My West Ham Story

Good times for Austrian West Ham supporters: the season has not started yet, but in Austria we have already been able to watch four games of our beloved Hammers without having to travel the 900 miles or so to England. I am going to contribute to “West Ham Till I Die” with a monthly column from now on, reflecting an Austrian West Ham fan’s point of view, after having written a first blog post a year ago ( click here ).

Three pre-season friendlies were played in the Austrian provinces of Styria and Burgenland where West Ham held their training camp at Bad Tatzmannsdorf. And the Europa League qualifier against NK Domzale took place just 60 miles from the Austrian border in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana.

Hence the members of the supporters club “Austrian Irons” and quite a few other West Ham supporters from Austria were able to watch our heroes live at these matches last month. Now we are looking forward to travel to our first games in the London Stadium – though the start of the season on Monday is going to be celebrated in a Vienna pub called “The Tube Station”, run by Barry, an Essex born lifelong West Ham supporter.

I seized the opportunity to watch the Hammers in the neat, fairly new Stozice Stadium in Ljubljana against NK Domzale, combining the game with a business trip to the Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt in Southern Austria. The upper tier of the Klagenfurt Euro stadium was meant to be disassembled (like the London Olympic Stadium) after the Euro ’08, but (like the London Olympic Stadium) that decision was overturned, resulting in long lasting administrative procedures in which I have been involved over the past years, to make the 30,000 stadium permanent.

I linked up for the trip to Slovenia with guys from the “Austrian Irons” and an Austria based fan from Indonesia. And I really can prove that we were there – the “Austrian Irons” banner could be seen on TV every time a corner was taken from our end!

Unfortunately the Hammers played well only in the first half; from the second half hardly an attacking move from the Hammers can be reported. We saw a lot of action though, and it was Andy Carroll who got on all the headers in the box in front of the away end – albeit it was the West Ham box, and in the end we were on the losing end and had to overcome a 1-2 deficit in the second leg (which we convincingly did, as we all know!).

Now in the Europa League play-off West Ham was drawn again, like last season, against Romanian side Astra Giurgiu. I hope Astra Giurgiu will not be able to do the same feat that my home town club SK Rapid Vienna did against an other club in claret and blue in 2009 and 2010: Aston Villa was eliminated twice in two consecutive years by the green-whites, their fans bringing a banner with them stating: “Your nightmare returns”.

But in fact Rapid Vienna bears more resemblance to West Ham United than to Astra. Though I know that not all Austrian West Ham fans will be happy with that (because a lot of them will support a different club at home), having chosen the username “rapidhammer”, I have to tell you that there are a lot of similarities between the Hammers and the Greens from Vienna: Both of these clubs are very well know and respected for their passionate support. And both clubs have moved with the start of this season to their new grounds, and interestingly Rapid played its first game in their new “Allianz Stadium” against Chelsea FC, West Ham’s opponent on Monday. Let’s hope West Ham will achieve a similar result: Rapid beat Chelsea 2-0.

Also in their history the clubs from Vienna and London have a lot in common: Rapid Vienna was founded in 1898 as “1. Wiener Arbeiter Fussball-Club” (First Vienna Workers FC) while West Ham was founded as “Thames Ironworks FC”. The clubs initially played in colours which are different from today’s kits (Rapid’s original colours were red and blue – unfortunately not claret and blue). Both clubs have played in two European Cup Winners’ Cup Finals; West Ham won the Cup in 1965 and lost the final in 1976, SK Rapid played in the finals 1985 and 1996 and unfortunately lost out on both ocasions. West Ham and Rapid both lost their finals in Brussels in 1976 and 1996 respectively.

But that’s enough of Rapid Vienna for now, because I don’t want to risk what happened in a pub in Graz some years ago when West Ham also held a training camp in Austria. I joined fans from east London and Styria singing “Bubbles” there, but when I mentioned “Rapid” one of the other Austrian guys rose in front of me stating: “Rapid – we’ll kill you!" But I was lucky, a fan from London saved me, saying “But he’s West Ham”, and all ended up with another round of the fantastic Styrian beer.

I promise not to mention the club from Vienna in this column in the next time – bar if West Ham and Rapid are drawn into the same Europa League group, of course! But first West Ham has to overcome Astra and also make a good start into the new PL season against Chelsea on Monday. The Austrian Hammers are optimistic and looking very much forward to the start of the season. Especially the game which has been played in Kapfenberg against Karlsruher SC was a great opportunity to get in touch with the West Ham players, and that’s what many Austrian fans did. Of course not being able to have a season ticket at West Ham’s new ground, we are a little unsure if we will be able to get tickets for games this season as they are expected to sell out quickly. Having to book flights and accommodation not too late and being unsure if we are going to be allocated with tickets will cost a lot of nerves, I think. But anyway, having managed to get to a lot of West Ham games at the Boleyn in the past, we will come over to London E20 too in the future!

I will report back in September with an other column, having got on board some wins and points by then, and hopefully not having to write about the “return of a nightmare” when Astra have been back to London.

Come on you Irons!