AEIOU: My Initial Delve into the Austrian Bundesliga

Introduction

It has been a while since I last looked at leagues in Europe, having preoccupied myself with either looking at island leagues around the British archipelago, football in Flintshire, or trying to write a book about the history of the Cymru Premier (it’s a slow, slow process folks…). However I was asked a while back if I was going to write any more blogs about European leagues, and considering it’s been over a year since I wrote about the Finnish Veikkausliiga, I wanted to go back and investigate European leagues especially as most of them have now returned back albeit without supporters. Plus considering the Cymru North and all Welsh leagues below the Cymru Premier haven’t even started this year yet, I wanted to focus on something else in the meanwhile.

Which country would I look at first then? Well considering I have been listening to the excellent The Other Bundesliga podcast for many months now, there was only one starting point – the Republic of Austria and its own Bundesliga. It’s a league I knew a little about having listened to TOB’s podcast over the months, but I wanted to learn a bit more about its clubs and the league in general. Red Bull Salzburg have been in the headlines quite recently, putting Austrian football in the highlight so to speak, but I wanted to know beyond the corporate team (that often riles up the old-school fan). It’s a country with a grand history in football, but has often been overlooked by the results and past performances of its neighbours. Therefore, my return blog would be a trip to the Alps, and a delve into the interesting world of the Austrian Bundesliga

Austrian Football Pyramid

The Austrian football system is controlled by the governing body in charge of football within the country, the Austrian Football Association (German: Österreichischer Fußball-Bund; ÖFB), and it has between eight to eleven tiers within its football pyramid:

  • Tier 1: Bundesliga
  • Tier 2: 2. Liga
  • Tier 3: Regionalliga (Ost, Mitte, Salzburg, Tirol and Vorarlberg)
  • Tier 4: Landesliga (Burgenland, Niederösterreich, Wien, Steiermark, Oberösterreich, Kärnten, Salzburg, Tirol and Vorarlberg)
  • Tiers 5+: 2. Landesliga and below

The top-tier of the Austrian pyramid is the twelve-team Bundesliga (which will be discussed further below), with the sixteen-team 2. Liga situated in the second tier of the Austrian system. Both of the top two leagues are wholly national leagues, whilst the third-tier Regionalliga (English: Regional League) is divided into five regional leagues. The Regionalliga Ost comprises of teams from the eastern states of the country, Vienna/Wien, Lower Austria and Burgenland; whilst the Regionalliga Mitte features teams from central Austria in Styria, Carinthia, Upper Austria and East Tirol; with the old Regionalliga West now being divided into three further leagues, with separate leagues for the states of Salzburg, Tirol and Vorarlberg, the three western states of the Alpine republic.

The Landesliga (English: State League) leagues, start from the fourth step of the Austrian pyramid and are divided into further regionalised leagues, which are organised by the respective nine state football associations of the ÖFB. Each Landesliga will have a top league at tier four with additional leagues below it depending on the number of teams within that state’s FA. It can be as low as three additional leagues as in the Burgenlander and Carinthian leagues to as many as six additional leagues in the Lower Austria, Tirol and Vorarlberg systems.

The Bundesliga

History

Austria has an incredible history in the world of football, and probably a history which is as prolific of anywhere outside of the British Isles, and one of the most significant in continental Europe. Football was introduced to the country towards the end of the 19th century, with its oldest club, First Vienna FC, being founded in August 1894 (more information on them later). The first cup was played in the capital of Vienna around the turn of the century, with the country’s first football league, the 1. Klasse, being established in 1911 by the Lower Austrian Football Federation, although the league only consisted of clubs originating from the capital. This league would eventually become continental Europe’s first professional league in 1924, which subsequently led to Austria’s rise as an international footballing powerhouse in the 1930s.

The Anschluss of Austria to Germany in 1938 meant that the 1. Klasse became part of the German league structure with teams from the Ostmark taking part in the German competitions. Rapid Wien actually won the Reich’s national championship in 1941, with further Austrian success in the German Cup. After World War II, a separate championship was reintroduced in 1945 although with just Vienna-based teams once again, however by 1949, clubs from the rest of the country were finally invited to compete within the top-flight. The new top-flight league in Austria first became the Staatsliga, and then becoming the Nationalliga when the ÖFB took direct charge of organising the league in 1965.

The current Bundesliga was introduced in 1974, with the first season of the new national league being the 1974-75 edition, and it initially had ten teams playing in the top tier of Austrian football. The number of teams in the league was increased to sixteen teams in 1982, before switching to a twelve-team league three years later, and then reverting back to the original ten-team format in 1993. The current format of twelve teams was reintroduced to the Bundesliga for the start of the 2018-19 season.

Format

The location of the 12 teams in Austria competing in the 2020-21 Bundesliga

The Bundesliga plays its games from autumn to spring, like the majority of the other European leagues, and as with many other countries who have a twelve-team league (such as Denmark, Scotland and Wales), the Bundesliga also adopts a league split after 22 league games once all the clubs have played each other twice (both home and away). The top six teams after twenty-two games are allocated within the Championship Round to determine who will become the league champions and determine the European qualifiers, whilst the bottom six teams compete in the Relegation Round to determine which team automatically gets relegated to the 2. Liga.

What differentiates the Austrian league split from the other European leagues who also employ the mid-season divisional split is that the total points from the twenty-two games do not get carried across to the second phase of the season. Instead, the points earned from the first phase are halved (or rounded down should the points tally be an odd number), e.g. If after phase 1, Team A has 40 points and Team B has 31 points, then for the start of phase 2, Team A would start with 20 points and Team B with 15 points. Points from the remaining ten games are then added on as per normal, although should teams finish on equal points, then the team which has had their points rounded down after the first phase, will finish the higher because of it. This is to theoretically allow a more competitive competition for the second phase of the season.

