German football's highest pitch - in Austria

1 Apr 2021
  • SV Kleinwalsertal are based in Austria but play in Germany

  • Their grass pitch can only be used for around five months of the year

  • Partnership agreements with other clubs

While temperatures rose above 20 degrees Celsius in many areas of Germany over the past week, residents of the Austrian region of Kleinwalsertal are still waiting for the snow to melt so they can return to playing football on the area’s picturesque pitch, located between forests and Alpine peaks.

“We’ve still got a bit of snow here,” Thomas Podgorschek told FIFA.com. “In winter there were two metres of snow on the pitch because it sits in the shade, flanked by slopes. We’ve shovelled it down to about 20 centimetres, but we need to wait for the sun to do the last five to ten centimetres.”

The 33-year-old is head of football and also U-9 coach in Kleinwalsertal, which lies approximately 1,200 metres above sea level. The Alpine region has a unique status in that it belongs to Austria, but the valley is surrounded by a border of mountains in such a way that the only route in is via Germany. Skiing is the most popular sport locally, where almost every football coach doubles up as a ski instructor. Podgorschek believes such a variety of activities is beneficial for local children: “It can only be good for the kids to have such a diverse range of movements.”

The location has often proved problematic, but especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic when the German border was closed, for example. In normal times, however, the area’s geography has primarily meant that football has once again been able to unleash its power across borders: since trips to games in Austria would be very circuitous for Kleinwalsertal residents - they would first have to drive around the mountains - they are not only members of the Austrian Football Association (OFB) but also of its German counterpart (DFB), and have been incorporated into the German system in the Allgau.

Kid's football SV Kleinwalsertal

“Whenever we have a kids’ match it’s always an international fixture between Austria and Germany,” chuckled ‘Poki’, as he is known. “We announce it over the microphone and the kids think it’s great. They all laugh and we have fun with it. A lot of them go to secondary school in the Allgau and know their ‘international opponents’ from the classroom or the playground.”

That leads to a fierce rivalry between fans of Austria and Germany, and there are plenty of the latter in the valley. “There are more German football supporters here,” said Podgorschek, before affirming that his own heart “beats only for the red-white-red” of Austria.

“Separated by shirt colour, united by a love of the game,” is a well-known phrase in amateur football in the German-speaking world. And in this region on the Austria-Germany border, it is more than just a slogan. As the grass pitch in Kleinwalsertal can only be used between the end of April and the end of September, the Austrian club have an agreement with the German town of Sonthofen, some 30 minutes away by car, whereby during winter they can play on the artificial pitch and also hold their ‘home’ matches there.

Kleinwalsertal / Austria

Kleinwalsertal / Austria

Ein Traumhafter Herbsttag in Oesterreich, die Baeume werden zunehmend bunter, Indian Summer, Blick auf den Ort Mittelberg im Kleinwalsertal Oesterreich 17.10.2019, Mittelberg/Oesterreich A dreamlike autumn day in Austria, the trees are becoming increasingly colourful, Indian Summer, view of the village Mittelberg in the Kleinwalsertal Oesterreich 17 10 2019, Mittelberg Oesterreich

Kleinwalsertal / Austria

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For their part, Sonthofen already have existing agreements with fourth-tier side Memmingen and Bundesliga club Augsburg. As the Kleinwalsertal youngsters are as gifted on the pitch as they are on the pistes, several youth players have taken advantage of these connections to play their way into the teams in Memmingen and Augsburg.

“Over the last few years we’ve had a lot of good footballers with us that were talented and ambitious,” ‘Poki’ said. “But it’s not just about the best players, we want to develop everyone. We’ve got terrific support from our sponsors and the parents, who organise themselves with club buses so that the children can always be driven to the other sports grounds.”

As some of the older age groups can no longer form their own teams, they have to rely on playing partnerships with the Bavarian clubs.

Word of the quality of Austrian pitches has now spread far and wide, and for the past two years Augsburg have held week-long pre-season training camps for their U-19, U-17 and U-15 teams in preparation for the Youth Bundesliga campaigns. They do so at the height of summer, of course, as it is then that there is no chance of snow on 'Germany’s' highest sports ground.

Kid's football SV Kleinwalsertal