Talking Point

I usually hate international breaks. In football I am a “club over country” guy, and therefore I’m not looking forward to international games so much as other football fans may do. But this international break feels different for some reasons.

First because we went into it on a high, with West Ham mustering back to back wins in the League, and the Irons are undefeated in four games now (including the League Cup). Therefore this time we aren’t eagerly awaiting the end of the international break because our club were in desperate need of securing more points to get out of the lower ranks of the table. West Ham now comfortably sit in 7th with seven points out of four games, and they have almost evened out the the poor goal difference that resulted from the heavy loss to the champions in the first game of the season. Therefore everybody can relax, have an eye on the outcome of the Euro qualifiers, and look forward to the Monday evening game against Aston Villa.

And also very important for my positive mood was that I was tasting victory with my hometown club Rapid Vienna before the international break too, in one of the most anticipated and important games of the season: The green-whites won the first Vienna derby of this year, defeating FK Austria Wien 3-1. Those results make it much easier to tolerate this break with no games of our beloved clubs within two weeks.

Unbelievable things can happen on a football pitch

But there is also a different – and much longer – kind of break for league football this autumn in a certain stadium located in Austria’s southern province of Carinthia. Yeah, there are more unbelievable things which can happen on a football pitch these days than a shock victory of an underdog from time to time! Or would you have ever thought that a modern football ground could be transformed into a forest?

That’s exactly what’s taking place for seven weeks now in the Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt, Austria! An art installation consisting of 299 trees was opened to the public in Austria’s most beautiful stadium last Sunday. The installation called “For Forest” can now be watched for free every day, forcing football out of the stadium until October 27th.

The project was conceived by Swiss artist Klaus Littmann (pictured below) – who saw a pencil drawing “The Unending Attraction of Nature” by Austrian painter Max Peintner (above; forforest.net) more than 30 years ago – and finally was able to turn this artist’s striking dystopia into a much disputed, controversial reality together with landscape architect Enzo Enea.

About time for this art installation, but wrong timing for the footy

Peintner’s pencil drawing originates from the 1970s and is a statement against the threat to our natural environment by imagining a time when forests will exist only as exhibition objects. Austria’s largest public art installation seems to come at the right time when the implications of climate change become more and more obvious. But its realisation also means that Carinthian football club Wolfsberger AC, which have qualified for the Europa League for the first time in their history, will not be able to play their group games in their federal province of Carinthia, but have to shift their matches against Borussia Mönchengladbach, AS Roma and Turkish outfit Basaksehir to the Styrian capital Graz.

The Wörthersee Stadium, which is named after the adjacent beautiful lake, is home ground to second tier club Austria Klagenfurt. They now have to play their games on the training pitch of the stadium, as long as mixed woodland is occupying the original stadium, before it will be transferred to a place somewhere nearby (where it will keep growing as a memorial forest). The adapted training venue can host 2500 – 3000 spectators, hence Austria Klagenfurt have lost the opportunity to attract much more spectators to their upcoming ÖFB (Austrian Football Association Cup) game against first division outfit Sturm Graz!

With multi purpose use, conflicts are inevitable

Nevertheless in my opinion the realisation of this art project is a brilliant idea and from the pictures I’ve seen so far it looks great (pics: Christian Rainer; https://instagram.com/chri.rainer?igshid=8ntstnzvfc3l). But I have had a lot of discussions with friends, some of them heavily criticising the installation which temporarily prevents the ground from being used properly. Though according to its building permit the Wörthersee Stadium is not only to be used for sports, it is a multifunctional arena which also hosts concerts and other events throughout the year. And without this multi purpose use the stadium never would be viable.

As West Ham fans we already know that in a stadium which isn’t used for football only, conflicts of use do emerge from time to time, as it was the case two years ago when West Ham had to start their season with three away games because of the athletics. In Klagenfurt without doubt it would have been better to let the installation take place earlier in the year to avoid a conflict with the Europa League. But on the other hand the recent conflict of use is an other evidence to demonstrate that Carinthia and Austria need this 30,000 football stadium.

The ground has been built for the European Championship 2008 and often been dubbed a “white elephant” since. It is used from time to time for games of Austria’s national side (Austria beat Germany there in June 2018!) and has hosted the Austrian cup final several times. The Europa League would have been a perfect fit, but let’s hope Wolfsberg or even Austria Klagenfurt qualify for Europe in years to come and then get the stadium filled again with 29,900 football fans instead of 299 trees.

I’m a fan of the “For Forest” project, as I already said. I know the Wörthersee Stadium quite well and have been to it quite often, not only to watch football games but also because of my profession as lawyer representing the City of Klagenfurt in the environmental impact assessment and the construction law procedures. Our law firm also have organised a Symposium on sports law there for some years. And after having been there supporting Rapid Vienna together with Austria’s loudest and most enthusiastic supporters, though without success twice within three years, now I wonder how it will feel to visit a very quiet Stadium, watch the trees from the terraces and hear the rustle of leaves instead of the chants of the football fans. Victory for the forest this time …

A victory for the Greens at last?

Well, you may know that my hometown club Rapid Vienna’s colours are green and white, and they call themselves “the Greens”. Unfortunately Rapid have already been defeated twice in the Austrian cup final in the Wörthersee Stadium by Red Bull Salzburg. So for once I could be relishing in the rare sight of the “greens” having occupied the pitch, celebrating their victory, though they aren’t wearing shirts and shorts of this colour but green leaves. Could that be a good omen for the next game in this year’s ÖFB Cup when Rapid meet Salzburg as early as round two in a „premature cup final“ on the 25th of September?

Anyway, let’s hope league football will make a glorious comeback after the international break, and “claret and blue” as well as “green and white” will delight us with beautiful goals and cracking victories on the football pitch next weekend! But until then, why not have a debate on what you think about “For Forest”, the controversial art installation on the Klagenfurt pitch?

Discuss!