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Austria sustain love affair with beautiful game

Austrian football has a rich and memorable history, with the game being introduced in 1890 by English gardeners working for the Rothschild banking family in Vienna.

Austria sustain love affair with beautiful game
Austria sustain love affair with beautiful game ©Popperfoto/Getty Images

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 in Argentina in 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 indicated they were 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.

Eight years later, the investments in youth football finally paid off. Led by new star David Alaba, Austria booked a ticket to EURO 2016 with an impressive qualifying record of nine wins and a draw. However, Marcel Koller's team was unable to repeat this impressive performance at the tournament in France.

A year later, Austria impressed immensely. The women's national team reached the semi-finals at Women's EURO 2017 in the Netherlands, before finally going out against Denmark in a penalty shootout. This unexpected success unleashed a massive wave of enthusiasm which has led Austrian women's football into a new era. 


Leo Windtner

Leo Windtner
Leo Windtner©UEFA.com

Nationality: Austrian
Date of birth: 30 August 1950
Association president since: 2009

• Leo Windtner studied international business at the Vienna University for World Trade, and from 1994 worked as the chairman of the board and general director of a major firm in Upper Austria, specialising in energy, water and waste disposal.

• Once mayor of St Florian, Windtner served as president of his local football association in Upper Austria from 1996, and replaced Friedrich Stickler as the president of the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) in February 2009.

• He said of his ÖFB duties: "I have a heart for football and firmly believe that I can get things moving." Windtner was re-elected for a third four-year term of office in June 2017. 


General secretary

Thomas Hollerer

Thomas Hollerer
Thomas Hollerer©GEPA

Nationality: Austrian
Date of birth: 9 November 1974
Association general secretary since: August 2016 

• Thomas Hollerer, who studied law at Vienna University, took over as general secretary of the ÖFB in 2016. He is the successor of Alfred Ludwig, who retired after 30 years of distinguished service to the Austrian FA.

• Before 2016, Hollerer was head of the association's law department. He started working for the ÖFB in 2003.

• "We want to improve our performance in every sector. It's not going to be easy, but we have great potential", he said after he started his duties as general secretary.