Dad was sectioned for a few days after repeatedly going into Next, walking straight up to the till and asking for the manager. He did it six times before he was apprehended. As such, I decided to take myself off to Vienna for pre-Christmas trip.
One of my favourite things about watching football abroad is not being able to understand the inane babble of football fans. No club’s fans are special; they’re all the same. The same songs, the same hopes, the same venomous hatred to woefully insignificant aspects of the game. So it’s always nice to hear the no doubt familiar words in a romance language such as German.
I was more relaxed than anything ahead of this Europa League group game, then. Central Cafe was my choice for afternoon coffee. The architecture was great, the coffee not so much. Continental Europe has offered up so much good, but how can it be taken seriously when their coffee is so poor? Was Brexit really a surprise given these circumstances?
The Allianz Stadion, in its first season of use, is easy to reach from the city centre. It sits at the end of the U4 line at Hütteldorf station. Before setting out, I asked a local if my scarf would be an issue. Due to the sub-zero temperatures, it was was a must, but the only one I had with me was red and blue, emblazoned with Western Bulldogs insignias. They’re an Aussie rules team. You probably don’t know them, it’s not really a mainstream sport. I was assured that red and blue would be fine; they were Rapid’s old colours before green and white were adopted.
I was a retro fan. I closed my eyes and licked my lips as a blissful shudder swept through me.
Needless to say, the moment my feet came to rest outside the stadium, a musclebound Austrian man in Timerland boots tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what scarf I had on. He and his friends were looking for Bilbao fans to smack up a bit. I explained it was a Western Bulldogs number, and that he probably didn’t know who they were. Aussie rules. He said he believed me, that I was safe, and that his favourite Australian team was Western Sydney because they have the most violent fans. Not even the same sport. Pathetic. But I just smiled and said oh, right – yeah.
Anyway, he soon continued on in his quest to fight someone wearing a different colour to him.
As shocking as it may sound, the temperature was so low that I had no interest in sourcing the finest possible food and beverages in the vicinity. I merely wanted to survive with my toes and fingers in tact. Perhaps my vintage khaki parka with a faux fur lined hood wasn’t insulated with goose down after all?
Sitting in the East Stand, the view was entirely unhindered, as is the way with these modern identikit bowls. There were some redeeming features, however. The floodlight pylon from the old Gerhard Hanappi stadium incorporated into the new design, the vibrant green cladding, and the tubular pavilion running the length of the west stand. The dimensions are familiar from dozens of English stadiums; the atmosphere, not so much.
This particular game was a dead rubber, so both sides put out weakened teams, but the atmosphere was still fantastic. Before kick off an all dominating tifo was unfurled in the south stand. At various points throughout the game, this gave way to choreographed displays with coloured t-shirts, and a message on a banner for the Bilbao fans which was very warmly received. The singing and chanting was relentless.
There is great talk about reforming the English game, has been for decades. But let’s not miss the opportunity to revitalise our fan culture, too. Surely it’s imperative to capture this essence of football being something to build communities around, to make it something to be enjoyed. Remember joy? We love our petty, imagined rivalries along imagined boundaries, we love the passion, the massive banter, but how often do you actually enjoy going? When did it become quite this serious every – single – game?
Having said that, the first half here was abysmal.
The second half livened up a bit. Rapid took the lead with a scrambled goal. It was nice to warm my bones in the familiar warmth of grey haired men with grandchildren raising both middle fingers to the Bilbao fans in time with Seven Nation Army.
Bilbao soon equalised, though. As the blood retreated from my extremities and my face carried all the sensation of an ageing, botox riddled Hollywood star, I only wanted it to be over.
Dad messaged me in the latter stages. He’d been released from the facility and had gotten hold of five kilos of pork. He was firing up the BBQ. I informed him of my whereabouts. What, he replied, no BRITISH teams you could watch tonight?
Mercifully, both sides kept it reasonably entertaining until the final whistle. 1-1.
My toes wriggled back into use after fifteen minutes on the subway.