LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

LASK

New arena and a European return for Linz legends

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Revived in 2013, now regular European competitors LASK waited half a century to regain the limelight after their groundbreaking double of 1965. The reward for overcoming near dissolution has not only been a return to Europe, but to their old home in the city centre, now a new-build stadium.

Opened in February 2023, the Raiffeisen Arena may be contemporary but its heritage as the Linzer Stadion dates back 70 years. When still used by LASK for European fixtures, it was the regular home of city rivals Blau-Weiß Linz, while the Schwarz-Weißen were mainly based out at Pasching, near Linz airport. This, too, was called the Raiffeisen Arena, after the Austria-based bank involved in helping raise the eventual €85 million to reconfigure the Linzer.

The first club outside Vienna to win the Austrian title, Linzer Athletik-Sport-Klub give their foundation year as 1908, when Linzer Sport-Klub first appeared. Albert Siems, head of the local Postbus transport line, had come to Linz in the early 1900s, having played with the Vienna Cricket and Football-Club.

Local industry had attracted the likes of English dye-maker Percy Lowe while an army garrison housed sportsmen doing national service, such as footballer Otto Zwicker. Players from just over the border in Bohemia were also lured to Linz.

Siems founded LSK, who played friendlies from 1908, then, as the strongest team in town, unofficial regional league fixtures in 1912. Games were played near the Children’s Hospital.

After World War I, LSK players who survived joined the newly founded Linzer Athletik-Sport-Klub – which is why today’s LASK are considered the successors to Siems’ club of 1908.

While the ‘Austrian league’ was actually for Viennese teams only, the Upper Austria Championship was competitive enough, and won by LASK, eight times in nine years. They also won the first restructured regional league after Germany swallowed up Austria in 1938.

The war left Linz devastated but from it arose a new sports ground, the Linzer Stadion, opened in 1952. Also emerging from the conflict was Georg ‘Schurl’ Braun, a former member of the Austrian Wunderteam who survived a Soviet POW camp to coach LASK to another Upper Austria title in 1950.

This led to a first campaign in the top, professional flight, against the likes of Rapid and Austria Vienna, and crowds of up to 30,000 for their visits to the Linzer Stadion. Lesser fixtures were played at the LASK-Platz on Paul-Hahn-Straße.

Runners-up in the league and then the cup in the early 1960s, the Schwarz-Weißen took a surprise title in 1965 – July 1965. Bad weather had pushed the climax of the season well into summer. With LASK and Rapid Vienna neck-and-neck, the Austrian FA had brought in referees from Germany to underline lack of bias. As Rapid, who had led the league all season, were losing 1-0 to Graz, LASK were winning at First Vienna 2-0, overtaking the record champions. Not only the first provincial club to win the Austrian league, LASK overcame Wiener Neustadt to become the first cup winners from outside Vienna.

This unexpected double was not followed by European progress – in fact, until 2019-20, LASK had a poor record at international level. Nearly 20,000 gathered in the Linzer Stadion to see the Silesians of Górnik Zabrze canter to a 3-0 lead before the hour. 

The one bright night at the Linzer Stadion pre-2019 came in October 1985 when a late LASK goal put Internazionale – Rummenigge, Altobelli and all – to the sword. A Liam Brady penalty and Altobelli hat-trick at the San Siro soon reversed the aggregate.

Domestically as well, LASK had long fallen behind, with spells in the second tier. Debt eventually consumed the club in 1995 and though bankruptcy was postponed, a merger with equally cash-strapped rivals FC Linz became the only solution two years later. As if the move wasn’t controversial enough, a bizarre last derby took place ten days afterwards to fulfil a fixture obligation.

The renamed LASK Linz at least produced good form on the pitch, reaching the Austrian Cup final in 1999, a shoot-out loss to league champions Sturm Graz leading to European participation and inevitable disappointment. Behind the scenes, club president Wolfgang Rieger’s bank went bust.

With their best players sold, LASK Linz set a few unwanted records for low attendances before slowly climbing back up thanks to the prolific Ivica Vastić, the former Sturm Graz star whose own goal had given Linz the lead in that fateful cup final of 1999.

A Bundesliga force once more, the Schwarz-Weißen sadly ensured their stay was a short one thanks to constant disagreements between club president Peter Reichel and whichever coach he had just hired.

