LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Linz

All change by the Danube as city rivals move house

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Capital of Upper Austria, Linz has recently seen its status elevated as a provincial football capital too, thanks to the resurgence of LASK and the opening of a new stadium for this flagship club. 

In February 2023, the Raiffeisen Arena was unveiled, the contemporary successor to the revered Linzer Stadion, symbol of the city’s post-war recovery. The following month, it hosted its first two internationals, both qualifying matches for Euro 2024 and both won by Austria in front of a capacity crowd.

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 club competition for the first time since 1965, LASK duly made it through to the knock-out stages of the Europa League.

In March 2020, LASK and their fans should have been granted a money-spinning reward for keeping the faith, but the visit of Manchester United was played behind closed doors on the eve of Covid lockdowns.

At the time, the Linzer Stadion was the regular home of Blau-Weiß Linz, second-flight rivals of LASK, who only used it for European games. 

Each club has almost gone under and, at one point, nearly merged with each other. What had remained constant was the ground they both used, nicknamed Auf der Gugl due to its location on the hillside of the same name, just up from the main train station.

In 2021, it was demolished to make way for a contemporary stadium. Confusingly, the Raiffeisen Arena is also the name of the ground out towards the airport where LASK had been playing their domestic fixtures for a few seasons before.

While LASK were preparing to move into their new 19,000-capacity, €85-million home in town, Blau-Weiß had ignominiously moved out.

Blau-Weiß can be considered the natural successors to 1974 title winners VÖEST and their various incarnations. Five times during the 1970s, 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.

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.

Welcome to Linz/Peterjon Cresswell

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.

Welcome to Linz/Rudi Jansen

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 would happen in more modern times, 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.

Welcome to Linz/Peterjon Cresswell

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 they were created in 1974.

Stiegl-Klosterhof/Peterjon Cresswell

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, re-renamed the Raiffeisen Arena, out in Pasching towards Linz Airport. The stadium may well have been 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 been rising through the lower divisions before scant crowds at the Donauparkstadion. Overlooking the Danube between a former tobacco factory and Neue Eisenbahnbrücke Bridge, this 2,000-capacity stadium became a training ground for the Blue-and-Whites when they were at the Linzer. 

Rebuilt, renamed the Hofman Personal Stadion and expanded to 5,000 capacity during 2022-23, the ground welcomed back Blau-Weiß for 2023-24. The nearest bus stop is Linz/Donau Petzoldstraße on the 27 and 72 lines, but it’s also a lovely walk along the Danube from the city centre. The bridge also allows the Blau-Weiß faithful to march across the Danube from the opposite bank in a pre-match display of song and smoke.

A bar dispenses half-litres of Linzer beside the ground but you’d kick yourself for missing the lovely beer garden nearby, Gościnna Chata, the only Polish restaurant in Linz, tucked away beside the OMV petrol station at Hafenstraße 4.

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 1. Urfahr are up by the Peuerbachstraße stop on the same line.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Linz Airport 8km (five miles) south-west of town has limited services, mainly from Frankfurt and Dusseldorf. From the terminal, bus 601 runs hourly to Linz/Donau station (€3.20, journey time 20mina), 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 2 runs to the main station (€2.50 on board, 20min journey time) every 10-20mins. From there, a train to Linz/Donau main station takes just over an hour – average tickets €30, online specials €9.

Vienna Airport is 208km (129 miles) from Linz. A regular direct train to Linz/Donau (€25-€45) takes 1hr 45mins. Some services require a change at Vienna main station.

Linz city transport consists of buses and trolleybuses. Both stadiums are walkable, although for LASK, it’s a steep climb and you’d better off hopping a bus from opposite the train station south of town. Single tickets (€2.70, up to 4 stops €1.30) and day passes (€5.40) are sold from machines by stops.

For those arriving (or, far trickier, leaving) by international company Flixbus, the company uses an otherwise unmarked regular city bus stop along Linzer Industriezeile, a factory-lined artery on the far east of town. If you’re heading to Budapest, stand on the same side of the road as the Cineplexx and huge power station belching out smoke – Munich-bound services leave from the other side. Buses 17, 19 and 72, and night minibus N83, shuttle to this far end of town.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Drinking spots dot the streets of the historic centre in the narrow streets leading off from the main square. A great starting point is Chelsea beside the church on Domgasse, in business since the early 2000s and under the convivial stewardship of Irishman Kieran for a decade or more. 

Games are broadcast on three screens, two in bar areas at either end, with tables outside for smokers and a loyal gang of regulars also attracted by regular English-language stand-up. Visits by UK sides see the pub transformed, such as its 48-hour conversion to King Kenny’s for the Liverpool game in September 2023.

Nearby on Pfarrgasse, the pub-like Granit Bierstube prioritises the beers of Upper Austria, Eggenberg in particular. 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 Hauptplatz and a down to the end of a passageway beside a Greek restaurant, the cellar-like Old Dubliner dispenses pints of the black stuff, Kilkenny and Gösser from 5pm until the early hours. On the square itself, Walker is the coolest of the terrace options, with a great upstairs space in winter and for private events. Its walls covered in melted vinyl, bug’s is a lively, late-night option around the main square.

For live music, nearby Rox Musicbar & Grill on Graben also combines TV games with entertainment. Don’t miss Exxtrablatt on Spittalwiese, not the mainstream café chain you see across Germany but a unique meeting place dedicated to classic cinema.  

Nearby on Waltherstraße, rock den Thüsen Tak appeals to a tattooed clientele, sleepy pub cat Mautchko oblivious to its constant guitar din. Also popular with the darts fraternity.

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. 

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.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadiums and city centre

Linz Tourismus has a comprehensive hotel database with direct booking.

Hotels close to Linz main station are convenient, almost walking distance, to the new Raiffeisen Arena. With the closure of ibis Linz City, the nearest hotel is just behind on Weingartshofstraße, homely Zur Lokomotive. Operated by the Klinglmüller family, it first opened in 1906 and was recently modernised.

Just across from Bahnhofstraße on 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 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. Just past the new Blau-Weiß stadium overlooking the Danube and the VÖEST Bridge above it, the Donauwelle is a handy mid-range choice for a riverside stay.

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