Teams in the two groups play each other team in their group home and away for an additional ten league fixtures to finish the season campaign having played 32 league games. The top team of the Championship Round at the end of the season is naturally crowned as the Austrian league champions and qualify for the UEFA Champions League, whilst the runners-up also qualify for the Champions League albeit at an earlier stage in the qualifying round playoffs. The 3rd placed team qualifies for the Europa League alongside the Austrian Cup winners, although should the cup be won by a team already qualified for Europe, then the 4th placed team also qualifies for the Europa League also.

The two teams who finish in the top two positions in the Relegation Round (finishing 7th and 8th) will face each other in a one-legged playoff to determine who will face the 4th or 5th placed team for the final Europa League qualification spot. This European playoff is played over two legs at the end of the season, with the aggregate winner taking the final European position. Naturally whichever team finishes bottom of the Relegation Round (finishing 12th overall) is automatically relegated to the 2. Liga and replaced with the second-tier champion.

Current European Coefficient

For the 2020-21 season, Austria were situated in 12th position in the UEFA Coefficient Rankings, 1.183 coefficient points behind the Netherlands in 11th position, and 2.575 points ahead of the Czech Republic in 13th position. As a result of the country’s position, it means they are entitled to two qualifiers to the Champions League (UCL) and three for the Europa League.

2019-20’s Bundesliga runners-up, Rapid Wien entered the UCL in the second qualifying round whilst the Bundesliga champions, Red Bull Salzburg entered at the playoff round stage (one round before the group stage). For the Europa League (UEL), the European playoff winner, Hartberg, came into the competition in the second qualifying round of the competition, with fourth-placed side LASK entering at the third qualifying round. Last season’s third placed team, Wolfsberger AC, automatically qualified for the group stage of the UEL.

League Position in BundesligaSeason 2020-21Season 2021-22
WinnersUCL Playoff RoundUCL Playoff Round
Runners-UpUCL 2nd Qualifying RoundUCL 2nd Qualifying Round
Austrian Cup WinnersUEL Group StageUEL Group Stage
Third Place / If Cup Winner is UCL QualifierUEL 3rd Qualifying Round / UEL Group StageUECL 3rd Qualifying Round / UEL Group Stage
Fourth Place (if Cup Winner is UCL Qualifier)UEL 3rd Qualifying RoundUECL 3rd Qualifying Round
European Playoff WinnerUEL 2nd Qualifying RoundUECL 2nd Qualifying Round
Which round the Austrian teams would enter in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 European competitions

For the 2021-22 season, Austria will continue to be in 12th position in the UEFA Coefficient Rankings albeit in between the countries of Turkey and Denmark. However they will continue to have two qualification spots in the UCL with the 2020-21 Bundesliga runners-up earning a spot in the second qualifying round and the league winners taking a playoff spot once again.

The Austrian Cup winners (or potentially the third-placed side should either of the top two also win the Austrian Cup) will earn a spot in the playoff round in the UEL, however that will be Austria’s sole representation in the UEL going forward. The remaining two European spots will go into the new UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL), the third UEFA organised tournament which will start for the 2021-22 season. The third-placed team in the 2020-21 Bundesliga (or fourth-placed depending on the cup winner) will qualify for a spot in the third qualifying round of the competition whilst the European playoff winner enters at the second qualifying round of the new European competition.

Selected Bundesliga Clubs

Red Bull Salzburg

  • Stadium: Red Bull Arena, Wals-Siezenheim, Salzburg
  • Nickname: Die Mozartstädter
  • Colours: Red and white halved shirts, red shorts, white socks (All red for European games)

Red Bull Salzburg are the undoubted emperors of Austrian football at the moment being both the current defending Bundesliga champions and Austrian Cup winners, having won the past seven consecutive Bundesliga titles and ten championships since the 2006-07 season. Based just outside of Austria’s fourth-largest city of Salzburg, they are owned by the Red Bull group who took over the club in April 2005, and were the first club the Austrian energy drinks’ company owned in their extensive football portfolio.

Having been founded in 1933 as SV Austria Salzburg, the original club won their first Bundesliga title in the 1993-94 season, successfully defending their title the following season and winning a third in the 1996-97 season. In addition, they are one of the few Austrian clubs to have made a European competition final when they reached the 1994 UEFA Cup final. Sadly in the then two legged final, they lost 0-1 in both legs to a star-laden Inter Milan squad. After a few years of financial insecurity, the club was taken over in 2005 by Red Bull, who changed the squad’s name to its current name as well as changing their colours from violet and white to the red and white colours of the company. This break with history angered a large section of the fan group, named the “Violet-Whites”, who subsequently formed a new breakaway club, Austria Salzburg in 2005 (as of the 2020-21 season, they play in the Regionalliga Salzburg).

Erling Haaland

Since their takeover by Red Bull, the club has prided itself of having a great scouting network which has allowed them to bring in talented youngsters from around the world, or from Red Bull’s other subsidiary clubs dotted around the world, to develop them further for profit, or (most recently) to improve Red Bull’s German team, RB Leipzig. Such players like Sadio Mané came through the RB Salzburg academy, whilst most recently, players of the high quality of Hannes Wolf, Takumi Minamino, Hwang Hee-chan and the exciting Erling Håland have been developed by the club before moving to ‘bigger profile’ clubs in Europe. Their current manager, the American Jesse Marsch, is also a product of the Red Bull sporting empire, having been manager of the New York Red Bulls, and then assistant at RB Leipzig before being appointed as RB Salzburg’s manager in 2019. He became the first American coach to win a European title by winning the league and cup double in his debut season with the club.