Another financial meltdown ensued, but this time, it involved a drop to the regional league and an enforced move from the Linzer Stadion to the modest community of Schwanenstadt, 40km from Linz. This shameful state of affairs stayed in place until December 2013, when a group of 14 investors – Friends of LASK – took the club out of the hands of Peter Reichel, leaving him to his main area of expertise, women’s tennis.

Winning the regional division and returning the professional fold in 2014-15, LASK achieved promotion out of the second tier in 2017 to regain Bundesliga status after six years. The club also regained its original acronym, dropping ‘Linz’ and associations with their rival locals, now revived as Blau-Weiß.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though – the ultimately successful campaign of 2016-17 had started with a move to the rebuilt Waldstadion out by Linz airport in Pasching. Poor segregation led to violent scenes when a rare city derby was staged there. The renamed Raiffeisen Arena became LASK’s home until 2023, when they returned to a revamped Linzer Stadion – also called the Raiffeisen Arena. 

European games were still conducted at the Linzer, which was fortunate as 2018 saw the Schwarz-Weißen not only return to the international stage but actually overcome foreign opposition. Goals from former Blau-Weiß attacking midfielder Thomas Goiginger helped demolish Lillestrøm 4-0 while a crowd of nearly 14,000 saw LASK on the point of toppling silverware-laden Beşiktaş, until a 90th-minute away goal sent the Turks into the play-off round of the Europa League.

Better was to follow in 2019-20. Having finished well above the pack as runners-up in the Bundesliga in 2019, a best showing since 1965, LASK made their Champions League debut.

Oliver Glasner, the coach behind the club’s rise since 2015, and top scorer, Brazilian João Victor, were then both tempted away by Germany’s Wolfsburg but LASK found football gold in Valérien Ismaël. This former Crystal Palace centre-back and Bayern Munich double-winner stepped up to the plate as coach. 

On the pitch, 2018-19 top assist king Peter Michorl continued to impress, leading LASK to a record start to the season and, most impressively, memorable wins in both legs over European stalwarts FC Basel. With a berth in the Champions League group stage begging, LASK twice hit the woodwork at home to Bruges but failed to reply to the visitors’ early penalty at the Linzer Stadion.

A 2-1 defeat in Belgium then sent LASK into the Europa League, where impressive wins at the Linzer Stadion over PSV Eindhoven and Sporting Lisbon pushed Ismaël’s side into the knock-out stage. Austrian under-21 international Marko Raguž duly notched all three goals in a 3-1 aggregate win over AZ Alkmaar. 

A dream tie with Manchester United in the next round lined up, LASK lost significant revenue when the game was forced to be played behind closed doors as Covid swept Europe but were top of the Bundesliga when the domestic programme was stopped in mid March.

Poor post-pandemic form put paid to any title hopes, along with a points deduction through breaking Covid regulations. LASK made the Austrian Cup final and held Spurs to a 3-3 draw at the Linzer Stadion the following season, and made the knock-out stage of the Conference League under Dominik Thalhammer in 2021-22. 

Improving under ex-international midfielder Dietmar Kühbauer, LASK benefitted from the stellar form of former Hajduk prodigy Marin Ljubičić, the Split Mbappé, in 2022-23, moving into the new Raiffeisen Arena shortly after the winter break. Kühbauer giving way to recent Blau-Weiß coach Thomas Sageder, LASK looked to progress from a tricky Europa League group in 2023, with Liverpool the first visitors to Linz.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

Its sleek exterior hiding a compact ground of 19,000 capacity, the new-build Raiffeisen Arena both replaced the former Linzer Stadion where LASK played their European fixtures, and allowed the new hosts to leave behind their previous home, also called the Raiffeisen Arena, out by Linz Airport.

The move in early 2023 was the culmination of the fan-based initiative undertaken by the Friends of Linz group a decade previously, saving their beloved club and eventually pushing it back into the European spotlight. 

LASK can now not only welcome the likes of Liverpool and Toulouse to a contemporary arena, but also attract the second-highest attendances in the Austrian Bundesliga, averaging nearly 15,000 for the first weeks of the 2023-24 campaign.

In its previous guise as the Linzer Stadion, the ground held totemic value as a symbol of the city’s post-war revival. Opened in 1952 on the site of the former Froschberg brickworks, this was the main stage in town both for football and music, Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd among the performers in the 1980s. Internazionale and Dundee United graced the stadium around the same time, before LASK dropped out of European contention and nearly blipped out of existence completely.

