- Joey Smith is back with his latest instalment in this fine series, see the previous entries here and check out his excellent blog for similar content.
In this episode of the Cold War Classics series, we are deviating slightly from our usual highlighting of matches played between two states separated in ideology by the Iron Curtain.
While they are certainly two of Europe’s classic nations, neither Sweden nor Austria were/are members of Nato so I can’t even say either were connected to the Cold War in that way. Both are, however, certainly prone to cold weather, at least in certain places at certain times of year. And anyway, the ‘Cold War’ title can equally be applied to the time period as opposed to countries directly involved, and of course indirectly most every nation was effected by the global political tensions. What a time. Anyway, that’s enough excuses, onwards!
On November 11, 1973, UEFA’s qualifying Group 1 for the 1974 World Cup came to a close as Sweden defeated Malta 2-1 away from home. As with most things in football, or society in general, things were done differently back then and, curiously, the last game in the group before this had been played in June.
In fact, the first game in qualifying had taken place way back in November 1971, when of course in a modern-day system the last round of qualifiers for the following year’s Euros would have only been taking place. In the Malta-Sweden game, the hosts had taken an unexpected 1-0 lead on the 20th minute before the visitors came back to win.
But this goal would throw up a wrench, as it meant Sweden would finish level on both points and goal difference with Austria at the top of the group. With only one qualifying spot up for grabs, a play-off at a neutral venue (Parkstadion, Gelsenkirchen, West Germany, so there’s your Cold War connection) was deemed to be the best option.
As we discussed in the last Cold War Classic, kit design at this time was in its infancy in terms of trends that would take it into the modern era. But, unlike with France, it would still take some nations as much as a decade more to update their style. When the two sides met for the first time in the group the previous year in Vienna, Austria’s home kit of white shirts and black shorts was still not dissimilar to what would have been worn since World War 2, albeit with slightly superior fabric.
The crest is simply the coat of arms of Austria, which interestingly features both a hammer and sickle, introduced when Austria first became a republic in 1919.
In the return tie in Stockholm in May 1973, Austria switched to their away colours of red shirts and white shorts (now the home configuration since 2008), perhaps desiring a starker contrast against that of Sweden’s yellow.
While the plain red shirts with badge still hearkened to yesteryear, the shorts told a different story as red bars arched from both sides to the front in what was a unique look, even for now. This was another example of a kit element not only breaking through into a new era, but actually far surpassing that by appearing like something that could have been designed a couple of decades later.
The logo of an old-school German manufacturer called Leuze appeared on one of the red bars. Leuze had recently taken over form local Austrian supplier WIW Sporttrikotagen Wien (possible longest kit brand name ever?) as Austria’s kit makers before Puma would take over later in the 1970s in a deal which has lasted right up to the present this day (thanks to expert on obscure, vintage kit brands Giampaolo Bon for this information – he stepped in when my inquiry to the official Österreichische Fußball-Bund Twitter account was met with stony silence).
Austria’s next three matches, friendlies against Brazil, England and Germany, also saw them in their away kit, with the latter of these seeing the addition of a white, round-neck collar and white cuffs.
Sweden, meanwhile, had less call deviate from their home style.
The only recent game against a fellow yellow-clad team had seen Brazil wear blue shirts and white shorts in Stockholm and the two regular group games against Austria, as well as their other games in Group 1 against Malta and Hungary, saw the Swedes in their distinctive, and aesthetically pleasing, yellow and blue.
This would of course also be the case for the play-off in Gelsenkirchen.
So far, so good, but we mentioned earlier how both Sweden and Austria can be cold places and that is also the case for Germany in November, so it is not surprising that the pitch was mostly covered in a fine sheet of snow.
This is of course a great look for a football match and wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that apparently no orange or yellow balls were available and the white one used was barely distinguishable from the snow.
A man joyously leaping through the countryside?
The kicker, however, was that Austria had decided to mix and match by using their white home shirt with the white away shorts and white socks.
This was quite a sleek look; the shirt was new and now featured a round-neck collar like the away, and the shorts now included numbers making them even more modern, perhaps with a premature view to the World Cup, where all sides would wear numbered shorts.
But the combination of white ball, white pitch and all-white Austria resulted in an effect that at certain times made it seem like Sweden were playing with no ball, on no pitch and against no opposition:
Of course, this kind of thing is what makes old school football so fun and interesting in our opinion. If the game was played in a fully sanitised vacuum with no mishaps, incidents or talking points, it would be extremely boring and it is arguable that is the way the modern game is ultimately headed.
But, one more great thing from bygone eras, as we have mentioned before, are classic goalkeepers and their kits. In Cold War Classic no. 2, we saw Croatia bursting onto the international scene in 1990 with a goalkeeper top that couldn’t have been more fitting for the time.
Here, we see Austrian keeper Herbert Rettensteiner’s quintessential 1970s ensemble of maroon shirt (paired with beige gloves) and, most importantly, navy tracksuit bottoms. The age of the legs-covered footballer had begun.