Why I love football

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There are moments in football that underline its greatness, its ability to deliver generation-defining moments, stir emotions to an extent no other sport can. These moments are often fleeting, but the ephemeral joy or despair is a drug that should be bottled and placed on the chemist’s shelf next to the methadone.

Toni Kroos’s head-in-hands after putting Germany 3-0 up on Brazil after not even half an hour was one such moment, his simple pose embodying the emotions of practically the entire football-supporting world. The earth-shattering nature of that result, or that half of football, is probably unrivalled in the history of the game, but you don’t need a 7-1 in a World Cup semi-final to prove how life-affirming football can sometimes be. Let me stray outside of this blog’s remit for a moment…

SV Darmstadt 98 are, measured by their own ambitions, a pretty average club. Long part of the German football fabric, the club was beset by financial difficulties and have only recently clawed their way back into the realms of professional football. Promotion to the 3. Liga in 2011 was a long time coming, but they struggled at that level for two seasons, only being saved from relegation in 2013 due to Kickers Offenbach’s financial meltdown and forced demotion.

There’s no doubt, then, that Darmstadt were the surprise package of the 2013/14 3. Liga season. Finishing a respectable fourth in the Hinrunde, Darmstadt then took more points in the second half of the season than eventual champions 1. FC Heidenheim. Their automatic promotion hopes were ultimately only scuppered by a 1-0 loss at RB Leipzig with a handful of games remaining. In a league of so much mediocrity, it’s often a charging, in-form side that puts in a final spurt to reach the promotion or playoff spots. Darmstadt took their chances and beat the likes of Hansa Rostock and Wehen Wiesbaden by a comfortable margin to the promotion playoff. They would be pitted against DSC Arminia Bielefeld, the third-worst team in the 2. Bundesliga, over a two-legged playoff.

Ironically, Arminia themselves had just come off a ludicrous winner-takes-all relegation showdown in Dresden. The Ostwestfalen conceded a 0-2 lead before Kacper Przybylko “ended the madness”, as Kicker put it, and nudged Bielefeld into the playoff at Dynamo’s expense – and by doing so provoking Dynamo’s infamous “you have one hour to leave our city” banner aimed at their own players.

Spirits were obviously high in the Arminia camp, and it showed with a confident performance in the first leg at Darmstadt’s barely third-tier-worthy but still incredibly charming Böllenfalltor stadium. With Bielefeld 2-0 up by half time, and with the away goals rule in effect, they looked to be home and dry, especially after substitute Sebastian Hille truly embraced the term “route one” and put his side 3-1 up.

I could describe what happened in the return leg, but in truth it was 90 minutes of repeating “they couldn’t, could they?” in an almost demonic mantra. I kroosed for the first time when Jerome Gondorf rifled in an absolutely glorious strike with the kind of aplomb that would have been impressive on the training ground, let alone with ten minutes to go in a promotion playoff. If that wasn’t enough, Darmstadt could very well have won it in normal time, with two great chances in quick succession and a point-blank Ortega save from Aytac Sulu.

And so it continued in extra time. Long throw from Darmstadt, nodded on, clear handball from the Bielefeld defender but not seen by the referee, ball breaks loose, Ortega palms a Landeka shot onto the post to save Bielefeld’s skin. More kroosing. It was like a cartoon, the footballing equivalent of some sort of ridiculous Tintin escapade.

But, as in all good crime stories, there had to be a twist. With ten minutes to go in extra time, a cross comes in from the right-hand side and the hero from do-or-die playoff rehearsal in Dresden, Kacper Przybylko, shanks a shot past the flailing Zimmermann in the Darmstadt goal. To all intents and purposes, that was it – Bielefeld would stay up, Darmstadt would end their dream season with a respectable third place but ultimately in disappointment.

But that wasn’t it: In stoppage time of extra time, Darmstadt pour forward in search of a winner. The ball is pumped into the box, nodded down on the edge of the area and Elton da Costa, brought on as a substitute for Gondorf just after the Bielefeld extra-time goal, sets himself up for a volley. Sometimes you can kind of tell when a player is winding up for what Germans call “a full-risk effort” that the shot’s going to have some legs. This was one of those moments. Da Costa strikes it true, almost at hip height, and the ball screeches through the packed penalty area and past a helpless Ortega into the Bielefeld net. In unison, the 2,000 or so Darmstadt fans behind the goal enter that state of I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-myself ecstasy – gloriously captured on the TV broadcast thanks to Darmstadt having the good grace to score their winner at the right end of the ground.

It was an astonishing match, perhaps the most dramatic I have ever seen. As the Football Ramble put it in their 2014 World Cup wrap, classic matches cannot simply be end-to-end affairs. There has to be a tactical edge, some sort of sounding out between the teams. In a classic boxing match, the boxers don’t necessarily go at it hammer and tongs right from the off, they take time to identify each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

What made it all the more dramatic was the key difference between the German and English playoff systems. The English playoffs are merely contested by promotion candidates. Sure, a playoff final loss can hurt a lot (just ask Preston fans), but imagine if, say, this season QPR’s Championship playoff final victory had relegated Derby County from the Premier League. It almost doesn’t bear thinking about. But that’s exactly what happened to Arminia Bielefeld – and in perhaps the cruellest and most astonishing way it could ever have happened.

And that’s why I love football.

 

Brdarić’s new boys streets ahead of Regionalliga favourites

After somewhat of a false dawn for the reborn Regionalliga Nordost last year, a season in which RB Leipzig cantered away with the title, the second edition has delivered more of an even playing field for those hoping for promotion to the relative riches of the 3. Liga. Given the illustrious names whiling away their time at Germany’s fourth tier, including European Cup Winners’ Cup winners FC Magdeburg and multiple East German champions Carl Zeiss Jena, you’d be forgiven for not recognising this season’s true pacesetters. Here’s a look at business end of the season so far.

Entering the winter break with a lead almost akin to Keegan’s Newcastle, TSG Neustrelitz are undoubtedly the surprise of the season. Neustrelitz may have been everyone’s dark horses for promotion at the start of the 2013/14 season, especially after taking SC Freiburg to extra time in the first round of the DFL Pokal in August, but the job that former German international Thomas Brdarić has done in the picturesque Mecklenburg town is no less impressive. Seven points ahead at the time of writing, TSG president Hauke Runge has already announced that Neustrelitz will be applying for promotion to the 3. Liga next season, a quite astonishing development considering Neustrelitz were nothing more than a mid-table 5th division side in the relatively recent past.

Even with its weekly highlights show just before the main Bundesliga highlights and ailing former Bundesliga clubs trying to tread water (including, in the past, Bielefeld, Karlsruhe, Rostock, etc.), promotion from the 3. Liga is not the great reward everyone may imagine it to be. Indeed, no less than four teams in the Regionalliga Bayern didn’t even bother to apply for promotion last season. The standards, both financially and in terms of infrastructure, are high – including a 10,000-seater stadium and floodlights that are suitable for TV.

Neustrelitz’s unrelenting form saw them quickly rise to the top of the table in place of early-season pacesetters Berliner AK. An unbelievable run of straight victories stretched from the piercing heat of mid-August to the knee-shattering, half-frozen turf of December. Thirteen victories in succession have given the Mecklenburg club a serious shot at making the step up to the third tier. Perhaps north-eastern Germany, with train stations from Usedom to Wismar daubed in unmistakable blue and red Hansa Rostock graffiti, may get a second representative in professional German football.

Hot on Neustrelitz’s heels are FC Magdeburg – a club that (*favourite stat klaxon*) have never been relegated for sporting reasons in their entire history. Magdeburg have been stuck at this level ever since failing to qualify for the newly created 3. Liga by a margin of just four goals in 2008. The team that took their place? Eintracht Braunschweig – football can be tough sometimes. With a relatively new stadium and one of the region’s largest supports, everything seems to be in place for the club from the Saxony-Anhalt capital – only sporting success and, importantly, money have been missing.

One aspect of FC Magdeburg that certainly isn’t missing is goals. The league’s second-top scorers have well and truly left behind the days of arrow-based humiliation at the hands of their own supporters and with Christian Beck, signed from league rivals Germania Halberstadt in January 2013, they have a striker who can seem to get his head on anything and more often than not pop up with a crucial goal. Under manager Andreas Petersen, Magdeburg looked to have settled down after seasons of mediocrity – a playoff spot could certainly be a possibility. Magdeburg travel to Jena and then to Neustrelitz’s Parkstadion in consecutive away matches in March, and this could prove decisive for the promotion race.

Perhaps the only other promotion contender, bar any miracle runs from mid-placed sides, in this season’s Regionalliga Nordost is Carl Zeiss Jena. The Jenenser were the only side to put up anything resembling a fight to RB Leipzig last season, and after going from perennial 3. Liga promotion hopefuls to relegation to the Regionalliga in just one nightmare season a couple of years ago, they will be looking to make a return sooner rather than later.

