A Day at the Derby

The top two soccer clubs in Vienna resume their annual rivalry

“What is that, a horse race?” a friend of mine inquired after I said I was attending the Viennese Derby on Apr. 26. With all the intense competition, neck-to-neck action, and vying for position, the soccer match between the city’s top two clubs might as well be a horse race, only without the steeds.

Stretching back to 1911, FK Austria Vienna and SK Rapid Vienna have faced-off at least once a year in a cross-town rivalry that has become one of the most heated in all of soccer. Two-hundred and eighty-eight games after the first meeting between the two, in which Rapid won 4-1, the clubs clashed in Hütteldorf’s Hanappi Stadion on Sunday afternoon in the final and most important derby of the season.

At stake was not only the positions in the standings and possible berths into European competitions, but also pride. Given the level field of play over its history, one can understand why each derby is a must-win for both clubs. Rapid, nicknamed the Grün-Weiß for their green and white jerseys, have claimed 119 wins compared to “The Violets’” 105.

On this particular Sunday as I left behind the Jugenstil elegance of the Hütteldorf U-bahn station, I entered a boisterous sea of green and white that led to and engulfed the stadium. Jerseys, scarves, hats and even the green of the Gösser beer cans helped to enforce the dominant presence of the home side. However, lines of black were also interspersed within the throng: the police.

As with every Viennese Derby, the concern for violence and clashes between the teams’ fans was prevalent, hence the over 500 officers in force. With the 2007 derby of scuffles with police and bench-throwing fans still fresh in my mind, the scene outside the stadium looked relatively calm. This was mainly due to the fact that not a single Austria supporters was in sight, all tucked around the corner in their own separate fan zone. After 288 games, I suppose one does figure out how to control these two sets of livid fans.

I entered the stadium. Even an hour before the opening whistle, the competition had already begun. To the right, the Austria fans decked out in purple and black yelling out chants behind a 35-meter-long banner of a Alcatraz-esque fortress that had been hung on a net stretching from the roof. To the left, the home fanatics answering the call with resounding chants and sometimes offensive banners of their own. This cacophanous ping-pong match grew in intensity when the players themselves were introduced for the pre-game warm-up. Massive banners were unfurled and waved above the two ends as horns blared from both stands like two loudspeakers facing each other.

“Wow, this is intense,” remarked an Austrian girl, who was attending her first ever soccer match. “Even though I don’t follow soccer, this is still fun.” From where we sat in the larger south section and opposite in the north stands, the ambiance was subdued but still fervent.

The squads were introduced with pomp and circumstance in the form of booming music, green and white balloons, and an announcer with a snazzy voice, who instructed the fans to raise large sheets of colored paper under our seats. The green, white, blue and red lines stretched around three sides of the stadium, save in the visitors end bedecked in a solid purple. Once the referee announced the start of the affair, the sheets of paper became crumpled paper and rained down on us and the field in front of us.

The players carried on undeterred in spite of the obstacles until five minutes in, when the visitors’ Milenko Acimovic went to deliver a corner kick. With a sea of rabid Rapid fans at his back, the Slovenian striker found himself the target of crumpled paper, causing a brief interruption and the appearance of a man with a yellow Ottakringer Beer parasol to shield him. A few minutes later it was teammate Emin Sulimani’s turn, as he ran to the other corner to send in a kick and was welcomed with a cupful of beer on the head.

The fairly even play swayed from side to side over the course of the first half hour, full of heated challenges, elbows, arm-grabbing, secret tugs on the jersey, and sliding tackles. One such cheeky altercation in front of the visitors’ side managed to go unseen by the referee, but Austria fans let the referee know that they had seen the foul with a collective outcry.

Their frustration was finally appeased when Ruben Okotie finally beamed the ball into the back of the net. Jubilation erupted in the east stands as fumes rose from the violet mass.

Yet, Rapid countered three minutes later courtesy of a Jimmy Hoffer back-heel, sending the other three-quarters of the stadium into a frenzy. The announcer yelled out his typical spiel. “Goal for Rapid! The new score: Rapid…”

The crowd replied: “1!”

The announcer continued, “Austria…”



“Bitte!” the crowd bellowed joyously.

The two squads tiredly took the 1-1 deadlock into the locker rooms at halftime as the derby festivities continued. Streamers erupted from the sidelines as the players returned to the pitch after the break. Security scrambled in the east end to extinguish a fire from a flare, sending a pillow of smoke billowing across the pitch as the players resumed the match.

A sloppy foul led to a Steffen Hoffman penalty kick that gave the hosts the advantage in the 53rd minute. They stretched it to two ten minutes later thanks to a Jürgen Patocka strike.

The west end fans removed their shirts and jumped up and down, an undulating horde of bare chests with bobbing green, black and white shirts thrown in the air like popcorn. My neighbor laughed at the unique artistry of the scene.

The celebrations rushed to the other side of the stadium five minutes later when Okotie found the back of the net again, bringing more intensity into the entertaining game.

In the 75th minute the crowd began clapping fervently. The girl next to me cast a surprised look at the sudden rhythmic applause.

“It’s the Rapid Viertelstunde,” I explained. This tradition of constantly cheering in the final fifteen minutes of each game hails back to 1939, when Austrian teams competed in Nazi Germany’s Gauliga. In the final that year, Rapid ousted FSV Frankfurt with three comeback goals in the final ten minutes, in part thanks to the increased applause in the final quarter hour.

Such collective memories from the nearly hundred-year history of the club must simmer in the minds of the ardent supporters. For them, the club is much more than a team, but a family, a culture. During such moments like the Viertelstunde the ethos of the team and its supporters are united, making the audience feel as if it is actually playing the game itself.

They must have been there in spirit, as Rapid held off the Violets’ onslaught to preserve its 120th win by a score of 3-2.

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