Ernst Franz Hermann Happel was born in 1925 and became a youth player with Rapid Vienna. He was twelve years old when Austria was annexed to the Third Reich in 1938. Like all youth players at Rapid, Ernst was incorporated into the Hitler Youth, but he was kicked out for refusing to sing party songs. In 1943 he was called up for military service and posted to the Eastern Front, though Ernst later said he was never involved in actual fighting. At the end of the war he has told how he was captured by the Americans but escaped by jumping out of a train and got back to Vienna. He was 19 years old.
After the war, Ernst Happel had a fine playing career. He was an outstanding defender for Rapid Wien through fourteen seasons until 1959, winning the Austrian league title six times. He also played for Racing Club de Paris from 1956 to 1958. Happel was a key player for his national team, winning 51 caps and helping Austria to third place in the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. He also played in the 1958 World Cup. His last international match was against Yugoslavia in September 1958.
Ernst Happel became a legendary European as a coach. Starting at ADO Den Haag in The Netherlands in 1962, he pioneered “total football” with players constantly changing positions. This style took the Dutch to the World Cup final in 1978. Happel won league titles in four countries: with Feyenoord, Club Brugge, SV Hamburg and Swarovski Tirol. He won the European Cup with two different clubs. A loner, a chain smoker and a man of few words, Ernst Happel died of lung cancer in 1992. Vienna’s stadium is named after him.
Ernst Happel’s life was shaped by football, politics and war. As a young boy in Austria, he had to join the Hitler Youth. He was conscripted into the German Army, served on the Eastern Front, and was captured by the Americans in 1945. For the next ten years, Vienna was at the heart of the Cold War. Ernst Happel was a great player for Rapid Wien and Austria. But he is remembered above all as a coach, a genius who won trophies all over Europe and was the pioneer of “total football”. He was still a coach of Austria’s national team when he died aged 66.
Educators could look at the life story of Ernst Happel and work with young people to consider this question:
- What does Ernst Happel’s story tell us about football, history and society during his lifetime?
- To what extent can we view football as a language which has allowed culture to connect countries?
Find out more
Find out more about Ernst Happel on our story The Coach who Bridged Nations. These Football Times has two detailed articles about his life. One revolves around how he conquered coaching Europe and the other focuses more on his time at the Dutch club Feyenoord. Also, FIFA wrote an article about Happel: They said it: Ernst Happel.
Ernst Happel, 26 May 1978 (Photo: Hans Peters / Anefo, Dutch National Archive).
LIFE STORIES To discover now
Do you wanna know more?
HISTORY CAN BE EXPLORED THROUGH THE LIVES OF INDIVIDUALS
Browse our collection of stories about football history and inclusion. With the history of football being made up of millions of stories, of individuals and communities, of movements and processes, we offer stories that can inspire our cultural conversations today.
Get to know untold stories where individuals are making history with football. When faced with insurmountable challenges, individuals past and present can use football as a cultural force to foster positive change in society. We honour these individuals and tell their ‘untold’ stories in short videos.
Explore our innovative educational resources that use football’s history, heritage and legacy to engage young people. The resources include ready-made lesson plans and historical source collections for school history education as well as toolkit with activities for non-formal settings.
In the wake of the 2015 migration peak, activists and volunteers across Europe have been involved in supporting refugees, sometimes with the simple act of offering space and friendship to participate in football through grassroots clubs to help newcomers integrate.
BBC Sport’s Football Focus visits Bundesliga side FC Union Berlin, a “rebellious” football club from East Berlin with a special set of fans, playing their first season in Germany’s top flight 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
LATEST POST You may also be interested in
A class of high school history students in Oslo was asked to create an ideal starting XI line-up based on Human Rights. Find out why and how it went.
A loving fan and musician put together his two passions and created this compilation of tunes from the Jazz Age.
Prayer days on stadiums, faith rooms and inclusive chants: here is how English football is adapting to a changing world.
Engage young people through Football Makes History’s own Guidebook and Toolkit for promoting social inclusion in formal education or Non-formal settings
Telling the history of a city through football stories: a celebration of Amsterdam.