That being said, things are all change behind the scenes at the Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld. Belgian millionaire Roland Duchâtelet, whose other investments include Belgian clubs Standard Liège and Sint-Truiden as well as Charlton Athletic and one-time Real Madrid-slayers Alcorcon, has purchased 49% of Carl Zeiss for a one-off payment of €2 million. A further €4 million has been pledged over the next four years. Duchâtelet’s plan is for Jena to make a return to the 2. Bundesliga within five to seven years. It’s an ambitious target, but with Jena city council recently approving the construction of a new stadium to replace the ageing, and often sodden, Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld, things could start falling into place for the Zeisser.

Then again, financial deliverance from a single individual can often end in tears, forced relegations and balance sheets redder than Vincent Tan’s fucked-up dreamworld. Given their money troubles of the past, Zeiss fans are all too aware of this. Jena president Rainer Zipfel called Duchâtelet’s an “opportunity the club would never have again”, but one of the leading ultra groups – Horda Azzuro – have announced they will no longer be actively organising any support in protest at the move. Could Carl Zeiss Jena, the former works club of the optical systems giant based in the city, become the next Hoffenheim?

On Red Bull and apathy

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On many occasions have I sat down at my desk to write about RB Leipzig. The almost universal source of hate and scorn in German football is a universal source of frustration and keyboard bashing in myself.

A recent interview in 11 Freunde (#143, October 2013) with Energie Cottbus vice-president Wolfgang Neubert, Dynamo Dresden managing director Christian Müller and Erzgebirge Aue president Lothar Lässig brought it all to a head. In it, the trio lament the rise of RB Leipzig and the relative degeneration of the rest of the region, i.e. the former East Germany. No money, no prospects, no top-tier football – with RB flashing the cash and aiming for the stars just around the corner. To me, most of what they say epitomises the senseless, self-pitying and irritating attitude of most football fans when it comes to RB Leipzig.

Their claims are mostly lies, damn lies and (poorly researched) statistics. Is it RB Leipzig’s fault that, in Aue, sponsors “cannot come up with €6 million just like that”, as Lässig points out? No, probably not. The decline of many towns and cities here is a social issue. Aue is a tiny mining town smaller than places like Goole or Lewes, no wonder there’s no money there. Another bone of contention are Müller’s allegations that “RBL have almost forty U-16 players” and are soaking up talent all over the reason by offering lucrative deals to young teenagers. A a club managing director, Müller perhaps should have heard of DFB regulations limiting clubs’ squad sizes to 20. Attracting talent is certainly part of the RB mode, they admit that themselves. But what’s the difference between them allegedly (the club’s youth director has since publicly denied the claims) offering big contracts to youth players in Dresden or Jena and Toni Kroos being poached from Rostock by Bayern at the age of 16? That’s the way the world goes round.

Whenever the criticism rears its ugly head, there are always a few key arguments. RB typifies the commercial influence in our game, sure, but that doesn’t mean it should be the sole source of people’s ire. Case in point: the ultras at Borussia Dortmund (Ultras von die Amateure) recently announced a boycott of the match between BVB II and RB Leipzig on the grounds that the club is simply a commercial venture. Does that make it any different to BVB, a club that was floated on the stock exchange in 1999? Anyone who witnessed the BVB’s unashamed self-whoring in and around Wembley at the Champions League final will know that the “BVB brand” is just as lucrative.

Earlier in the season, MSV Duisburg fans travelled to Leipzig and proceeded to have a barbecue in front of the stadium instead of going in to support their team. This is it! This is exactly what annoys me. RB Leipzig was set up by Red Bull to increase the brand presence, surely everyone knows that? In spite of this, RB Leipzig still enjoys a relatively high, and perhaps for most quite surprising, level of support in the city. What are your protests going to do to change that? This is football, something that has long since revolved around making filthy lucre (or rather losing it, as Duisburg fans know all too well). Your absence from the away block is not going to make it go away.

It surprises me that people take the issue of RB Leipzig so seriously. Then again, football has become so vitriolic that it perhaps was only a matter of time. You want to criticise? Go ahead, by all means, but the moment you walk into Rewe and pick up a can of that Austrian energy drink to relieve your hangover you invalidate your argument. Better still, invest your energy in making sure things stay the way you want them to be at your own club. Become a member, have a say in what happens, engage in club-fan policy.

I cannot identify with RB Leipzig: The sanitised support, contrived “ultra” culture, the free tickets, the branding, people that just go along because they want to see “good” football – none of it really fits my perception of what the game is about. But neither do those people who dress up like condoms to form a T-Mobile logo in the Allianz Arena every Bayern München home game. Of course, I’m free to say that it’s all shit and I hate it – it’s my opinion after all all –, but in the end does it really have an effect on my existence as a football fan?

In Salzburg, Red Bull descended like a vulture on the carcass of SV Austria Salzburg and built their Red Bull Salzburg brand out of the ashes. That was unforgivable to most football fans around Europe, but here in Leipzig there is no “victim”. Plus, if every single football fan despised the company for what they did in Austria, why do RB Leipzig attract five-figure crowds on a regular basis? The sooner football fans come to terms with the fact that there’s almost nothing they can do about RB Leipzig, the better. Maybe then we can all move on.

When Karl Marx met the Old Lady

FCK fans en route to Turin. Photo courtesy of cfc-fanpage.de

FCK fans cross the Brenner Pass en route to Turin. Photo courtesy of cfc-fanpage.de

This is a first-hand account of FC Karl-Marx Stadt’s (now Chemnitzer FC) trip to Turin to face Juventus in the UEFA Cup 1989/90 written by Tino Richter. It has been translated from German with the kind permission of www.cfc-fanpage.de, where it was originally published.

It was autumn ’89, people had other stuff in the minds, not football. But in Chemnitz, all the talk was of the UEFA Cup. Until now we only saw it on TV. Sure FCK once played on the European stage, but back then we were all in nappies. Now, though, things were different. After the first couple of successful matches for our sky-blue heroes in this amazing competition, the draw was to take place for the next round. Just as always in Chemnitz, people were complaining before the draw was even made: “As long as its not Prague or some fucking place like that”. Fortunately, it wasn’t. The next victim of FC Karl-Marx Stadt would be… Juventus. The Old Lady, an Italian institution versus our beloved FCK. The city was gripped by UEFA Cup fever. Even though only 10,000 people trudged down to the Gellertstraße for Oberliga matches, suddenly everyone was interested.

There were people in Chemnitz who didn’t even know where FCK played, but everyone knew Juve. The border was becoming increasingly porous and we soon came to the conclusion that we had to be there in Turin, regardless of what it took. We go to every single fucking away match in the Oberliga and then let this trip simply pass us by? Never. Rumours spread that a football special was being organised for the trip south. We would have gone by car, but the 15 West marks we had to our name wouldn’t even have got us to Austria. After a home match in the Oberliga, there was a meeting between those involved in planning the trip, people who didn’t have a clue and the proper fans. As always at FCK, nothing was properly organised. It went to and fro – no one really knew what was going on. At some point a list appeared with some names on it. There were already quite a few on the list that we didn’t know, and a few that we did. My mate and I have former FCK keeper Michael Kompalla to thank for getting on that list. The trip was supposed to cost 800 Ost marks, a month’s wage. It was a lot of money, but fuck it: A month without food is better than a week without FCK.

Then all we had to do was make sure we got a ticket for the football special. First things first, we had to get passports and, of course, passport photos for the visa. Shit, passport photos? Where were we supposed to get those done? It wasn’t like it is now where you can pop down to the supermarket and get ‘em done on the machine. Polyphoto was the magic word. So off we went. But wait, we forgot that it wasn’t just football fans that wanted a passport, the entire population of Chemnitz did too in preparation for a potential border opening. The queue was worse than the queue at the grocer’s when they had bananas in. No chance.

Then we had an idea – we had a bit of West German money left over from the odd job on the side in the garage and we were able to buy our way forward a few places in the queue. Just like now I suppose. My mate had some time off and joined the queue for both of us. I was at work and could come by every now and then in one of the cars we had in to repair to check whether we might be in with a chance in the near future. As I said, at some point we had all our papers sorted and the next trip meeting was to be held at the Sportforum. We had to fill out visa forms for Austria and Italy – line for line as dictated by Peter Müller and co. – awesome. As we handed in the mountain of paperwork, our names were crossed off on the list. I asked what it all meant, the response was “None of that matters now” – of course, I’d completely forgotten that the border restrictions had been lifted. The nightmare task of getting the passports and visas approved in East Berlin is probably best left to the club to explain – Peter Müller would be more than happy to oblige, I’m sure.

Tuesday 21 November, around 5pm or so – meeting point at the station. This was the big day – in an hour we’d either be on the train or at home in tears. No one really knew whether the paperwork had gone through properly. I finished work and had a couple of beers to calm the nerves. Then I went up to the man holding all of our passports on the platform. I told him my name, and he began flicking a thick pack of permits like a fucking magician. Was mine there or wasn’t it? He went through about half of them before pulling mine out and holding it aloft. I was going, so were some of my mates – others had to stay behind. We were in absolute ecstasy, while those left behind cried like babies. I still get mad thinking about how many loyal FCK fans had to stay behind, their place taken by privileged party members and that ever-present Stasi mob.