In most recent seasons, FC Salzburg (as they’re known due to UEFA’s rules against clubs with sponsored names) has been successful in European competitions having reached the semi-finals of the 2017-18 Europa League, losing to French giants Olympique Marseille 2-3 on aggregate after extra time. They reached the last 16 the following season, which saw the club achieve a 100% record in the EL group stage including beating sister club RB Leipzig home and away. After many seasons of agonising defeats in the playoffs, they reached the Champions League group stage for the first time in the 2019-20 season, impressing in a tough group with Genk, Napoli and especially defending champions Liverpool (who’s victory actually enabled Salzburg to avoid the playoffs and automatically qualify for the UCL group stage). For the 2020-21 season, they finally overcame their Champions League playoff hoodoo by defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv in the playoff round to qualify for the UCL group stage for the first time via the playoff system.

Austria Wien

  • Stadium: Franz Horr Stadium / Generali Arena, Vienna
  • Nicknames: Die Veilchen (English: The Violets), Austria
  • Colours: All violet kit with white trim

Fußballklub Austria Wien or Austria Vienna are one of the most successful teams in Austrian football having won the Austrian championship 24 times and won the Austrian Cup a record number of 27 times. As their name suggests, they are based in the nation’s capital and are one of the best supported teams in the country. Despite finishing last season in a very disappointing 7th position, they are the last team to have clinched the Bundesliga title before the RB Salzburg monopoly of the league, winning the 2012-13 Bundesliga. In addition, they are one of only two teams to have never been relegated from the Austrian top-flight, and naturally enjoy a historical rivalry with their old city rivals, Rapid Wien, in the Wiener Derby.

Founded in 1911 as Wiener Amateur-SV, they adopted their current name in 1926 albeit after two Austrian championships had already been won in 1924 and 1926. Traditionally, the club was seen to represent the middle-class of Wien, as part of the coffeehouse culture and intelligentsia which dominated Austrian society in the interwar years. During the period, the club had the magical Matthias Sindelar playing for them, who is regarded as the best Austrian footballer of all time and one of Europe’s best ever players. The club also contributed heavily to the successful and influential Austrian ‘Wunderteam’ of the 1930s, who were regarded as one of the best international teams in the world. Indeed the 30s were a profitable time for the Veilchen as they claimed two titles in the Mitropa Cup, an early Central European precursor to the European Cup. Sadly the club was dismantled by the Nazi regime after the Anscluss with Austria Wien being taunted as “Judenklub” with many of its Jewish players and staff either exiled or killed, whilst star player Sindelar (who refused to play for Germany after the Anschluss) died under suspicious circumstances in 1939.

The club experienced another ‘golden period’ between the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s when Austria Wien won eight Bundesliga titles and four Austrian Cups. In addition, they also reached the final of the 1978-79 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup but lost to the strong Belgian side Anderlecht 0-4 in the final held in Paris. The following season, they reached the semi-finals of the European Cup and were very close to reaching the final, but lost 0-1 on aggregate to Swedish club Malmö FF (who would subsequently lose to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in the final). In the early 80s, the club would reach the semi-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup, losing to Real Madrid in the final four, before reaching consecutive quarter-final finishes in the 1983-84 UEFA Cup and then 1984-85 European Cup. Both times they lost to English competition in the forms of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool respectively. Their best European result most recently was reaching the last eight of the 2004-05 UEFA Cup before losing on away goals to Italian side, Lazio.

Last season die Veilchen finished in seventh position, and top of the Relegation Round ensuring they qualified for the end-of-season European playoffs. Having beaten Rheindorf Altach 1-0 in the semi-final, they surprisingly failed to beat the surprise fifth-placed side Hartberg in the two-legged playoff final. A 2-3 defeat in Vienna was followed up with a goalless draw at Hartberg which ensured Austria Wien failed to qualify for Europe. This season, they are managed by former 1.FC Köln and Borussia Dortmund manager, and former Austrian international midfielder, Peter Stöger, who returns to the club for a third stint as manager and fifth overall.

Rapid Wien

  • Stadium: Allianz Stadion, Vienna
  • Nicknames: Die Grün-Weißen (English: The Green-Whites), Hütteldorfer, Rapid
  • Colours: Green and white hooped shirts with green sleeves, green shorts, white socks

Sportklub Rapid Wien, or commonly known as Rapid Vienna, are one of the oldest teams in Austrian football and are based in Vienna. They are the most successful team in Austrian championship history having won the title on 32 separate occasions, including the very first title in 1911-12. They last won the championship in the 2007-08 season, when they beat Red Bull Salzburg and Austria Wien to the title, and last season they finished in the runners-up spot in the league. They are one of only two teams to have never been relegated from the Austrian top-flight, and naturally enjoy a rivalry with their city rivals, Austria Wien, in the Wiener Derby. In contrast to their rivals, Rapid Wien are regarded as the club of the capital’s working class, with the club’s origins coming from a workers’ football club founded in the late 19th century.

Founded in 1899, they became one of Austria’s dominant forces winning twelve championships before the Anschluss of 1938. Because of their decent squad, they also managed to win the German Cup in 1938 and the German Championship in 1941, before returning to an independent Austrian league and maintaining their position as one of the country’s strongest and most supported teams. The club was Austria’s first competitor in the very first European Cup in 1955-56, where they reached the quarter-finals, before reaching the semi-finals of the same competition in the 1960-61 edition before being knocked out 0-6 by the eventual champions Benfica.