The various stop-gap solutions to the club’s homeless wanderings ended in a stint at the former Waldstadion from 2016, converted and renamed the Raiffeisen Arena a year later, this a much smaller ground in Pasching close to Linz Airport. The branding was part of a long-term deal with the Austria-based bank, which helped back the €65 million cost of building a new Raiffeisen Arena beside the indoor TipsArena, halfway up the slope of Auf der Gugl. 

Close to Linz station as the crow flies – although it’s a steep climb up – the new venue is a slightly scaled-down version of the original one planned, with a restaurant and training pitches. LASK fans occupy the standing end, visiting supporters are allocated sectors G1-G1, G12, G11A and G11B, accessed through Gate E6, beside the Family Stand behind the opposite goal. 

Alongside, the Schwarz-Weiß Tribüne lines one long sideline, with the Business Club facing it, the various entrepreneurs and local movers and shakers who helped saved LASK in 2013 rewarded with prime seats of the action.

getting here

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The Raiffeisen Arena may be close to Linz station on the map but it’s a fair climb up Ziegeleistraße. If you’re feeling fit, head left from the rail terminal up Waldeggstraße, which rises towards a main junction, Ziegeleistraße the slope you see ahead of you.

You might do better hopping on a bus from the stop on the other side of the main road from the station, either trolleybus 46 or buses 17 or 19. These all call at Stadion three stops away, saving your legs and allowing you to nip into one of the pre-match hostelries nearby.

Coming back, the 46 is better for the city centre, stopping at Mariendom and Mozartkreuzung, both a shortish walk from the main square. 

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

A handful of outlets distribute advance tickets, from around three weeks before the match. These include the LASK Verkaufsstelle in the Service-Zone (Mon-Fri 9.30am-7pm, Sat 9am-6pm) on the first floor of the Passage Linz on Landstraße in Linz and the Mach Sport store (Mon-Wed 9.30am-7pm, Thur-Fri 9.30am-9pm, Sat 9am-6pm) on the ground floor of the PlusCity mall in Pasching near the stadium. You can also visit the ticket windows (Tue 9am-1pm, Wed, Thur 9am-5pm, Fri 9am-noon) just inside the main gates of the Raiffeisen Arena or register and buy online (German-only).

On match days, the ticket offices open two hours before kick-off – with average crowds hovering not far off capacity at around 5,500, it may be worth emailing the club, ticket@lask.at.

For most Bundesliga games, prices hover around it’s €18 for a seat (€16 in advance), €16 to stand (€14).

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The modest LASK Shop (Tue-Fri 10am-2pm, match days) at the club offices just inside the main entrance to the stadium stocks a standard range of zebra-striped gear, the design snazzily pin-striped for 2019-20. Away tops are the reverse, predominantly black with thin white vertical lines.

Among the curiosities is a match-day scarf for the 2019-20 LASK-Manchester United match that no fan could attend and T-shirts designed for that long-awaited international campaign, ‘Europa ist Schwarz und Weiss’, an LASK logo proudly signified in the heart of the continent.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Just before your bus pulls to a halt at Stadion on Ziegeleistraße, you pass Fortuna, a standard pizzeria with a lovely beer garden set in a courtyard on the corner of Bockgasse. You can happily sit outside and sip a draught Zipfer, although the extensive pizza and pasta options are affordable.

Further up Bockgasse, Terrasse am Froschberg serves the tennis club whose courts you’ll see from its first-floor terrace, hence the name. Just beyond to the left, you’ll spot the roof of the Raiffeisen Arena. It’s also a restaurant but you can also just order a pre-match Zipfer, and there’s no members-only policy.

While these are the choices closest to the ground, it might be worth trekking a little further up the hill – or, indeed, alighting at the next stop of Ziegeleistraße – for the Café Froschberg, a homely corner spot with seats outside. Tap beers include Freistädter and Schladminger, and there’s photographic evidence of Linz being the epicentre of the bizarre sport of Faustball, the clenched-fisted cousin of volleyball. LASK’s previous home of the Waldstadion once staged the Faustball World Cup final.

Back at the new stadum, LASK supporters can take advantage of the fan zone behind the home end, where Zipfer flows as the DJ cranks up the crowd-pleasing oompah tunes.

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