The journey began. We had a sleeper compartment, plus room for all of our food and drinks. The schnapps bottles were opened and the beer started flowing. First stop was the border – open at that point but still very much fortified with guard towers and minefields. It was a pretty strange feeling; a few weeks ago this was the death strip, but now we were just casually passing through. We’re off to see our club, just like always, so we though “fuck the border, forever FCK”.

First station on the other side was Hof. Two Bavarian border policemen wished us luck, even though they didn’t really know what was going on. We slept a little and our express train rolled through Bavaria and into Austria. At some station or other – the name escapes me – there were these two officials who were relatively intelligent for Austrians. They asked us where we were coming from and then tried to understand what we were saying. I reckon they probably still don’t know to this day what our city was called.

Before long we reached Innsbruck and had an hour to spare – time to stock up on supplies. Oh wait, we had only changed our 15 Ost marks into lira and of course no one would take that stuff here. We had to look elsewhere. A staff member at the station drove a pallet full of crates of beer along the platform and parked it next to our train. We felt sorry for him, that poor guy. The thought that he would have to carry all of that heavy stuff into one of the Austrian trains gave us an idea. Two guys went down to the vehicle, while the others stood at the window. We heaved all the crates through the window – into the FCK Express of course. We hid a few crates in our compartment, before the police appeared at the door. They were on the lookout for stolen beer and had the impression that it may be here in our wagon. We responded with complete bafflement of course, saying that we were merely passing through and didn’t really understand what they were saying. Another FCK fan in the train suggested that they might like to quietly fuck off, we weren’t here to go skiing, we were off to see FCK.

Finally we started moving again. Steffl was the name of the beer if I remember correctly. It was alright and lasted until we reached our destination. Our FCK Express meandered through the Alps, the bright sky matching our sky-blue scarves. I still have a picture – leaning out of the train as we chugged around a curve, the perfect blue of the sky with snow-capped mountains in the background and FCK flags adorning our carriages; amazing. After traversing the Alps we reached Milan, and couldn’t go any further. The Italian railways were on strike – quite rightly, no doubt. But FCK was waiting for us. What were we going to do??? While we waited we sang songs on the platform at Milan station with some crazy Italians. Neither of us knew what the other was saying, but at least we were loud. While this was happening, some of the unwelcome party members on the train unfurled an East German flag out of the window and were subsequently photographed by some Italian journalists. Shortly afterwards, we made it painfully clear to these unwanted guests how things were going to work from now on. The flag soon disappeared.

Finally we got the news we had all been hoping for – the driver had got a special permit from his trade union to proceed just for us. The focus was on FCK and its fans and that’s how things were going to remain for a while. Our train rumbled onwards and soon reached our final destination, Turin. It was late afternoon and the floodlights were already on – not at the stadium, at the Stationi Torino. The whole place was lit up like a Christmas tree, hundreds of journalists, Italian TV and loads of Juventus fans gave us a welcome that still brings tears to my eyes this day.

We were there – the famous Chemnitz fans arriving at the heart of Italian football. It was mental. Interviews in every language under the sun. Before I knew it I had a Juventus scarf around my neck. Italians are emotional people and we felt that we fitted in. Our arrival was broadcast live on Italian TV. We were in luck, our personal reporter could speak German well and explained more about us than we did about ourselves. After all, news of the fall of the Iron Curtain hadn’t passed Italy by or anything and the Italians were happy to be part of this huge shift in the European landscape.

We swapped everything. Anything that had an East German emblem on it was swapped. One FCK fan ripped his passport apart and swapped every page for a scarf or a pennant – unbelievable. Juventus had organised a few buses at the station to take us to the ground – probably about ten in total for the 460 FCK fans. Out of the hustle and bustle of the station and into the buses to the ground – that was the plan. But we wanted a tour of the famous city, and it was chaos. Getting 10 buses through the awful Torino traffic was impossible. I suppose it was late afternoon, commuter traffic, European match that evening and, of course, the temperament. At some point 3 of our buses stopped next to a park. No idea where the other buses got to. We were supposed to take a look at a museum “or something”.

As always, our part of the group decided to go for the “or something” and headed into the pedestrian zone in the city centre. There we saw a friendly Italian guy with a pair of tongs in his hand, selling roasted chestnuts. What the hell was this stuff? We gobbled up the entire grill and then the seller started calling for his mother – Maria or something her name was. The next stop on our tour was the newsagents. Aha! Here we could buy some postcards. When we came back out, the newspaper stands were empty. How the journalists got that picture of us in Milan in the papers three hours after it was taken is still a mystery. One of our group flicked through a top-shelf mag, lamenting “this isn’t a programme.” “Forget the birds, today FCK needs us!” shouted someone else.

Onwards we went through the pedestrian zone, past a jewellers watched by eagled-eyed Carabinieri. We started counting the zeroes on the price labels – a 25 with 7 zeroes after it, no way. So that bloke from Bavarian radio was lying to us when he read out the exchange rates every week. 1 Ost mark was 1,000 lire, so that means that necklace costs…never!! We decided to forget the maths and walk on. It was almost time for the big event. Across the street with our big FCK flag and into a huge traffic jam. The Italians were honking their horns like there was no tomorrow. We danced around on the roundabout with our flag as if no one else was there. One driver forgot about the jam and joined in. He climbed on the roof of his car with a massive Juventus flag, while others began singing with their flags and scarves. They were all crazy – just like us. We would have loved to have stayed but it was time to head to the stadium. Whether those Italians ever got out of that traffic jam I do not know.

On the way to the stadium we saw a few shops barricaded up. Of course, Juve were playing and there was always something going on. Somehow we made it there. The Stadio Communale di Torino, one of the most famous in Europe, was expecting us. It was a huge concrete bowl with rows of seats in every direction; the walls plastered with AS Roma and Inter graffiti. Now, however, it was time for FCK. The Italians were really friendly towards us, and we swapped scarves and badges all night. In our block was also a delegation from Juve’s city rivals – I think they might just have been crazier than the Juve fans. The stadium wasn’t very full, but the noise could have filled several. We were welcomed by the home fans in our block and a group of Italian women came over to present us with flowers. Some of us would have preferred it if they had stayed, but that wasn’t why we were here.

Suddenly the noise became deafening as the Juve fans joined to sing the club song. The volume was indescribable. During the song the home curve was bathed in a bright orange glare. It seemed to me as if every fan in the curva had one in the hand. You couldn’t see anything but for flares and smoke.

Soon it was time for the real show to begin. 0-6 or 0-7, whatever happens it doesn’t matter, at least we’re here. As the match progressed things started to change, the Stadio Communale grew quieter as FC Karl-Marx Stadt showed the Old Lady how to play football. The only Juve fan still making a racket was the coffee seller in the away end – but he soon shut up after he was told that none of us wanted any fucking coffee. Then the silence was broken – 1-0 for FCK in Turin. We saw nothing, but as the team ran back towards our end, arms aloft, we knew what had happened. For me and my 459 companions in the away terrace it was bedlam. The rest of the stadium was in shocked silence. No-one, not even us fans, thought we even had a sniff of hope against one of Europe’s best defences. The fog enveloping the stadium became thicker and thicker, some Juve fans called for it to be abandoned – no wonder given the scoreline.

The rest is history I suppose. A shame to lose, but the performance from our sky-blue heroes was incredible. As we left the stadium and got back on the buses, we celebrated as if we’d won. On the streets we were surrounded by enthusiastic Italian fans who followed us to the station and gave us all these presents for our trip home. Our compartment was full with bottles of wine. A friend of ours came in to the train clutching a bag of oranges; never have I laughed so much.

The journey back was pretty uneventful – the bottles were empty and we were correspondingly tipsy. I think the first signs of life from our compartment came when we reached Rosenheim. Some searched the station for any other football fans and came back with a green and orange scarf. No idea what team that was, maybe it was just from some passer-by. That was it, back to normal. Just before we reached Hof we were asked to close all the windows and the doors were locked. Hundreds of people from Saxony and Thuringia had been shopping in West Germany and wanted to get home. They were squeezed into the station at Hof as we went through, and of course we didn’t want to take any of them with us on the FCK Express. Quickly we gathered together some rubbish, put it in a box and threw it out the window at their feet hoping there might be a bit of action – but nothing happened. None of them were prepared for seeing a train full of football fans travelling back home on a Thursday afternoon. A group of party agitators came on board wanting to teach us how to behave shortly before we got home – they just couldn’t help themselves. In our wagon things finally escalated and we got the entertainment we were looking for – just like a proper away match.

It was a crazy autumn. Our beloved FCK had to take a back seat for a bit, as the political situation had a firm grip on our lives. Upon our return, the first thing to do was enjoy the reception by the welcoming committee in the pub. There was only space for six around a table, but there must have been thirty around ours: “So come on, how was it?”

Dynamo live to fight another day

Picture courtesy of Unterwegs in Sachen Fußball.

Picture courtesy of Unterwegs in Sachen Fußball.

