Capital of Upper Austria, Linz is where the national title first went after staying in Vienna for more than half a century. Pioneering champions in 1965, LASK nearly disappeared in 2013 before being rescued by fans and investors to bounce back and take runners-up spot in the Austrian Bundesliga in 2019. Competing in Europe’s premier competition for the first time since 1965, LASK subsequently made it through to the knock-out stages of the Europa League.
Linz is, in fact, a two-club city. These two clubs have almost gone under and, at one point, even merged. What has remained constant is the ground they both often use, the Linzer Stadion.
In 1974, Linz hosted another title celebration when SK VÖEST lifted the league crown. Five times during the 1970s, in fact, the two Linz clubs finished top six in Austria. Although neither made any progress in Europe, in 1974 Barcelona’s Dutch stars Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens came away from the Linzer Stadion with only a goalless draw against VÖEST.
This multi-purpose municipal stadium is nicknamed Auf der Gugl due to its location on the hillside of the same name, up from the city’s main train station.
Since 2016-17, LASK have also been based at the Raiffeisen Arena out by the airport but European games are still played at the Linzer Stadion – where the club plans to return by 2022-23. In March 2020, Auf der Gugl staged what should have been a money-spinning reward for all the LASK fans who stood by the club through so many hard times – the visit of Manchester United in the Europa League. Instead, coronavirus fears forced the tie to be played behind closed doors.
The Linzer Stadion also hosts second-flight Blau-Weiß Linz, considered the natural successors to VÖEST and their various incarnations.
Just as VÖEST had sprung from steelworks team SV Eisen und Stahl Linz formed after World War II, so the Linzer Stadion rose out of the rubble.
Like Berlin and Vienna, in 1945, Linz was a divided city, the Soviet sector set in Urfahr on the north bank of the Danube. Here, the Red and Blacks of SV Urfahr, formed by a travelling Dutchman in 1912, had already won three regional titles and three cups before the war.
Across the river, the city centre was in ruins, including the former brickwork factory where the Linzer Stadion now stands. When proposed by mayor Dr Ernst Koref, the idea of building a sports ground there was first met with incredulity. Slowly, though, the stadium took on the symbolic role of a return to normality.
A schools and communal sport festival was organised for the grand opening in June 1952. A U-shaped bowl, the Linzer Stadion would pack with 30,000 spectators for games between LASK and the big Viennese clubs.
Football had come to Linz in the early 1900s from Vienna. Albert Siems, head of the local Postbus transport line, brought the new fad from the capital, where he had played with the venerable Vienna Cricket and Football-Club, formed in 1894. Other pioneers included English dye-maker Percy Lowe and footballer Otto Zwicker, one of several Viennese sportsmen who did their military service near Linz.
Also attracting players from nearby Bohemia, football caught on quickly in Upper Austria. Siems founded Linzer Sport-Klub, who played a couple of friendlies in 1908, then won the first unofficial regional championship in 1912. Their first pitch was close to the Children’s Hospital south-east of the city centre.
Historically linked to LSK, Linzer Athletik-Sport-Klub were created after World War I and shared a three-way hold on the Upper Austria championship with nearest rivals Vorwärts Steyr and SV Urfahr. This lasted until 1938, when Austria was swallowed up in Greater Germany.
LASK moved from Krankenhausstraße to LASK-Platz on Paul-Hahn-Straße. As now, prestigious fixtures were switched to the Linzer Stadion.
Similarly, VÖEST played lesser fixtures at their Werkssportplatz, before disappearing altogether in 1990. After a brief period as FC Stahl, they became FC Linz, whose last throw of the dice in 1995 was to hire one-time Real Madrid star Hugo Sánchez for his last European club campaign.
Across town, LASK were equally cash-strapped. In 1997, the two former rivals merged to form LASK Linz, but even then, errant ownership saw the city’s flagship club nearly go under. A fire sale of key players then led to six years of lower-tier football. Perhaps worse, in 2002, Blau-Weiß Linz, created from the fall-out of the 1997 merger, beat LASK Linz 3-1 in the first city derby since the poignant and controversial last one between LASK and FC Linz on the eve of the amalgamation. Also hosted at the Linzer Stadion in front of a five-figure crowd – for a fixture between sides in the second and fourth flights – the cup tie created the kind of football buzz the city hadn’t experienced since the 1970s.
Despite missing out on co-hosting Euro 2008, Linz could at least celebrate the return of LASK to the Bundesliga in 2007. The joy soon turned sour, however, with more financial despair, enforced relegation and near bankruptcy. With Blau-Weiß losing second-flight status in 2013, the city had no representative in the top two leagues for the first time since being introduced in 1974.
A consortium of supporters, Friends of LASK, saved the day in December 2013 and a five-figure crowd again gathered at the Linzer Stadion to witness promotion from the third tier. Blau-Weiß, meanwhile, moved up to the second-tier in 2016, crossing paths with LASK on their way up to the Bundesliga that season. LASK had been forced to turn their back on the Linzer Stadion and move out to the rebuilt, eco-friendly Waldstadion, renamed the TGW-Arena, today the Raiffeisen Arena, out in Pasching towards Linz Airport. The stadium may be equipped with energy-saving solutions but it proved incapable of staging a long-awaited city derby in August 2016, poor segregation leading to violent scenes between rival fans.