In comparison with other Austrian clubs, they are the most successful in European competitions having reached the final of the old UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup on two occasions. Their first final was in 1985, when having overcome the likes of Celtic, Dynamo Dresden and Dynamo Moscow, they faced Everton in the final. Despite having the tournament’s joint top scorer in Antonín Panenka (he of penalty fame), they were unable to overcome the Toffees as they lost 1-3 in Rotterdam. Eleven seasons later, they would make their second final appearance, this time against Paris Saint-Germain in Brussels. They overcame Sporting CP, Dynamo Moscow (again) and Feyenoord to reach the final, with the goals of German international striker Carsten Janker helping them to glory. Sadly a Bruno N’Gotty goal in the first half was the only deciding factor, and Rapid missed out on European glory once again. Nonetheless, they are regular qualifiers for European competitions, and are usual competitors in the group stage of the Europa League.

Almost uniquely for the club, Rapid fans have always announced the last 15 minutes of any match by way of the traditional “Rapid-Viertelstunde” – a rhythmic clapping by the supporters at home or away games no matter what the score. The first mention of the practise goes back to 1913, with a newspaper writing in 1918 about the fans clapping at the beginning of the Rapid-Viertelstunde. Over the decades, there have been many instances where the team have managed to turn around a losing position by not giving up and, with their fans’ support, fighting their way to a win just before the final whistle.

Sturm Graz

  • Stadium: Merkur Arena, Graz, Styria
  • Nicknames: The Blackies
  • Colours: All white kit with black trim

Sportklub Sturm Graz are based in the city of Graz, in the southeastern state of Styria/Steiermark, and have the largest number of supporters for any team outside of the capitol. They currently play in the Merkur Arena, which was originally called the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium in honour of the city’s most famous son, although Arnie revoked the use of his name for the stadium following a political disagreement in 2005. Despite having been formed in 1909, the club enjoyed its greatest successes during the turn of the millennium, as well as in the early 2010s. They are known in Austrian football for their promotion of young players, and being a development side for potential players, with youngsters forming the backbone of their title-winning teams. The club enjoys healthy rivalries with the Wien clubs as well as cross-city rivals Grazer AK, who they compete against in the Grazer Derby, with Sturm having the traditional loyalty of the working class of Graz.

Despite being the first team outside of Vienna to join the Austrian national league in 1949, it wouldn’t be until the late 1990s to the early 2000s when Sturm became one of Austria’s strongest teams when the club won two Bundesligas with four more runners-up placements, as well as three Austrian Cups. They would also become regulars in the UCL group stages, competing in Europe’s top club competition on three occasions. In their 2000-01 UCL campaign, they surprisingly won their group ahead of Rangers, Galatasaray and Monaco, although failed to get beyond the second phase of groups (which existed in the competition at that point instead of knockout games) finishing a respectable third behind the eventual finalists Valencia and the 1999 champions, Manchester United.

They have only won three Bundesligas in their history with their most recent title victory coming in the 2010-11 season, when they finished three points ahead of RB Salzburg. They have won the Austrian Cup five times, with their 2018 cup triumph over the Red Bull club being their last piece of silverware for the Black and Whites. Last season, under the tumultuous management of Nestor El Maestro, they finished in sixth position, eight points behind Hartberg in fifth, and thus did not qualify for Europe. El Maestro was subsequently sacked in June 2020 which saw the team earn just 37 points from his 29 games in charge.

LASK

  • Stadium: Waldstadion, Pasching, Upper Austria
  • Nicknames: Die Schwarz-Weißen (English: The Black-Whites), Die Laskler
  • Colours: All white kit with black and red trim

Linzer Athletik-Sport-Klub, or more commonly known as either Linzer ASK or just LASK are a team originally from the northern city of Linz, the third-largest city in Austria, although they currently play just outside the city in the village of Pasching. Founded in 1908, their greatest ever success was winning the Austrian League in 1965, becoming the first club from outside of Vienna to ever win the league, as well as winning the Austrian Cup in the same year to complete a domestic double. Alas for the supporters of the club, these have been the only major trophies the club has won in its history, with their best finish in the Bundesliga being a runners-up spot in the 2018-19 season.

In the 1990s they were known as LASK Linz, to bring attention to the city’s name, whilst also merging with city rivals FC Linz (although Blau-Weiss Linz would spring forth from disenfranchised FC Linz fans). Alas the club lurched from one financial problem to another throughout the late 90s and the start of the 21st century. Eventually the club were rescued from near bankruptcy in 2012, which had seen them slip into the third-tier, by a consortium of local entrepreneurs called the “Friends of LASK”. Under the new ownership, the club bounced back in tremendous fashion by returning to the top-flight in the third year after the takeover. In 2016, the club moved to the village of Pasching after disagreements with the Linzer city council, although they are planning on returning to the city to play in the rebuilt Linzer Stadion in for the start of the 2022-23 season.

Last season LASK had their best chance of claiming that allusive second championship when they led the Bundesliga table by six points at the league split. Also they were doing brilliantly in the Europa League having won their tough group, which included Sporting CP, PSV Eindhoven and Rosenborg. However due to a major violation of the COVID restrictions that the ÖFB had established during the enforced break in the season, it saw the Linzer club deducted 12 points. Although this was later reduced to an eight point deduction, a combination of the break in the season plus the points deduction halted their momentum as they majorly faltered during the second phase of the season. At the end of the season, LASK stuttered to a fourth-place finish, as well as losing 0-5 to Manchester United in the last 16 of the Europa League, and saw manager Valérien Ismaël sacked by the board in July 2020.