The explosion of noise, jubilation and relief from perhaps one of Germany’s largest one-club city could be heard throughout the Bundesrepublik. SG Dynamo Dresden had, by the skin of their teeth, done it. They’d stayed up. Players danced and celebrated in front of a jubilant K block terrace, bearing t-shirts reiterating the club’s pledge to keep their head above water for two seasons before really “giving it a go” in 2013/14.

In truth, Dynamo’s second season after promotion from the third tier ought to have been much more comfortable than it turned out to be. They wandered almost blindly into the relegation mire and were arguably only saved from the ignominy of direct relegation due to the hopelessness of Regensburg and Sandhausen. Away form was an issue and the points that Dynamo had picked up on their travels the season before, leading to a comfortable 9th-place finish, were sorely missed.

So it came to a two-legged tie against perennial playoff participants VfL Osnabrück. Since the playoffs between Germany’s top-three tiers were reintroduced in 2009, the club from the Friedensstadt have been involved on three out of five occasions, both as a 2. Bundesliga club trying to avoid the drop and as a 3. Liga side striving for promotion, contriving to lose every single time. Indeed, Osnabrück were Dynamo’s opponents two years ago when the Dresden club achieved an unlikely promotion back to the second tier after an outstanding end-of-season run-in.

The first leg, on a balmy Friday night at Osnabrück’s chocolate-box Stadion an der Bremer Brücke, went the way of the home side. Both sides looked on equal footing, with Dynamo desperately searching for that oh-so-important away goal. Shortly before half-time, with the match finely poised, Osnabrück attacking fulcrum Gaetano Manno slipped a cross-cum-shot in at Dynamo keeper Benni Kirsten’s near post. Kirsten, son of Dynamo legend Ulf, could certainly have done better, despite the fact that he was unsighted. However, the ‘keeper atoned for his error by saving a vital second-half penalty from Timo Staffelt, awarded after a handball from Dynamo captain Bregerie. Incredibly, it was Kirsten’s 5th penalty save of the season, including two in one match in a vital home win over Paderborn as the regular season drew to a close. Despite the efforts of Idir Ouali and the rather blunt Pavel Fort, Dynamo failed to find the net. Nevertheless, overturning a one-goal deficit was considered doable, but a two-goal defeat away from home without troubling the scoresheet would have been disastrous.

Every Dynamo fan knew what was at stake in the return leg. Relegation to the unpopular German third tier would not simply have had sporting implications, it may have also threatened SG Dynamo Dresden’s very existence. The club had only survived their 2009/10 promotion season after a €2 million cash injection from city authorities, a favour they may think twice about granting again in the future.

The primeval roar that greeted the players onto the pitch was merely a taste of things to come. Fans often refer themselves rather self-assuredly as the “twelfth man”, but in Dresden’s case this is often true – especially on a night like this. The Osnabrück players were visibly affected by the raucous atmosphere and attempted to play it safe, rarely venturing forward in the first half with much intent. On the half-hour mark, just as there appeared to be a tiny glint of nervousness in the Dynamo support, Cristian Fiel picked up the ball on the right after good work from Ouali and proceeded to lash the ball into the top right-hand corner with vengeance. It was a goal of tremendous quality that left ‘keeper Riemann rooted to the spot. What’s more, it was a microcosm of the situation the Osnabrück players found themselves in – almost completely powerless to stop this highly motivated Dresden side, buoyed on by 30,000 frenzied fans.

The second half provided much of the same, although a noticeably less-frantic Dynamo pushed and probed and waited for their opportunity to tip the tie in their favour. The away goals rule meant that even the slightest mistake could have left Dynamo needing two more to win, but any Osnabrück attack was defended resolutely. Perhaps their only clear opportunity came shortly before Dynamo’s first goal, when Kirsten appeared to bring down Zoller in the box. Referee Gagelmann waved play on and Dynamo had just about enough time to remove their hearts from their mouths before Fiel’s spectacular opener.

As in the first leg, Gaetano Manno was a constant threat for the guests with tricky footwork and clever runs. However, on many occasions support was sorely lacking from his teammates. It seemed only a matter of time before Osnabrück’s frail defence crumbled, and sure enough on 71 minutes substitute Tobias Kempe breaking through on the right and crossing. Eventually the ball fell to Idir Ouali, almost an ever-present in the Dynamo side this term, who made no mistake from 6 yards to edge Dresden in front on aggregate. Despite a few customary scares late on, Osnabrück failed to make a breakthrough and Dresden were left to celebrate survival in front of a sold-out Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion.

The bright orange light of the flares pierced the night air and the week- or even month-long tension that had built was released like the cork on a champagne bottle. An attempted pitch invasion and a few isolated bangers were almost immediately prohibited by players, officials and, yes, fellow Dynamo fans and all were left to UFFTA the night away safe in the knowledge that 2. Bundesliga football would be returning to the Florence of the Elbe next season.

Nu Dynamo, nächste Saison aber risch!

Paradise lost

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Naming a city’s main station “Paradise” is quite an audacious move. As you cruise through the Thuringian Forest and the picturesque Saale valley and roll into Jena Paradies station, that’s exactly the sight that greets you. Paradise is subjective I suppose, but unless you’re a fan of Eastern European-style, uncovered bowl stadiums and huge sets of floodlights, there are probably more attractive places to spend the afterlife.

Every lamppost and spare piece of wall in Jena city centre contains a clue to where loyalties lie in this city: FC Carl Zeiss Jena. The Zeiss name is inextricably linked with Jena’s fortunes. Backed by the huge Carl Zeiss precision engineering company, East Germany’s largest state-owned combine, FC Carl Zeiss Jena were one of the most successful sides in East Germany – even reaching a Cup Winners’ Cup final, which they lost to Dinamo Tblisi in Düsseldorf. The links are so strong that the name was kept after the reunification. Carl Zeiss is Jena, Jena is Carl Zeiss.

Nowadays FC Carl Zeiss Jena (FCC) find themselves in the fourth tier of German football after relegation from the 3. Liga last season. Sporadic periods of 2. Bundesliga football and one DFB-Pokal semi-final in Dortmund are the most FCC fans have had to cheer about since reunification. Today FCC would host FSV Zwickau – a “best of the rest” clash in the Regionalliga Nordost for the honour of finishing the season a distant second to runaway leaders RB Leipzig.

The walk from Jena Paradies to the Jena’s home, the Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld, would have been pleasant if it hadn’t been colder than Thatcher’s heart. After a quick five-minute stroll through the Paradies park, which gives the station its name, the stadium’s enormous floodlights soon come into view. Like so many grounds in the former East Germany, the Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld is a largely uncovered bowl with one main, covered tribune. It undoubtedly has its charm and on warm afternoons with the sun on your back and a cold beer in your hand, it’s a pleasure to watch football there. However, the biting wind sluicing down the valley made memories of previous spring or summer visits to FCC seem very far away indeed.

The Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld’s days appear to be numbered after the European Union approved subsidies for new stadiums to be built for Thuringia’s two largest clubs – arch rivals Rot-Weiß Erfurt and Carl Zeiss Jena. The memories of European nights under the floodlights when FCC sent teams such as Valencia and AS Roma packing, and more recent spells in the 2. Bundesliga, are etched into the substance of this place. Going there is almost like a trip back in time, back to patchy TV broadcasts with crackling commentary when teams from the former Eastern Bloc were almost exclusively referred to as “crack outfits”. My hope is that, like in Dresden and Halle, the new stadium retains part of the character that makes the Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld special.

Today was not only the meeting of traditionally two of East Germany’s most successful sides, it was also a long-awaited reunion between two of the region’s most colourful and active fan scenes. The last meeting between the club’s first teams at the Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld dates back to 2004, and the friendship between the Zwickau ultras Red Kaos and Ultras Dynamo from almost universally hated Dynamo Dresden adds extra spice.

Unfortunately, it soon became clear that this match day would have a somewhat different meaning for the Jena fan scene. A founder member of ultra group Lost Boyz Jena lost his battle with cancer at the age of 36 the week before. Prior to kick-off, a group of players presented Lost Boyz members with a wreath, which was laid in front of the Sudkurve, while a fellow fan held aloft a single flare. Despite the niggling rivalry between the two groups of fans, the ceremony was well respected by the vast majority of Zwickau fans present. Irrespective of footballing loyalties, 36 is no age. RIP. It was clear that the rest of the match would be overshadowed by the loss, and Jena fans spent the rest of match without any organised support – in stark contrast to the vocal, hyperactive Zwickau fans directly opposite them.

FSV fans greeted the sides onto the pitch with a colourful mixture of smoke, which the wind soon dissipated. The melodic style of the Zwickau’s Red Kaos ultras, who go through their repertoire in almost no consideration of the way their team is playing, may not be to everyone’s tastes, but there’s no doubt that the group of 200 or so active supporters put everything into supporting their team. The downside of the understandable lack of organised support from Jena was that, aside from one corner of the ground housing the Zwickau fans, the atmosphere never really got going. Aside from a handful of exceptions, ultras have become the key component in atmospheres in German stadiums and – like ‘em or hate ‘em – when they’re missing, the atmosphere is poor.

