A Guide To Rapid Vienna
It was back in 1968 when I, a life-long fan of Rapid Vienna and then a school boy, began to collect newspaper articles related to the “Green-Whites” from Huetteldorf, Vienna’s 14th district. The oldest article of my collection reports on the impression which a then newly signed player had after watching his first home game of Rapid: “That’s an atmosphere I’ve never experienced before,” an astonished Tom Soendergaard, a Danish international, told the reporter in June 1968.
In the year 1968 Rapid Vienna celebrated their 25th domestic league title which meant that they had not only set an Austrian record but became the club that had won most domestic league titles on the continent. However it took them 14 years to bag their 26th league title in 1982. Until today Rapid has won the Austrian league 32 times, most recently in 2008. Last season they finished runners-up behind Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg.
My view back to 1968 has shown that nothing has changed over the years: the atmosphere generated by the Rapid support in their home ground Gerhard Hanappi Stadium, unofficially called “St. Hanappi”, is still something extraordinary throughout Europe. “The atmosphere was terrific,” Aston Villa coach Martin O’Neill (whose team was defeated 1-0 in Vienna) had to concede, and an astonished Villa supporter said: “Jesus, their fans are something else”.
Rapid Vienna is the most popular football club in Austria. Almost 160 fan clubs support the “Greens” all over the country, the “Block West” in “St. Hanappi” is known as the best and loudest stand in the country and a large crowd usually follows Rapid to away matches. 1500 supported Rapid in Birmingham against Aston Villa, and I suppose there will be almost 2500 in Glasgow and 5000 in Hamburg. The “Ultras” (founded in 1988) and other fan clubs have developed a unique fan culture in Vienna and it is their ambition to show a new fan choreography in every game.
But there’s something else that has never changed over Rapid’s history: the “Rapid Viertelstunde”. Almost since the club’s beginnings, the supporters of the “Greens” have announced the last fifteen minutes of the game by rhythmic clapping at home or away no matter what the score. And to date it’s a trademark of Rapid to have often managed to turn around a seemingly hopeless situation by not giving up and, with the support from the stands, fighting their way to a win just before the final whistle.
Rapid Vienna was founded in 1898 as “First Workers’ Football Club of Vienna”, but changed its name to Sport Club Rapid Vienna just one year later, exactly 110 years from now. The anniversary was celebrated this summer with games against Schalke 04, the team which Rapid overcame in 1941 to win the German Championship (when Austria was annexed to the German Third Reich until 1945) and against Liverpool. The latter were beaten 1-0 in Vienna Ernst Happel Stadium, the same ground where two weeks ago a strong and convincingly playing Rapid won 3-0 against Hamburger SV in the Europa League.
The team’s original colours were red and blue, but soon after renaming the club its colours were changed to green and white in 1904. In 1911 Rapid Vienna moved to its legendary old ground “Pfarrwiese” (parish meadow) in Huetteldorf where I attended their last league game in April 1978 when Rapid’s then top scorer Hans Krankl scored five goals in a 6-0 win against Admira/Wacker. Krankl who afterwards played for FC Barcelona won the “Golden Shoe” ’78 as Europe’s leading goalscorer with 41 goals in league matches.
Nowadays the Green-Whites play in the Gerhard Hanappi Stadium in Huetteldorf which holds 17,500, but has already proved too small for top games forcing Rapid to play their Europa League matches in the Ernst Happel Stadium with a capacity of 50,000. But such is the enthusiasm surrounding Rapid in these days that there was no doubt that the Europa League was going to be sold out virtually within less than one week. It’s only a matter of time until the club’s all time attendance record which dates back to 1922/23 when an average 18,500 attended the home games as Rapid Vienna was a dominant side throughout the continent in the 1920s and ‘30s will be met.
Though Rapid Vienna is by far the most popular club in Austria other teams like Red Bull Salzburg are able to spend significantly more money as they are owned by billionaire Didi Mateschitz whereas Rapid claims that they are a membership association which doesn’t belong to anybody else. The lack of financial funds has been successfully compensated for the past years by supporting young and talented players. In the team which defeated Aston Villa in the Europa League play-off and Hamburger SV on Matchday 1 of the group stage at least four players were brought up through the Rapid youth system.
