Author: Helge Faller
(the following articles covers the interwar period of women’s football in Austria only)
When we read and hear about European women‘s football in the interwar period, the focus is on the British Isles and France or, to a lesser extend, Belgium and the Netherlands . Austrian women’s football during that period is seen as a marginality – it is about time to change that view since Austria was in several ways the leading country in organized women’s football in Europe in the late 1930s.
As in most other countries, proper women’s football history started after WWI, when the first “wild” matches were played in 1923. In December of that year the weekly Viennese paper Montag called for women interested in football. They received several hundred applies, often written in an enthusiastic tone, like this one from Rita Stör (quote) “with longing I await the first day of the bloody struggle”, a phrase that might have frightened the adversaries of women’s football in Austria, who sometimes shared their dislike in the newspapers. Finally, on May 3rd 1924 the 50 women who passed the medical check met for the first training session under the guidance of Austrian national player Ferdinand Swartosch. A club was founded, called DFK Diana, and there were even plans for an international match against Violette Morris’s l’Olympique de Pantin in September. Other clubs like Hacking or Hertha formed women’s football sections. But with Swartosch leaving for the German club Sülz in Cologne the project ended in July and the press too lost its interest . The only known match with the participation of women during these training sessions took place on August 1924, when two female teams played as part of the celebration for the 20-year anniversary of the club Ostmark. 4.000 people watched the match which received harsh criticism from some newspapers.
After this match came a long period with only occasional matches by women, like the match between teams called “fat” and “thin ” in 1933. Nevertheless, there were frequent critical reports on the activities in France and Belgium in the largest daily sports paper, the Sport Tagblatt .
The big change came in October 1934 and was initiated by Edith Klinger. She officially founded the women’s football club Kolossal, later called 1. Wiener D.F.C. (1. Viennese Ladies Football Club) and finally Tempo. Two months later Klinger was interviewed by the largest Austrian Boulevard paper, the Neue illustrierte Kronen-Zeitung (short: Krone), and called for interested women. By March 1935 the first training session took place under the guidance of cycling legend Ferenc Dusika. The result of that training session was a heavy dispute among the players and club officials whether women’s football clubs should be run entirely under the supervision of women or if male persons were allowed to become part of the club board. Klinger was strongly in favor of a female run club and thus about half of the members left Klinger’s club to form the second club 1. Österreichischer DFC Wien (first Austrian LFC Vienna). (8) Meanwhile, Klinger went one step further and passed the referee exam of the Austrian Football Association ÖFB to become an official qualified referee. She took the whistle for over 25 matches during her career, later she also became an ice hockey referee and was even asked to referee male football matches in Sweden and the Baltic states.
Throughout the summer the women were busy with training sessions to prepare for the first match. Meanwhile a new club was founded under the famous name Austria, with no administrative connection to the male club. The Krone reported frequently about the training sessions. This was mainly because of the legendary sport reporter Willy Schmieger, one of the leading figures in Austrian football at the time , who was in favor of the idea of women playing football as it was his opinion, that everything not prohibited by law is allowed . He made a 30-minute radio special with interviews and reports from a training session by Klinger’s Club in the summer of 1935 and in September 1935 a large photo-page appeared in the Krone showing the women during a training session and talking about a proposed match against a team from Belgium, highly probably Atalante.
Unfortunately, nothing came of these plans. Still, on October 13th 1935 the first big match took place at the Lehrersportlatz in Vienna-Hernals. About 2.500 people attended the first official women’s football fixture of the 1930s in Austria, played between Austria and the 1. ÖDFC. It ended in a draw of three goals each and was a huge success. The Austrian newsreel was onsite and it became evident that the standard of play was very high compared to other countries staging women’s football like England, France, Belgium or the Netherlands. Soon other matches followed and more clubs were founded, even outside Vienna like in Graz or in Baden. Even the nearby Czechoslovakian city of Bratislava rode with the tide and at least three clubs were founded in quick succession by December 1935. On December 15th the first known international match in Austrian women’s football history was played when the club Ottakring from Vienna traveled to play D.F.K. Bratislava . The match ended in a 3-all draw. While the winter put an end to all outdoor activities, the women organized indoor training sessions and the preparations to form a national women’s football association were advanced.
On January 8th 1936 the delegates of the women’s football clubs met for the first time to talk about the foundation of such an association. The Österreichische Damenfußball Union, in short ÖDU, literally Austrian Ladies’ Football Union, was officially approved by the local authorities on May 14th 1936. It soon began to organize a championship. The first plans even talked about inviting a team from Bratislava to take part. The first president was Mr. Franz Holzer with Edith Klinger as vice president. The board consisted mainly of men which became a matter of discussion on numerous occasions . Early in 1936 the first conflict between authorities and women footballers arose . The club ÖDFC Vienna send the magistrate of Vienna the design for the club badge, which was held in the national colours of Austria red-white-red. The design was rejected, but the club, according to photographs, used the badge anyway.