The freezing conditions left their mark on the match, as did the high winds. Almost every period of possession was punctuated with a bobble, followed by a 50:50 and the inevitable crunch. The referee was kept extremely busy by several tough challenges from both sides in the opening half an hour. FCC appeared to be enjoying success down the flanks against the narrow Zwickau defence. Intelligent runs from Tino Schmidt on the left and René Eckardt on the right created overlaps and space, which was duly exploited by Jena’s pair of full-backs. However, the swirling wind didn’t lend itself to quality crosses and chances were squandered.

The source of Zwickau’s success this season was clear to see. With one of the tightest defences in any of Germany’s top four leagues (having conceded a mere five goals in 16 league matches prior today), the compact and robust shape at the back gave the deep midfield a platform from which to form quick, penetrative counter-attacks. After twenty minutes, Jena lost possession in the Zwickau half and Davy Frick was given acres of space to push forward and play in Steffen Kellig, who crossed for André Luge at the far post to put the delirious Westsachsen in the lead.

Jena looked short on ideas and didn’t seem to be able to penetrate the Zwickau back line. Indeed, after half time, it was Zwickau that looked more likely to extend their lead. They continued to defend well and ventured forward in numbers. Kellig rattled the bar, Yeboah-style, with a raking 18-yard drive after 50 minutes. For the home side, Timo Schmidt was perhaps the only person capable of making anything work, but he was isolated on the left wing, often dropping deep to pick up the ball in centre midfield too. It almost looked as if the huff and puff from Jena was to be in vain, but with just a minute left on the clock Yves Brinkmann broke forward and was clumsily brought down by Zwickau centre-back Christoph Göbel. Matthias Peßolat proceeded to convert the spot kick and deny FSV Zwickau what would have been a thoroughly deserved three points.

Should RB Leipzig successfully negotiate the Regionalliga playoffs at the end of the season, Jena and Zwickau should be among the favourites to make a return to professional football next season. Hopefully their fans will have thawed out by then.

Gallery (Flickr link):

FSV Zwickau and Red Kaos

Note: This article originally appeared on http://www.inbedwithmaradona.com on 14 March 2012.

Perhaps the greatest enemy of any group of active fans or ultras in Germany isn’t, as you might, a rival group or even in a direct way the police. The greatest adversary of these groups, the thing that really does the most damage, is the Stadionverbot, or banning order. The term may be familiar to many UK football fans as a measure used to prevent out and out hooligans from attending matches or travelling to England away games, but the way they are handled in Germany is fundamentally different. They were originally conceived at the start of the 90s as an extension to club-specific banning orders and can be issued by a club or by the Deutscher Fußball Bund in the event of the following:

  • that preliminary court proceedings are opened,
  • of a person being arrested or banned from a certain area and there is an additional suspicion that the person concerned wanted to perform a criminal offence
  • of weapons or other dangerous objects being seized or confiscated
  • of actions or behaviour which violates human dignity
  • of a severe violation of the stadium regulations

and are usually issued for a period of between three and five years.

As stated on www.profans.de, the problem with these regulations is that there is often no circumstantial evidence, such as CCTV footage, against fans suspected of such an offence. The police simply announce that they are investigating a fan, the fan is then represented by the club’s fan support project (practically every club worth mentioning in Germany has one) and, without any circumstantial evidence, it is one person’s word against the other. Herein lies the issue: Who can exert more pressure when it comes to a Stadionverbot being issued by a club or by the DFB, the police or the fan support project? And so these banning orders have become a stick with which the DFB and the police can beat ultra groups and fan scenes with – often without any trace of evidence.

One of the most hotly-disputed examples of the recent past involves the fans of fifth-tier FSV Zwickau, and more precisely the ultra group Red Kaos. Zwickau is a small city in south-west Saxony probably best known around the world as home to the Trabant. The football team, FSV Zwickau, enjoyed great success in the early stages of the East German Oberliga, winning the title in 1948 and 1950 and then three cups through the 60s and 70s. However, they were not selected as one of the “elite” clubs by the GDR ruling party and therefore spent the 80s as a yo-yo team bouncing between the first and second tiers. Despite a few seasons in the 2. Bundesliga in the late 90s, the club has suffered from the same problems as most other former Oberliga clubs – lack of investment – and now find themselves in the fifth tier.

Despite the level of football on offer, FSV Zwickau has one of the most active ultra scenes in Germany. The ultra group is known as Red Kaos and has been around since 1997, making it also one of the oldest in Germany. Their tifos and constant support are well renowned around Germany and they are also leading campaigners for tolerance, respect and freedom in football stadiums. Back in 2010, a friendly was organised with BSG Chemie Leipzig, another club with a large ultra movement, without any police or security being present. The aim was to show that being an ultra does not automatically mean that you are a hooligan hell-bent on causing riots – a fact often lost on most mainstream media outlets. In March 2010, FSV Zwickau found themselves in severe financial difficulties; so severe in fact that withdrawal from the league was threatened if a relatively-minor outstanding payment of €2,800 wasn’t made to the league authorities. The debt was cleared and it was announced that the majority of the funds had originated from the FSV fan scene, mostly down to the fundraising efforts of Red Kaos.

Fast-forward a year or so to the end of the 2010/11 season and FSV Zwickau seemed to be on stable financial footing, albeit without much sporting success. A new stadium was being planned to replace the ramshackle Westsachsenstadion and the club would be moving out in order to facilitate the planning and construction. The last match at the old WeSa would be against Borea Dresden. Of course this meant the end of the Zwickau fan scene’s home as they knew it. As Red Kaos themselves stated in their post-match press release: “Block E has been our home for the past 14 years […] This is where we have experienced all the ups and downs, made an active contribution to the development of our FSV and given football in Zwickau an unmistakable character.” Red Kaos obviously wanted to bid farewell to the place where they had formed in their own special way. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

According to the Red Kaos statement, the night before the match around 80 fans had had a party in and around their fan block (Block E). “This had been cleared with the FSV board and wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary, after all it’s our home and we regularly go in and out.” In the morning, the club officials inspected the pitch and the terracing and requested that a few items be covered up and a few empty cans and other rubbish be removed. Again, no problems from their perspective either and this was carried out immediately. Then the police requested that all fans leave the block whilst they checked sleeping bags and tent bags, probably in the hope of finding pyrotechnics. A rumour went around that the police had indeed found fireworks (something strenuously denied by Red Kaos) and that they wanted to close Block E for the match. Presumably under huge pressure from the police, FSV director Gerhard Neef notified the fans that Block E would indeed remain closed for the match.

This was obviously an absolute disaster for the Zwickau fans. Months of time, money and planning had been for nothing and they believed they had been robbed of the one final chance to bid farewell to their home. This was something they were not just going to lie down and take, especially after the effort and dedication they had shown to help the club in its time of need. Around 100 ultras gathered outside the main entrance and decided to enter the block anyway, even though they had been “allocated” another block by the police. In the papers the next day, the talk was of “hooligans” and “rioting” despite there being nothing of the sort. “In terms of our reaction,” the Red Kaos statement continues, “we made a conscious decision to act without using any face masks or ANY sort of violence whatsoever. We didn’t want a riot. We just wanted to be in our block.”

The referee called the match off, with club officials and directors blaming “so-called fans” and promising to prosecute all involved. Sure enough, around 30 banning orders of between 2 and 3 years in length were issued by the club (again, surely under pressure from the police), all of which involving members of Red Kaos. The treatment of any group of fans in this manner is at best questionable, but to dismiss young, active fans who have made a vital contribution to the clubs existence – both in terms of active support and financial support – as “rioters” and “so-called fans” and treat them with such disregard is beyond the pale.

As a result of almost half of their number being unable to enter the stadium, Red Kaos have decided to discontinue all active support inside the stadium until the bans are overturned. But this doesn’t mean that Red Kaos just sit at home whenever FSV Zwickau have a match to play. They still travel to each match, lending their support through gates or fences or from hilltops beside stadiums. “We will continue to dedicate ourselves to the club because FSV is our life”. Somewhat paradoxically, FSV Zwickau are having their most successful seasons in recent years and are currently on course for promotion to the Regionalliga (fourth tier). They even knocked out holders and big fish in small pond RB Leipzig out of this year’s Sachsenpokal regional cup competition, the winners of which qualify for next year’s German Cup. All of this is being achieved without Red Kaos, and maybe the club officials and directors prefer it that way; it’s less trouble for them after all. Obviously, dedicating your life to a football team as ultras do should not mean that you are entitled to do what you want, but there is a worrying increase in the extent of the repression and power exerted by the police and those in charge at clubs in Germany and other European countries. It may not be for everyone, but there’s no doubt that ultras and active fan scenes represent the lifeblood of football clubs. Ultras liberi.

East German football and the Fall of the Iron Curtain

It’s late summer in 1989 and something strange is happening all across the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Gorbatchow’s policy of glasnost had taken hold across the Soviet Union and the people of East Germany were growing tired of the restriction and oppression. This growing sentiment over the course of the autumn of 1989 culminated in the “Peaceful Revolution”, a wave of non-violent protests that swept across all of East Germany’s major cities. The Berlin Wall fell on 9th November and, eleven months later, Germany was a unified nation again. The fusion of two societies that had been polar opposites for more than four decades was a mammoth task in every respect, the effects of which are still being felt today over 20 years down the line. The unification of both country’s national sport, football, was no different.

