How do Austrians remember their greatest player 77 years after his mysterious death?

Matthias Sindelar did not endear himself to the Nazis at the time Anschluss took place

BY Raf Diallo 15:32 Friday 11 November 2016, 15:32 11 Nov 2016

Matthias Sindelar. Wikimedia Commons

On January 23rd 1939, two people were found in a Vienna apartment.

One was already dead and the other unconscious and soon to die in hospital.

Soon after, carbon monoxide poisoning would be ruled as the cause of death.

Thus, ended the life of Matthias Sindelar, Austria's greatest ever footballer and that of his girlfriend Camilla Castignola. 

A fascinating figure, the man voted Austria's sportsman and footballer of the 20th century, was part of that nation's Wunderteam of the 1930s.

In that tumultuous decade when neighbouring Germany would vote in one of his countrymen - a dangerous populist of that era who needs no introduction - precipitating Anschluss and World War II, Sindelar was making his mark on the football field.

In the 1934 World Cup, the centre-forward and captain who was nicknamed The Paper Man because of his slender frame, played a vital role in helping his country to fourth place, narrowly losing to Germany in the bronze medal match.

However, injury would mar the latter stages of a tournament in which Austria were one of the favourites to win that World Cup given their form and how beautifully they interpreted the game.

However, four years later as the map of Europe began to be redrawn, the Wunderteam would come to an abrupt end as a result of the wider political machinations.

During his rapid tour through Austria, campaigning for the German-Austrian union vote , Adolph Hitler paused a moment at the City Hall of Klagenfurt, Austria, April 13, 1938 - ten days after the match celebrating Anschluss. Hitler is shown being welcomed by Catholic Bishop Adam Hefter. The Bishop, shown shaking hands with the German Chancellor, congratulating him for his great strides toward Austro-German union. (AP Photo)

In 1938, Nazi Germany annexed Austria in what became known as Anschluss which also effectively meant the Austrian national football team would be absorbed into the German one.

But just before both sides were officially unified, the two states went head-to-head in an infamous match on April 3rd 1938. The fixture at the Vienna Stadium where Ireland play on Saturday was supposed to celebrate Anschluss and intended to finish in a low-scoring draw.

But Sindelar and co had other ideas. After missing a host of chances early on in the match, the superior Austria side ran out winners eventually by a 2-0 scoreline.

But the Paper Man marked himself out for notice by reportedly celebrating enthusiastically in front of Nazi dignitaries in attendance.

After 43 previous caps and 26 goals, that match against Germany was his final contribution as a footballer and less than a year later, the fulcrum of a great side would be dead, not long before World War II would be unleashed.

He did not make himself available for the combined Germany-Austria team and it seems pretty clear he was opposed to the political changes happening around him.

His death, while ruled as carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty chimney, has led to conspiracy theories which claim that the Nazis had something to do with his death and an alleged cover-up. There hasn't been a definitive conclusion.

But how is Sindelar remembered today by his countrymen? I asked Austrian football journalist Fabian Zerche as we previewed Saturday's Austria-Ireland fixture.

He says: "He's of course very well respected and also the role he played in consideration of the second World War. But when there is an anniversary, you can read pieces in the newspapers and so on. But it's not like he is too much talked about in the present time.

"Of course, he is one of the big flair players that ever played for Austria. He was also in the Wunderteam, the best Austria national team that ever existed so he is a big one."  

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