Wolfsberger AC

  • Stadium: Lavanttal-Arena, Wolfsberg, Carinthia
  • Nicknames: Die Wölfe
  • Colours: White shirts with black trim, black shorts, white socks

Wolfsberger AC (also known by their sponsored name of RZ Pellets WAC) are a club situated in the Carinthian town of Wolfberg, in the south of Austria. Having been founded in 1931, the vast majority of the club’s history has been spent in either the second or third divisions of Austrian football. It wasn’t until the club decided to enter a cooperation with local neighbours SK St. Andrä, that the club’s fortunes started to improve. They gained promotion from the Regionalliga to 2. Liga in 2010, and then achieved promotion to their top-flight for the first time in their history when they won the 2011-12 2. Liga title, albeit the cooperation between the two teams was soon dissolved afterwards.

Since their promotion in 2012, they have continually competed in the Bundesliga, finishing 5th in their debut season in the Bundesliga. They finished in 5th position again in the 2014-15 season which enabled the club to qualify for the Europa League for the very first time although they were defeated 0-6 on aggregate by Borussia Dortmund in the third qualifying round of the competition. Despite finishing in 9th position in the 2017-18 Bundesliga season, they surprisingly finished in 3rd the following season, their best ever finish in the Austrian football system. This enabled them to qualify for the Europa League once again, where they achieved historical home and away draws against Roma, as well as demolishing Borussia Mönchengladbach 4-0 at Borussia-Park.

Last season they finished in 3rd spot once again, missing out on the runners-up spot by just three points. They were helped by the goals of Israeli striker Shon Weissman, a signing from Maccabi Haifa, who scored an amazing 30 league goals in 31 games to help Die Wölfe qualify for Europe once again and finish as the league’s top goalscorer. Sadly, Wolfsberg will be without Weissman this season as he signed for La Liga’s Real Valladolid for a club record fee of €4m.

Other Selected Austrian Clubs

First Vienna

Despite some great options in the Bundesliga, the club I have chosen as my Austrian club to follow is First Vienna FC, a club based in the Döbling district of Vienna. The reasons I have chosen the club is that firstly they are the oldest club in Austrian football, having been founded in 1894 by English and Austrian gardeners working on the Von Rothschild’s estates, and are part of the exclusive ‘Club of Pioneers’ – a worldwide network of the oldest football clubs from each country. Secondly they play in yellow and blue, the colours of which were taken from the former jockey colours of the Von Rothschild’s who donated land for their first ground, and finally they have a triskelion in their logo. Being very partial to things that are related to the Isle of Man, the club logo was designed by the Manx player William Beale, who used the famous symbol of his home island for the club’s logo.

Vienna has a great history in the Austrian game having won the Austrian League on six separate occasions and the Austrian Cup three times. They won two of their titles in the early 1930s before winning three consecutive titles between 1942 and 1944. Their sixth and final Austrian title came all the way back in 1955, with the club still awaiting its seventh heaven. In addition, they also won the 1943 German Cup when Austria had been annexed by the Reich after the Anschluss of the country. Sadly their recent fortune hasn’t been so successful with the club yo-yoing between the top two leagues throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The highlight of that time being an Austrian Cup final appearance in 1997, but sadly lost to the defending cup holders Sturm Graz 2-1.

Currently the club is playing in the fourth-tier Wiener Stadtliga after having won the 2. Landesliga in the 2018-19 season. They were also top of the Wiener Stadtliga last season and looking good for promotion with a healthy lead of six points, before the Austrian season was halted and eventually voided (all leagues below the second tier) due to COVID pandemic. First Vienna currently plays in the picturesque and historic Hohe Warte Stadion, a former national stadium which used to be the biggest sport stadium in continental Europe, but now has a capacity of just 5,500 supporters.

FC Pinzgau Saalfelden

An alternative suggestion for an Austrian club to potentially follow is FC Pinzgau Saalfelden, a team situated in the town of Saalfelden am Steinernen Meer, in the state of Salzburg. They were founded in 2007 after the merger between local clubs Saalfeldner SK and ESV Saalfelden, with the owners putting “Pinzgau” into the club’s name to promote the historic area within the state. The club currently plays in the third-tier of Austrian football, in the Regionalliga Salzburg.

What makes this particular Austrian lower league team an interesting choice to follow is that they are a fan-owned club, and that anyone can buy a share into the club and be able to get involved with the club. The majority owners are hoping that the club can progress from its current situation to the Bundesliga and potential Champions League football in the near future. For more information about the club and its organisation, please read the following interesting article about the club from These Football Times: https://thesefootballtimes.co/2020/07/07/fc-pinzgau-gives-fans-the-opportunity-to-own-part-of-an-austrian-club-with-champions-league-ambitions/

The club has unique home and away shirts which feature the club’s tree logo (taken from its badge) on the shirt pattern (white on the blue home shirt, blue on the white away shirt), whilst they are managed by the former FC Bayern, Middlesbrough, Liverpool and German international, Christian Ziege.

The 2019-20 Season

League Table

The 2019-20 Austrian Bundesliga proved to be a very interesting season in many ways, although like nearly all the other European leagues, it was majorly affected by the COVID pandemic. It would be the third season of the twelve-team league format, with the 2. Liga champions WSG Swarovski Tirol, a club sponsored by the famous crystal company, replacing their city-rivals Wacker Innsbruck in the top flight.