Football in West Germany developed much the same way as football around the rest of western Europe. In East Germany, however, the situation was much different. Football clubs were backed either by state ministries or by massive state-owned combines and the sport was used by the ruling party, the SED, to prove the prowess and fortitude of the East German nation. From the early 1960s onwards, highly skilled footballers were concentrated around a handful of “centres of excellence”, which included all the clubs familiar to most English football fans from those early, patchy TV broadcasts of European Cup ties. All footballers were technically employees of the respective club backers: Dynamo Dresden players were policemen, those at army-backed FC Vorwärts Frankfurt technically soldiers. As a result, they were amateur sportsmen like any other and, according to the socialist principles of equality, were seen and treated merely as any other factory worker or civil servant.

However, in reality footballers were often paid underhand bonuses in almost total secrecy. They were given cars or houses as rewards for success or to encourage players to complete a transfer. When Lutz Lindemann moved from Rot-Weiß Erfurt to Carl Zeiss Jena in 1977, he received a Trabant full of fruit as a “sweetener” and was promised a large house up in the hills surrounding the city. Right through the 1980s, transfers only really ever took place if the Deutscher Fußball-Verband (DFV – East German FA) ordered players to move to certain clubs or if money changed hands illegally. It was a world away from the million-pound transfers of English football in the 1980s.

By early November 1989, the Oberliga had reached match day 10. On Wednesday 8th November, FC Magdeburg travelled to bitter rivals Dynamo Dresden looking to preserve their slim one-point lead at the top of the table. Dynamo sent Magdeburg packing with a 3:1 victory with a brace from Torsten Gütschow and 30-yarder from Matthias Sammer, preserving the side’s unbeaten start to the season. However, the minds of players, coaches and fans alike had long since been elsewhere

Peaceful protests had gathered momentum across the country and half a million people had taken to the streets in Leipzig two days earlier. East Germany was becoming increasingly porous, with citizens fleeing to the West through Czechoslovakia and Hungary. On the evening of the Thursday 9th November, Günter Scharbowski, a member of the Politbüro of ruling party SED gave a now infamous press conference in which he declared that East Germany borders were effectively open. The new regulations were supposed to apply from the next morning, but Scharbowski committed what proved to be a fatal error for his nation by announcing that the borders were open “immediately”. That night the Berlin Wall fell and jubilant East and West Germans were reunited up and down the country.

The DFV had long since recognised that the West German Bundesliga could perhaps be a desirable destination for many of the East German footballers under its management, especially after several national team players had fled after away matches in Western countries or after travelling abroad with their clubs for European Cup matches. In late October 1989, it approached all Oberliga footballers and requested that they sign central contracts in line with FIFA statutes. These contracts effectively meant that no East German player could be transferred to another country without DFV consent. It proved to be a sage move, as developments in the GDR hadn’t gone unnoticed in the boardrooms of the Bundesliga giants, either. With protests gathering momentum and revolution in the air, managers and directors of football at teams such as Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen had recognised the chance to hand-pick the best talent East Germany had to offer.

On 15th November, just under a week after the East had effectively crumbled, the East German national team travelled to Austria for a key World Cup qualifier. The talented squad contained a number of the under-20 side that had finished third at the World Youth Championships in Chile two year previously, including Matthias Sammer and FC Karl-Marx-Stadt midfielder Rico Steinmann. Placed in a group with the USSR, Austria, Iceland and an emerging Turkish side, East Germany appeared to have been heading for an early exit from the qualifying tournament after back-to-back defeats against Turkey and only a draw at home to the Austrians. However, an impressive victory over the USSR at the start of October with two goals in the last ten minutes from Andreas Thom and Matthias Sammer meant that, provided Turkey lost to the USSR in Simferopol on the final match day, all East Germany needed was a draw in Vienna to qualify for Italia ’90.

Almost as soon as the East German players arrived at the team hotel in Vienna, they were swamped by agents, scouts and managers from Bundesliga sides. Rainer Calmund, then manager of Bayer Leverkusen, sent an army of scouts together with youth team manager Wolfgang Karnath, whom Calmund valued for his persistence. Karnath’s missions was clear: Get the exact addresses and contact details of Thom, Kirsten, Sammer and co

Despite the backing of over 5,000 travelling fans enjoying their first ever away match in “the West” with the national team, East Germany succumbed to a Toni Polster hat-trick and lost 3:0. Steinmann missed a penalty. As he was subbed off late on in the match, Matthias Sammer suddenly found himself sat on the bench next to a man he didn’t recognise. It was Karnath. He had snuck into the ground by waving some kind of official-looking ID, pulled on a high-vis vest and posed as a photographer. “Rainer Calmund says his best wishes,” he said to Sammer. “We want to bring you to Leverkusen. How about we meet later on at the hotel?” Andreas Thom was approach as he trudged off the pitch at the final whistle – a meeting was arranged for later that evening.

After a little gentle persuasion and gifts to sweeten the deal, Thom agreed to join Bayer Leverkusen a few weeks later. All that was left for Calmund was to agree on the transfer amount with the DFV and obtain the approval of the Deutsche Turn- und Sportverband (DTSB). Thom played his last match for BFC Dynamo on 1st December, before becoming the first East German to be officially transferred to West Germany in January 1990, moving to Leverkusen for 2.8 million marks. He scored 15 minutes into his Bundesliga debut for Bayer Leverkusen on 17th February against FC Homburg and would go on to score a further 41 times in the Bundesliga for Leverkusen and then Hertha BSC either side of a spell at Celtic. Sammer would move to Stuttgart and Kirsten would end up with Thom at Leverkusen after reneging on a deal with Dortmund.

The fall of the Berlin Wall of course also had a profound effect on the fans of East German clubs. FC Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitzer FC) were playing in their first season of European competition for over 20 years after finishing third in the 1988/89 season. Against the odds, they beat both Boavista and FC Sion to reach the third round. They were drawn against the mighty Juventus and, with the first leg in Turin taking place on 22nd November, fans of the Westsachsen would be able to actually follow their team to a European away match officially for the first time instead of having to make do with television coverage. A total of 430 FCK fans paid 800 Ostmarks (a month’s salary at the time) each for a berth in the football special rail service through Bavaria and over the Alps. FC Karl-Marx-Stadt almost pulled off a mighty shock after taking a 70th minute lead in the Stadio delle Alpi, but ended up losing the leg 2:1 and the tie 3:1 after a 1:0 home defeat in front of a packed Stadion an der Gellertstraße.

By early 1990, capitalism had well and truly arrived in the Oberliga. East German teams bore sponsors on their shirts for the first time, players were given West German marks in addition to their regular Ostmark salaries. However, as was the case in many other aspects in the dissolution of East German infrastructure, not all investors from the West proved to have the cash they promised.

On 13th May, the East German national team played what proved to be their penultimate match. The venue was the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro against admittedly not the best Brazil side to ever grace the hallowed turf. Ricardo Teixeira, the head of the Brazilian FA, wanted to organize a friendly against a side that would really test the Brazilians in the run-up to World Cup 1990. As they would not be represented at Italia ’90, East Germany were the perfect choice. With flights and accommodation paid by the Brazilians, the group of players from a country that would cease to exist in less than five months’ time found themselves pulling on the national shirt for the penultimate time in front of 80,000 Brazilian fans. Despite trailing 3:1 after 59 minutes, goals from Rainer Ernst and a last-minute equaliser from Rico Steinmann secured the East Germans a respectable draw. Hans-Georg Moldenhauser, the man who would later mastermind the incorporation of the DFV into the DFB, said later that everyone thought manager Eduard Geyer was responsible for bringing the side up to such a standard, but the truth was that each and every player was doing his all to impress Bundesliga scouts and earn a lucrative contract.

The Oberliga season finished and, for the second season in succession, Dynamo Dresden took the title. Rekordmeister BFC Dynamo had lost the backing of the defunct Ministry for State Security and had renamed itself FC Berlin with the aim of shedding its controversial past. Dynamo Dresden also wrapped up the club’s third double by beating Eintracht Schwerin in the cup final. However, over the summer, Dresden lost the spine of their team with the departures of Ulf Kirsten, Matthias Sammer and Hans-Uwe Pilz. It would be the same story all over the Republik, with the best players seeking their fortunes in the more lucrative Bundesliga. Any clubs that were able to retain their best players were forced to offer large contracts far beyond their means, further exacerbating the financial difficulties that were to come.

The summer of 1990 also marked the first time an East German manager took over a West German club. Joachim Streich was perhaps one of East Germany’s most talented players. The former Hansa Rostock and 1. FC Magdeburg striker was the record Oberliga goal scorer (229 goals), most-capped East German national team player (102 appearances) and record national team goal scorer (55 goals). On 1 July 1990, he took the helm at upper-mid-table second-division side Eintracht Braunschweig but soon found himself under pressure. The East German training routines aimed at generating ultimate physical fitness didn’t go down well with the Braunschweig squad and Streich experienced petulance and a lack of respect that had been completely alien to him as a manager in the East. Eight months later he was sacked and Eintracht finished a lowly 13th.

