Club Focus – First Vienna

Situated in the north-eastern part of Austria, the capital Vienna or ‘Wien’ lies on the banks of the majestic Danube river.  The city is surrounded by the natural beauty of woods, the so-called ‘Wiener Wald‘ and it is a city with numerous green expanses and parks.

Once the centrepiece of the Habsburg court the city still retains all the best fittings of an imperial capital. It was also the de-facto capital of the Holy Roman Empire between 1483–1806 and noted as a cultural centre for arts and science, music and fine cuisine. Vienna is well known for having played an essential role as a leading European music centre from the great age of Viennese Classicism through to the early part of the 20th century.

Great classical music names such as Schubert and Beethoven lie alongside Austrian politicians and the great Austrian football legend Matthias Sindelar in the huge expansive Zentralfriedhof burial grounds.

To this day the historic centre of Vienna remains rich in glorious architectural delights.  This includes Baroque castles, palaces and imperial gardens.  But there are football masterpieces as well such as the noted home of First Vienna FC – the Hohe Warte Stadion.

It is only fitting in a city noted for its fine architecture and gardens that the majestic green expanse of the Hohe Warte Stadium, the home of Vienna’s first club First Vienna FC, should remain as a football venue. Located on the Hohe Warte hill in Heiligenstadt, a northern suburb in the 19th Viennese district of Döbling, the club has long since played in the shadows of Vienna’s big name football sides – Rapid Vienna and Austria Vienna.

Opened in 1921 the Hohe Warte was once considered one of the biggest football venues in continental Europe and played host to the Austrian national football side during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Huge crowds of up to 85,000 people would gather as the Austrian side under Hugo Meisl grew to become noted as Europe’s best footballing side – the so-called ‘Austrian Wunderteam’.

Only the opening of the landmark Wiener Stadion (once known as the Prater Stadium and now the Ernst Happel Stadium) in central Vienna meant that the Hohe Warte lost its status as Austria’s leading sports stadium.  The Prater was the brainchild of the Austrian Republic and the ruling social democrat political coalition.  Red Vienna was the nickname of the capital between 1918 and 1934 under the social democrats just before the Austrian political pendulum swung right towards Austro-fascism and the Anschluss with Germany. Social accessibility was a key feature of the regime and the location of the stadium offered a landmark centre point for sport and leisure participation.   One of the first ever events held at the Prater was the Workers Olympiad.

First Vienna FC – 1894

First Vienna Football Club are the oldest and most traditional football club in Austria.  These days it is common to see some fans of the club calling themselves the ‘First Vienna gardeners’.  This is due to the fact that the club was formed in 1894 by gardeners from a nearby Rothschild estate.  The ground was named after the nearby hilltop observatory which still peers over the grassy pitch behind the steep grass terrace embankment.

Recent years for First Vienna have been tough and the form of the club matches the downward slide of the grass terrace to the west of the stadium.  It is 1955 since the Vienna club won the last of its six Austrian league titles.  The club has experienced two UEFA Cup appearances in the late 1980’s and two legends, Hans Krankl and Mario Kempes, have worn the shirt and scored goals for the club. First even reached the final of the Austrian Cup in 1997 but crowds have dwindled and new powerhouses in the Austrian game have emerged to bolster the already powerful influence of Rapid Vienna and Austria Vienna.

With clubs in both Salzburg and in Graz making an impact both domestically and in UEFA competition the glorious periods of the past for First have become a distant memory.

Once weed-strewn and lacking in a firm focus and direction the club celebrated its 120th year of its existence in 2014 and this anniversary was the catalyst for some new hope and direction for the club.  The club started to create a new basis for a successful sporting future of the oldest club in Austria and the team currently plays in the third level of Austrian football the Regional League East with promotion to the second tier just one step away.

Around the Viennese district of Döbling, a new breed of First Vienna fan has emerged.  Small in number but diverse in make up the Friday night league fixtures of the team are well publicised and games are attended by a wide selection of fans.  The fans position themselves as tolerant, openly co-operative and non-discriminatory fans and are known for a varied and positive support.   Against Wiener Sportklub First Vienna contest the so-called ‘Derby of Love’.

First Vienna has a highly creative fan culture based wholly on team backing and shared club involvement.  The nature of the support is in complete contrast to the often fiercely embittered political rivalry that splits the green and viola colours of Rapid and Austria Vienna.

As we approach spring 2016 First Vienna sits on top of the Regionaliga Ost and a successful promotion will secure a place in the Austrian First League just one below the top tier.

See the set from First Vienna here