- Official language: German
For Barcelona, read the Austrian Wunderteam of the early 1930s, and for tiki-taka, read Scheiberlspiel.
The Scheiberl game is key to the language of football in Austria. The word itself has no direct translation, although Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger suggests “ballet” or “grace” as the most likely substitutes. It was the name given to Austria’s passing game in the early 1930s, renowned for its elegance and lightness of touch.
It’s a chapter of football history that’s well worth exploring. Mathias Sindelar – Der Papierene (‘the Paper-man’ or, more idiomatically, ‘the Wafer’) – was the conductor of a team that decorated the game in the inter-war years. Sindelar moved football thinking forwards and thumbed his nose at Hitler along the way.
Sadly, it’s also one of those tantalising cases of what might have been. After disappointing as favourites at the 1934 World Cup, the Austrian national team was absorbed into the German Mannschaft under Anschluss in 1938, and Sindelar died in mysterious circumstances the following year.
Miracles and shame in Argentina
The other key phrase in Austrian football is Das Wunder von Córdoba (the miracle of Córdoba), or if you’re from Germany, Die Schmach von Córdoba (the disgrace of Córdoba).
At the World Cup in Argentina in 1978, unfancied Austria beat Germany 3-2. It was their first competitive victory against their neighbours in over 30 years and in that time, Austrian football hadn’t had an awful lot to shout about.
So even though it amounted to little in terms of the tournament – both teams crashed out of the group stage – it was, and is, thoroughly celebrated. In Vienna there even is a square – Cordobaplatz – named after the game.
The Austrian commentary for Hans Krankl’s winning goal is legendary, with Edi Finger yelling I werd narrisch (Austrian German for “I’m going crazy”). An excitable Finger also announced that would abandon any sense of German correctness and speak exclusively in his native Austrian dialect from then on.
- Gurkerl (small cucumber): a nutmeg
- Eiergoalie (an eggs goalie): a bad goalkeeper
- Arme Würstel (poor sausages): a bad team
- Banane: a curling shot
The ball can variously be called a Fetzenlaberl (ball of leftover fabric), Haut (skin) or finally a Wuchtel (if any Austrians can explain this one, leave us a comment at the bottom of the page).
Songs they sing
Along with the national anthem, a song made popular after 1978 was Immer wieder, Immer wieder, Immer wieder Österreich (Austria, again and again, again and again).
As you’ll have gathered, the Germans are Austria’ big rivals. And while the Disgrace of Cordoba still stings, it’s a rivalry felt more keenly on the Austrian side of things.
The Germans are known as piefke, a nickname or unclear origin which speaks to a supposed reputation for superiority. Some Austrians use the playful term Piefkinesisch (Pief-Chinese) to refer to German spoken in a distinctly German (as opposed to Austrian) accent.
Austrian German has a reputation for being less direct than German from Germany, while in speaking the vowels are elongated, with rolling sounds exaggerated. Listen again to Edi Finger’s commentary of the 3-2 against Germany to hear all this in full effect.
Who speaks what
Dialects in Austria used to be very much divided on geographic and social lines. As a mountainous country with a whole load of provinces, even individual valleys developed their own accents. In terms of class, in the capital Vienna there were distinct dialects of the working class suburbs and the upper class areas.
Historically the Österreichische Fußballnationalmannschaft was all about the Viennese dialects, as the capital dominated football in the country. Today, though, mass media is doing its gradual steamrolling job of levelling out dialectic differences.
Solid defender that he is, David Alaba stands firm and still employs Wiener Schmäh – a Viennese way of talking, full of slang, innuendo and black humour. The word Schmäh itself is slang for a saying, swindle or joke, although clearly no-one told Austrian politician Günther Platter, who asked Alaba if he’d be more comfortable chatting to him in English.
Top tip: to find out if someone knows their Austrian football, listen to how they talk about Rapid Vienna.
If they talk about Rapid without the article, you’re onto a part-timer. Those who really care will refer to them as Die Rapid. It’s a subtle difference, but one which separates the wheat from the chaff in Austrian football fandom.
With thanks to Hubert Herzog of Austrian Football, and Stefan Wally.