Rapid Vienna 0-3 Sturm Graz
📍 Allianz Stadion | Vienna, AT
🏆 Admiral Bundesliga
⚽ Austria (Tier 1)
📅 Sun 26 Sep 21 | 5.00pm
🎟️ €37 | Att: 16,900
Having seen the Young Violets of Austria Vienna beaten at home earlier that day, it’s fair to say that this last game of my Viennese weekend – Rapid Vienna vs Sturm Graz at the Allianz-Stadion – is the headline event.
Following a pleasant afternoon stroll through Schwedenplatz and Wien Mitte – the kind of place you’d see on the cover of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle – I take the U4 line to Hütteldorf, timing it so that I will arrive around an hour before kick-off. I anticipate that this will give me a chance to take some snaps, get my bearings, and figure out how to acquire a Rapid–Mari€ card – a pre-loaded cashless system for purchasing those all-important Käsekrainer sausages (thick meat filled with small chunks of cheese) and Gösser beers.
I’m surprised, then, when I step off the tracks to see each of the various bars and supporters’ clubs dotted around the stadium’s main entrance already packed. This is a party that has clearly been going on for a few hours, although it’s easy enough to figure out where I need to be amongst the large crowd.
Entrance to the ground itself is – as at the Generali Arena – subject to the possession of a COVID passport, which causes some delays at the turnstiles. Once in, though, I use my Rapid–Mari€ card to purchase a beer and a sausage; it’s a system that really does make the process much more efficient, greatly reducing queues at the kiosks. You can also load money onto the card online before each match, and withdraw any cash that you don’t use at machines all around the concourse.
I then proceed to my seat, a lengthy climb that, while not quite requiring the levels of cardio demanded at St James’ Park, still gets the lungs pumping.
A Rapid Descent at the Allianz Stadion
In Austria, Rapid vs Sturm Graz is considered a legitimate derby, despite there being no real close geographical proximity. When I ask the fan next to me about this, he remarks that meetings between the two sides can often be “quite interesting”, although he makes a point of reserving most of his disdain for a certain energy drink-backed enterprise some ways west.
This doesn’t surprise me; the Red Bull clubs – especially Leipzig and Salzburg – are often referred to with hostility. But Austrian football is heavily commercialised, with many clubs named (and regularly renamed) after club sponsors. Club jerseys, too, are seemingly prime real estate for an endless stream of brands and logos.
I consider mentioning this to my new friend, but he has more immediate concerns; this season, relegation is a genuine concern for Austria’s most successful ever club. Coming into the game, Rapid have won just 2 of their first 8 league games, and the team seems short of confidence despite qualifying for the Europa League group stages.
Conversely, Sturm Graz – also Europa League participants this year – have started the season well, with their only domestic defeat coming at the hands of Salzburg. Today, they have bought an impressive away contingent with them, tucked in at the opposite end of the stadium to the Rapid ultras who, despite their club’s misfortunes on the pitch, offer up a cacophony of noise and colourful support.
There’s even something genuine to shout about when Rapid put the ball in the Graz net, but it’s quickly ruled out for offside (which VAR then confirms). And then it all goes downhill.
In the 42nd minute, Rapid somehow conspire to give away a cheap goal, Kelvin Yeboah tapping in unmarked from 3 yards after a calamity of errors in the home team’s defence.
As this happens, two particularly boisterous gentlemen a couple of rows in front jump up and start celebrating vigorously. The men in question have clearly been ruffling a few feathers since the game started, and now it becomes apparent why; they are away fans in the home end. Inevitably, threats are interchanged, and the taller of the two makes it clear that he is happy to take on anyone who fancies a bit.
The incident seems to die down of its own accord, but several minutes later two plain clothes police officers arrive, lurking conspicuously at the end of the row in question. Initially, I’m concerned that they are anticipating my plan to steal the Rapid-branded plastic jug Austrian clubs serve their beer in, but it’s clear the not-so-undercover Graz supporter is their primary mark. At any rate, all three head to the concourse at half time and none of them return, with the fan in question likely watching the second half either in a jail cell or a Rapid supporters’ pub.
Austria’s Pettiest Stadium Official
Rapid, to their credit, keep going in the second half, and somehow squander two golden chances to equalize. But the game is put beyond doubt in the 71st minute when Jon Stanković heads home a Graz second from a corner, with Ivan Ljubic adding a third ten minutes later.
Just before Graz’s second goal, I witness one of the pettiest incidents I’ve ever seen inside a stadium. A Graz defensive clearance lands about 15 rows deep into the stand below me, with Rapid taking a quick throw. As a result, I never notice that the ball in the stand hasn’t come back.
Then, around 10 minutes later, a furious-looking Rapid official comes around the pitch to the section of the stand where I’m stood, and barks orders at the nearest steward to retrieve the ball from its self-proclaimed new owner. Your man – like me, a clear stickler for souvenirs – is obviously not going to give up his prize willingly, resulting in five (yes, FIVE) other stewards arriving en masse to heroically wrestle back the ball.
This Viennese George Constanza twirls away triumphantly, his exit greeted with a singular booming cry of “scheiß-arschloch”. Or at least I think this was aimed at the architect of this piffling aside; for Rapid fans, it could have just been a general observation of the day’s events.
Either way, I’m keen to avoid the crowds on the way back into the city, and so I make my own exit soon after (stopping only to reclaim €15 worth of card credits in €1 coins).
Back in the lively dusk of Wien Mitte, I reflect on my first football weekend of the season. Thanks to Ryanair’s 3-hour delay, it has only been a semi-success; in particular, I would have loved to attend Floridsdorfer’s match the day before, although seeing the Vienna Capitals ice hockey team win their first game of the season was a worthy alternative.
Despite the pricy tickets (I paid €37 for the Rapid game, and €16 for the Young Violets) I will definitely return to Vienna, though. It’s an undoubtedly beautiful and historic city, and there are several clubs – including Wiener Sport-Club, First Vienna, and, of course, Floridsdorfer – whose grounds I’d like to tick off. Goodnight Vienna for now, then, but to paraphrase the words of another Austrian icon, I’ll soon be back.
Postscript: Rapid did manage to turn their season around, losing just two games between October and March. This was enough to qualify for the Championship play-off round, where they finished 5th and secured qualification to the Europa Conference League. Graz, meanwhile, claimed the runners-up spot (and with it Champions League football), although both clubs were some distance behind runaway leaders RB Salzburg.