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Austria's oldest soccer club, founded by Brits, faces the final whistle

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-02 07:19

VIENNA - "Vienna til I die!" chanted the fans, in accented English, at a recent rainy match, testament to the British roots of Austria's oldest soccer club: the once-mighty First Vienna FC 1894.

But while the few hundred die-hard supporters give it their all week in week out, the now dilapidated terraces of what was once continental Europe's biggest stadium may soon fall silent for ever.

In March the 123-year-old club, which even under the Nazis was allowed to keep its English name "Vienna", declared itself insolvent and is trying to hammer out a survival plan.

The players haven't been paid since December and automatic relegation looms from Austria's already lowly third division, the Austrian Regional League East, making finding new sponsors even harder.

"If it all ends, it will be the end of an era," sighed Robert Haidinger, head of the supporters club, as he charged 5 euros ($5.50) for the trickle of cars arriving for the evening match.

"A piece of Viennese history would disappear," he said.

Austria's oldest soccer club, founded by Brits, faces the final whistle

Like elsewhere in Europe and beyond in the late 19th century, British immigrants were a major driving force in the birth of Austrian football.

The "Vienna" was founded, in a pub, in 1894 by British gardeners together with locals smitten with this exotic new combination of exercise and gentlemanly "fair play".

The club quickly became an all-Austrian affair but its three-legged logo, the triskelion, still survives in tribute to the homeland of one of the founders, William Beale from the Isle of Man.

To this day many of the chants on the terraces are in English. "Hey ho let's go," says a sign, in English, on the way out of the ground.

Slow decline

"To hear lots of voices singing all together something like 'Come on Vienna' is, well, it gives you goose bumps," said Josef Keglevic, a lifelong fan.

"Vienna" used to be a force to be reckoned with not only in domestic football but internationally too. Visiting Spain in 1925, they thrashed Barcelona 4-1.

But a slow decline started in the mid-1950s and in 1992 the club slipped out of the Bundesliga top league for the final time.

Despite the financial woes, Keglevic, a supporter since he was 6 years old, said "Vienna" still has something special.

"At clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich ... there is no humanity any more. There as a supporter you are just a number, a revenue generator," he said.

"But here there is something, a feeling ... A soul, yes."

Agence France-Presse

Austria's oldest soccer club, founded by Brits, faces the final whistle

Fans and supporters of the beleaguered First Vienna Football Club 1894 cheer during their third division game against Parndorf in the Hohe Warte stadium in Vienna. Alex Halada / Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 05/02/2017 page10)

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