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.

Purple reigns over club-crazy Red Bull

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.

Peter Pacult picked a pagger

peterpacultVILLAREAL visit Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League tonight, but nobody cares about that bollocks (unless of course, they win there).

Of interest instead this evening is the first pairing of Celtic and Rapid Vienna since the two clubs slugged out an ugly Cup Winners Cup tie in 1984.

At Parkhead, Celtic overturned a 3-1 first leg deficit but were ordered to do it all over again by UEFA after Rapid midfielder Rudi Weinhofer claimed to have been struck by a bottle chucked vaguely in his direction from the crowd.

Weinhofer left the ground with his head wrapped in a comedy bandage, and the Austrians eventually progressed to the quarter finals after a venomous replay at Old Trafford, where goalscorer Peter Pacult had the smile wiped from his face by a Celtic fan.

Pacult is Rapid’s boss these days, and may aim to land a few blows of his own with the aid of specially re-introduced all-red strip to commemorate 1984’s skandalspiel victory. It’s just “a joke”, Rapid say – though Celtic are unlikely to see the funny side if history were to repeat itself tonight.

Philly Billies

sonsofben01REMEMBER the Sons of Ben, hardcore soccerphiles all dressed up with nowhere to go? Well, following MLS’ confirmation that Philadelphia will indeed be the league’s 16th franchisee come 2010, the 1,600 fans of no team now have one, but with no name. So, what frenetic phonetic will frame the future of Philly football? Watch this, erm, fpace.

Having already endured some turbulent episodes in the run-up to co-hosting Euro 2008 (questions asked in parliament of one club’s finances, another putting the league in the dock in an attempt to reduce a points deduction; it’s unbelievable stuff, I know) what the Austrian game didn’t need was for one of its leading sides to appeal against a 2-1 defeat because – wait for it – their dilly-dallying goalkeeper wasn’t ready for the game’s opening goal, a penalty. But that’s exactly what followed Rapid Vienna’s recent 2-1 loss at Cashpoint Altach.

Perhaps without the heat of UEFA’s breath on their necks, the ÖFB would have dismissed top of the table Rapid’s frantic invocation of Game Law 14 – which states that clubs from capital cities aren’t allowed to lose to villages of populations less than 7,000 – as mere sour grapes. However, unbelievably, this league fixture will be replayed in its entirety.

But what can you expect of a governing body which goes against all conventional wisdom and doesn’t even consider Edelweiss’ “Bring Me Edelwiess” as the anthem for Euro 2008? Instead, we have official mascots Trix and Flix featuring Shaggy – yes, that Shaggy – with “Like a Superstar”.

The summer finals’ motto is “Expect Emotions”, which is presumably a disclaimer to the sort of schizophrenic psychosis exposure to this shit induces. I mean, I don’t know about you, but when I think of Austria and Switzerland, I think of beer, yodeling, and bearded midgets frolicking with big titted fräuleins; not two polystyrene-suited dickheads abseiling to the tune of a Jamaican Gulf War veteran.

Too cold for ducks

As a sideswipe at the phoniness of fame and fortune, The Catcher in the Rye is so persuasive that its author, J. D. Salinger, hasn’t left the house since writing it in 1951, and Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon dead on its perceived say-so 30 years later.

But just because you enjoy the infectious cynicism of protagonist Holden Caulfield, doesn’t mean that you, too, will end up trembling in a Manhattan side street clutching an autograph book and a concealed weapon. No, you can cheerily share his concerns, such as where do Central Park’s ducks go during winter, without giving a damn about what happens to the rest of New York city’s wildlife. But I’ll tell you anyway.

The Red Bulls are on a pre-season team-building break with their Salzburg equivalent, where they probably spend their days rehearsing some crumby rap or other about what fun it is to work for an energy drink, and, with bladders brimming with the stuff, their evenings locked in lousy dormitories crying themselves to half an hour’s sleep on saturated mattresses.

rbny008Only joking. They’re just familiarising themselves with the surroundings, for not only do Red Bulls New York and Salzburg share a badge and colours, they will, from 2009, share grounds. Despite lying in different continents, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that their ersatz homes – Red Bull Park and the Bullen Arena – are one and the same; on television at least, which, for a global brand, is all that really matters. I mean, look at New York training in Salzburg (above) – or is it the other way round?

While David Beckham prepares once more to flog Major League Soccer to prime-time TV audiences, the league’s salary cap bypass for individuals of merit – the ‘Beckham exception’ – is snaring little else of note. Well, unless you count Juan Pablo Angel, that is. And that Mexican bloke that kept jumping the ball past awestruck defenders three World Cups ago.

It’s true that the face of MLS is being transformed, but it’s largely thanks to the league’s relaxed approach to sponsorship. Introduced to welcome a pair of charging bulls to New York’s jerseys, it will enable half the clubs to kick off this season advertising the usual shit, leaving the rest with a few phone calls to make. In a sportscape where the club is king, branded shirts are most un-American to the fan’s eye. Unless, of course, they’re unfortunate enough to support a club that is the sponsor, and vice versa.

Anyway, there’s a corner of the world where such lily-livers are frowned upon, where Coca-Cola is mixed with red wine because it alone doesn’t get you pissed, and not even an alpine winter stands in the way of what really matters.

svas058svas059Indoor football bridges the gap between autumn and spring in Austria, and it was Austria Salzburg’s pleasure to accept an invitation to get right in the faces of some of Bundesliga’s professional billboards on live TV at Salzburg Arena’s Hallencup.

Okay, so the side which heads the sixth division lost all their matches on the squeaky stuff, but that’s hardly the point. 1,500 violetten raised the roof for tussles with the likes of Cashpoint Altach and Josko Reid (boldly representing the worlds of betting and double glazing, respectively) while only a few hundred witnessed Altach’s loss to Linz in the final. ‘Goosebumps,’ proclaimed the press of Austria Salzburg’s good, old-fashioned ultraism, ‘enthusiasm one would wish for at every football ground.’

In the tournament’s afterglow, the overseer of Austria Salzburg’s re-emergence, Moritz Grobovschek, stepped down and a swift ballot ushered in Gernot Blaikner. A local businessman who worked with the club shortly before Red Bull’s takeover, it is hoped that their admirable principles retain their lustre and that, just like the ducks in Central Park, they eventually prove that some absences are only temporary.

Austria Salzburg’s brand new English language official site is here.

Shit fools!

Who’d have thought Steve Staunton would find work long before the FAI got round to replacing him? Giovanni Trapattoni’s installation as the latest favourite for the vacant Ireland job gives us a quick opportunity to review his finest moment as coach of Red Bull Salzburg.

Clearly a man who doesn’t ‘do’ irony (the wife probably takes care of that sort of thing), the Italian dismisses suggestions that his players – owned lock, stock and barrel by an energy drinks firm – lack fitness in broken, yet blistering, German. A quick précis:

‘Our training is strong. Is modern. Training wins also. I have 21 trophies. There is blah, blah, blah from you. Fools write who know nothing. Blah, blah, blah, blah. I can understand people paying. No problema. Let whistle. Is right. Have lost. But run 90 minutes! I am a professional in psychology. We train, make fitness. You people always make qua, qua, qua. Shit fools!’