Euro 2008 — Austrian passions stirring at last
Up until a few weeks ago you’d have been fined in Austria for flying a flag on your car. Only ambassadors and government officials were allowed to that. But bureaucracy is slipping and passions are stirring, albeit slowly, as Euro 2008 approaches.
In the last few days Austrian flags have been fluttering from cars in the capital after the government lifted the ban for the duration of the tournament to help drum up some atmosphere. Some of Austria’s cheap supermarket chains will sell tournament merchandise half-price this weekend, and at last the Austrians, whose first sporting love will always be skiing, are starting to show an interest.
Culture reigns supreme in Vienna, famed for its balls, its classical music and art galleries. When I arrived in Vienna in mid-May the city’s residents still pulled faces when asked if they were looking forward to the tournament. Drunk fans might smash windows or make a noise at night.
“Hosted by losers” T-shirts and underwear became must-have items, while the son of a former Austria player even launched a website urging the team to withdraw to spare the country the sort of international humiliation usually only experienced by Britain at the Eurovision song contest.
But now it seems they may want to impress after all. The fan zone will be in the heart of the city, shutting off one of Vienna’s main arteries — a sweeping avenue flanked by imposing imperial architecture. Curiosity if nothing else will have the locals heading off to the fan zone, perhaps to check there is no trespassing on the monuments.
The Austrian team is ranked 101st in the world and not even the most patriotic fans fancy their chances of winning the tournament. But the Austrians are desperate to outperform the Swiss, on and off the pitch, and remember, no one outside Germany thought they’d be able to throw a party at the World Cup, and look how much fun that was.
PHOTO: An Austrian worker holds an official UEFA EURO 2008 logo in the fan zone in front of the historic Hofburg palace at Heldenplatz square in Vienna, May 27, 2008. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger