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Friday 15th April 2022 ko 18:30

Austria Erste-Liga

WACKER INNSBRUCK 1 (Ronivaldo 67p)

GRAZER AK 1 (Perchtold 26)

Att 2,211 at Neu Tivoli Stadion Tirol

Entry €19 (£16.14)

I do like a holiday where once we’ve returned home, I can describe what Robyn and I have done in two ways. Our groundhopping friends get a description of the football matches we watched, and those poor souls who don’t like football get a description of all the touristy places we visited. The trick is to work hard at both! On that basis a Friday night televised game in Innsbruck was a godsend for us, as much as I’m sure it wasn’t for the away fans who would have had a 5 hour drive from Graz to get there.

In fact it reminded me of a trip I’d made nearly ten years ago to the Jahnstadion the now former home to SSV Jahn Regensburg where a Friday night game produced a typically pugnacious response from the visitors that day- Sankt Pauli.

Robyn and I did make one tactical decision, to take the train from Reutte. For one thing there was significant fog in the mountains and the thought of driving and taking on the Fernpass where basically the road navigates round Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze with limited visibility didn’t appeal. It proved to be a good choice as the railway mirrored large sections of the road’s route and the traffic looked horrendous- choked with German drivers making for the Brenner Pass and the border with Italy.

As part of a running theme we crossed a border or two, firstly into Germany to change at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and the station is an excellent interchange with the Zugspitze Bahn- the little cogwheel train that runs to the top of Germany’s highest mountain. We then changed again at Mittenwald, and I do recommend the station cafe there, before moving back into Austria as the train headed south towards Innsbruck.

We could have so easily spent more time in the Tirolean capital. The original plan was to fly home from here, but we couldn’t get a suitable flight so ended up flying home from Munich instead. The regret is it meant we only spent around half a day in Innsbruck when there was clearly enough to see to warrant far more.

This Innsbruck club dates from 2002 when they were formed as Wacker Tirol as the spiritual continuation of FC Tirol Innsbruck who’d who in 2002 had managed to both win the Austrian Bundesliga for the 3rd year in a row, and go bankrupt! Incidentally that 3rd championship was under the managership of Joachim Löw who later managed Germany. The prefix “Wacker” roughly translates to valiant by the way.  

Both clubs have made use of the Neu-Tivoli, a stadium built further along the River Sill than its predecessor in 2002, and was temporarily expanded from 16,000 to 30,000 for Euro 2008. I must admit one of the attractions to coming here was the view of the home ultras with the snow-capped Alps behind. So much so in fact that I made a point of buying tickets where I could take the shot easily! Buying tickets though was a little odd. I didn’t expect the game to sell out but online ticket sales were enforcing social distancing- even to the extent that Robyn’s and I’s seats had a spare seat between us! Looking back I did wonder whether the idea was to make the place look a bit busier for the benefit of the TV cameras?

Needless to say since we were watching a professional game in the Austrian second tier all the annoyances of the modern game were manifest. No full-sized cameras were allowed so the compact camera was called into action. For the rest of our 10 days on honeymoon it sat in our suitcase, and while no end of pyro was used behind the goal, somehow a simple bottle of still water was considered contraband. I’ve long since learned to work around the rules, but it doesn’t make them any less arcane.

What we didn’t expect to walk into was Wacker Innsbruck’s looming bankruptcy. The club is seems owes money to just about everyone, including the Austrian health insurance fund (subsequently paid), the tax authorities, players’ wages, and the rent on the stadium. We didn’t know, but players had started to leave, the unpaid wages negating their contacts, and more were to follow after this game. The Austrian Bundesliga had denied the club a professional licence for next season, the club had appealed, but a few days after this game withdrew it recognising their position was hopeless. 

The game was easily the poorest of the four were saw on our honeymoon. Perhaps with all that was going on that was no surprise, and the level of the game was similar to League 2/ National League Premier in England- where all too often the players know enough to stifle the opposition but not enough to control the game. 

The fans kept themselves amused with Ultras displays; the Wacker fans banners implored the former directors of the club to return and take responsibility for the mess they’d (allegedly) left behind. The visitors showed absolutely no sympathy, their banner saying,

“If the Tirolean loses his club all that will be left will be the pig and the pitchfork,”

or to give it more meaning, “….. all that the Tirolean will have left is his pitiful life as a farmer!” 

Grazer took the lead through a well worked corner, Mario Perchtold reacting fastest to nod home. If there was one predictable element to the game it would be that Ronivaldo would score. The Brazilian’s name may sound like a portmanteau of two of his more illustrious countrymen, but the fact that he scored 21 goals this season speaks volumes. He’ll line up for fellow 2-Liga outfit Blau-Weiss Linz next season.

The season finished with other clubs in the division who would have lost out offering to help pay to allow Wacker to complete their fixtures. They managed it, Austria Lustenau won the league, but what will happen to Wacker?

They’re telling anyone who asks that they’re expecting a €3M investment and so the club will start next season one division down in the Regionaliga- in effect taking their second team’s place. Even then, that will depend on Wacker II winning a relegation play-off; that looks precarious at best. 

But they’ve been waiting a while for that money, and who knows what might happen if it isn’t forthcoming. Oblivion does look distinctly possible, and if bankruptcy isn’t avoided then the statues dictate that the club would have to restart in the 2-Klasse, the 9th tier.  

The Neu-Tivoli will be kept in use even of the worst happens.  WSG Tirol have played Bundesliga games here since promotion in 2019, due to their home back in Wattens not being up to top flight football. If Wacker or a phoenix club can’t play at the Neu Tivoli, where will they play? And all of this doesn’t take into account the women, the youth team who all still play under the Wacker banner. You read all the news reports, and one word crops up regularly – Chaos. 

With a train to catch we made a sharp exit at the final whistle. We dashed over to the bus to the station, waited a few minutes and ended up being the driver’s only patrons! We caught an earlier train, this time heading west rather than north, and ended up at Imst-Pitzal station. As planned we caught the last bus to Reutte though the Fernpass I’d rather nervously negotiated less than 48 hours earlier. This time there were little chocolate Easter Bunnies to eat courtesy of the friendly driver, it wasn’t a bad way to travel on reflection!

My thanks to Andreas Nothacker for his help with the translations from German.