Fan-run SV Austria Salzburg have climbed from the seventh flight to the second in the ten years since breaking away from Red Bull. On Friday the Violette make their home Erste Liga debut against Klagenfurt. Peterjon Cresswell meets SV Austria fan David Rettenbacher over a Stiegl or two.
Football history is being made in Salzburg this weekend. And, although 2015 champions Red Bull Salzburg will be hosting record title-winners Rapid Vienna, the focus is not on Red Bull Arena, nor on the Austrian Bundesliga, but on a modest, 1,600-capacity ground on the same west side of town.
On Friday, at the MyPhone Austria Stadion, SV Austria Salzburg host their first match as a second-flight club. The arrival of Klagenfurt means much more than a potential three points – it is the culmination of a ten-year struggle by a bunch of dedicated fans who rejected the corporate approach of Red Bull and went it alone.
Following the example of AFC Wimbledon, and having followed the original SV Austria Salzburg to three league titles and a European final in the 1990s, in 2005 followers of the Violette registered their club’s original name and emblem.
‘We all thought at first that Red Bull would be a good thing,’ recalls David Rettenbacher, part of the ‘Home for Austria’ movement and a ticket seller on match days. ‘The club was in dire straits, financially. Then we saw what Red Bull was doing. It’s always a bad tradition in Austria to change a club’s name according to the sponsor’s wishes.’
Worse, they changed the colours. ‘White and red!’ exclaims David, still with a sense of disbelief. ‘Eventually, Red Bull agreed to compromise. They said the goalkeeper could wear violet… socks.’
Against the wishes of many long-terms friends and even family members, a small core of fans broke away. ‘We started from the bottom, literally,’ says David. ‘We held trials at a local park, like a pub team. The only stipulation was that you should bring a ball. We had nothing.’
One vital factor was the presence of Gerhard Stöger, previously involved in a coaching capacity at the old club. While Stöger knocked eleven players into shape, Rettenbacher and his mates found a pitch – right below Hohensalzburg Castle, the very symbol of the city.
‘It was perfect!’ remembers David. ‘We were starting out at the very lowest rung, 2.Klass Nord A, the seventh tier. We even had an old wooden stand…’ For away games, David and his mates brought a bit of ultra culture to the villages of Alpine Austria drinking their bars dry of Stiegl.
But their own pitch not only backed onto a medieval citadel. It lay next to a secondary school. That winter, some kids wandered over and burned down the stand.
‘It was heartbreaking,’ remembers David who, like his mates, still has footage of the stand in flames on his mobile phone. Within weeks, everyone had chipped in enough money to build a new, if more basic one.
On the pitch, SV Austria won promotion four seasons running before becoming mired in the third flight, the Regionalliga West. Though playing at the well equipped ASKÖ Sport Anlage West, renamed the MyPhone Austria Stadion, the Violette were unable to move up or down. At last in 2013-14, they made it through to the regional play-offs. After a 92nd-minute equaliser at FAC Wien in the first leg, hopes were high, but SV Austria bottled the decider.
‘We were 0-3 down at home,’ describes David. ‘And I was worried how our fans would react. Instead, everyone sang, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ for the entire final 15 minutes. Everyone.’
Little was expected for 2014-15. Instead, SV Austria set off on a nine-game winning run. Then came the inevitable wobble. The whole season, ten years of struggle, in fact, came down to 90 minutes at Kitzbühel.
Like the fire, everyone still carries footage of that momentous afternoon. With the score stood an agonising 0-0, and the entire ground packed out with SV Austria fans, the Violette miss an easy header in the 83rd minute. The ball somehow makes it back into the fatal rectangle and… TOR!! TOR!!
Fans, the bench, the players go ape – all except stoic Norwegian coach Jørn Andersen, who barely cracks a smile. The clock crawls from the 84th minute to the 85th… then the 86th… On 90 minutes, the ref blows. Pitch invasion! But it’s only a meaningless free-kick… Another 30 seconds and… they’ve done it! Mayhem. Andersen keeps on his stoic face while violet waves dance around him. SV Austria had made it to the Erste Liga!
‘It meant much more than ten years ago,’ explains David. ‘We stuck together and we grew strong. This is our baby. I’m so, so proud of what we achieved.’
For the first league game last week, SV Austria went to St Pölten and drew 2-2. The crowd? 5,300. The league average for 2014-15 was below 2,000.
With major improvements made to the MyPhone Austria Stadion, the stage is set for a memorable home debut for SV Austria on Friday.
‘I always say the most important game is always the next one,’ says David.
And Red Bull Salzburg the next day?
‘I don’t care if they win,’ concludes David. ‘But I do care if they lose…’
SV Austria Salzburg v Klagenfurt. MyPhone Austria Stadion. Friday, July 31, 1830 CET.