Mission Thirty-Two

Rapid Wien Wins the Bundesliga Title

As the referee blew the whistle, marking the end of a deciding game, thrilled fans of Rapid Wien climbed, half stumbling, over loosely set up barricades separating the faithful with their number one team and stormed the field. Some threw themselves on the pitch, embracing and reverently kissing the fresh grass of victory. Others eagerly rushed toward the team members who by now were huddled together, jumping with joy, forming a hard-won circle of green and white pride.

For a full 90 minutes, the stadium was put to the test for its durability, roaring with a hyper and animated crowd that cheered, chanted, jumped (“Wer nicht hupft der ist kein Wiener, hey, hey”, “He who is not jumping is not Viennese”), and stood (“Steht auf, wenn ihr Gruene seid”, “Rise up if you are a Green”) patiently anticipating the final blow of the whistle. After three tough seasons, Rapid Wien has reclaimed the title for this year’s Austrian National League, after a 3-0 victory over SCR Altach.

Mission 32 accomplished – an unparalleled record of razzle-dazzle on the soccer field.

“Wir sind Meister (We are the Champions),” shouted the team’s club service manager, Andy Markek, into the microphone. And while powerful speakers encompassing the stadium magnified his voice, throbbing with emotion, it remained barely audible amid the overpowering thunder pouring out of the exhilarated fans.

Rapid Wien has claimed the national title for the Austrian T-Mobile National League just one round short of the official season’s ending and has thus earned a well-deserved spot in the next season’s Champion’s League qualifying competition.

Even before the ball first rolled to a start, a feeling of unstoppable confidence flowed from faces on Rapid’s starting lineup, heightened by a staggering, unexpected 7-0 victory in Salzburg in late March. During the warm-up exercises, Helge Payer, Rapid’s goalie, fended off several power shots from his trainer, as if he were swatting flies. The remaining players sprinted to and fro the length of the field practicing coordinated, short passes, all the while responding to persistent shouts from the fans reaching out to their heroes.

A mere seven minutes into the game, Rapid quickly dominated and the crowd went ballistic as Branko Boskovic, with an assist from Uemit Korkmaz, scored his 7th goal of the season and the first in this all-deciding match. A collective sigh of relief swept through the 17.500 fans that filled St. Hanappi stadium. There was no stopping Rapid, as one goal, by forward Stefan Maierhofer (10.) was followed minutes later by another by midfielder “Jimmy” Hoffer (31.). The crowd roared.

Then there was a lull, and no shots crossed the goal line in the second half. In the infamous West stands, where the “Rapid Tornados” and “Ultras Rapid” reside, the extremist fans by now had removed their shirts and were bouncing their way through choreographed cheer-leading routines, which ricocheted to the remaining East, South and North bleachers. Vocal chords were strained to the max, beers sloshed, and clothes were ruined.

“But nothing matters today, except that Rapid win back the title,” screamed Johannes Kozlik, an enthralled and faithful fan as he fell back onto his season seat.

At the strike of the whistle at the end of the match, fans rushed onto the field breaking every before-game warning to stay put in their seats. Massive trucks pull out onto the pitch and set up the stage for the championship ceremony. Within minutes, the entire stadium had flooded the green and Rapid was forced to retreat into the security zone.

In what seemed like no time, each team member was called onto the stage individually and kicked a soccer ball into the crowd, a gift to loyal admirers.

Out of the depth of the scurry and scrum, the golden championship trophy caught a ray of sunlight as it made its way onto the stage, and reflected it back in all its magnificence. Now it was official: Sport Club Rapid was announced the champion of the Austrian Bundesliga for the 32nd time.

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