Football Against Fascism

Michael Oesterle of Sport Against Racism Ireland looks at the story of the Austrian-Jewish football club Hakoah Vienna and its hero Béla Guttmann


Football has always been a great opportunity for people from diverse cultures to integrate into a society. It is all about fun, friends and competing against others – religion or the belonging to an ethnic minority should not play a decisive role in sports today. Sadly there was a time when all these things mattered. Especially when Jewish sport clubs were closed down by the Nazis before and during the Second World War and in the era of communism in Eastern Europe. The history of these clubs is not well known even though it would help us understand our historical backgrounds and could set a memorial so that something like this never has to happen again.


Hakoah Vienna

In 1909 the sports club Hakoah Vienna was founded by Jewish students and offered training opportunities in fencing, football, field hockey, wrestling and swimming. Soon their football team became very successful and one of the best teams in Europe. In 1923 Hakoah Vienna beat West Ham 5 – 0 and became the first football team from continental Europe which was able to beat an English club on English soil. With over 5,000 members, SC Hakoah Vienna was the biggest sports club in the world and Franz Kafka, the well-known author was one of the most famous fans of the club. In 1926 the football team made a tour through the United States where they played numerous matches across the country. In New York, the team attracted 46,000 spectators. Because of the growing antisemitism in Europe some players decided to stay in the United States of America and founded the Club New York Hakoah, which was re-established in 2009 and is currently playing in the North Jersey Soccer League.

Other players of Hakoah Vienna moved to the Mandate Palestine and set up the club Hakoah Tel Aviv together with some former players of Hakoah Berlin. This club, which still exists, merged with Maccabi Ramat Gan in 1959. In the years after the founding of the club they had no money for the equipment they needed, so in a gesture of solidarity, the Austrian football club “Austria Wien”, which used to be a rival of Hakoah Vienna, sent them their jerseys.

In 2000, the Jewish community of Vienna got back an alternative ground where they built a new sports centre. The facility contains numerous fitness rooms, physical therapists clinics, tennis courts and houses for various kinds of sport. This multi-sports centre has a total size of 20,000 m². The construction cost over 8 million euros and was paid by the federal government and the city of Vienna. Ironically, the club does not maintain a football section today. Basketball, Karate, Swimming, Skiing & Tourism, Tennis, Table Tennis and Hiking are the codes offered to the members of the club.

Even though the story of this club is not well known there is film about the swimming section of Hakoah Vienna. The film, made in 2004 and directed by Yaron Ziberman, is called “Watermarks” and is about 7 swimmers who had to leave the city during the Second World War. The film won the Audience Award at the Palm Springs Film Festival in 2004.

There also is a play written by Yael Ronen. It is about a boy who wants to get Austrian citizenship and during his research he finds out that his grandfather used to play for the legendary Hakoah Vienna football team. One of the legends of the football department was Béla Guttmann.


Béla Guttmann

Béla Guttmann in 1925

Béla Guttmann is probably the best known football player who was confronted with blatant antisemitism in sports. Born on 27 January 1899, he started his career at MTK Hungária. In 1922 he joined Hakoah Vienna because of the growing antisemitism in Hungary under Admiral Horthy. Guttmann was one of the players who decided to stay in the United States of America after the team made a tour throughout the country. After he finished his career as a football player he started his coaching career at Hakoah Vienna before the Second World War started. It is unclear how he survived the war, he even skips this part of his life in his autobiography.

As a coach he worked for 25 teams in 13 different countries including AC Milan, FC Porto and Benfica Lisbon. He won two European Champion Clubs’ cups in 1961 and 1962 with the Lisbon club. Although he was a very successful sportsman, he is probably best known for cursing Benfica. After the second cup win he asked the club for a pay rise. When the president refused, Guttmann left Benfica immediately and put a hoodoo on the club. He swore that the club will never win a European cup and until now he was right. Benfica has been in the final of the European cup eight times since then and has never been able to win the game.

Despite the success of the SC Hakoah Vienna and its athletes most people never heard of them. The story of the club and its heritage got lost after the end of the Second World War and was never picked up again. It would be a great opportunity if the general public would be aware of all the diversity we once had in Europe and that it is actually nothing new in our society.

About the author:

While carrying out research for the “Football versus fascism” program of Sport against racism Ireland, Michael Oesterle came across a story about Jewish athletes and sport organizations before and during the Second World War. Due to the fact that their story is not well known in the general public he started collecting all the key information to inform the people about what had happened to Jewish sport clubs all over Europe.