An English Game in Austria

An English Game: Drawing of an association football match between two unspecified clubs, probably around 1890.

At the end of the 19th century, the people were amazed at the English skills. The art of English game of football gained more and more ground on the European continent. Today we can’t help but smile at the phrase:

„What the English teach us most of all was that the ball must not be kicked in the air, but rolled. That’s the quintessence of the game.“

But around 1900 it was really the big aha effect of how to play football successfully and respectably.

Two reports from the General Sports Newspaper of Vienna (“Wiener Allgemeine Sport-Zeitung”) illustrate the leap in thought between – in this case – 1899 and 1908.

English Game on his road to Vienna and Prague

On 19 February 1899 the Wiener Allgemeine Sport-Zeitung brought attention to the travel of the Oxford University Association Football Club to Austria for matches in Prague and Vienna during the Easter holidays. Oxford University AFC was 1899 a very successful club of the Football Association, and is still existing in 2018. The matches against the Deutschen Fussball Club and Slavia (both from Prague) took place at the end of March, the matches in Vienna against a „mixed [nation] team“ and „German [Austrian] team“ of the Athletik-Sport-Club (founded on 14 october 1897) at the beginning of April. The article also introduces the players of Oxford University AFC with information about the previously attended college, size, weight, position and other sports they played.

“We faced something new, something unexpected.”

At 3:30 pm on 2nd April and 3rd April the matches were played in the Prater (now Ernst Happel Stadium). The game report was full with enthusiasm for the English combination game, which for all spectators and also English players of the Athletics Sports Club had been unrealistic:

Applauded were „the result of a cunning and lightning combination – that hasn’t been seen on the Continent yet“. And „due to their individual training“, „a fixed, well-considered system, in which everything is calculation, not even the smallest step is left by accident, to the difference between the completely unregulated way of playing of the Viennese based on accidents and the dexterity of the individual“.

The continental team barely got in front of the opposing goal, but lost the ball several times or missed the goal.

The English Game explained

„At the kick-off a player tries to get the possession of the ball. Once this has happened, the entire English field takes the ball and positions itself so skilfully that one gets the impression of a siege line. The ball rolls comfortably for a few seconds flat along the ground, often through the legs of the opposing people, who usually miss their target with their long kicks. If the rolling ball has, as intended, attracted a larger group of opponents, they soon become aware that they have been lured into the trap. For before they know it, the ball has been delivered to the right or left at lightning speed, usually rolls unchallenged, from man to man, all the way outside, and you can already see how the English surround and block the ball by their three, four players. Usually one of them takes the ball from him, a powered ‚shot‘ and the ball flies unstoppably behind the stunned goalkeeper into the goal. The ‚passing‘ of the ball is an important point in the tactical game plan of the English. In the majority of cases, the same is a feint, intended to deceive the opponent in relation to the direction of attack. […] In wonderful little jumps they followed, they emerged, as if out of the ground, at the endangered points, two, three, four blue-whites against a Viennese, so that one repeatedly had the impression the English team was twice as numerous as the opponent!“

(Source: H., J.: The football match – Oxford – Wien. In: General Sports General, 09.04.1899. p. 386.)

English improvements in Austria

The reason for the gap in quality was quickly found. Football has been played in England much longer than on the European continent. And so the English game was analyzed in the following years. This shows how important sport is physically and morally. Austria therefore invested specifically in this area as well as in training.

Nine years later

Nine years later a Dr. Frey looked back on this game, which was decisive for the development of football in Vienna. He noted that Viennese football clubs meanwhile have learned the combination game. But he warns they have not yet cultivated all the elements of the English game. Elements such as the interaction of defenders, midfield and attack.

1899 was the turning point for the development of the Austrian football. The following factors have changed within this short decade:

  1. Training, once a pastime, has become more systematic
  2. Practising dribbling, header shots, fair stopping of an opponent’s combination play and combination play and tactical shifting
  3. Annual matches against English teams
  4. English trainers for some Austrian teams
If you want to do some research yourself, here are two digitalized Austrian sports newspapers

(Wiener) Sporttageblatt, open access (1918-1938)

Allgemeine Sport-Zeitung (Wien), open access (1880-1920, 1922-1927)

Combination Learnings

Finally, Dr. Frey, the author of the report, summarises what has been learned in these nine years:

  • Not the ball, but the players themselves are the object of the combination!
  • The players have to master the tactical shifting of positions. They must never be at the same height or unprotected exactly behind each other.
  • The players must know
    • their own playing strength well, especially their speed.
    • the playing ability of the opponent players.
    • the speed of the opposing players, their playing method, whether they play short or long, wing or three-in-one tactics.


Basically, not much has changed in this principle in the last 100 years or more.

The both mentioned articles, translated in English, are available here:

The football match – Oxford – Vienna (1899)

Modern football (1908)


Header: Unknown illustrator. Scanned from Athletics and Football, by Montague Shearman, edited by Longmans, Greens & Co, London, 1894. Used from Wikimedia.