Even though Brazil is everywhere right now, with promotions running in every conceivable ad space to remind us that the FIFA World Cup is both imminent and important, here in Vienna it really is a long way to Rio. While the Coke ads show emotion, partying, and every now and again some football, the reality of a World Cup is actually quite different in a country that has not qualified for the tournament. What happens is you get all of this buildup, and then…. some football, and more promotions telling us how we are supposed to be feeling. Here in Vienna, there is genuinely a lot of interest in the World Cup, hence all the promotions and new TV’s in bars, and why we will find it difficult to find a bar stool on many match days, but the truth is that not many actually care about what happens at the World Cup. Austria is not in the competition, and Ireland isn’t either. I am very interested in the World Cup, yet I do not really care who wins, it is just for entertainment. You know, like a US election. Now, this is not another rant complaining about Vienna, for in this case, it is not her fault. It is because there is a disjoint between how we are sold the buildup (based on emotion), and what actually occurs (drinking and watching ads on TV). All the promotions are by multinational corporations who do one ad for the whole world, and don’t care who they hurt. Their biggest markets (US, Japan, UK, Germany, France, Australia etc.) have all qualified for the World Cup, so everyone else can just shut up and buy a Big Mac as if they too were at the same party as the big boys. So, the question arises: is it possible to get an actual World Cup experience here in Vienna, just like in the Coke ads, with people feeling things and everything?
I had given up on this question a long time ago, and was resigned to a World Cup just like normal for the average Irishman: laughing at England’s failures and pomposity. Then I was lying in bed checking my Twitter feed yesterday “morning” and saw a tweet linking to an article called “Ganz Wien ist ein WM-Vielfalt” (All of Vienna is a World Cup of Diversity ??!!) published by the Austrian Press Agency, which showed a table of the amount of foreign residents in Vienna who come from each of the 32 countries competing at the World Cup. It was an interesting table, but the article annoyed me a bit, because in this day and age, you can’t just show data, you have to do something with it. I won’t be too hard on them though, it was a holiday after all. In any case, Vienna is an international city, with 17% of its 1.7m residents born in a country other than Austria, which amounts to 294100 people. Of these, the table given in the article declares that 125886 (43%) of those come from a country competing in the 2014 World Cup. The breakdown is given in Graph 1 below.
So, no surprises that Germany is way out in front, with over 35,000 Germans living in the city. Croatia; Bosnia and Russia also rank highly, while if you meet someone living here from Honduras, you should get their autograph: there are only 13 of them. As an ex-pat myself, I know we get more nationalistic at sporting events than if we were at home, and therefore I would bet that a large proportion of these foreign residents here who are competing in the World Cup will be visibly supporting their team. This is therefore a passage to finding an actual World Cup experience, just like you see on your McDonalds bag.
However, these residential statistics do not go far enough, as in addition to possessing a cultural melting pot of residents, Vienna also is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Europe, particularly in June, where an estimated 906,868 (2012 statistics) foreign tourists will visit the city right in the middle of the World Cup. Now, I know what you are thinking: it is an amateur’s mistake to book a foreign holiday during a World Cup if your country is competing. Nevertheless, it does occur, as the statistics I pulled from the Vienna Tourists Board website come from 2012, when there was an event of arguably similar magnitude going on: Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine. So, I noted the amount of visitors to Vienna for each World-Cup participating country that the tourist board reports a visitor’s statistic for. In the case of the board not reporting a statistic, I assume it to be negligible, and report a zero amount. I did feel pity for the African countries however, and gave them the entire all-Africa total (the only African amount available), and hope that the spirit of pan-Africanism will ring true and that those tourists support whichever African team is playing. Anyway, the total is useless, so I divided each of those tourist figures by 30 (amount of days in June) so as to work out how many potential tourists from a World Cup participating country are present on any given day. This figure I then added to the corresponding resident figure from before to compute the “potential support” for each team on any given match day in Vienna. And you can see all the numbers here in Table 1 below.
So, what can we do with this now that we have some not-entirely useless data on the potential support for each country? Well, the first thing to remember is that the first stage of the World Cup is a two-week long group stage where 8 groups of 4 teams compete in order to designate a top 2 to progress to the knockout stages. So by combining the potential support of each country in each group, we can show which group will be followed the closest here in Graph 2.
Graph 2: World Cup Groups, and Potential Support By Group
So, it’s no surprise that Group G will be the closest followed, as not only does it have the all-conquering Germany, it also has the USA, whose potential support has been bolstered by the annual summer invasion of US tour groups. However, more interesting than the aggregate group potential support, is in each individual match, where we can get the combined following by simply adding together the potential support of both the teams playing. Table 2 reports the top 10. I will give you a clue, Germany does well:
Therefore, due to the World Cup group draw, the single game that will be followed the most by passionate residents here in Vienna will be the final group game of Group G: Germany v USA on June 26. Both those countries are fond of watching sports in bars drinking beer; therefore it might just be a decent day down at the pub/Strandbar. For real World Cup emotion and drama, you will not come closer.
Or so it would seem. While the table above does show the Top 10 games with the most potential support, it does neglect the fact that during the two-week group phase of the World Cup, there are at least three matches per day. We therefore now need to find the match day that will produce the most potential support: the group of scheduled games that will overcome all others, to produce the one day in Vienna that will bring us closest to that Coca-Cola/McDonalds/FIFA magic we are always witnessing, but cannot experience because we simply do not care. So, finally, I give you Graph 3: potential support by match day.
Germany is involved, who would have guessed? In fact, all three spikes in the graph are the Germany Group games, but one reigns supreme. On June 21, three countries with sizable migrant populations here in Vienna all play one after another: Iran, Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina. On top of that, it is a Saturday, meaning even more craziness than usual is possible. I therefore declare Saturday, June 21 as Vienna’s World Cup Day, the closest thing to actually being in Brazil that we will experience during this whole World Cup. If you go to watch football at a bar on any day during this World Cup, make it that one. On the other hand, spare a thought for the poor participants of June 13, when Spain v Netherlands cannot save that fateful Friday from suffering the worst potential support rate of all. Although in fairness, I think everyone would rather watch that game more than any of the others I have mentioned, so there is a trade off in quality to caring. Damn you Vienna for not having immigrants from better footballing countries!
So, there you have it, if you would like to experience the raw emotion of people who actually care who wins a World Cup game, checking out any German, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Croatian game would get you there, and particularly the games on Saturday June 21 promise to inspire at least a flicker of World Cup fever that is not based entirely on marketing. If anything, the World Cup will teach you about your neighbors. If at any time between the hours of 18:00-02:00 you hear a sudden scream from upstairs, a simple Google search of who is playing right now, and a designation of whether the scream was positive or negative, and you can accurately guess where your upstairs neighbours are from. You would never have known that otherwise. I, for one, never knew I had Polish neighbours until two years ago during Euro 2012, when Jakub Błaszczykowski scored against Russia. Or maybe my neighbor had a bet on the game. Come to think of it, betting heavily on a World Cup game would really make you care about it too. I shall meditate on this.