As aforementioned, it looked as if Red Bull Salzburg would have a title challenge on their hands as the previous season’s runners-up, LASK, proved to be their biggest threat to a successful title defence. LASK found themselves leading the table at the league split by six points from the defending champions and in a strong position to win their second-ever title. Not to mention that RB Salzburg were weakened by having lost two of their best players during the January transfer window, with their sort-after top goalscorer Erling Håland finally making the move to Borussia Dortmund and their exciting Japanese winger, Takumi Minamino, moving to Liverpool after impressing against them in the Champions League.

The 2019-20 Bundesliga at the league split [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

At the league split, LASK led the table ahead of RB Salzburg, Rapid Wien, Wolfsberger, Sturm Graz and the surprise sixth team, Hartberg, who had managed to sneak ahead of the stuttering Austria Wien for the final top six spot. The situation at the bottom of the table was incredibly tight with only two points separating Admira Wacker Mödling in ninth place and bottom club St. Pölten, with WSG Tirol and SV Mattersburg in between. Alas LASK’s dreams for a potential title was shattered when during the enforced break, they broke the ÖFB’s strict social distancing rules that clubs needed to follow and as a result, they were made an example of by being deducted twelve points. This resulted in them dropping to second position and six points behind RB Salzburg and completely shattered their momentum.

The final table in the Championship Round – Red Bull Salzburg regain their title as LASK drastically slip-up [IMAGE: Wikipedia]
Patson Daka

Unsurprisingly, LASK’s title challenge faltered completely after the points deduction. Even though it was reduced to eight points (four points once the league split halved the points), they struggled to find their form in the first phase of the season. Despite Klauss, Dominik Frieser and Marko Raguž all scoring 3 goals each for the club during the second phase, their form of 3 wins, 1 draw and 6 losses meant they could only finish their season in fourth position. Despite having lost the attacking power of Håland and Minamino, the Zambian striker Patson Daka stepped up and contributed a glut of goals to finish as the league’s second highest scorer with 24 goals. This naturally resulted in RB Salzburg winning the league once again and finishing the season having scored an incredible 110 goals. Rapid just got ahead of Wolfsberger AC (despite the best efforts of the league’s top goalscorer Shon Weissman) to take the runners-up spot and UCL football, whilst the Carinthians were left with 3rd position and Europa League football. Sturm Graz struggled under their tempestuous and often suspended manager, the Serbian-English Nestor El Maestro, resulting in Hartberg defying the odds once more to take fifth place and qualify for the European playoff final. Surprising considering they had conceded 74 goals throughout the season – the league’s worst defence.

The final table in the Relegation Round with Austria Wien and Rheindorf Altach qualifying for the European playoff semis [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

In the Relegation Round, Austria Wien comfortably finished top of the bottom six to qualify for the end-of-season European playoff semi-final, and they were joined by Rheindorf Altach who just held off the challenge of St. Pölten (who earned 17 points from their final 10 games) to finish 8th and earn the other playoff berth. At the bottom, it was a battle between Admira and Tirol to avoid relegation to the second-tier. Despite Admira scoring a league low tally of 29 goals, it was Tirol who finished bottom of the table, finishing two points behind their rivals and having the second-worst defence in the league to face a quick return to 2. Liga. However the Tyroleans would be spared as the situation at tenth placed SV Mattersburg had deteriorated considerably throughout the season. Mattersburg was declared bankrupt in August after their main financial backer, Commerzialbank Mattersburg im Burgenland was closed down following an accounting scandal. As a result, the Burgenland side resigned from the league after a nearly twenty-year tenure in the top flight and sadly dissolved completely as a club, ensuring no other team was relegated for the 2019-20 season. The 2. Liga champions, SV Ried, would replace the departed Mattersburg for the start of the 2020-21 season.

In the European playoffs, Austria Wien got the better of Altach in the one-legged semi-final with Patrick Wimmer scoring the sole goal for the Violets within the first half-an-hour of the match. In the first leg of the playoff final, Hartberg took the lead through Dario Tadić after just ten minutes but Benedikt Pichler equalised for Austria Wien ten minutes into the second half. Tadić added his second on the 64th minute before Jodel Dossou made it 3-1 to the away side with fifteen minutes remaining. Wimmer scored his second goal of the playoffs in the 79th minute to reduce the deficit, but Hartberg managed to hold on to achieve an away victory and a crucial lead in the tie. In the second leg, despite Austria Wien’s best efforts, they were just unable to break through the normally porous Hartberger defence, resulting in a goalless draw. This result was enough for Hartberg to qualify for European competition for the first time in their 74-year history.

European Results

For the 2019-20 season, Austria had two teams in the UEFA Champions League (UCL) and three teams in the UEFA Europa League (UEL). The champions Red Bull Salzburg automatically qualified for the group stage for the very first time, helped by Liverpool’s UCL victory which bumped their position up from the playoffs to the group stage as Liverpool had qualified for the UCL in the Premier League also. Joining FC Salzburg (as they’re known in UEFA competitions) was the 2018-19 runners-up LASK, who would be making their first appearance in the UCL qualifying rounds, coming in at the third qualifying round. Wolfsberger AC would automatically qualify for the UEL group stage after finishing third in the Bundesliga, and making their first ever appearance in any European group stage, whilst fourth-placed Austria Wien would enter the competition in the third qualifying round, with the European playoff winner, Sturm Graz, coming in a qualifying round earlier than Austria Wien.

