From Child of the Occupation to Austrian International Footballer: Helmut Köglberger (1946-2018)

Helmut Köglberger (1946-2018) was born in Sierning, Upper Austria on 12 January 1946. Köglberger belongs to the generation of children colloquially known as “children of the occupation” (Besatzungskinder), born as descendants of Allied soldiers in Austria and Germany after the end of the Second World War. His father, whom he never remembered meeting, was an African-American GI and his mother was white Austrian. 

We do not know for certain what his mother’s experiences were, except that she gave him up as a one-year-old. Several sources suggest she was “overwhelmed” and forced to do so by challenging social and economic circumstances. Another source suggests “Köglberger later learned from a farmer who knew her mother that she had been under immense pressure. Although the Allies had overthrown National Socialist rule, the ideas were deeply rooted in many people. Women who had relations with Allied soldiers were insulted and ostracised.” As a consequence, he was raised primarily by his maternal grandmother who worked as a domestic helper. Helmut described his grandmother in positive terms: “My grandmother defended me like a lioness, if there was any trouble she would march there to sort things out.” 

Köglberger’s early prospects may have appeared bleak: he was a dark-skinned and fatherless young boy in a rural and tight-knit community. In a press interview, he described his childhood: “the farmers weren’t exactly enthusiastic about me. It wasn’t as if the many of the Nazis immediately changed their attitude after the war.” However, he felt accepted by his classmates, who treated him as an equal and were just as enthusiastic about football. Köglberger paints a picture of a generational divide between the stand-off older generation and his generation, who were united by common interests. In press interviews, he often avoided any lengthy account of racism beyond anecdotes. 

Köglberger described having to be independent at a young age, recalling in his childhood not having many clothes and having to organise his everyday routine by himself. He narrates his life as a story for standing up to hardship and overcoming through hard work: he formed a determined attitude and did not let his circumstances deter his ambition.  

The young Köglberger found solace in football and began his career at SK Amateure Steyr in 1962. He described feeling accepted by his teammates and began to ascend in the footballing world.  In 1965 Köglberger started his international career and represented Austria for the first time. He is informally recognized as the first Person of Color to represent Austria in football and the second in German-speaking Europe after Raymond Bardel, who represented Switzerland in 1951. Later, he became the captain and continued international football until 1976. The milestone passed without controversy at the time, which suggests general acceptance of Köglberger as an Austrian.

National press reports pay much more attention to his successful domestic career, which spanned between 1964 and 1981. He spent the majority of his career at Linzer Athletik-Sport-Klub (LASK) and was part of the famous 1965 champion and cup-winning team. He achieved the Austrian championship top goalscorer status in the 1968-1969 season, a feat he repeated in the 1974-1975 season. Köglberger remains the all-time top goalscorer for LASK, and his illustrious career saw him voted LASK Player of the Century in 2008. Following retirement, Köglberger participated in many community initiatives such as the Acakoro Football Academy, where he played a major role until his death on 23 September 2018. 

Köglberger’s life was characterised by remarkable determination, individual achievement in the face of adversity, and a journey of acceptance. We can see his view of life summed up when he explained, “I had to put in double the effort, but I was able to see that I had the potential of improving my life.” Helmut was not only a national football legend, but he was also a role model for a widened Austrian identity capable of achieving a large degree of acceptance through a more liberal notion of assimilation. In the video interview below, made around 2005 when Köglberger was coaching, he talks about his childhood experience of growing up poor as source of his motivation and football as a vehicle for securing a better life. 

Patrick Edore



Source: “Legende Helmut Köglberger (Interview),” LASK Videowelt via YouTube.


Creative Commons License

From Child of the Occupation to Austrian International footballer (1946-2018) by Patrick Edore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.