18 years after the messy split, Austria and Red Bull Salzburg meet for the first time in the second round of the ÖFB Cup. While the violett officials wish for a peaceful football festival in Grödig, the Austria fans want to show “clear edge against the construct “
“We have to live with it, but of course we would have preferred a different draw,” was the first reaction of Austria Salzburg president Claus Salzmann after the Cup draw, which gave his Austria the second-round clash with arch-enemy Red Bull. Since then, he is not the only one trying to take the explosiveness out of the encounter. “The cooperation with the rival from Wals was very positive. Both sides want to celebrate a football festival without any negative incidents,” he informed his own fans of the constructive preparations for the clash, for which Austria has to move to the Grödiger Untersberg Arena. 4,136 spectators are admitted to the former Bundesliga stadium of SV Grödig, only 400 tickets went to the fans of the subscription champions, who for security reasons will be carted from the Red Bull Arena to Grödig by shuttle bus and also picked up again from there to avoid a clash with the hostile Austria fans. “
“Let’s look forward, not back,” Salzmann appealed to reason, “if any slumbering ambitions come up, it would only be harmful for Austria.” In the run-up to the “risk game”, Otto Konrad, European Cup hero of the old and for a few years advisor to the newly founded Austria, also pleaded in the “Salzburger Nachrichten” to finally adopt more conciliatory tones, now that the great enemy image of Austria had been lost with the death of Dietrich Mateschitz. And the Salzburg paper itself also practised soft news when it recalled a few days ago the double Violette past of the current RBS coach Gerhard Struber, whose comeback attempt at the already newly founded Austria in 2008 only failed due to knee problems.
Against the construct
The Austrian team continues to avoid mentioning the club name of their Cup opponents. On their website, “the original from the city of Mozart” features every regional league rival, no matter how insignificant, with a club logo, but for the Cup date, a vague “RBS” and the competition logo of the ÖFB Cup will have to suffice. On Facebook, it’s against “the corporation from Fuschl” at all.
The conciliatory tone has not yet reached the “Curva Viola”, the association of active fan groups. A few days ago, it said next to the announcement pamphlet: “18 years ago today … we said goodbye to the marketing construct that had wiped out our beloved club. Denigrated as die-hards, rioters and chaotic. So now, 18 years later, the time has come. It comes to a direct encounter with our former gravedigger. Austrianer, this will be our day! Let’s show everyone what Austria stands for and what we’re still capable of after all these years!”
18 years ago Didi Mateschitz suddenly got serious. For years Rudolf Quehenberger had been nagging the Red Bull boss in vain. The lord of the cans had nothing to do with football. On 6 April 2005, however, he announced the “beginning of a new football era in Salzburg. Red Bull GmbH from Fuschl is taking over Salzburg Sport AG with immediate effect and thus the football operations of the Salzburg Bundesliga club.” A sensational announcement that was initially also greeted with joy by Austria fans. After years of decline, they hoped, the 1994 UEFA Cup finalist would finally be restored to its former glory.
They soon had to realise that Red Bull had not come to make them happy, but to pursue its marketing interests. “We are the red bulls and we will certainly not become the purple bulls,” Kurt Wiebach, Austria’s promotion coach and now the first managing director of Red Bull’s Salzburg football division, had to tell the fans. Even after months of fan protests and negotiations with the “Initiative Violett-Weiß”, this could not be shaken. “The final offer was: a purple captain’s badge, purple goalkeeper’s socks and possibly a purple adidas logo on the jersey,” Moritz Grobovschek, then fan club capo who was to become the new founder of Salzburg Austria, looks back. “This is a new team, a new club. There is no tradition, there is no history, there is no archive,” was the word from the new owner at the end of the negotiations. And an annoyed Kurt Jara, the first coach of the Red Bull era, went one better: “If it bothers the fans, let them found a new club.” Initially very angry about this, they eventually did just that. Following the example of English “Phoenix Clubs” such as AFC Wimbledon or FC United of Manchester, they founded Austria, which was originally founded in 1933, for a second time on 6 October 2005.
Uncomfortable times now began for the former favourites. “When I drove through the city in Salzburg, people would spit at the car or give me the middle finger,” recalls Herbert Ilsanker, the former Austria keeper who has been the Bullen goalkeeper coach for 18 years, of the dark early years. “I was attacked several times when I came out of the stadium in my car. That was unheard of in Austria,” said Thomas Winklhofer, the only player who, after winning three championships with Austria, also played a part in the fourth title win with the Bullen. Kurt Wiebach even received death threats. “The tyres of my car were slashed and there were screws in the rims.” It could never be proven that Austria fans were really behind it.
Austria’s bumpy road to the top
While Red Bull Salzburg soon rushed from championship title to championship title, Austria started from scratch in the 2006/07 season in the 2. class A. Although “problem fans” repeatedly made negative headlines, thanks to the competent work of Gerhard Stöger, who held pretty much all sporting functions from coach to sports director to youth director during this time, the Violets returned to professional football in 2015 after nine years with promotion to the 2nd division, only to be relegated again after one season in insolvency. The last instalment of the 1.4 million euros in debts accumulated in the process was paid off only a few days ago, meaning that the regional league club is now debt-free.
For Stöger, who left the club in 2016, “two different worlds meet in the second cup round, both of which have their justification”. Not all of the almost 4,000 Austria fans admitted on Tuesday will want to sign the second part of his statement.