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Appreciating “Football” and Getting Bottled (sort of)…

This article has been submitted by Alex Jackson.

Probably by this point you are sick and tired of hearing about this “Euro Cup” deal. Sadly, this is not your means of escape. I would like to think, however, that what I’m going to present is slightly different. At least that’s the intention 40 words in. We’ll see how it goes.
If you haven’t noticed, I haven’t really contributed a whole lot regarding “relevant” or “current” sports topics. I shared pictures of smokin’ hot women. I’ve discussed my experiences watching rowing and cross country skiing. I’ve even put together a crazy story about Lil’ Penny. But nothing “now.”

Not to be too much of a walking cliché for Christian Lander’s book/website, but I’m currently studying abroad right now in Vienna, Austria. As you know, this little city is playing a fairly large role in the Euro Cup. Not to sound too ignorant, but prior to last Saturday, I really couldn’t give a damn about this soccer tournament. I didn’t know who was playing. I didn’t know who was supposed to be good. I didn’t even understand what the big deal was. It was all a “ho hum” thing. I knew Manchester United was a good team; I have in the past watched Lady Bugs and the Big Green; and I had recently watched Green Street Hooligans, but this really wasn’t enough to “get me in the zone.”

But then last Saturday rolled around and there was something in the air. I rounded up some peeps and started to make the trek to Vienna’s Fan Zone. We quickly got side tracked and changed our minds.

Rather than going to the main Fan Zone, we settled for a smaller one, located close to Vienna’s Ernst Happel Stadium, in the shadow of the world famous Risenrad ferris wheel. Baby steps. The wheel, which has been featured in “The Third Man” and the James Bond film “The Living Daylights,” was adorned with a giant Adidas ad featuring Czech goalie Petr Cech. The smaller venue was nice; we were given free rain ponchos, thunder sticks and some crazy hand things. It was a nice experience, but there were bigger fish to fry.

I watched, on local Austrian TV, most of the games this week. I could try and make comments about ball control, explosiveness, and fancy footwork, but I have no idea what I’m talking about. This stuff is reasonably entertaining. Then Thursday rolled around. Croatia vs. Germany and then the host Austrians vs. Poland. The plan was to go out for dinner to celebrate a birthday and then wander over to the main Fan Zone. Nothing says shallow soccer fan quite like watching a game with 70,000 other people.

(Croatian fans celebrating on the Ubahn (subway))

Dinner was nice, lots of schnitzel. But we wanted to watch the main event. As we’re walking to the Fan Zone, we see an obviously ecstatic (and drunk?) Croatian fan standing in the middle of the street, apparently challenging people to a fight (my understanding of slurred Croatian is rusty at best, but two raised fists is fairly universal). As we walk past him, a group of Polish fans accept his invitation, at which point all hell breaks loose. Not only are 10 or so people exchanging blows, but empty beer cans, full cups of beer and bottles are being thrown. Everything is happening so fast and I’m right in the middle of it.

I’ve seen fights before, but never anything like that. Everything


A projectile bottle hits me squarely in the hip before smashing on the ground. Apparently smashing bottles is the cue for the police. Police officers, in semi riot gear, rush out of who-knows-where with batons drawn and throw the fighters to the ground, quelling the violence.

It escalated so quickly. It started with one fan “chirping.” In the blink of an eye, before anyone knew what was going on, there were 10 people brawling and anything that wasn’t securely attached to the ground was in the air before smashing when it returned to earth.

I can honestly see how, if the police aren’t “everywhere,” spontaneous riots can take place and quickly spiral out of control. Where else is it common to see brawls at 7:45 pm on a Thursday in June? Between supporters of teams that don’t face each other until next week? It’s all in the name of “passion” for your country and the sport.

While slightly rattled, we continued to the Fan Zone. A little football, 70,000 people and a nice cold beer sounds pretty good after being thwacked with a bottle. Sadly, the Fan Zone wasn’t meant to be on this night. Turns out, even 40 minutes before the game, capacity had already been reached. Police and ushers were playing the role of human barricades and turning everyone away. This led to creative ways for people to try and get inside, such as rushing the gates and hopping the fences. Needless to say, the police were less than impressed with these ideas.

While part of us wanted to experience the insanity, another, more rational part wanted to watch the game from the comfort of our home. We compromised and tried the smaller Fan Zone from Saturday. As we walked across the city, it felt as though we were living in some sort of partially militarized zone. Police were everywhere. The general feeling among the group was unease mixed with safety. What can go wrong with so many police around? Why are there so many police? What are they expecting?
We eventually made it to the Prater Fan Zone. Even it was at capacity, with police, already suited up in full riot gear, turning fans away. By this point, the first half of the Austria-Poland game was well underway. As we walked back home, we heard loud bangs. Gunshots? No. Several rounds of flares in a residential neighborhood. Someone must have scored.

With Poland holding a 1-0 lead late, I posed the question, how will the Polish “celebrate” in Vienna tonight. Violence? Maybe some instances of arson? Another member of the group chimes in, ‘The game isn’t over yet. Austria still has a chance. The bigger question is what happens if Poland ties, or even worse, loses?’

Within moments of this thought, Austria is awarded a penalty shot and converts. Tie game. Game over.
Living within a 10 minute walk of the stadium, this is huge. We immediately start to hear cars honking. The sound of police sirens. The roar of helicopters flying overhead. Flares being let off. The resonance of an ambulance. Much singing and chanting in languages that I do not understand. The entire city had erupted in an eerie mix of joy and anger.

While I still don’t understand the relative prestige of the Bundesliga, the relationship between hacking and diving or the tie-breaker rules, I’m beginning to appreciate the passion surrounding the “matches.” Hopefully in the future, as my appreciation grows, it will involve fewer projectiles. Hopefully.

I can’t wait to see what the city looks like the day after.

(The center of Vienna on Sunday morning)

This article has been submitted by Alex Jackson.

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3 Responses to “Appreciating “Football” and Getting Bottled (sort of)…”

  1. stu Says:

    Getting hit in the head with a bottle means you absorbed much more punishment than the toughest soccer player out there. Kudos.

  2. Mostafa Says:

    Except maybe the AC Milan keeper Dida who got smoked in the head by a flare.

    Sounds like an awesome experience, I really wish I was there to see it. Oh and the games. You were on the streets when the Turks came back to beat the Czechs? I’ll bet that was an unreal street party/brawl.

  3. AJ Says:

    Yea, I was right in the heart of the Turkey zone…it was insane. If I can figure out how to upload video to youtube, I would…but I’m a little incompetent in that regard.

    Friday’s match between Croatia and Turkey will be out of control. There are approximately 150,000 Turks in Vienna and close to 85,000 Croats…those are just numbers that live here…

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