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If our paths have crossed recently, you’ll likely have heard me talking about Austrian time-telling.

It started before Christmas but my confusion remains and, despite asking as many people as I’ve been able to, I have yet to find a satisfactory answer.

Everything began when I found that there is an excellent archive of Austrian newspapers available online – the appropriately titled AustriaN Newspapers Online. They are broad in their scope and even though I have only scratched the surface, I cannot recall being more impressed with an archival project.

My attention, and thought, naturally, turned to football. I believe I was initially drawn to the archive looking for information for some games played by the likes of Torino against Austrian opposition in the early part of the 20th Century, but that’s not where this particular tale ends up.

Such times bring visions of the Wunderteam, naturally, and one can read much about Mathias Sindelar amongst the papers, though precious little about his demise, which I had considered might be a subject for speculation in the press of the day. The looming presence of Adolf Hitler in those self-same volumes perhaps accounts for the lack of idle hypotheses.

Yet the Nazi jackboot for all its many detriments is not the thing I have taken most interest in throughout these newspapers. My eyes and mind have been drawn in by the festive competitions arranged in the cities of Austria in the immediate aftermath of World War I.

AUT1

Played on Christmas Day and Boxing Day 1918 and featuring in the Vienna-based SPORTBLATT AM MITTAG (archive is here), you will note the round-robin nature of the tournament and the teams involved.

You will also note the time of the games, which is where my mystification comes in. Should ¼2 be 13:45, then the game would finish at 15:30 (allowing a 15 minute half time, but no injury time) which would tally with ½3 being 15:30. Why is the quarter to the hour it is affiliated with, in this case, and the half past? This must be the case, because the other eventualities would not pan out.

If the fractions were always ‘to’, then the first game would finish an hour after the second was due to start (impossible) and if it were always ‘past’, then the overlap time would be half an hour – see the table below for representation of that.

AUT2

There is a second issue here. Sunset in Austria at this time is around 16:00 (a little after, if recent years are any guide). As far as I can tell, the W.A.C. Platz was no illuminated at this time, and so games would have to finish before dark.

In this context, I wonder if the two games were just 45 minutes long – one half of football in each; as a friendly tournament this is perfectly possible and allows the continuation if the times are ‘to’, as the two games would run into one another fairly exactly (there would be a half hour gap in ‘past’ – see above).

There was another Weihnachts-Rundspiel in Vienna that week, at the W.A.F.-Platz, which throws no more light on the situation (though this was better reported in the Sportblatt am Mittag the following week – they arranged it, as you can see below.

AUT3

I’m fairly the problem there is self-evident. ¾3. Again, applying the same criteria to the games, it is tricky to work out exactly what was going on, and exactly what time games were kicking off, but using the same style of chart as above, it seems reasonable to assume that ¾3 was actually 2:15 – three quarters of an hour to three.

AUT4

Those kick-off times, if we assume they are in the green column as above, allow for a forty-five minute encounter between each set of teams which seems about right. If you, like me, are wondering who won, I’ve done a little chart of each set of matches for 1918, allocating them points as they would be today, though I have no doubt that they were decided another way (probably on a straight ‘who won both their games’ rubric) so at least I can cover that.

AUT5

The Christmas games were quite a feature of Austrian football at this time. I’ve found evidence of them going forward a fair few years – the snowy photographs of 1920 are something to behold and read, or at least looked through reports of a number of them.

AUT6

There is, however, one thing that still troubles me. In one of the 1918 reports, there is a reference to a first half and a second half. On the basis that I’m assuming a 45 minute game, I wonder if they were actually 2 halves of 20 minutes.

Whichever way it went, and I’m going to continue trawling this fascinating archive, I think the only possible option is that, in Austria in the early part of the century, one would always work ‘to’ the next hour.

Anyway, its three quarters to six here, so I’ve got a train to catch.

Disclaimer and serious bit here in praise of ANNO. I cannot recommend their site highly enough – there are newspapers and journals going back as far as 1568, back to the days when they were hand-written, and currently as far forward as 1945. Its not just Austria, too, I’m sure I’ve seen some Czech and Hungarian titles in there. I hope I haven’t violated anything by excising two adverts from one of their titles – it was done out of love.

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