"Tintin's coming on" - Red Bull Salzburg 2 Liebherr GAK 1
The football season in Austria re-started on Saturday after their winter break, and we were there, for the game between Red Bull Salzburg and Liebherr GAK. Claire and I made our way to the "Bullenareana" for the match, after getting some tickets reserved thanks to a very helpful guy, Thomas, at the Red Bulls website.
We only just got there in time for kick-off though. The number 1 electric stadtbus goes to the EM-Stadion every twenty minutes, but the one we caught got stuck by the Mönchsberg lift. Someone had parked badly on the corner, and the bendy bus couldn't squeeze by. Yes, Mr Opel Zafira, Salzburg registration number S747LM, I'm looking at you. We were stuck on the corner for around 15 minutes, and eventually the police had to turn up to guide the bus. We were literally on the verge of sacking the game and going down to The Shamrock to watch the Ireland-England Six Nations game instead.
Eventually, though, we got back on our way, and got off the bus at the ground just about 15 minutes before kick-off. We picked up our tickets easily and made our way into the ground. It currently has a capacity of around 18,000, but they are in the process of putting a new tier on which will raise the capacity to 30,000 in time for hosting Euro2008 next year.
We had fantastic seats, nine rows from the artificial turf, in line with the six yard box at the home end. All for €19 each, which compares favourably with the 40+ pounds I paid per ticket to watch West Ham versus Fulham earlier this year.
The game got off to a cracking start, with relegation threatened Liebherr GAK taking the lead after 91 seconds. Red Bulls won out though, with two quick goals early on in the second half. Despite the second Salzburg goal being a cracking volley on the turn, the overall standard of the football wasn't great, even though Red Bull have invested heavily in the team and have veteran Italian coach Trappatoni running things.
The south stand was where the action was for the home fans. They have a standing area, and two guys on a podium with their backs to the game and loud-hailers leading the chanting, clapping and bouncing. They also had a camera crew inside the crowd, so when the ball was out of play the big screen in the ground featured close-ups of the fans bouncing and shouting.
By contrast in one corner of the ground were the very enthusiastic Liebherr GAK fans, with their flags, scarves and flares - all 70 of them. One thing I find odd when watching league football in Europe, whether in Spain or Italy or now Austria, is how few away fans travel to games. To be honest, I reckon Leyton Orient would take more away fans to a pre-season friendly with Red Bull Salzburg than Liebherr GAK managed for their first league game since before Christmas.
We didn't know much about the players - I think our most observant comment was "Look, Tintin's coming on" as one be-quiffed substitute started stripping out of their tracksuit
I hope to be watching a couple of matches in Euro2008 at the same stadium next year, and my experience of major tournaments suggest a couple of things will be worse when I get there for that. The whole stadium is branded Red Bull (in a move that was controversial when the company bought the team a couple of years back) which means the back walls have urban graffiti branding all over them. I'm sure that will be replaced by logos for MasterCard and McDonalds and all the other corporate sponsors of next years tournament.
They sell a lot of Red Bull itself in the arena, natch, but also Stiegl beer. When you buy your beer you also pay a €1 deposit for the plastic 0.5l glass, but at €2.80 a pint it was cheaper than some bars in town. They also have people walking down the ailses selling goods, including beer, Red Bull, pretzels and Orangepunsch. They even have people going through the ground simply with the purpose of collecting the empty plastic pint-glasses, and refunding the €1 deposit. It was so efficient, that I'm sure the global Euro2008 beer sponorship deal will spoil it next time I (hopefully) visit the ground.
After the match we went to get on a bus - and picked a "1/2" route bus going back to Salzburg Hauptbahnhof. I tried to pay, but the driver waved me dismissively away. As it turned out the bus then filled up with young Austrian pre-teen hoodies making a scene, and we saw a number 1 electric bus behind us, so we bundled off and caught that. Again I tried to pay and was openly mocked and laughed at. I mean, when you come from London, and the government there is insisting on charging VAT on the construction of the 2012 Olympic venues, why would you expect a privatised transport company to be offering free transport away from a sports event?