Austrian football has a rich and memorable history. The game was introduced in 1890 by English gardeners working for the Rothschild banking family in Vienna. If those gardeners planted the seed by kicking their ball around in spare moments, the sport soon grew attractive to the Viennese. In 1894 the capital's first clubs were formed: First Vienna Football Club and the Cricketers.
The Austrian Football Association (Österreichischer Fussball-Bund or ÖFB) was founded in 1904, becoming a member of soccer's world governing body FIFA in 1905. The game received an even greater fillip in 1919 as the introduction of an eight-hour working day gave the population more leisure time.
After the two top national divisions turned professional in 1924, Austria was ready to put itself on the football map. In the period between 1930 and 1933, the legendary Wunderteam with centre-forward Matthias Sindelar and coach Hugo Meisl went 16 matches unbeaten. The Austrian game enjoyed another golden age between 1950 and 1954 when international stars such as Ernst Ocwirk, Gerhard Hanappi and Ernst Happel made their name.
Austria have qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals seven times, with their best performances coming during those halcyon days. They finished fourth in Italy in 1934 and then third in 1954 in Switzerland. The nation's amateurs also took silver at the Berlin Olympics of 1936 and were European champions in Spain in 1967.
There was a pioneering Austrian presence on the international club scene too. The first foreign transfer took place in 1905 when goalkeeper Karl Pekarna moved from Vienna to Scottish side Rangers FC. Records show that by 1938 some 62 Austrian professionals were playing in France alone. Players such as Heini Hiltl, Gustl Jordan and Rudi Hiden obtained French citizenship and went on to represent France. Ernst Happel, who also played in France, was part of the FIFA World XI that drew against England in 1953.
Happel later enjoyed a glittering coaching career, landing 17 international and national titles, including the European Champion Clubs' Cup and European/South American Cup with Feyenoord in 1970, and the Champions' Cup with Hamburger SV in 1983. On the global stage, Happel led the Netherlands to the World Cup final at Argentina 1978. The country's national stadium in Vienna, venue for the UEFA EURO 2008 final, is named in his honour.
Hans Krankl was another Austrian footballing hero of the 1970s. A lethal striker, Krankl cemented his reputation by helping FC Barcelona lift the 1978/79 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. The previous year Krankl had claimed the Golden Shoe awarded to Europe's top scorer with a 41-goal haul for SK Rapid Wien. His international team-mate, former midfielder Herbert Prohaska, was voted the country's Footballer of the Century.
By the 1990s Toni Polster and Andreas Herzog were famous exports, serving with distinction in the German Bundesliga. Polster not only emulated Krankl by collecting the Golden Shoe; his 44 goals for Austria remains a national-team record. Herzog has made the most appearances with 103 caps.
Austria have also shone in youth football. Their juniors debuted in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Egypt in 1997, the same year the Under-16s were runners-up at their UEFA European Championship. Player development had been boosted two decades before with the introduction of Federal Performance Centres across the country. A nationwide youth championship was also instituted, and since 1989 this has been sponsored under the banner Toto Youth League. Austria's fourth-place finish at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada indicates they are on the right track.
Together with neighbours Switzerland, Austria successfully hosted the UEFA EURO 2008 finals, an important milestone in the history of the ÖFB. It was the nation's first appearance at a senior UEFA European Championship.
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