have afforded Manchester City fans an endearingly dour sort of optimism, so when I asked a bitter blue of my acquaintance whether their 2008 takeover would alter the way the club are perceived, he could state with some confidence: “Nah, not City.”
Back then, he wasn’t to know that over half a billion pounds of Sheikh Mansour’s money would go on what Chief Executive Garry Cook calls a “project”. But while hundreds of millions in transfer fees have enhanced their standing on the field and millions more have made City look slicker off it, more modest sums have allowed them to completely alter the face of football elsewhere.
In the Europa League last night, City prolonged Red Bull Salzburg’s ongoing failure to buy success beyond Austria’s borders. It’s five years since Red Bull acquired and adulterated the ailing Bundesliga side Austria Salzburg; rebadging and renaming the club in line with its brand-leading energy drink.
But just last summer, Manchester City were involved in the transformation of hard-up Hyde United from a club with not only “United” in its name but red shirts, to one without the offending suffix and colours. All in “celebration of our 125 year anniversary” according to Hyde FC, but the club soon unveiled white and blue strips bearing the sponsor City In The Community, which certainly underlined the initiative’s claim to make “a huge difference to the lives of those around us”
The kindest thing there is to say about this is that the manipulation of Hyde United has slightly more to do with football than Red Bull’s of Salzburg. Hyde FC’s Ewen Fields received more than just a lick of sky blue paint before City’s reserves made themselves at home, but in a move indecipherable from audacity or stupidity, they too have been retitled as Manchester City Elite Development Squad.
City fans had no more to do with this nonsense than those of the former Hyde United, but the non-league club’s dire straits, just as in Salzburg, put them in the path of an irresistible cash whirlwind.
Garry Cook isn’t a football man but the former Nike executive understands brands, and City’s foray into Hyde illustrates the complexity of a supporter’s relationship with their club’s brand. It’s a word that evokes consumer choice, but as a fan there is no other club for us so surely we must be more than merely consumers of a brand. Therefore there is no choice, so clubs must be more than brands and fans more than consumers.
However, brought up on tales of past success and derring-do, good times are what fans’ hearts desire and don’t the brand-minded know it. That’s why decades of tradition can be warped or slaughtered in subservience to other, bigger, brands and they still turn up in Hyde, Milton Keynes, Salzburg, New York and Leipzig to watch the resultant footballing Frankenstein’s monsters.
“When the real is no longer what it was,” observed Jean Baudrillard, “nostalgia assumes its full meaning.” In Wimbledon and Salzburg (I hear there’s even a phoenix team in Manchester) there are indeed reminders that so often branding sells football fans short. There we’ll find the inspiration that it’s history and tradition that invigorates communities; that fans are not consumers; and that football clubs underestimate the power we wield at their peril.
FOR THE first time since we happened upon Austria Salzburg’s table-topping antics, Leeds United at last have an enviable lead over their promotion rivals too. But as we gorged ourselves on Leeds’ festive frolics, the Austrian winter break meant all they could do was cast an awestruck gaze in our direction while thinking about putting up those bloody shelves, just as the missus was promised sodding ages ago.
The term had begun quietly with a home friendly against Notts County back in July, when even less was fathomable about that particular club’s ownership than it is now. Who would’ve guessed that they were about to attract the corrosive influence of Sven-Goran Eriksson? Or that Sol Campbell would’ve seen through it all after a just one game? And who could’ve known that the funny little glyph underpinning the club’s brand new badge was in fact the logo of its holding company?
It’s precisely the sort of crass ownership stunt Austria Salzburg stand against – and please, if it is somehow legal in the English game (and my query on the matter remains unanswered by the Football League), nobody but nobody tell Ken Bates. That’s assuming, of course, that Forward Sports Fund really are more than just the sort of individual The Members once described “sitting at a desk with a plaque outside on the wall,” and actually have a logo of some description.
Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. Football.
Held under a roof on a squeaky floor, the 2010 Salzburger Stier might not be as important as the outdoor game, but the tournament – played before a baying mob of beered-up blokes – which concludes today neatly overlaps its seasonal British equivalent: darts. And as everybody knows, darts is precisely what the new year’s all about.
It’ll be the end of March before Austria Salzburg resume a 4th division season in which 12 wins from 15 games has placed them 5 points clear at the top, so their intrepid fans will just have to wait until the resumption of what, in Waddellian terms, is the greatest comeback since Lazarus.
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.
The 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.
It’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.
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).
Homesickness, 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.
Take 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.
Formed in 1994, Absolut are amongst the oldest of twenty or so such groups which made up the 1,000 souls that walked out on their bastardised football club in 2005 to form the backbone of a new, real one.
They have introduced us to the club’s countless colourful characters as well as some quaint local customs, such as disgustedly throwing pints of red wine and coke into a bush because – unlike the mighty Stiegl – it’s “un-Austrian”.
So when they asked for assistance in designing a brand new banner a few weeks ago, it was the very least I could do. As if to prove there’s more than just Gill Sans in the type drawer (more on Eric Gill some other time – let’s save him for a rainy day), they now have a new logo as well.
I say “new”; if you don’t mention it to Arthur Guinness, neither will I. It received its first airing at top-of-the-table Austria Salzburg’s second five-goal haul of the season a fortnight ago against Hallwang, which just happened to precede another at Piesendorf last weekend. Now’s not really the time to bring up the 3rd round Landescup loss to St. Johann, so better luck in the league against FC Zell am See tomorrow, lads.