With the growing success of women’s football, the male federation ÖFB became nervous. The federation planned to (quote) “blow out the light of life” of women’s football and banned women’s football on March 20th 1936. Women were banned from all football fields ran by associated clubs, and no member of a male club or association that was part of the ÖFB was allowed to act as official or coach for a women’s football club. Male clubs with a women’s football section were forced to close these, which was a fatal blow for many women’s football teams. Only the four clubs Brigitta, Liechtenthal, Schwarzweiß and Hertha were able to further support their women’s football section which henceforth acted as independent clubs. Several coaches like the former Austrian international and Sportklub player Franz Plank had to either quit their job, since they were players for male clubs, or keep on in secret. The clubs were warned not to stage women’s football matches on their football grounds and threatened with large fines.
The women footballers didn’t care much about the ban and kept on playing. One side-effect of the ban, which was reported controversial ly in most of the Austrian newspapers, was a rising interest in women’s football, with up to 3.000 spectators watching the first matches after the ÖFB ban. Part of the preparations for the first championship were the two matches played by two selections of the best players from Vienna. The matches were praised for their high standard. The women in Austria played two halves of 40 minutes each which was longer than in other parts of Europe including Great Britain. They played on regular pitches using a regular ball. It was allowed to use the hands to protect oneself from injury. It was, however, not allowed to tackle the goalkeeper in the penalty area.
Just before the start of the championship from the male football association dealt another blow . It was, from now on, prohibited to stage exhibition matches outside Vienna. To set an example the ÖFB fined the football club Neukirchen for letting two female teams play on the club’s pitch. Despite all obstacles the first championship started on May 2nd 1936 with a match between ÖDFC Vienna and Hertha.
The women used three private ly owned grounds for their matches. But the ÖFB struck again. On May 13th the Association ordered that from May 18th on no further women matches were allowed, even on privately owned football grounds. The football association joined forces with the Turn und Sportfront, the supervising sports organization in the Austro-Fascist state. The owners of the private football grounds were threatened to lose the right to stage matches with clubs affiliated to the ÖFB. This could result in substantial financial losses for the football ground owners. The reaction of the women footballers was remarkable – they kept on playing like nothing happened, with the first matches played just one day after the total ban.
At that time there was an interesting report in the Krone that two Austrian women had founded a women’s football club in Guildforth, Surrey. As of now, it was not possible to find a report in an English newspaper that could verify this report.
It was remarkable that the organization of the matches of the first championship went on very smooth ly, notwithstanding the difficulties. Soon it was clear that three top teams (Austria, ÖDFC Vienna and Vindobona) were battling it out for the title. These three clubs had an average of about 600 to 700 spectators per match. The Krone and der Montag provided an excellent coverage of the championship during the first three months, with vast match reports, tables and scorer-lists, including some details about the teams and players, like social gatherings, excursions and reports of board elections and annual general meetings. There were even advertisements for special women’s football shoes. Each club had its club restaurant where they spent evenings together, sometimes on a weekly bas is. Many clubs organized evening balls, especially for New Years Eve or carnival. On Santa Claus Eve presents were exchanged.
In June Klosterneuburg near Vienna saw the restart of exhibition matches outside Vienna. The teams from Austria and Tempo met and were guided by an enthusiastic crowd all the way from the train station to the football ground, including a brass band. 2.000 people witnessed the match which had an extensive supporting program. The two teams were cheered for their good play.
Several players had played field-handball before, which was very popular in Austria and Germany and which was played 11 a side on a football pitch with football goals, so most of them were used to team tactics. We also have information that football was played by female students and by female members of the police in Vienna which explain s the surprisingly high standard of play right from the beginning.
Just before the summer break Austria and Rapid met for a championship match. According to a newspaper Rapid walked off the pitch being 1-4 behind as it started to rain and the goalkeeper of Rapid feared for her perms. They lost the match on the green table.
During the summer break several exhibition and friendly matches were played, as usual frequented by up to 4.000 spectators. The interest in women’s football in Vienna was high and the teams had their regular audience. But some clubs struggled, mainly because of the lack of training facilities due to the ÖFB ban.
To avoid penalties for the male clubs that staged matches of female teams on their grounds, the teams sometimes played in secret. As the newspapers were the only way to inform the players about match details like kick-off time, football ground or opposition, they had to be inventive when a secret exhibition match was planned. For one such a match Austria ordered their players to the train station, not informing the players about the destination of the trip until they were handed out the tickets.
The second half of the season started with an international match. Austria travelled to Brno to play the CFK. After the short-lived football boom in Bratislava the focus shifted to Prague and Brno. The club Sparta initiated a women’s football section and the players were officially licensed by the CSAF. But just prior to the match, the male football association changed their mind and banned women’s football from all official football grounds. The women, still strongly supported by Sparta, founded their own club and continued playing. Although losing 1-7 to Austria in front of 2.300 spectators, the Brno women had made their international debut under remarkable circumstances. 20 Viennese supporters travelled all the way to Brno by bus which was organized by Austria.
