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Letter from Vienna: A footballing great, the Ireland curse and Harry's Challenge

Ben Blake has learned all about the man Austria’s Ernst-Happel Stadium is named after on the latest away trip.

A view of training The Ireland players training on the Ernst-Happel Stadium pitch last night. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ben Blake reports from Vienna

OKAY, A QUICK quiz question before we begin.

I bet if I asked you to name the five managers who have won the European Cup/Champions League with two different clubs, many of you would have a fair crack at getting four correct.

They are…

Carlo Ancelotti (AC Milan and Real Madrid), Jose Mourinho (Porto and Inter Milan), Otmar Hitzfeld (Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich) and Jupp Heynckes (Real Madrid and Bayern Munich).

Tricky enough but all recognisable, right?

Now the fifth member of this elite group may not be quite as big a name in world football, but his achievements are certainly just as impressive.

Vienna-born Ernst Happel is regarded as one of the greatest coaches to ever grace the sport.

After starting his managerial career with Dutch side ADO Den Haag, having spent the majority of his playing days as a defender with hometown club Rapid Wien, Happel would go on to earn domestic success in Holland, Belgium, Germany and his native Austria.

That feat of winning league titles in four different countries has only been done by three other men — Mourinho, former Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni and Croatian legend Tomislav Ivic – while his two European triumphs came with Feyenoord (against Celtic in 1970) and Hamburg (thanks to a win over Juventus in 1983).

A heavy smoker, Happel agreed to take the Austria job in 1992 but wasn’t long in the role when he died of lung cancer that November at the age of 66.

And following his passing, the national stadium (formerly Praterstadion) was promptly renamed after the great man.

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Germany Duisburg Ernst Happel Ernst Happel in 1977. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Either under the previous title or in its current guise, the ground — which hosts this evening’s World Cup Group D qualifier — has not been kind to the Boys in Green down through the years.

In six appearances between 1952 and 2013, Ireland have yet to win a single game and, in fact, they’ve only avoided defeat on one occasion.

To make matters worse, losses in the last two encounters there have been instrumental in ending the managerial careers of Jack Charlton and Giovanni Trapattoni.

It’s understandable then that the names Peter Stoger, Toni Polster and David Alaba have been added to our list of Irish football villains from yesteryear, which also includes the likes of Wim Kieft, Toto Schillaci and Luc Nilis.

Just yesterday, I was reminded of the infamous Harry’s Challenge (that’s Ramsden, not Arter) episode pre-Ireland v Austria in 1995 on a brief trip to the shopping centre next to the Ernst-Happel.

Stopping to eat at a no-frills restaurant called Harry Holzer, myself and two colleagues eventually managed to order the first thing that sounded vaguely-familiar with little or no German between us.

What arrived out was a dish Big Jack would be proud of.

Harry

Challenge accepted.

The Green Army will be vastly outnumbered at the 50,000-seater venue later on as the FAI were only allocated a total of 3,200 tickets for the game, which got snapped up in no time.

Realistically, a point here would leave Ireland sitting nicely heading into 2017.

That said, Martin O’Neill’s side could always use the recent achievements of their rugby counterparts for inspiration and bring another long-standing barren run to an end.

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This Ireland team has grown since our last visit to Vienna – Coleman

Arter’s long-awaited competitive debut, the possibility of snow and Austria-Ireland talking points 

About the author:

Ben Blake

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