The last ever Oberliga season began in August 1990. The stakes were high – two spots in the unified Bundesliga and five in the 2. Bundesliga for the 1991/92 season. The season’s card count of 544 yellows and 29 reds (compared with 512 yellows and 7 reds in 1987/88) shows how hard-fought the season was. This was East German football’s swansong, and it would go out kicking and screaming. The reunification of Germany saw interest in the Oberliga tumble, leaving the door open for hooliganism, now unleashed from tight state control, to take hold. The wave of violence reached a tragic climax in November 1990 with the death of eighteen-year-old FC Berlin fan Mike Polley. The hopelessly overwhelmed police force had attempted to contain a group of FC Berlin supporters after their side’s away match at FC Sachsen Leipzig and Polley was shot by a police officer. The death triggered further rioting across the country for the rest of the season, something that further damaged the popularity of the league.

On 4th May 1991, Hansa Rostock beat second-place Dynamo Dresden at the Ostseestadion to secure their first ever East German title and a passage into the Bundesliga for the 1991/92 season, where Dynamo would join them. Rot-Weiß Erfurt, Hallescher FC, Chemnitzer FC and Carl Zeiss Jena were promoted directly into the 2. Bundesliga, as were Stahl Brandenburg and Lokomotive Leipzig after a playoff. However, once in the unified leagues, East German sides found it difficult to attract the necessary quality to replace the top-class players that had left to join established Bundesliga giants. Ageing talents came in on big contracts and, plagued by mismanagement and short-termism almost across the board, many of the former East German clubs began on a relatively short road to ruin.

Dynamo Dresden battled against relegation for four seasons before being refused a licence and forced to start again in the third tier. Hansa Rostock, the final East German champions, fared a little better and were a permanent fixture of the Bundesliga between 1995 and 2005. Since then, however, they too have been plagued by financial difficulties. Minor success was also achieved at Energie Cottbus, but so far none of the former Oberliga sides have managed to establish themselves as true forces in German football.

The uncompromising and unstoppable wave of capitalism that engulfed East Germany after reunification undoubtedly harmed the former country’s football teams, but with infrastructure gradually being improved around the region, the foundations are gradually being laid for sustainable growth. New stadiums have been built in Berlin-Köpenick, Halle, Dresden, Magdeburg and Rostock and more are planned in Jena, Erfurt, Zwickau and Chemnitz. With financial mismanagement (hopefully) a thing of the past, the time may finally come for these well-supported, traditional sides to return to former glories.

 

 

Sources:

11 Freunde – “Wie die Ost-Stars die Wende erlebten“. This is an excellent timeline of the reunification, from which a lot of information in this piece was taken.

MDR – “Schwarze Kassen im DDR-Fußball

Die Welt – “20 Jahre Mauerfall: Wie Calmund DDR-Star Thom zu Bayer lockte

Tagesspiegel – “Fußball in Ostdeutschland: Brasilien ruft nicht mehr an

Die Geschichte der DDR-Oberliga, Michael Horn & Andreas Baingo.

The death of fan culture? Not quite

Yesterday afternoon in a nondescript Frankfurt hotel conference room, representatives from the 36 members of the Deutsche Fußball Liga, the 36 clubs that make up the Bundesliga and the 2. Bundesliga, got together to discuss and vote on the much-debated DFL Sicheres Stadionerlebnis concept. To cut a long story short, the programme of security measures was ratified in full. But what does this actually mean for football in Germany? The proponents of the concept waxed lyrical about increasing safety and reducing violence, whereas opponents criticised the plans as over the top, oppressive and in part against the German constitution. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

The original concept released in the summer at the height of public hysteria on a relatively non-existent problem of violence in German football grounds was subject to widespread criticism and was rejected by most of the clubs that would eventually have to vote on it. The level of criticism, and particularly the tone of some clubs’ statements, took almost everyone, not least the DFL and DFB, by complete surprise. At the end of November, a revised version of the concept was released, final proposals that would be voted on on the 12 December. The concept itself consisted of 16 separate proposed changes to the DFL’s articles of association. They have yet to be published verbatim (and apparently last-minute changes were made to some), so this information is taken from Kicker:

Proposal 1: The role and function of club safety officers and fan liaison officers are to be defined in detail.

Proposal 2:Open, consistent and authoritative dialogue between clubs and fans is to be anchored in the provisions of DFL licences (German clubs require annual licences to play in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga to guarantee they are financially and structurally sound).

Proposal 3/4: The scope of police CCTV observation must be improved to simplify the identification of criminals.

Proposal 5: Away teams’ stewarding teams is to be integrated into the safety organisation of the home team prior to matches. In the case of high-risk matches this is obligatory.

Proposal 6: The tasks to be performed by safety officer are to be defined more closely, including the use of the match report to document incidents (both positive and negative).

Proposal 7: The match organiser must always be present at said match. He or she must also attend safety meetings prior to high-risk matches.

Proposal 8: Inspection areas at stadium entrances are to be improved.

Proposal 9: Stewards employed by the clubs and those employed by third party companies must have completed the DFB’s training programme.

Proposal 10: The fan liaison officer must document all incidents, findings and safety-related events in the match report. He or she must also participate in safety meetings.

Proposal 11: The home team must justify the decision to classify a match as a high-risk encounter, which could lead to the away team’s ticket contingent being restricted.

Proposal 12: Certification concerning “Stadium and Safety Management” is to be introduced.

Proposal 13: A permanent Stadionerlebnis committee is to be introduced which will include representatives from fan organisations.

Proposal 14: Home teams will have the opportunity to restrict the away team’s ticket contingent, but only for high-risk matches and in exceptional cases.

Proposal 15: The DFB’s sport jurisdiction will be developed further, including the integration of expert representatives from the DFL and the DFL member clubs.

Proposal 16: Provisions are to be drawn up for the ringfencing of revenues from Bundesliga marketing (TV money) should safety measures be repeatedly contravened.

Despite DFL CEO Reinhard Rauball’s denial, these measures have been drawn up on the back of enormous pressure from politicians – in particular, the Innenminister der Länder (the home secretaries of Germany’s 16 federal states). The aforementioned public hysteria, coupled with talk-show, Loose Women-style inanity on almost a daily basis has forced their hand. Normal people, regular average Joes, saw those Düsseldorf fans storming onto the pitch just before the end of the promotion playoff against Hertha Berlin and immediately tutted and thought “Oh look, football fans are out of control once again, something has to be done!” even though they had little to no understanding of the context – all the while Mehmet Scholl declared he feared for his life in the comfort of the TV studio. On the basis of these incidents in Düsseldorf and others over the course of the season, the Innenminster recognised a chance to score some political points and lent on the DFL and DFB to do something. Zeit Online even postulate that politicians’ focus on football and an almost non-existent violence problem is a deliberate tactic to divert attention away from astounding state failings in the NSU neo-Nazi case.

On the back of this wave of public hysteria, the DFL organised a safety summit in July and then published the aforementioned draft concept. After such strong criticism, they went back to the drawing board and came up with a much watered down version of their plans in late November. Any mention of increasing stadium bans from five to ten years (a huge point of concern for active football fans) and colluding with the police and judicial authorities in criminal investigations was removed. Instead, what we are left with are a group of proposals that, for the most part, seem sensible. Any football fan that doesn’t see the benefits of increased fan liaison officer presence for away matches and fan group representation on a newly founded “safety committee” should probably find another sport to follow. The intention to reduce collective punishments should also be welcomed, although the DFB obviously didn’t get that memo in time to prevent Dynamo Dresden being banned from next year’s cup due to the actions of a select few prior to this year’s tie against Hannover 96.

Comments have been made that, as soon as the DFL and DFB bow to the pressure of the politicians, our fan culture here in Germany is under threat. In fact, many have now declared it to be “dead”. From my perspective, these measures indeed represent political intervention into a sport that, as ultras and active fans so often point out, belongs to the fans. But the truth is, it could be much worse. I may be a little naïve in this respect, but anyone believing that German football could turn into the Premier League is mistaken. Terracing is not under threat; in fact, the DFL actively stood up to the politicians calling for it to be abolished by saying that standing at football grounds simply isn’t up for discussion. Fan choreography is still permitted, cheap tickets still available, the 50+1 rule ensures that sheikhs or oligarchs cannot treat German football clubs as playthings. If these issues ever come up for debate, then they are certainly worth fighting for. To me, any declaration that fan culture is now dead represents exactly the same hysteria and bandwagon-jumping that the German public are derided for in their condemnation of football fans.

The argument that politicians shouldn’t be involved in football doesn’t hold any water for me either. Sure, their outbursts on television make a massive contribution towards shaping the public discourse on football to the detriment on many active fans, but football is and almost always has been a political issue. The political point-scoring in this affair has made dialogue between fans, the DFL/DFB and politicians almost impossible, but the DFL have simply been caught in the middle between clued-up fan organisations & critical clubs and politicians with next to no idea about who simply want to increase their popularity among their electorate. With the German elections taking place in autumn next year, this can be expected to continue. I’m not saying that these measures are harmless, just that the reaction in some places has been exaggerated. The worst thing that could happen now would be an escalation, with flares and trouble up and down the country every single week. The extra attention this safety concept has drawn on football and the concept of being a football fan would lead to the public thinking that politicians and the DFL were justified.

