'We all follow the West Ham'

They say football is more than a game, and for West Ham United fan Michael Schmiedgunst the saying has a particular resonance.

The Austrian based Hammer has lived every fan's dream of playing in the iconic claret and blue strip as part of a 'Vienna International' team.

The United Nations, created in the aftermath of World War Two had a base in Vienna, and as a result thousands of displaced families and their children flocked to Vienna in the hope of resettlement.

Michael was fortunate to play as Austrian citizens were not allowed to take part in these 'international' games. Michael explains the situation: "My best friend was French-Israeli he took me with him and I got the permission to play. I guess it was due to my talent as I was quite a fast right-winger.

"I was 13 years-old and did not speak any English. It made me really proud to play for this team. As Austria is in the middle of Europe we had never any colonies, so speaking English was something very special at the time."

The program was sponsored by a number of clubs from around Europe, including West Ham. Michael's team wore the famous claret and blue and his love for West Ham was sealed.

"Our manager at the first game proudly announced that we received a gift and were allowed to play with the West Ham shirts. I was so proud to play with those beautiful colours."

Michael went on to play for the same team for four years: "In those years I played it was a fantastic time. I met so many interesting people, two of our then teammates even made it to international football, one Israeli and one Australian playing in their Under-21 national teams.

Michael had heard of the Hammers previously, through his father: "My father was quite a reasonable player, playing for a first division team in Austria in the thirties. He told me all about West Ham, players such as Booby Moore and of course the 1966 World Cup."

Due to the worldwide appeal of the Premier League, opportunities to watch West Ham have significantly increased: "As a kid in the seventies located in Austria, it was almost impossible to watch a game in the UK."

After travelling around the world for work, he settled back to his native Vienna where he has more opportunities to visit the Boleyn Ground.

"Recently I moved back to Vienna, and I started to go to watch games. I saw West Ham-Southampton this season, and I went to the Manchester United game last Saturday."

Despite seeing the Hammers lose twice this season, his passion and commitment cannot be dampened as he plans his next trip: "I am thinking about getting a VIP ticket for a forthcoming home game including the lunch as I have never met any West Ham players before."

Talking more generally about West Ham, Michael's passion is clear: "My favourite player? Obvious choice, it has to Bobby Moore. He was a true legend and a West Ham hero. My favourite player of the current squad is Mark Noble because he is always giving his best and is true to the West Ham colours."