Matthias Sindelar: Austria’s sportman of the Century?

Jun 5, 2020

Life Stories

Matthias Sindelar


Matej Sindelar was born in Kozlov, Moravia (now the Czech Republic but then Austria-Hungary) in 1903. His family migrated to Vienna when Matthias was two; he played football in the streets there. He played for Hertha Vienna from the age of 15, and then joined FK Austria Vienna in 1924.

Austria’s ‘Mozart of Football’

Austria Vienna won the league title in 1926, and seven cup finals between 1925 and 1936. Of slender build, his nickname was ‘Der Papierene’ (Paper Man) Sindelar was famous for his dribbling and creative play. He played 43 times for Austria, scoring 26 goals. This ‘Wunderteam’, coached by Hugo Meisl, was expected to win the 1934 World Cup but lost to Italy in the semi-final. In 1938, Sindelar starred as himself in a film, Roxy und das Wunderteam.


In April 1938 Austria played Germany in Vienna (and won 2-0). The match was special because Germany had just annexed Austria in the Anschluss; Hitler decreed there would be no Austria team in future, just one ‘Greater Germany’. Sindelar never played for Germany. He was 35 years old, which provided an excuse. In 1939, Sindelar and his Italian girlfriend were found dead in their flat. Most people assumed it was suicide, a protest against the Nazis. Recent research suggests this is unlikely. (Some people say Sindelar was Jewish but he was not; his family was Catholic).

Thinking points

Matthias Sindelar was a sporting hero, named Austria’s ‘Sportsman of the Century’ in a public opinion poll in 1999). It is often claimed he was also a political hero; that his mysterious death in 1939 was as a victim of the Nazis because he was against the Nazi takeover of Austria. But some historians believe this is just a myth, because Sindelar joined the Nazi Party and because he got to own a café previously belonging to Jews.

Educators could look at the life story of Matthias Sindelar and work with young people to consider this question:

  1. How much he was, or was not, a political hero as well as a sporting one?
  2. How can we find out? What is the role of evidence?

Find out more

To learn more about Matthias Sindelar check out this video. You can also read this article or this one. More about his life story is published in this and this article in The Guardian.


Matthias Sindelar (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Matthias Sindelar (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

Life Story

Matthias Sindelar was an Austrian sporting hero but also a political one. His death led to many myths. His story is one about Politics and myth creation.


Article Tags:   Lives

Do you wanna know more?



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.

Educational Resources

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.

LATEST POST  You may also be interested in

A final painted in contrasts

A final painted in contrasts

On this day, 12 July 2020, Euro2020 would have reached the final. In 1992 Denmark, which hadn’t qualified, won. While Yugoslavia, a favorite, never made it due to UN sanctions.

The last defectors

The last defectors

Today 30 years ago in 1989 three players of the East German football club Wismut Aue were getting ready to escape from the DDR.

Saga of a small nation in a bigger Europe

Saga of a small nation in a bigger Europe

On this day in 2016, Iceland’s football men lost to France at the European Championship. It ended an amazing run for the team which had not yet reached such heights. This is a story of a small nation in a bigger Europe.

Football without frontiers for a Europe without borders

Football without frontiers for a Europe without borders

On this day in the year 2000, the final of the first European Championship co-hosted by two countries was played. The idea to host such an event together is an example of the 1990s momentum in European cooperation. Euro2020, now postponed till 2021, is co-hosted by 12 European cities. This is the story of crossing borders.

Share This