Rapid’s manager Peter Pacult who is going to celebrate his 50th birthday on October 28th played for Rapid Vienna as a striker from 1984 to 1986, but had to win the supporters over at the beginning of his spell (three years ago) as he had also played for Rapid’s local rival Austria Vienna. Having won the league in 2008 and progressed to the group stage of the Europa League now there is no doubt that Pacult is the most successful manager of Rapid since Otto Baric and Ernst Dokupil who both reached a European Cup Winner’s Final in 1985 and 1996 respectively. Unfortunately Rapid lost both of them to Everton (1-3 in Rotterdam) and Paris St. Germain (o-1 in Brussels).
Having not been able to progress from the group stage of the Champions League in 2005 now the pronounced goal is to succeed this time in the Europa League Group C against HSV, Celtic FC and Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Among the players that shall make this achievement possible are Austria’s international goalkeeper Helge Payer, international defender Ragnvald Soma from Norway who played with West Ham United in the Premier League some years ago, midfielders Markus Heikkinen, an international from Finland and former Aberdeen player, and young Yasin Pehlivan who play the important roles in Rapid’s defensive midfield. Pehlivan along with midfielder Veli Kavlak and wingers Christopher Drazan and Christopher Trimmel are some of the hot young prospects of the most popular Austrian club.
Speaking about Rapid’s midfield we have to mention the important Branko Boskovic from Macedonia Montenegro and above all the player the fans call “football god”, German skipper Steffen Hofmann, the heart of Rapid Vienna. Hofmann is one of the “assist kings” in Europe and a prolific scorer from free kicks!
Striker Nikica Jelavic from Croatia scored two goals against Aston Villa and grabbed the important second goal against HSV two weeks ago. He and new arrival Hamdi Salihi (the “Gerd Muller of Albania”) have made the supporters almost forget that the club have sold two strikers this summer who scored 50 league goals between them last season. Erwin “Jimmy” Hoffer has joined Napoli and Stefan Maierhofer left for Premier League club Wolves.
As to former players just let’s mention famous player and manager Ernst Happel, goalkeepers Walter Zeman and Michael Konsel, Gerhard Hanappi who later constructed Rapids “Gerhard Hanappi Stadion”, strikers Pepi Uridil, “Bimbo” Binder and Hans Krankl, and defender Peter Schoettel, who made 436 appearances for Rapid between 1986-2002.
Last but not least I think I have to meet my reader’s interest in the controversial episode in 1984 when Rapid Vienna and Celtic FC met in a European Cup Winner’s cup-tie. If George Orwell had imagined what was going to happen in Celtic Park and in Manchester’s Old Trafford in the aforementioned year he might have spared a chapter in his book “1984” where a “Ministery Of Truth” is re-writing historical records to match the Party’s official version of the past. Up to now there are two versions of what has happened in an ugly and viciously fought 2nd leg game between Celtic FC and Rapid Vienna which Celtic won 3-0 after 121 minutes (without extra-time!). An UEFA appeal committee ruled that the tie had to be replayed due to objects thrown from the terracing in Glasgow of which one had hit and injured a Rapid player. The UEFA verdict also said two bottles had been thrown onto the pitch but that the player had been hit and injured by another missile. Celtic fans and former players still claim that they were cheated. I think that we should bygones let be bygones and be glad that in our world – unlike in Orwells “1984” – there is not only “one truth”.
As many Rapid supporters have sympathies for foreign clubs wearing the same green and white colours we were a bit surprised about the hostility in some recent comments. I can understand the feelings of our Scottish fellow supporters but November 7th, 1984 and what happened afterwards now is a part of history. 25 years later every supporter of “Green and White” hopes for two unforgettable evenings of supporting, hoping, shouting and singing – showing the world where football and its fans are at its best. And why not have some pints of beer together on match days? By the way, half a pint is called “Kruegel” in Vienna.
Wolfgang Berger (in cooperation with Alfred and Simon Charamza)
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