Sadly Sturm and Austria Wien were unable to join their compatriots in the UEL group stage, when they both disappointingly fell at the first hurdle of qualifying. Sturm lost 2-3 on aggregate to the Norwegian side Haugesund in the second qualifying round whilst Austria Wien were defeated home and away to Cypriot club Apollon Limassol, to lose their European tie 2-5 on aggregate. There would also be disappointment for LASK in the UCL playoff rounds. Despite achieving an excellent 5-2 aggregate victory over Swiss giants Basel in the third qualifying round, they just agonisingly missed out on the lucrative group stage, losing to Belgian side Club Brugge in the playoff round. They lost 0-1 in Linz before suffering an 89th minute losing goal at Club Brugge to lose the tie 1-2, and be eliminated from the UCL with a 1-3 aggregate loss. However the compensation for missing out on UCL football was earning themselves an automatic place in the group stage of the UEL, alongside Wolfsberger AC.

The group stages for the three remaining Austrian sides had many positives. Firstly in a tough group containing defending UCL champions Liverpool, Napoli and Genk, Salzburg impressed many pundits with their attacking play. Scoring 16 goals in their six group games (with Erling Håland attracting intense media attention by getting half of the club’s goals in five group games), they thrashed Genk 6-2 at home and 1-4 away, and drew to Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo. In addition, they also gave a great account of themselves at Anfield when they produced an extraordinary comeback from 0-3 down to make the score 3-3, before Mo Salah scored his second of the game as Liverpool just managed to earn a 4-3 victory, although all the plaudits went to Salzburg. They were unlucky in the home game against Napoli which saw them fightback twice to draw the game, but a Lorenzo Insigne goal in the 73rd minute gave Napoli the win and ended Salzburg’s undefeated streak at home. Despite excellent performances, they were unable to qualify for the UCL knockout rounds, but by finishing third in the group, it meant they would drop into the last 32 knockout out of the UEL.

Despite Salzburg’s best efforts, they finished third in the Champions League group. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

Joining Salzburg in the last 32 would be LASK who superbly exceeded expectations by finishing top of their UEL group. Winning all three of their home group games, including a 4-1 demolition of PSV Eindhoven and a 3-0 defeat of Sporting CP, they also achieved the double over Norwegian side Rosenborg to finish their campaign with 13 points. Wolfsberg looked as if they could potentially join their compatriots in the last 32 when they managed a historic 4-0 victory at Borussia Mönchengladbach, which was followed by a 1-1 draw to AS Roma at home. Sadly the move of their manager, Gerhard Struber, to English Championship side Barnsley scuppered their momentum and they were unable to win any of their further group games, although they did manage a 2-2 draw with Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. Wolfsberger AC would finish their campaign on the bottom of their UEL group, with just five points.

Wolfsberg started off brightly, but could only finish bottom of their Europa League table. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

In the UEL knockout phase, both sides were given relatively tricky ties with LASK being drawn against the Eredivisie’s AZ Alkmaar, whereas Salzburg faced Eintracht Frankfurt. In the first legs, LASK achieved an important 1-1 draw at AZ, with Marko Raguž getting the important away goal for them, whilst Salzburg suffered a heavy 1-4 defeat at Frankfurt, with South Korean international Hwang Hee-chan getting a late penalty away goal to keep them within a slim chance of a fightback in the second leg. Things got off to a good start in the home leg for Salzburg when Andreas Ulmer scored after ten minutes, but Eintracht’s Andre Silva scored after half an hour’s play to essentially end the tie. Jérôme Onguéné scored in the second half but another Silva goal seven minutes from full time, ensured Salzburg exited the UEL 3-6 on aggregate. It would be the opposite situation in Linz when a brace from Raguž was enough to give them a 2-0 victory in the second leg, and progression to the last 16 of the competition and leaving them as the sole Austrian team in Europe.

LASK impressed in the Europa League with historic wins over Sporting and PSV. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

There they were drawn against the European giants of Manchester United, which was expected to be a huge money-spinner for the Linz side. Alas COVID ruined all those dreams when the game had to be played in front of nobody to avoid spreading the virus, and it was made worse when Manchester United won the first leg 5-0, essentially ending LASK’s European adventure. They would have to wait a further five months to play the second leg at Old Trafford, after the unprecedented halting of the European season due to the pandemic, and despite playing in front of empty stands again, they acquitted themselves well, losing just 1-2 to the Red Devils. The defender Philipp Wiesinger gave LASK the lead in the match, before goals from Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial ensured Manchester United finished the match with a comfortable 7-1 victory on aggregate.

(All scores are on aggregate)

Red Bull Salzburg

UEFA Champs League Group E: THIRD – 7 pts
UEFA Europa League R32: Eintracht Frankfurt (GER) 3 – 6

LASK

UEFA Champs League 3QR: FC Basel (SUI) 5 – 2
UEFA Champs League P/OR: Club Brugge (BEL) 1 – 3
UEFA Europa League Group D: FIRST – 13 pts
UEFA Europa League R32: AZ (NED) 3 – 1
UEFA Europa League R16: Manchester United (ENG) 1 – 7

Wolfsberger AC

UEFA Europa League Group J: FOURTH – 5 pts

Austria Wien

UEFA Europa League 3QR: Apollon Limassol (CYP) 2 – 5

Sturm Graz

UEFA Europa League 2QR: Haugesund (NOR) 2 – 3

Current Season – 2020-21 Bundesliga

League Table

The 2020-21 Austrian Bundesliga league table at time of writing (IMAGE: Soccerway)

As of the time of writing (6th October 2020) only four league games have been played in the 2020-21 Bundesliga season. Unsurprisingly, RB Salzburg lead the table with a 100% record having won all four of their games this season, scoring an amazing 17 goals already, with seven of them coming against Hartberg in their previous match. Patson Daka currently leads the goalscoring charts already having scored five goals for the defending champions, with his team-mate, the Malian forward Sékou Koïta, contributing with a further four goals.

