The Lost Champions of Austria

AustriaThrough its extremely tolerant regulatory approach to mergers and intrusive sponsor intervention, the very fabric of Austrian football has altered dramatically over the past century. This change is duly reflected in its roll call of Lost Champions: there’s no fewer than ten now-extinct former national champions who account for 23 national titles between them. And uncommon to this series, Austria has lost as many post WW2 champions as pre-war, including the clubs that dominated their League as recently as the 1970s.

Lost ChampionsWe’ll start in the capital. The well-established Wiener AC (or WAC) club was ripped apart in 1910 when most of its first-team squad walked out to form the very similarly named Wiener AF (or WAF). The new WAF club won the race to win a first Austrian title in 1914, though WAC wasn’t far behind and succeeded them as champions the following year.

WAF’s decline was much the sharper of the pair. Dropping out of the top-flight in 1924 never to return, the club limped on as amateurs through multiple name changes and mergers until as recently as 2004 before disappearing seemingly for good. Six years later a new club named WAF Brigittenau started up and continues in the local Leagues. WAC showed more staying power and although never again genuine championship contenders, the club did finish as 1931 Mitropa Cup runners-up and later won a surprise Austrian Cup in 1959.

Austria

Things became more complicated when WAC became the junior member of a merger with mighty FK Austria Wien in 1973. For the next three seasons the merged club was known as FK Austria WAC Wien before reverting back to FK Austria. A decade after disappearing in that abortive merger, Wiener AC reactivated a football section but to date it hasn’t been involved in any competition.

Hakoah Wien
Hakoah Wien

Between the wars another Vienna club of some standing was Hakoah. Formed in 1909 as a sporting body with a strong Jewish identity, Hakoah toured far and wide drawing considerable support from the Jewish diaspora in Europe and America. Their solitary championship success arrived in the 1924-25 season and the title was clinched in the final fixture thanks to a decisive goal by the goalkeeper, Alexander Fabian. Earlier in the game he had broken his arm and, back in the days before substitutions, he was switched to centre forward, a move which proved a wholly unintentional tactical masterstroke. Following the Anschluss that annexed Austria in 1938, Hakoah was banned outright by the German Federation. The club reformed after the war but ceased football activity in 1949.

Still in the capital our next port of call is SK Admira Wien who enjoyed huge success in the inter-war years, winning 7 titles between 1927 and 1939. The fragmented remnants of this famous old name now plays as FC Admira Wacker Mödling following a succession of three untidy mergers in 1971, 1997 and 2008. Their decline began with relegation in 1960 after a 40 year run in the top flight. Admira underwent several few name changes before briefly recovering some of their past lustre with an eighth League title win in 1966.

Their first merger in 1971 brought them together with another former champion, the 1947 winners SC Wacker Wien. Wacker had experienced stadium and financial problems throughout the 1960s and relegation in 1971 pushed them towards this union with Admira. The new club was known as FC Admira/Wacker Vienna and lasted until 1997 without winning any further titles.

Moving far west from Vienna we arrive in the Tyrol region and take up the complicated story of the four lost champion clubs centred around the city of Innsbruck. Wacker Innsbruck started life back in 1915 but took until 1964 before earning promotion to Austria’s A-League for the first time. Seven years later the club had won its first national title and that same year merged professional operations with SV Wattens, another top division Innsbruck club, to concentrate the region’s footballing power. So Wacker Innsbruck technically ceased to exist while they were Austria’s reigning national champions, although their name would later resurface independently at a very low-level in the late 1980s.

SSW Innsbruck
SSW Innsbruck

The new merged club was named SSW Innsbruck and went from strength to strength winning further Austrian titles in 1972, 1973, 1975 and 1977. SSW’s fall from grace was swift and in 1981 the club suffered relegation from the A-League. Five years later their licence was taken over by another new Innsbruck club and this latest one was named FC Swarovski Tirol.

Winning back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990 under legendary coach Ernst Happel still wasn’t enough to establish them in the longer term and waning sponsor interest led to Swarovski being dissolved in 1992. Next on the scene was FC Tirol Innsbruck who became the latest in a long line of clubs to take over the luckless licence in 1993. Another boom and bust story ensued: title wins in 2000, 2001 and 2002 followed by a messy bankruptcy shortly after that third title was secured.

Voest Linz 1974We end our Austrian tour in the north of the country with VOEST Linz, another club that was a force in the Austrian game during the 1970s. Heavily backed by the city’s major steel works, VOEST first gained promotion to the Austrian top flight in 1969 and went on to become national champions in 1974 before narrowly missing out on retaining their title the following year. Problems started in the late 1980s following relegation. By 1991 their sponsor had pulled its backing and the club limped on until 1997 playing under several different names. Brought down in the end by its financial woes, VOEST suffered the ignominy of being forced to merge – and effectively disappear- into local rivals LASK.

A new club named Blau-Weiß Linz was formed that same year and claims to be a continuation of VOEST.

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