Austrian women’s football received a world-wide news coverage during that time, albeit not for their footballing abilities but for the circumstances of the divorce of Tempo player Lutz. Lutz was accused by her husband to let him to do the household while she was playing football. Several of her teammates bared witness before the court and declared that she did not neglect her duties as a wife and mother for football. Finally, she got divorced but was found not guilty of causing the divorce.
On September 10th a new ÖDU-board was elected and this time a women became president of the federation: Mrs Ella Zirner-Zwieback, a highly respected business woman.
Three days later a London newsreel company filmed the matches of the matchday to show scenes in the London cinemas. Unfortunately, we do currently not know if copies of hese films still exist.
The first season ended with Austria as champions, but the problems caused by the ban began to amount. Only two football grounds were left which could be used by the women for training sessions and matches. The Schafbergplatz was unplayable on a rainy day and the Heiligenstädter Platz was not able to stage all the matches. And above all, the adversaries of women’s football did all they could to disqualify women’s football for esthetic or health reasons and even refused calling it a sport.
A lot of social gatherings ended the year 1936. The new year started with the Winter Cup, the first national cup competition. The first and only winner was again Austria. The ÖDU organized a referee-course and plans were made for the second championship and a new football ground. So, against all expectations, women’s football kept on going. But despite that positive development, Klinger resigned her post and focused on her career as football and ice-hockey referee for male matches.
Vindobona, strengthened with three players from Austria, travelled to Brno and won both matches convincingly against the home team. Brno’s first visit to Vienna marked the official inauguration of the Olympia-Platz, a football ground in the famous Prater, fully prepared and paid for by the members of the women’s football clubs. A two-day international tournament was played and Austria won on goal average with Vindobona as runners up and Brno losing both matches.
The second championship started as late as May 23rd 1937 as there were small hopes that several teams from outside Vienna might enter the league. It did not come to that. 8 Viennese teams played for the second Austrian championship and the public interest was as strong as in the previous season with an average of more than 500 spectators per match. Austria won again. The teams were also looking for new destinations to show their football skills. Three matches were played in Hungary, on e of these was an official championship match between Vindobona and Tempo played before 3.000 spectator in Szombathely. Currently no other women’s championship match before WWII is known that was played abroad. Another team collapsed during the spring season. Rapid was not able to field a full eleven in any of the championship matches and finally had to quit. Ella Zirner-Zwieback resigned from her presidency for business reasons. Notwithstanding these signs of crisis, the ÖDU tried their best to get out of this difficult situation. A full international against Czechoslovakia was planned for September and selection matches were played, but finally only four matches between Brno and ÖDFC Vienna were played with Brno managing to hold the Austrian vice champion to a draw on two occasions. Another match planned by two Viennese selections in Budapest had to be cancelled.
But an interesting personality helped Austrian women’s football to solve some of their biggest organizational problems. Franz Bildl, former team manager of the male selection of lower Austria, referee, and important functionary of the ÖFB changed sides after a minor scandal. He became one of the key organizers of the ÖDU, lifting the federal administration and the referee training to a more professional standard. There were also signs that new clubs were in formation. But around Christmas the new general secretary of the federation and president of Klinger’s club Tempo, the young and very intelligent Alice Maibaum, wrote a cry for help in the newspaper where she talked freely about all the problems women’s football had faced since the ban. This report gives us an insight into the international connections the women’s federation had. They were in contact with clubs and federations in France, Belgium, and England, but the lack of a suitable ground and money prevented international matches in Vienna and a planned tour to England. The biggest problem was the lack of football grounds. Many interested female players had to give up their plans as it was too expensive to ride through all of Vienna by tram.
The new year 1938 brought at first business as usual with occasional matches and preparation for a cup presented by Franz Bildl. But Austria’s political situation became evermore critical . Germany threatened Austria with invasion and on March the 12th German troops invaded Austria without difficulties and in many cases much to the pleasure of the Austrians. On March 16th Austria became part of the German state and so did the Austrian football association . The ÖFB was dissolved but the women federation at first somehow did not grasp the attention of the Reichssportbund DRL, the Nazi sports organization, and continued under a new name: DÖDU (German Austrian Women’s Football Union). So, Germany, where women’s football was prohibited, had a women’s football association. But the hopes of the women to convince the new rulers to accept football-playing women were fruitless. For March and June, the clubs planned tours through Yugoslavia, where under Austrian influence six women’s football clubs formed a federation, Hungary and Poland. These tours had to be cancelled as the new authorities refused to give out visas. By May 1938 we hear of matches for the last time. On July 8th SS Group leader Friedrich Rainer, the sports official for Austria, reported the liquidation of the federation and the women’s football club to Berlin, a step appreciated by the Dutch newspaper Revue van den Sporten.
This was the end of one of the most successful stories of women’s football in the interwar period.