The plot of one of the best known Austrian novels, Robert Musil’s “The Man Without Qualities” (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) is about a so-called “Parallel Campaign” (Parallelaktion) meant to celebrate the Austrian Emperor’s 70 years of reign in the same year 1918 in which the German Emperor would be ruler of his country for 30 years. In my case almost 100 years later another “parallel campaign” is taking place in Vienna and London, concerning football clubs Rapid Vienna and West Ham United – a “Parallelaktion” that most recently started with two goals, conceded by both clubs in the 94th minute of their respective games five weeks ago.
I live in Vienna and, of course wanting to watch football live more regularly than my travels to London allow, I also follow a team of my home town, SK Rapid Vienna, as most of you will know. Therefore any given weekend there is always a chance to overcome the disappointment of a West Ham defeat with a win of Rapid, and vice versa of course. But in recent weeks it’s like bewitched: there seem to be more parallelisms between the two clubs than ever, and unfortunately they have not been positive ones.
Well, from the very beginning until today there have been surprising similarites between these two clubs which I have followed for many, many years: at the end of the 19th century both of them were founded as “workers‘ clubs” (Thames Ironworks FC and First Vienna Workers FC). And at the beginning of the 2016-17 season both clubs started to play in a new home! But with the coincidences having increased within the last weeks, it looks as if this season is really going to be some kind of a “parallel campaign” for the two clubs I support.
The cruelty of the 94th minute
The latest parallel action started almost five weeks ago when West Ham played West Brom in the London Stadium and Rapid Vienna played Austria Vienna in the Vienna Stadium (aka Ernst Happel Stadium). Both clubs lead with a small margin of one goal until the beginning of injury time. Their fans were nervously awaiting the final whistle in a nail biting finish, but exactly in the 94th minute of the respective games of this very weekend late equalisers were scored: Gareth McAuley made it 2-2 in London, and an other defensive mistake in Vienna allowed Lukas Rotpuller to score the 1-1 for Austria Vienna, cruelly destroying Rapid’s hope of a win against their local rivals and a successful start into the spring campaign after the Austrian winter break.
The next weekend none of our clubs scored. West Ham was not able to kick a ball because they had already departed from the FA Cup with a heavy defeat in a match back in January we all want to forget. And Rapid Vienna was not able to hit the back of the net in their league game against Admira (0-0). A sad weekend with West Ham not able to play in the FA Cup anymore and Rapid again unable to win.
Well, one week later West Ham had to play Watford away achieving another draw (1-1). This time that would have been a result which I would have been happy with in Rapid’s away game in Carinthia against Wolfsberger AC. West Ham and Rapid had to trail a 0-1 in their respective games and really, both of them were able to equalise (through Andre Ayew and Mario Sonnleitner). But in the 80th minute the similarities unfortunately came to an end when Wolfsberg scored a late winner and the „Greens“ had to travel back to Vienna without any points, still rooted to a disappointing 5th place in the 10-clubs-Austrian Bundesliga.
Versus the leaders of the league
Next weekend saw West Ham and Rapid play the leader of the English Premier League as well as the leader of the Austrian Bundesliga at home. Rapid have a new manager in Damir Canadi since November who has made a lot of changes in the team’s system of playing, still waiting for his first win of 2017. But again on a cold Sunday afternoon in the Allianz Stadium we had to taste defeat, losing out 0-1 to Red Bull Salzburg.
And West Ham, as I had feared, didn’t do any better one day later, also being defeated on Monday evening in the London Stadium with a one-goal-margin by Chelsea with Manuel Lanzini scoring a late consolation in injury time (1-2).
Winless weeks to continue?
And the winless weeks still have not come to an end, neither in London nor in Vienna: last weekend saw West Ham lose to Bournemouth away on Saturday, and therefore I was almost sure that on the Sunday Rapid would be defeated in Graz by Sturm Graz. Again it was the same goal margin by which the clubs were seperated from their opponents, West Ham losing 2-3 and Rapid 1-2.
Now since this cruel 94th minute equalisers by mid February, West Ham and Rapid have been waiting for a win for five weeks now. The clubs have dropped back in the table to 6th and 11th respectively. Especially Rapid, still the record champions of Austria but their last title dating back to 2008, are very disappointed with this first season in their new Allianz Stadion aka Weststadion. And also West Ham should do better in their new home, aiming for eighth (as we were told by David Gold lately). Rapid are still hoping to qualify for Europe, though now this seems almost impossible via the league. Nevertheless Rapid is still playing in the Austrian cup, but their last win of this competition is ages away.
Will the “parallel campaign” continue next weekend, and to what end? West Ham will host Leicester in the London Stadium on Saturday 3 p.m. and Rapid are also playing at home at the same time against Mattersburg. Both opponents were already close to or in a relegation spot this season, but both of them have had a revival within the last weeks with new managers. And Mattersburg also has a new key player, veteran striker Stefan Maierhofer aka „The Major“ who played for Bayern, Rapid, Wolves, Bristol FC and Millwall in former years. He suffered a break of his cheek bone two weeks ago but has promised to come back against Rapid and play against his former club with a protective mask on his face. (Back in 2008 he also played with such a device and helped Rapid win their last Austrian Championship!)
Well, West Ham and Rapid cannot hide behind a mask next weekend. They have to come out and start some kind of revival themselves to make us happy again after five weeks without a win. „The natural state of the football fan is disappointment“, Nick Hornby says in his novel Fever Pitch, adding: „No matter what the score“. But if the score was in our favour on Saturday afternoon it would really help to improve our mood, that’s for sure!
Still a lot to play for
Robert Musil’s novel “Mann ohne Eigenschaften” has remained unfinished though it contains of more than 1000 pages, and also this season is far from being finished. There is still a lot to play for in the coming weeks. Relegation or winning the title are not up for dicussion, therefore playing well, scoring goals, making the supporters happy, climbing up the table, and ending the season on a positive note are what we are expecting from our clubs. This would really be a “parallel campaign” I’d like to see!
Then, later in the year, the transfer window in the summer must be used much better this time than it was last year. Another thing that went wrong with both our clubs last time! Well, and like every year there will be hope for the next campaign in London and in Vienna – to have a team with the quality and capability of playing the way we’d like to watch in our new grounds! Then the positive magic of a “parallel campaign” with two “teams of quality”, and not of “Männer ohne Eigenschaften”, will unfold again in autumn 2017 …