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  • Writer's pictureSriram Chidambaram

RB Salzburg vs Austria Lustenau: My Red Bull Arena Experience

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

RB Salzburg is a very controversial football club. It became the first ‘Red Bull Club’, after SV Austria Salzburg was taken over by the Austrian energy drink company in 2005. The takeover changed the course of Austria Salzburg forever. The traditional purple and white club colors were changed to Red Bulls’s red and white, the logo was completely redesigned, and their stadium was renamed to Red Bull Arena. Owing to this rebranding, many fans felt their club had lost its identity and walked out on their club. On the pitch, however, the club’s fortunes changed for the better. In the 72 years of their existence as SV Austria Salzburg, the club won just three domestic titles, measly in comparison to the whopping 13 that they won in the 17 years since the takeover. In the past decade and a half, RB Salzburg have also become regulars in European competitions and often take down bigger opponents. Overall, I think RB Salzburg has a bittersweet story - they have put Salzburg and Austria on the football map but at the cost of their loyal fans. So, I decided to take a short trip to Salzburg (instead of watching Bayern Munich dismantle Bochum) and see what a matchday in Red Bull Arena was like.

Werner100359, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

When I visited, RB Salzburg hosted mid-table Austria Lustenau in what was both teams’ first league game back after the World Cup/Winter Break. Going into the game, Salzburg were six points clear at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga, while Lustenau were in 8th place (out of twelve total teams). I knew the tickets were not going to sell out, for a league game like this, so I decided to buy my tickets at the ticket office (so I could keep the physical ticket as a souvenir). Luckily, my judgement was right, and I was able to get the cheapest €20 ticket, minutes before kick-off. I was also able to add another scarf to my collection (it was a good quality one for €15, so I was pleased about that), before entering the stadium.

I sat in the Nord Stand, which seated the adult home supporters (including the ultras). The Ost Stand, to my left, was filled with little kids (family sector), while the West Stand, to my right, was occupied by the more sophisticated fans who rarely applauded or stood up. A group of a hundred or so Austria Lustenau supporters sat on the opposite side, in a small sector in the Sud stand.

There were very few fans above the age of 40 and the majority were young men and kids. Clearly, the older fans had a more personal connection to SV Austria Salzburg and were not interested in Red Bull’s team. However, I believe the domestic and European success made RB Salzburg very popular among the younger generation, who were in large attendance. Nevertheless, I was quite underwhelmed by the overall attendance (which was just over 5,000 in a 30,000-capacity stadium).

The first half was an extremely boring affair with none of the teams really coming close to scoring. Salzburg had a few half chances but could not put their shots on target. The keepers were not called into any real action apart from breaking up some through balls and collecting a few crosses.

The RB Salzburg ultras, who occupied the center of the Nord Stand, made some decent noise throughout the game but were not necessarily impressive. They were led by a capo who stood on a platform at the bottom of the stand, facing the fans (occasionally looking over his shoulder to watch the game). He would initiate a song by singing it into his mic (first time I have seen that), and his fellow ultras would quickly pick it up. After a few repetitions, the noise would die down, before the capo would shout into the mic and revitalize it. Unfortunately, each chant was repeated far too many times which prevented them from contributing to the energy in the stadium. It also felt disconnected from the events of the game because the capo who initiated them had his back towards the field.

Flags flying in the Nord stand, which is occupied by the Salzburg Ultras, during RB Salzburg's home fixture against Austria Lustenau.

Towards the end of the first half, I was afraid I would fall asleep. I am sure my travel fatigue was the main cause, but the drawn-out repetitive chants and lack of interesting on-field action contributed to it as well. It also did not help that I did not know any of the players from either team (I blame myself for not doing the necessary pre-game research).

As I went to the concourse at halftime, to explore the stadium a little bit, I ran into a father and son speaking Tamil. Just a few minutes ago, I was telling myself that I must be the only Indian in this stadium, so I was pleasantly surprised to see not just two Indians but two Tamilians. I immediately initiated a conversation, and asked them if I could sit with them during the second half. They not only agreed, but also bought me a pretzel (despite my vehement refusals). It turns out that the father is a big football fan, and he even went to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. They were in Salzburg because the son was applying to universities here (for music) and they decided to take the chance and go to the football.

The second half was very different, yet similar to the first. It was different because Lustenau conceded two quick-fire goals after the break and collapsed completely. Fernando, Salzburg’s Brazilian front man, scored both those goals, having been assisted by Maurits Kjaergaard and Amar Dedić, in the 48th and 52nd minute respectively. Meanwhile, it was still similar to the first half because it did not get any less boring. In the 73rd minute, 18-year-old Israeli midfielder Oscar Gloukh got subbed on for his Salzburg debut. He is supposed to be a very promising young talent and a few years from now, I might look back on this game with a different significance. In fact, there are eight players in Salzburg’s squad who are younger than me (I am 19, born in 2003), and the average age of the team is just 21.8 years. This shows how this team is packing with young talent. Despite the negatives surrounding RB Salzburg, they deserve a lot of praise for their youth system, which is one of the best in Europe.

Anyways, in the 76th minute, Salzburg added to their lead through a deflected long-range effort from Nicolas Seiwald. Domenik Schierl, the Lustenau goalkeeper did a good job to prevent Salzburg’s Junior Adamu from scoring on the initial opportunity, but he could do nothing about Seiwald’s deflected shot a few moments later. I also must admit that the music that played on the speakers after every Salzburg goal was quite catchy (with somewhat of a Western classical connotation), which I really enjoyed.

Salzburg continued to dominate proceedings for the remainder of the game. In the first minute of injury time, Lustenau full back Jean Hugonet mishit a diagonal and conceded possession outside his own box. The resulting play concluded with Nicolás Capaldo, Salzburg’s Argentine midfielder, firing into the bottom right corner to score Salzburg’s fourth and final goal of the game.

It was a convincing 4 – 0 win for Salzburg and even though Lustenau held them for the first half, the hosts never looked out of control. The atmosphere was underwhelming but it was not the most attractive fixture to begin with (maybe it is not so dull on a European night or against a fellow Austrian heavyweight). Even though I got to watch a team of promising young footballers take down a domestic opponent, I feel a slight regret for not going to the SV Austria Salzburg game instead. SV Austria Salzburg, which plays in Regionalliga Salzburg (Austrian third division), is a club created by the fans who walked out on RB Salzburg after the takeover to represent their old team. This club has a great story and an undoubtedly passionate fan base. Unfortunately, I only found out about them after I left Salzburg so I could not visit, but if any of you find yourselves in Salzburg, consider going to one of their games and tell me all about it.

Me (right) with my newly found friends at full-time, after watching RB Salzburg dominate Lustenau on a cold February night in Salzburg.


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