One of the advantages and disadvantages of coaching football in Europe is the amount of downtime. With only two practices a week, coaching players who have real 9-5 jobs, the imports who come to play or coach have a lot of free time. This could not be more different than the American model where coaching is an every day job. When I was a head coach I worked 80 hours a week during the season, these last two years, as a high school assistant I still put in around 40. Here in Germany… I’d feel guilty if I did the math.
Right now is particularly slow, with the Easter holiday and two bye weeks leading to our league opener. Not being very good at off days, I was excited to learn a Battle4Tirol game between Austria’s Swarco Raiders and the Stuttgart Scorpions would be played on Easter Day, only two hours away, in Innsbruck. I immediately decided to make the trip.
The Swarco Raiders are playing three separate schedules in 2015; the Austrian Football League (AFL), the Battle4Tirol and the Big 6. The Battle4Tirol is a four game exhibition schedule against other strong European programs. The Big 6 is an international tournament between some top teams in Europe, and purportedly crowns a European champion. It sounds simple, but playing such a schedule creates some problems.
The teams in these tournaments play for various national leagues and use different rules. In Germany, a team may have two American imports on the field, while in Austria it’s only one, for the tournament however the number is three. The schedule itself, however is the strangest complecation. The Raiders entered this game coming off a loss to the AFL’s Danube Dragons the previous day.
You read that right; the Swarco Raiders played a league game on Saturday, then turned around and played Stuttgart on Sunday. I’m told playing games on consecutive days is not unheard of in Europe. My coaches’ mind has a million questions about the logistics of preparing for two games in the same week, also about player recuperation. Once-a-week football is not an arbitrary invention, but stems from the fact that it takes about a week for the body to recover from a game. Questions aside, I was excited to finally see firsthand top division European football.
It was a beautiful, but cold evening in Innsbruck; the setting was spectacular with the snowy Alps towered above the rim of Tivoli Stadium. The crowd wasn’t huge, announced at over 3000, but that could have been kept down by the weather, the Easter holiday or the fact that the Raiders had played the day before. The crowd was very enthusiastic however, making enough noise to rattle the Scorpions whenever they had the ball. Some other random observations:
–The fans cheered the officials’ introduction. I’ve never seen that before.
–People smoking in the stands… It’s been many years since I’ve seen that in the US.
— Before the game, a video was shown giving a brief explanation of how football works. Again something I’ve never seen in the States, but it makes sense here.
–I’m finding that Europeans seem to love the spectacle of the game as much as the outcome… Starting players are always introduced and take the field individual, a practice generally reserved for the Super Bowl in the US. Fans would cheer nice offensive plays, even if they were made by the opponent, but would rarely cheer a big defensive play, even if made by their team. Lots is made of the ceremony; coin tosses, MVP award presentation for both teams and saluting the crowd for coming to watch were all part of the show.
–The football itself was good but not significantly better than what we play in Ravensburg. The setting was more professional, but the game is essentially the same; a handful of American imports and a lot of reasonably strong European players, working hard, but still with rough spots in their play. I saw some very nice plays, but also dropped balls, penalties and poor snaps.
You can get better descriptions of the game action elsewhere, but a few words on that. During the first half both teams played very tight with the Raiders taking a 9-3 lead. After trading TD’s early in the 3rd Swarco began to overpower the Scorpions, pounding the ball into the line and mixing in some deep balls when the defense sold out to stop the run. The 4th quarter was all Raiders who cruised to a 34-9 victory.
In one more very European ceremony before we left, the defeated Scorpions presented a red and white Stuttgart helmet to the Raider MVP. It was a very nice night in Innsbruck. Great company, a beautiful setting and football on Easter!!! What more could anyone want?