Rapid Wien are two points behind them in second position, helped by the four goals from Greek forward Taxiarchis Fountas, and are another undefeated team in the league, so far, alongside Sturm Graz in sixth position. Although the Graz side drew their first three games of the season but conceded just 2 goals. Their first win of the season came in their fourth league game, when they defeated Altach 4-0.

Towards the bottom of the table and Rheindorf Altach are rooted to the foot of the table having earned just one point so far, and have lost their last three games. Their only point came at the start of the season against Hartberg, who are the other side without a victory in the league currently, although they have an additional point over the Vorarlbergers. Newly promoted Ried managed to get a surprise 3-2 opening day victory over WSG Tirol to start their return to the top-flight in the best manner, although they have since lost their last three games. It looks as if the scrap to avoid relegation may be the most interesting battle of the season within the Austrian Bundesliga.

European Games

RB Salzburg finally managed to overcome their Champions League qualifying hoodoo as they defeated Israeli champions Maccabi Tel Aviv 5-2 over the two-legged affair to finally qualify for the group stage of the UCL via the playoffs for the first time. Unfortunately for the multiple Austrian champions, they were placed in a very difficult Champions League group by being placed in the same group as the defending UCL champions, FC Bayern München, Atlético Madrid and Lokomotiv Moscow. As for Rapid, they managed to achieve a 1-0 away win in Zagreb to beat Croatian side NK Lokomotiva in the second qualifying round, but disappointingly lost to last season’s Belgian runners-up, Gent, 2-1 at Ghent. However it did provide a consolation for the Green and Whites in that they had earned an automatic UEL group stage spot.

In the UEL qualifying rounds, the playoff winner Hartberg came up against the third-best team in Poland, Piast Gliwice in the second qualifying round. Despite coming back from losing positions twice at the Stadion Piast, they conceded a third goal with six minutes remaining to end their European campaign at the first hurdle. Despite the defeat, their on-shirt sponsorship from a sperm bank got some social media attention. However, LASK had no such problem in their opening European game when they demolished the third-placed Slovakian side, DAC, 7-0 at the Linzer Stadion. They then confirmed their position within the group stage of the Europa League, as they defeated Portuguese giants, Sporting CP once more, this time 4-1 at the Estádio José Alvalade. An incredible second half performance from the Lasklers, ensured they would progress to the group stage once again.

In the UEL group stages, Rapid were drawn in a favourable Group B alongside group favourites Arsenal, the Norwegian side Molde and Irish side Dundalk. Whereas LASK would also face English opposition in the form of Tottenham Hotspur, as well as also contending with some difficult fixtures against Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad and Royal Antwerp of Belgium. Finally Wolfsberger AC were drawn in yet another difficult group, having to face three European heavyweights in the forms of CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Zagreb and Feyenoord!

(All scores on aggregate unless noted with * which indicates single legged ties)

Red Bull Salzburg

UEFA Champs League P/OR: Maccabi Tel Aviv (ISR) 2 – 5
UEFA Champs League Group A

IMAGE: Wikipedia

Rapid Wien

UEFA Champs League 2QR: NK Lokomotiva (CRO) 1 – 0*
UEFA Champs League 3QR: Gent (BEL) 1 – 2*
UEFA Europa League Group B

IMAGE: Wikipedia

Wolfsberger AC

UEFA Europa League Group K

IMAGE: Wikipedia

LASK

UEFA Europa League 3QR: DAC Dunajská Streda (SVK) 7 – 0*
UEFA Europa League P/OR: Sporting CP (POR) 4 – 1*
UEFA Europa League Group J

IMAGE: Wikipedia

Hartberg

UEFA Europa League 2QR: Piast Gliwice (POL) 2 – 3*

Sources of Information

The Other Bundesliga

Obviously the first source of information that I would highly recommend for you to explore and direct towards, should you wish to further your knowledge in Austrian football in the English language, is the guys at The Other Bundesliga. It is ran by three Brits who live in deepest Wien, Tom Middler, Lee Wingate and Simon Clark, who produce excellent podcasts regularly, as well as video content and written content about all fußball-related things happening in the nine Alpenbundesländer. Should you wish to know more about The Other Bundesliga, check out their superb content, or even support them via Patreon, the various links are below:

Official Brilliant Austrian Football Links

So that completes my initial delve into the Austrian Bundesliga. I have really enjoyed learning about Austrian football and its league teams, and will be keeping an eye on the leagues throughout the season. Also I hope First Vienna manage to win their Wiener Stadtliga title and finally gain promotion to the third tier! I hope you have also learnt something from my blog and have enjoyed reading about the Austrian Bundesliga and its teams.

If you have any questions, opinions or feedback on this blog, please contact me through the comments box below, or via Twitter @The94thMin. I would be eager to hear your thoughts, and also if you follow any Austrian teams and the reason for it! In addition, if you have any country you would like me to focus on in the future, please let me know. I would love to hear from you! I am hoping to explore Switzerland and Slovenia in future blogs, so they should be good to investigate also.

Danke!

2 comments

  1. Da iawn Clint – another thoroughly researched Blog and very interesting as I have been to Vienna a few times where I have friends ( used to stay in the parents house when I coached in Baltimore USA)
    However not been to any matches apart from Austria v Cymru a couple of years go!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s