Austria Wien – Rapid Wien: A fascinating derby between two polar opposites
20 May 2023
There is a big chance you have never watched the Austrian Bundesliga and have no clue how much the Austrians care about football. Neither do we. But there is one match which we always wanted to visit and that many of you may be aware of: The Wiener Derby, Austria Wien against Rapid Wien. And thus, we packed our bags and flew to Vienna, the heart of Europe.
Vienna. Perhaps it is not the first destination you think of when going on a football trip. It is a beautiful city, definitely. But with all respect, it does feel a little bit like a destination for seniors. It is a city of majestic palaces and classical music, of the young Empress Sissi, Beethoven and Mozart. Now we do enjoy some cultural activities here and there, but the ones in Vienna do not have much to do with football.
However, Vienna is not a bad destination for the football lover. There are tons of football clubs that were big powerhouses before the start of the Second World War. Austria Wien and Rapid Wien are the biggest Austrian clubs and have had a bitter rivalry for many years. After the Old Firm, it is Europe’s most-played derby. This Sunday, they are playing against each other for the 340th time. In some seasons they even play each other five times.
It sounds like a lot, but it still does not lose any of its magic. Every derby is a new battle which ought to be won. It is a fight you see in many other countries: Rapid is originally the people’s club, the working class heroes, whereas Austria has been the club of the middle class for many decades. Besides, the Austrian fans are tough to please because winning alone is not enough. They want to see beautiful football.
Football is surprisingly fierce in Austria. Perhaps it is because of the many international influences. Vienna is a cultural melting pot where the Balkans especially have left a considerable mark. Just look at the surnames of each football team. When Yugoslavia was in a war, many people fled to Vienna. Besides, Croatia’s capital Zagreb is only a four-hour drive away.
We could have chosen a better moment to go to Vienna. In The Netherlands, where we originate from, Feyenoord has just become champions in a sunny Rotterdam. In Vienna, on the other hand, it is pouring rain. The streets of the city, which has a population of almost two million, are empty. There are barely any tourists exploring the Hofburg or the Burgtheater. Football fans are also nowhere to be seen. If the Wiener Derby is such a big game, then they are doing very well keeping it a secret.
The enthusiasm to travel to Austria to watch football seems smaller than in other countries. No matter how many Austrians call themselves supporters of Austria or Rapid, they rather sit in front of their tv. Both football clubs do not even have a large stadium. The Generali Arena of Austria only has a capacity of 17,500, whereas the Allianz Stadion of Rapid is somewhat larger with a capacity of 28,000. This is nothing compared to the Ernst-Happel-Stadion of the national team in the Prater neighbourhood. In 1995, Ajax won the Champions League in this stadium, but in the past many Wiener derbies were battled out on this ground too. They would fill the 50,000-seater stadium, but the fans did not love playing there because of the running track that puts them quite far from the pitch. So both clubs prefer to fight it out in their own smaller stadiums.
And thus today, we travel to the southern neighbourhood of Favoriten, the home of Austria Wien. Although the football grounds are quite far from the city centre, you reach them in no time with the metro system. We can see the Generali Arena on our left from the abandoned metro station Altes Landgut, but a real derby atmosphere is still far to be found. Many men have brought their own beer, but the weather does not really allow them to drink outside. So off we go to the stadium, which looks quite cool from the distance. Imposing floodlights which bow into the stadium, different stands and on one of the corners there is a sort of Eiffel Tower-like construction, a large cell tower. However, from the outside, it lacks a bit of character, which they try to make up for with a large amount of graffiti around the stadium.
The stadium is, although modern, quite cosy due to its closed-off corners. The stadium is sold-out today, but there are still just as many people as there would be in an almost sold-out QPR’s Loftus Road. The eastern stand with Austria fans is fully packed and so is the away end of Rapid.
The time when Austria and Rapid were dominating Austrian football has long gone, so the derby has lost some of its importance. Both teams currently sit in fourth and fifth place in the Austrian Bundesliga and have been overtaken by the big money of Red Bull Salzburg, the club that has won the league title for nine years in a row. The last time Austria became champions was in 2013 and for Rapid, the club with the largest Austrian fanbase, you have to travel back to 2008. However, the rivalry between them has not become any less.
At 5 pm both teams enter the pitch. They both have beautiful kits as well, the recognisable purple of Austria (the club is also often called ‘Viola’) and the green-white stripes of Rapid. Although both shirts are full of sponsors. Austria wins this battle: A whopping 12 sponsor names on their kit.
Straight after kick-off, the atmosphere in the stands is fiery and enthusiastic. Both fanbases have prepared a spectacle, and more often than not fireworks are being lit. Despite the low-quality football, the match is surprisingly captivating in the pouring rain. There is a fierce atmosphere, but it never got violent or scary. Well, not for me, a Dutch journalist in the press box, at least. Rapid’s chairman (and club legend) Stefan Hofmann and player Christopher Dibon are also in the press box. The latter one is wearing a rather striking green Rapid beanie and has been noticed by the opposing fans, who are trying to egg them on with chants. Austria’s player Haris Tabakovic gives his team a two-nil lead, but just before the break, Rapid scores a goal to get back into the game.
The start of the second half had to be postponed due to the smoke which was created by the fireworks display of Austria's fans. Surprisingly, no one seems to care and not a single message is being given through the stadium’s speakers. It must be a part of the derby. But we did not mind, we could find our inner Gordon Ramsay and test the food. We have chosen a Käsekrainer, a typical Austrian sausage which you can buy in the so-called Würstelstande which you can find on every street corner in Vienna. It is nice. Full of mustard and ketchup. The significant number of calories have, although also damaged our body from the inside, filled our stomach for a good couple of hours.
In the second half that followed, Rapid was dominating the match, but in extra time Haris Tabakovic makes his third goal of the game to give Austria a 3-1 lead. The stadium erupts. Austria Wien is the Derbysieger. The fact that this is the third derby they have played against each other in two months does not seem to matter.
After the match, Austria's players take their time to celebrate with their fans. Captain Manfred Fischer climbs onto the eastern stand, grabs a megaphone and screams some German words to Austria’s diehards. Afterwards, the fans made their way to the Viola Sportsbar, a large supporters’ home under the stand where they order one pint after the other. Die Nummer Eins in Wien sind wir, sing the Austria fans loud and proud. Although for how long? Given the league system, they might have to battle it out again in three weeks. It would then be the 341st Wiener Derby. The atmosphere will probably have the same intensity, luckily so. It is a game that gives colour to Austrian football. There is a big chance we will be there again.