The story of football in Salzburg is one with a lot of Bull – Red Bull, in fact, the Austrian energy drinks company whose takeover of city flagship SV Austria Salzburg polarised local support and changed domestic football forever.
In fact, it wasn’t so much the takeover as the whitewashing from history of whatever came before. 2005 was Year Zero – name, team colours and tradition all went out the window.
Company team FC Red Bull Salzburg have since won nine league titles, breaking the Viennese monopoly and bringing managers of the quality of Giovanni Trapattoni, Co Adriaanse and Huub Stevens to sleepy Salzburg. Seeing red, and unable to reach agreement with the new owners on retaining at least something of their club’s 60-year history, hard-core fans set up SV Austria Salzburg. AFC Wimbledon-style, this moral continuation of the original club formed in 1933 rose through the lower ranks to play in the Regional League West, Austria’s third tier.
In 2014, SV made the play-offs for the second flight but lost out to FAC Vienna. Then, in 2015, the unbelievable happened. With a memorable late goal in Kitzbühel, SV Austria gained promotion to the second-flight 1 Liga. In 2015-16, the Violets stood one campaign from the Austrian Bundesliga – and Red Bull. Two consecutive relegations later, and the Violette are now in the Salzburg regional league, the fourth tier.
For that brief season, though, SV’s big-name opponents were Wacker Innsbruck, LASK Linz and… FC Liefering, Red Bull Salzburg’s de facto reserve side are sure to host the city derby at the Red Bull Arena. The rest of the season, such is the paucity of Liefering’s support, they play out of town at nearby Grödig.
The Red Bull Arena is at Wals-Siezenheim west of town, close to the German border. It also staged three (Greek) matches for Euro 2008. SV Austria Salzburg are also in the far west of town, right by the airport, at the My Phone Austria Stadion, improved for the 2015-16 campaign.
Consisting of one main stand, half-seated, with a bar/restaurant at the back, the stadium is by the Klostermaierhofweg bus stop on line No.10 from central Hanuschplatz. Online sales are €13 to sit in Sector A, €10 to stand in the fans’ area alongside, and €8 to stand by the pitch. Tickets are also available on the day at the ground. A fans’ bar, Violett, opens on match days, by tennis courts near the stadium entrance. Alongside, the lovely, traditional Gasthaus Kuglhof offers a bucolic beer garden ideal for pre-match relaxation. Nearby on the main road, Garfield is a friendly Imbiß with a side terrace, purveying classic Balkan snacks, ćevapčići, pljeskavica and so on.
Salzburg’s real football home was the Stadion Lehen, opened in 1952, shortly before the original SV Austria Salzburg made the top flight. SV had been formed in 1933 from an amalgamation of Hertha and Rapid. Provincial clubs were yet to make an impact in Austrian football. The Lehen was where Austrian international Erich Probst spent a late-career season, but it didn’t start to see real action until Salzburg put themselves in lucrative sponsors’ pockets in the early 1990s.
As Casino Salzburg, the Violets won the league in 1994, reaching the UEFA Cup Final where they lost each leg 1-0 to Internazionale. Under wily Croat coach Otto Baric, the team then defended their title and went on to make the Champions League. A third title came in 1997.
The Lehen, halfway between town and the current Red Bull Arena, was closed in 2002.
Currently challenging SV Austria Salzburg in the regional fourth tier are Salzburger AK 1914, the foundation date meaning that they are the oldest club in the city. Not only that, they were the most successful before the war, three times runners-up in the national amateur championships. Twice top-flight in the professional era, SAK have been in the lower leagues since the 1980s.
Their home is the SAK Sportplatz, renamed the Sportzentrum Mitte, close to the city centre on Ulrike-Gschwandtner-Straße, about a kilometre or so from Mozart Bridge. At the ground, upscale bar/restaurant Lackners-Auszeit opens for special events. More accommodating, the Arge Beisl (Ulrike-Gschwandtner-Straße 5) is a modern eatery with affordable meals three times a day and a large summer terrace. Closed Sundays and holidays.
Salzburg Airport WA Mozart is 3km (1.5 miles) west of town, linked by bus No.2 (every 10-20mins, journey time 20mins, €2.70) to the train station at Südtirolerplatz. Tickets are sold from the machine by the bus stop or from the driver. A taxi (+43 6649 167 768) should cost about €12.
The bus and train stations are on the other bank of the Salzach to the historic sights. The centre is walkable – a bus network serves outlying areas. A single ticket bought on board is €2.70, a 24-hour pass €6, €4 in advance.
The Salzburg Tourist Office has a booking service. At the station, the new Ramada provides convenient and business-friendly accommodation. Also close, the Salzburger Hof plays up its popularity with stars of stage and screen.
Between the station and the city centre, you’ll find the Hohenstauffen, a friendly, family-run three-star, and the old-school but comfortable AMEDIA Hotel Express Salzburg City. Nearby, the ACHAT Plaza Zum Hirschen Salzburg is a convivial choice with 60 affordable guest rooms.
Tourist-swamped Salzburg is filled with hotels. Most are of the traditional and upper-bracket variety, including the legendary Sacher Salzburg and the Hotel Stein, both with stellar views over the Salzach river.
Also central but cheaper are the Best Western Hotel Imlauer Stieglbräu with its typical local restaurant, the themed Hotel Mozart and the Lasserhof, a steal online. The German half-hostel, half-budget chain MEININGER also recently set up in Salzburg, though not in as central a location as its name would suggest.
The main bar hubs are a short stretch of Rudolfskai between main Staatsbrücke and Mozartsteg Bridge; and further west along the river, around Anton-Neumayr-Platz. Stiegl is the local beer of choice, which you can sample immediately out of the station at the Corner am Bahnhof with its old beer ads.
More tourist-friendly is the Stieglkeller with its panoramic beer garden. Locals flock to the larger Biergarten at the 17th-century Augustiner Bräustübl Mülln, where you choose your own mug, wash it, and present it to the full-figured beer pourer before finding a spot outside. In the monastery complex within, the Gambrinus-Saal is where TV football is screened.
There are several expat pubs: crowded basement Shamrock and nearby evening-only O’Malley’s are just over Staatsbrücke on Rudolfskai. Deeper into the historic centre, The Dubliner opens from 3pm at weekends, 4pm during the week. Murphy’s Law is set up the pleasant cobbled street of Gstättengasse and big on TV football. It’s also a meeting place for local amateur team Celtic Rovers.