32 Fans, 32 Countries: Damaso Tarneller, an Oakland Raiders Fan in Austria

32 Fans, 32 Countries is a look at the global reaches of the NFL. For this project we have attempted to interview 32 different fans of all 32 teams in 32 different countries all around the world (UK, Canada, and Mexico excluded). As readers will find, the paths to fandom are as varied as the cultures and customs of each country. Check back every day for a new profile. Next up: A Raiders fan in Austria.

It’s pretty easy to be a fan of a football team when you are actually a part of their organization. Such is the case for Damaso Tarneller, a wide receiver for the Raiders. The SWARCO Raiders of Innsbruck, Austria, that is.

As much as the SWARCO Raiders may sound like local pop warner team cutely borrowing a nickname from the NFL, they are in actuality a legitimate, successful cog in Austria’s semi-professional league.

Founded in 1992 as part of a unique, trailblazing relationship with their Oakland brethren, the SWARCO Raiders Tirol (the official team name) have evolved from a nice simple, tentacle of American football to a robust, layered program. Starting at age 5, aspiring football players can sign up for a Raiders program, and move through different levels until age 20 when they become eligible to play for the main club.

Tarneller was 8 when he starting playing for the Raiders. His parents, motivated by concerns that their son suffered from hyperactivity, enrolled him in the program largely as an energy release. They had known about the Raiders because a neighbor had played for them. Tarneller had not even heard of American football at the time, but thought, ‘hey, I’ll give it a shot.’

And he loved it. As Tarneller got older, he naturally moved his way up to the “big leagues” of the SWARCO Raiders, a team that has evolved into one of the most competitive in the European Football League, a continent-wide league that has been playing American football since 1986. In the most recent championship game, EuroBowl XXVII, the SWARCO Raiders lost to the Raiffeisen Vikings Vienna 37-14.

“Imagine soccer’s Champions League Final. That’s our EuroBowl.” Tarneller said.

Tarneller in action.

The league may contain teams as far reaching and diverse as Brussels, Prague and Copenhagen, but it is the Austrians who are the dominating country. In many ways, the Austrian Bowl, which the Raiders also lost this year to those pesky Vikings, is as prestigious as the EuroBowl.  Tarneller did not participate due to an injury.

Tarneller’s football career began as a linebacker, and then he morphed into a quarterback for the majority of his youth. However, the SWARCO Raiders often pay American imports to assume the quarterback position at the highest level so Tarneller decided he would become a receiver, and he is now one of the most successful in the league at the position.

Tarneller has received much recognition for her service to the Raiders (it really is a service as most players have to pay a nominal league fee.)  Most notably, as part of SWARCO’s relationship with the Oakland Raiders, Tarneller was hand selected to spend a few days at Oakland’s training camp in 2010.

While in town, he received ample one-on-one time with players and coaches, experienced a Raiders Fan Night (not as terrifying as it sounds), and the icing on the cake – Tarneller attended his first NFL game, a 49ers-Raiders preseason affair. Tarneller was enlisted by Oakland to blog about his experience.

 The relationship between the two Raiders’ franchises continues and is something both sides take seriously. Dig a little and you’ll find space within the Oakland Raiders official team website dedicated to stories on the SWARCO Raiders recent championship losses.

Now that his season is over, Tarneller will largely focus on his other career as a student studying International economics at the University of Innsbruck. And his Sundays will be spent rooting for the Oakland Raiders.

Tarneller says the NFL is more popular in Austria then the NBA, a rarity in Europe, and that ESPN America televises two NFL games a week. To fill in any gaps in Raiders’ coverage, Tarneller will hang out on NFL.com, frequently refreshing for new highlights. For scheduling and sleep purposes, it certainly helps that recent woes have left the Raiders without many primetime games. But on the rare occasion they do play at night, which will happen just once his season, Tarneller has no issue staying alert for a 4 AM kickoff.

While the SWARCO Raiders have enjoyed much more recent success then the Oakland Raiders, Tarneller has had no thoughts of jumping ship or paying less attention to his American “big brother.”

“In sports it is always natural to be a fan of the team you played for as a kid.” Tarneller said. “I have been a devoted Raiders fan from the beginning and will remain so.”