Visitors Blau-Weiß had already moved their home games to the Linzer Stadion when rising through the lower divisions, playing to scant gates at the Donauparkstadion. Overlooking the Danube between the former tobacco factory and VÖEST Bridge, this 2,000-capacity stadium remains a training ground for the Blue-and-Whites. And it’s here, once expanded to around 5,000 capacity, that Blau-Weiß will return once LASK return to the Linzer Stadion in 2022.
By then, LASK may well have a Bundesliga title under their belts – a first since 1965.
SV Urfahr still exist, despite twice losing their ground to flooding and briefly amalgamating with LASK amateurs. The first team currently play in the lowest level of Upper Austrian football, the 2. Klasse Mitte.
In the same league are Stahl Linz, the direct successors to VÖEST, playing at the Sportpark Auwiesen, way south of town near the Auwiesen stop on tramline No.1. Urfahr are up by the Peuerbachstraße stop on the same line.
Linz Airport 8km (five miles) south-west of town has limited services, mainly from Frankfurt and Dusseldorf. From the terminal, bus No.601 runs hourly to Linz/Donau station (€3.20, journey time 20min), the main train station on the southern edge of the city centre. Alternatively, an airport shuttle, free for air passengers, runs every hour to nearby Hörsching station, linking with trains to Linz Hbf (€2.40 or €3.60, 10min journey time). A taxi 6969 (+43 732 6969) to town should cost €30.
The nearest main airport to Linz is Salzburg, 138km (86 miles) away. Bus Nos.2 runs to the main station (20min journey time, €2.50 on board) every 10-20min. From there, a train to Linz/Donau main station takes just over an hour – average tickets €30, online specials €9.
Linz city transport consists of trams and buses. The Linzer Stadion is pretty much walkable from the station, though it’s a steep climb served by buses. Single tickets (€2.40, up to 4 stops €1.30) and day passes (€4.80) are sold from machines by stops.
Hotels close to Linz main station are convenient, almost walking distance, from the Linzer Stadion where LASK play European games. Opposite the station, the ibis Linz City comprises 146 rooms and a restaurant. Just behind on Weingartshofstraße, homely Zur Lokomotive operated by the Klinglmüller family first opened in 1906 and was recently modernised.
Just across from Bahnhofstraße from Goethestraße, the Wilder Man Hotel Garni offers simple but comfortable two-star lodgings, three floors of standard rooms accessed by stairs.
On the stadium side of town, the Hotel am Domplatz on, in fact, Stifterstraße, is all boutique design, with a modest sauna. No under-16s allowed. Nearby on Gesellenhausstraße and Rainerstraße stand reliable three-star Hotel Kolping and the slightly more stylish Schillerpark, also housing the upscale Tafelspitz restaurant.
Also close, the Dom-Hotel on Baumbachstraße comprises 40 four-star rooms and eight in the so-called House in the Garden.
On Hessenplatz right in the heart of town, the Park Inn by Radisson Linz is more affordable than its 175 business-friendly rooms, seasonal restaurant and 24-hour gym would suggest.
Towards the river on Herrenstraße, the Hotel Schwarzer Bär includes 14 singles among its 54 modern guestrooms, all beneath a rooftop bar open from 5pm, even in winter. Right on Hauptplatz, the Wolfinger dates back to the 1500s, its rooms looking out onto the town’s historic main square or a pretty inner courtyard.
To stay in style, the ARCOTEL Nike towers over the Danube from Untere Donaulände, with a spa, sauna, gym and contemporary rooms.
Drinking spots dot the streets of the historic centre between the main square and the river. A great starting point, the pub-like Granit Bierstube on Pfarrgasse, run by the convivial Petra and her husband, prioritises the beers of Upper Austria, Eggenberg in particular, as well as TV football. Alongside, older regulars gather at the cosy Gösser Keller, beneath images of the Rolling Stones and Bob Marley. Outside, the terrace catches the late afternoon sun as it falls over the main square.
Across it and a down a passageway behind the Holy Trinity column, the Old Dubliner dispenses pints of the black stuff, Kilkenny and Gösser from 5pm until the early hours. Tucked down Domgasse, Kieran and his team run one of the top football pubs in town, the Chelsea, where a comprehensive schedule of live matches occasionally shares the spotlight with English stand-up. For live music, nearby Rox Musicbar & Grill on Graben also combines TV games with entertainment.
In a more local vein, Keintzel on Rathausgasse shows sport on a flat-screen TV by the bar, though you might wish to sip your Linzer Bier, Zipfer or Schladminger in the courtyard garden in summer.
Its walls covered in melted vinyl, bug’s is the lively, late-night option around the main square.
Further into town away from the river, Stiegl-Klosterhof on Landstraße comes into its own from spring when the signature Stiegls are served on the pretty terrace. On the same street, the Café Central is more daytime eatery but attracts a drinking crowd after dark. Also on Landstraße, Josef Linz specialises in wines from nearby Wachau, served with quality gastronomy.