A great figure in Austrian football turns 75 on Thursday. Josef Heckersberger from Amstetten is enjoying his football pension in Andalusia after an eventful time as team president and club coach.
The 75th birthday should be “a day like any other,” Heckersberger asserts. After breakfast on the balcony of his apartment near Malaga, a round or two on the golf course awaits. There will be no big celebration. Hickersberger prefers to relax and enjoy his health. He has since recovered well from a stroke he suffered five years ago.
Champion in Rapid as well as in Austria
Hickersberger has a cult status in the main clubs in Vienna. After winning the championship twice as a player with Austria (1969 and 1970) and once with Rapid (1982), he also played for a few years in Germany for Kickers Offenbach and Fortuna Düsseldorf. He has been deployed 39 times for the Austria national team. The highlight was the 3-2 victory over Germany in the 1978 World Cup.
Many football fans remember Heckersberger primarily as a coach. As head of the team, he led Austria to the 1990 World Cup in Italy. There, the team around Tony Polster and Gerhard Rodaxe could not live up to the high expectations and were eliminated after the preliminary round. The absolute low point should follow a few weeks after the world champion.
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From a successful trainer to “Faroe Island Pepi”
At the start of the European Championship qualifiers, Austria made a fool of themselves with the Faroese amateurs and lost 0-1 in Landskrona. Against a team of sheep breeders and hunters, this was the most bitter and embarrassing defeat in the history of the Austrian Football Association. As team boss, Hickersberger was the culprit and was dubbed “Faroe Island Pepi” in the media. His career seemed ruined, but he fought back.
With Austria he was the 1994 Cup winner, with the Rapid 2005 champion. There were also stops in the Arab world, and as the highlight of it, a return to the Austrian Football Association as head of the national team team. At home Euro 2008, the team failed after the preliminary round, but Heckersberger excelled at press conferences and made to say the tournament: “Today we just trained our strength, so training ended after 15 minutes.” He was even awarded the German Football Culture Award.
After his sudden retirement from the national team in the fall of 2008, he returned to Bahrain just before Hickersburger ended his coaching career in 2013. “It was so amazing, I was so happy,” heck says, looking back on his eventful career with a smile. Now he follows the state of domestic football from Spain. His son Thomas works as an assistant coach at Rapid.
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