What do Ernst Happel, Hans Krankl, Max Merkel and Andreas Herzog have in common? They were all Austrian internationals who played for their country’s most successful club, Rapid Vienna, the famous institution that celebrated its 110th birthday on 8 January 2009.
Birth of an legend
After starting life as 1. Wiener Arbeiter Fussballklub (First Workers' Football Club of Vienna), SK Rapid Wien was officially constituted on 8 January 1899. In 1911, just 12 years later, the fledgling outfit contested a first season at the highest level of the Austrian game, promptly collecting their maiden championship title. Just a few years passed before Rapid celebrated a first domestic double, winning both the league and the first-ever Austrian knockout cup in 1918/19.
The team from the suburb of Huetteldorf boast 32 Viennese and Austrian championships and a host of other trophies, making them the most successful and arguably best known Austrian club side of all. Rapid’s international roll of honour includes the Mitropa Cup (1930, 1951), and the runners-up spot in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985 and 1996.
As well as leaving their mark on the European game, Rapid Vienna has also produced a crop of Austria’s greatest footballers, among them all-time leading scorer Franz Binder, Ernst Happel, Gerhard Hanappi and Hans Krankl, all of whom wore the green-and-white jersey for lengthy spells.
The club’s loyal fans often speak of the Rapidviertelstunde (Rapid quarter-of-an-hour) and Rapidgeist (Spirit of Rapid). The terms refer to a long-standing tradition by which Rapid never accept the inevitability of defeat, and have frequently in the past turned round seemingly lost causes, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
The best and most storied example of these mythical powers came in the German championship final of 1941, when Rapid found themselves trailing Schalke by three goals. Within the space of ten minutes, the Viennese had clawed back the deficit and taken a 4-3 lead, going on to become the only Austrian club in history to win the German title.
Rapid’s early fame quickly spread beyond the German-speaking world. The team of the mid-20th century was widely rated as one of the best in Europe, and travelled for friendly and exhibition matches all over the globe.
The true golden era for Rapid came in the 1980s. Between 1982 and '88, the Vienna giants celebrated four league titles, four Cup triumphs, three Austrian Supercups, and an appearance in the 1985 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, after disposing of Besiktas, Celtic, Dynamo Dresden and Dinamo Moscow en route. However, Rapid lost the final in Rotterdam 3-1 to Everton.
Eleven years later, a new Rapid generation overcame the likes of Sporting Lisbon, Dinamo Moscow and Feyenoord to reach the Cup Winners’ Cup final for the second time. However, the adventure again ended in defeat, this time by the only goal of the game to Paris Saint-Germain.
* Recent times*
The worldwide recognition for the club from the Austrian capital was reflected in the line-up for their centenary tournament in 1999, when big-name international clubs Roma, Werder Bremen and Botafogo provided the opposition in Vienna.
Rapid continue to play a leading role in the Austrian game, underlined by their recent trophy successes. The men in green-and-white took their championship title haul up to 32 by winning the Austrian Bundesliga in both 2005 and 2008.
* The stadium*
At the end of the 19th century, the club’s founding fathers clearly had little inkling of the decades of success which lay ahead, as what was to become the nation’s most successful club played its home games on a training pitch until 1903. As of March that year, the club relocated to the Rudolfsheimer sports ground.
Rapid moved to their first real stadium nine years later, the legendary 4,000 capacity Pfarrwiese. Later expanded to accommodate 20,000 spectators, the local ground remained Rapid’s home for more than 60 years, until the venerable stadium was finally pulled down in favour of a more modern facility.
The new Weststadion opened in 1977 and certainly played a major role in Rapid’s trophy-laden 1980s, a winning streak based on almost unassailable strength at home. That seeming impregnability has continued to this day: in 2004/05, the men in green and white won 14 and drew the other three of their 17 home league fixtures, collecting a 31st league championship as a result. Ivica Osim, former boss at rivals Sturm Graz, once described the stadium as "the cathedral of football".
On the death in 1981 of the stadium’s architect, former Rapid star Gerhard Hanappi, the Weststadion was renamed the Gerhard Hanappi stadium in his honour.