On the margins in Vienna

Floridsdorfer AC isn’t high on the list of Viennese footballing names. You have to go back to 1918 to find the team’s solitary Austrian title win and today the Blue-and-Whites play in the second tier in front of crowds of around 500.

landscape
Friday night lights at the FAC-Platz, Vienna.

But this district of Vienna, in the northern suburbs towards Jedlersee, goes right back to the dawn of the Austrian game. It’s believed that the first football match in the country was played here in 1894, the appropriately named First FC Wien taking on the Vienna Football and Cricket Club under FA rules. No prizes for spotting the inevitable influence of expatriate Brits taking their leisure; in an age when Britannia ruled the footballing waves, few would have anticipated that introducing the game to the Austro-Hungarian empire would, indirectly, lead to the stunning humiliation inflicted by the Magical Magyars almost 60 years later at Wembley.

club heroes
Floridsdorf legends Ernst Ocwirk (l) and Robert Dienst.

History is a big thing for FAC. Although the story of football in Floridsdorfer resonates more strongly with the Admira name – Admira Vienna played for a time at the current FAC-Platz before a series of mergers moved the team out of town to Maria Enzerdorf in Modling – the club clings proudly to its history. A mural in the car park commemorates famous names: Austrian internationals of the past, Ernst Ocwirk and Robert Dienst from the post-war years; stars of the present, former youth teamer Marko Arnautovic. Admittedly, none of these made their name at FAC: only two of Ocwirk’s 62 international appearances came while he was at the club, Dienst and Arnautovic had already moved to bigger things before getting their country’s call.

FAC fan
A pensive FAC fan.

But the team persists, determined to remain part of the local community. “We’re for the 21” announces the club slogan, a reference to Floridsdorf’s status as Vienna’s 21st district. The crowds, while not large, are diverse: a headscarved Arab lady takes her schoolboy son to the game, a group of Africans watches from the bar. Behind the goal there are even a trio of Brits, singing along when ‘Three Lions’ comes on at half time. The team-sheet includes names with Balkan and Turkish origins – Arnautovic, with a Serbian father, forms part of this inclusive tradition – as well as traditional Austrian names, varied cultures united by an Austrian passport and a Mittel-European enthusiasm for football.

action 3
Action as FAC (blue) takes on FC Liefering in the Austrian second tier.

The game itself pits tradition against commercialism. Visitors FC Liefering are part of the Red Bull Salzburg set-up, that much-derided alliance of caffeinated drinks and super-charged football clubs. There’s no sign of any travelling support for a Red Bull Salzburg feeder team playing under the licence of the old USK Anif club. This corporatisation of football has been met with anger in Austria; many are unhappy that a second tier team can continue on gates of less than 500, others resent the way Red Bull gets to hoover up a chunk of talent, depriving rival clubs of a level playing field when it comes to recruiting youngsters. FAC’s 3-0 victory, which effectively ends any lingering relegation fears, feels like a win for the righteous.

action 7
Action as FAC (blue) takes on FC Liefering in the Austrian second tier.

However, FAC is not immune from criticism. Despite a long history, crowds in Flordisdorf are little better than those for Liefering. And the club’s community ethos doesn’t prevent it from selling off every square inch of fabric on the team strip to commercial sponsors. As a result, what could be a simple dark blue affair with white trim is swamped in logos and adverts. Not content with the familiar sponsor’s device on the chest, this goes into overdrive. Front and back, shirt and shorts, it feels like they’d sponsor the sponsors if they could. Maybe it’s the only way a small club can survive at this level without somebody else’s wings, but it still makes a mess of the kit.

Despite these minor quibbles, the on-going survival of clubs like FAC is something to celebrate. In a work where football feels increasingly dictated by the chequebook, the sight of a club competing in the second tier of a significant national championship on crowds of a few hundred offers hope to us all. At least until the next purveyor of canned confections attempts to give someone an energy rush.

Game details
FAC-Platz, Vienna, Austria
May 17, 2019. 1-Liga.
Floridsdorfer AC 3 (Plavotic, Umjenovic, Tuccar) Liefering 0
Att: 561

 

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