Stop Mad Cow disease: FCUM to play SV Austria Salzburg on February 4th
On Saturday 4th February FC United of Manchester will host fellow supporter owned football club SV Austria Salzburg in an international friendly match at Broadhurst Park. Below is a slightly longer version of a piece that I wrote for the FC United matchday programme that takes a look at the Austrian club’s history and some of the similarities between the two clubs.
In early October 2005, with FC United supporters still buzzing off the novelty of owning our own football club and looking forward to a North West Counties League Division Two clash with Daisy Hill at Gigg Lane, nearly eight hundred miles across Europe another group of football supporters were in the process of forming their own club following a takeover by an unsavoury businessman. The fans in question were those of Sportverein Austria Salzburg who on 7th October 2005 successfully registered the club’s original name and emblem with the Austrian football authorities.
Following the takeover of their club by the Red Bull energy drink brand earlier in 2005 it was apparent to a section of SV Austria Salzburg supporters that, as with a post-Glazer takeover Manchester United, following their beloved football club would no longer be the same. To Red B*** (supporters of SV Austria Salzburg refuse to acknowledge the energy drink brand referring to them as Red B*** instead) they represented merely another asset in their expanding sporting portfolio which already included a high profile presence in the big money world of Formula One motor racing. But to some of Austria Salzburg’s support, however, it represented the theft of the club’s soul as Red B*** immediately announced that they would be changing the club’s name to FC Red B*** Salzburg, altering the club’s badge to incorporate the winged Red B*** logo, changing the club’s colours from violet and white to red and white, swapping the fans’ popular end, the Curva Sud, the heart and soul of the club’s vocal support and threatening to ban anyone who had the temerity to protest about any of this.
The change in the club’s colours meant little to Red B***’s Austrian owner Dietrich Mateschitz who hit back at critics by remarking that “the Red B*** can’t be violet, or else we couldn’t call it Red B***”. Astonishingly Mateschitz even tried to erase the club’s proud seventy two year history by changing the club crest so that it appeared that the club was formed in 2005 rather than 1933 declaring that “this is a new club with no history”.
Despite all this some supporters welcomed the takeover and the promise of financial security for a club that was struggling both on and off the pitch. Surely a company that employed Franz Beckenbauer as its football advisor could only be good for the club? The original SV Austria Salzburg had, for most of their seventy two years, lived in the shadow of the more successful teams from Vienna and Graz and it wasn’t until the 1993-94 season that they won their first Austrian Bundesliga title and subsequently became the first Austrian team to enter the Champions League. Indeed, just as many Reds rate the Manchester United double winning side of 1994 as the finest football team that they’ve seen, so the mid-nineties also marked something of a golden age for SV Austria Salzburg as they won three league titles and also made it to the final of the UEFA Cup in 1994 where they lost narrowly over two legs to Inter Milan. By 2005, however, the club was back in the doldrums.
As the summer of 2005 unfolded a group of supporters known as the Initiative Violet-Weiss organised demonstrations and petitions in protest at the takeover and even entered into talks with the new owners but were ultimately unsuccessful in managing to preserve any of the club’s seventy two year old traditions. A derisory “final” offer from Red B*** included allowing the goalkeeper to wear violet socks! Some members of the Violet-Weiss were even refused access to a pre-season friendly with Hadjuk Split merely for wearing the club’s real colours of violet and white and when further protests took place at a league match with SV Mattersburg at the beginning of the 2005-06 season and opposition fans joined in by unfurling a banner that proclaimed “Stop Mad Cow Disease” it was quickly removed by security staff. Pillaging a football club’s traditions and history in favour of a tacky corporate logo? Oh, go on then. Pithy comments on banners voicing protest at this theft? Nah, sorry mate, you’ll have to take that down. As supporters of a club born from protest we know that feeling only too well.
So after five months of protests SV Austria Salzburg rose from the ashes in October 2005, resurrected by supporters who refused to support the rebranded club, and entered the seventh tier of Austrian football for the 2006-07 season. This latest addition to the supporter ownership movement didn’t pass unnoticed in Manchester where FC United’s programme for the match with Castleton Gabriels in December 2005 featured an article on the efforts of the Violet-Weiss to form their own club. Across Europe there were similar expressions of admiration. And thus a seven storey love song began, or perhaps in the birthplace of Mozart that should be a seven storey piano sonata, that saw them, like us, enjoy considerable success in their early years as four successive promotions saw them commence the 2010-11 season in the Regionalliga West at the third tier of Austrian football. Playing at a small stadium close to the city’s airport the Violetten were roared on each week by a noisy, passionate and colourful following of around 1,300.
A further promotion in 2015 took them to the second division of the Austrian Bundesliga and saw them re-enter the world of professional football, a place they felt they belonged. But faced with much larger playing costs simply to compete at this higher level and the need to upgrade their ground to meet the requirements of this league the financial challenges proved too much and they ended the season in substantial debt and relegated back to the Regionalliga West. They currently sit in 12th place in that division but like FC are nervously eyeing the bottom rather than the top of the table as they are only six points above the relegation zone.
The club may have financial problems but, like FC United, their supporters remain determined not to succumb to the commercialisation of the modern game and so launched a crowd funding campaign in the autumn of 2016 called “tradition hat zukunft” (“tradition has a future”) to raise funds for the club.
Last January FC Union Berlin invited Austria Salzburg for a friendly match, a 5pm kick off on a Saturday afternoon, that attracted ten thousand supporters. Recognising the financial plight of the Austrians the home side, in a wonderful display of solidarity, agreed to donate all proceeds from the match to their opponents.
A year on, FC United will also play host to the violet and whites in a friendly match on Saturday 4th February that will also kick-off at 5pm and will aim to raise funds for both clubs with all matchday revenue being shared. It’s clear already that the match has generated considerable interest amongst the Violetten (they’ve already sold more than two hundred tickets for the match) particularly as they are without football at this time of year with the “winter pause” in progress and no league match until mid-March. Speaking of the friendly David Rettenbacher, an SV Austria Salzburg supporter for nearly thirty years, said that a friendly between the two clubs “has been in our minds for a long time. We are really happy that this is happening. We feel honoured and are really looking forward to the game and a weekend characterised by real sportsmanship, authentic football and love for the game”. David added that he’s tried to make it to three FC United matches over the last ten years but each time the game has been postponed. “I hope this isn’t an omen” he joked.
Hopefully as many FC supporters as possible will get down to Broadhurst Park for what promises to be a cracking weekend, complete with a beer festival and another matchday Course You Can Malcolm event, and to show support not only for this club of ours but for another supporter owned club nearly a dozen years into their existence who have shown that fans can successfully build their own football club and bring some enjoyment back to the game. Another club, just like ours, that continues to swim against the tide of rampant commercialisation and is determined to eradicate the mad cow disease that afflicts the likes of the Glazers and Red B*** who view football as a gigantic cash cow to be milked for every last drop. Like FC they recognise too that football is about more than football and that it has a role to play in wider society in promoting social engagement and integration. Come let’s gather together on Saturday 4th February, Mancunian Reds and Salzburger Violet-Weiss, and show that a better football world is possible.