What’s important now is that fans don’t let this become more of a political issue than it already is. As I said, fans and football always will have that political aspect, but the biased reporting and public view of football fans as some kind of uncontrollable force needs to be counteracted. This cannot be done by throwing flares and chanting “Scheiß DFB”. The recent 12:12 protests in which fans remained silent for the first 12 minutes and 12 seconds of each match showed the incredible power football fans in Germany have. It wasn’t simply the ultras or the active fan groups that remained silent, everyone did. It created an extremely uncomfortable atmosphere and put across fans’ point of view in a simple, comprehensible manner – no six-page diatribes explaining why fan culture is at threat; after all, four-word headlines in BILD will always have a million times more of an effect, no matter how eloquently fan concerns are put across. Campaigns like this, the Zum Erhalt der Fankultur public demo in Berlin, Kein Zwanni für nen Steher and Pyrotechnik Legalisieren! Emotionen respektieren! are exactly the right route to go down. I hope that these measures don’t lead to fans “declaring war” on the DFL and DFB – that would be a sure-fire way to indirectly destroy a fan culture all football fans are trying to preserve.

 

The Safe Stadium Experience

In July, the German FA, the DFB, and the Bundesliga association, the DFL, organised a much publicised Security Summit in which, in the wake of public outcry at events at the end of last season, a Code of Conduct was drawn up and signed by almost all Bundesliga, 2. Bundesliga and 3. Liga clubs (covered on this blog). The Code of Conduct was subject to a huge amount of criticism from football fans from all walks of life for its fuzzy, unclear statements concerning subjects that most of us take as read anyway and seen as a means to appease the wider public and politicians who considered there to be a “new dimension of violence” in German football, despite reams of evidence to the contrary. Now, two months after the Code of Conduct was published, a document was leaked from the inner sanctum of the DFB and DFL entitled “Sicheres Stadionerlebnis” (“Safe Stadium Experience”). In it, the governing bodies put forward a range of proposals to “ensure that the stadium experience remains a safe one…”.[1]

Before this document was leaked, there was an interesting development at the DFL. A criminologist named Thomas Feltes employed in an “academic committee” run by the DFL gave a (quite astounding) interview to SPORT BILD in early September[2] where he strongly criticised the DFB’s approach to governing the sport and its fans. He criticised their lack of consistency and their unwillingness to lead an open discussion with fans/fan representatives on problems and solutions. He also slammed the stadium ban procedure, mentioning the fact that banning someone from public locations was a matter for the police and the judiciary and not something in which the DFB should be involved, before comparing them to a “pigeon-breeding association” where mandates of vital importance to football fans and society as a whole were awarded on a honorary basis. Let’s give them their dues, the DFB and DFL are at least consistent whenever criticism is levelled at them. Their solution in such situations is always the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and shouting LA LA LA, CAN’T HEAR YOU. Feltes was sacked.

If the Feltes case showed anything, it was that the DFB and DFL weren’t going to budge on any of their positions in terms of safety. What they see as problematic in German fan scenes has been met with sanctions and the threat of more (if you don’t behave, we’ll take away your terracing your naughty boys and girls). In truth, football violence is down.[3]

Then, in September, came the leak. In the preamble, the DFB and DFL declare that “… interaction between all those responsible for safety and supporter service is already at a very high level in terms of infrastructure and organisation and problems are solved locally.”[4] So far, so good. They also mention the need for improvement in this respect but, after reading the paper, it’s hard to avoid getting the impression that the organisation of football matches in this country is in absolute chaos. Other proposals outlined in the document include stricter and, above all, a greater number of sanctions and punishments “to increase acceptance of the jurisdiction of the sport and increase safety”. There are also threats of privileges being withdrawn, including a crystal-clear statement that football fans are not vested with the right to stand. Threats are also made to clubs should there be any non-compliance with DFB and DFL regulations, including proposals to introduce stricter stadium requirements into the licensing regulations (read: those who don’t comply won’t get a licence to play in top two tiers) and, perhaps most amazingly, a proposal to withhold a percentage of clubs’ TV money to offset against any fines for crowd trouble (read: use of pyrotechnics) which may occur over the course of the season.

There are some positives buried in there somewhere, including proposals to increase the presence the away team’s stewards and even stadium announcer at away games to prevent tense situations with home team stewards. Increases in the amount of funding received by fan liaison projects are also a very welcome move indeed, but it’s by no means enough. There is also a promise of better dialogue with fans, although any evidence of this has been thin on the ground.

The really interesting stuff comes when we get to the “Possible demands of third parties” section[5]. This is where we get a really clear picture of how the DFB and DFL see themselves. The first proposal is the request for a change in pyrotechnics legislation. Is that perhaps because the use of pyrotechnics is actually allowed by law under certain restrictions and conditions? After all, the DFB broke off negotiations with fan representatives and pro-pyro groups after initially stating that nothing stood in the way of pilot projects involving the controlled use of pyrotechnics. Would it be completely outside of the realms of possibility that the law actually allows controlled usage and that the DFB and DFL want that to be changed?

Another proposal in this section is regular reporting from the police authorities and the judiciary regarding the latest developments in investigations against potential crimes committed in football stadiums. Let’s make this clear, the DFB is not a public authority and the DFL is a private corporation, and they are considering requesting regular updates on criminal investigations…. What’s more, they are also considering requesting that the police notify them of identification checks that are carried out whenever there is the suspicion that a crime has been committed. Astounding! Again, this is an example of the criticism that came from Thomas Feltes, namely that the DFB and DFL are sticking their noses in where they have absolutely no right to.

The paper soon attracted criticism from all manner of bloggers and football fans, including St. Pauli blog Magischer FC, publikative.org and turus.net. The first official response from a club, however, came on Wednesday when 1.FC Union Berlin published an incredible nine-page assault on the DFB and DFL signed by the club, the fan liaison office and three fan groups (including the Szene Köpenick umbrella organisation encompassing various ultra groups). The statement not only picks apart almost every single one of the DFB and DFL’s points, but also highlights the fact that many of the proposals put forward will actually counteract and jeopardise all the progress that has been made in and around FC Union, leading to an escalation in the already strained situation which the clubs themselves will have to face and then duly be punished for. The following day, FC St. Pauli published a shorter statement along the same lines that describes their opposition to the moves.

There’s no doubt that crimes are committed at football stadiums and that those who do commit such crimes should be punished for their actions. As FC Union point out in their statement, our society is not free of violence, and therefore neither are our football stadiums. However, looking at the figures in relative terms, it’s a misnomer to say that football stadiums are dangerous places to be. According to police statistics from the 2010/2011 season, more than 17.5 million people watched a Bundesliga or 2. Bundesliga match. 846 (0.005%) were injured while doing so and 5,818 (0.033%) people had charges filed against them (although I dread to think how many of those injuries were caused by pepper spray or overzealous policing).[6] In comparison, (one also cited in FC Union’s statement) 6.4 million people visited this year’s Oktoberfest in Munich. 1,400 (0.2%) had charges pressed against them and 8,400 (0.13%) were injured.[7] In the media, football fans are compared to the Taliban while Oktoberfest is (rightly) seen as part of Germany’s culture – where’s the balance?

The way to solve violence in football stadiums and among young people is not through catch-all punishments such as exclusion from away travel or matches behind closed doors. In fact, this probably has the opposite effect as it punishes normal[8] football fans and everyone else and, if anything, attracts every more scorn in the direction of the governing bodies. The right solution is committed social work and appropriate preventative measures. As Thomas Feltes said in his interview with SPORT BILD, 95% of young football fans who are susceptible for being sucked in to violence can be reached out to by such measures. It’s high time the DFB recognised that taking such a hard line is only going to be met by opposition and ridicule. Their unwillingness to enter into dialogue with those who actually matter in football and who actually make the DFB and DFL’s “product” into the amazing spectacle that it is, is as petty as it is short-sighted.

The final word I think has to go to 1. FC Union Berlin. Let’s hope other clubs follow suit in condemnation.

“DFB/DFL mögen es sich leisten können, ökonomisch langfristig und damit sozialpolitisch kurzsichtig zu denken und zu handeln, sie stehlen sich damit jedoch aus einer umfassenden sozialen Verantwortung, die sie nicht gewählt haben mögen, die ihnen als Verwalter und Vermarkter, jedoch nicht Besitzer, des Kulturguts Fußball ohne Wenn und Aber obliegt.”

“DFB/DFL may believe they can think and act in long-term economic terms and therefore short-sightedly with regard to their social policy, but in doing so they are shirking their enormous social responsibility that is incumbent upon them as administrators and marketers, but not owners, of such a huge part of our culture, the game of football.”

For further reading in English, try Mark Wilson’s post on Union’s statement and the brief post from Yorkshire St. Pauli.
Sources:


[1] Item 5, page 5, Sicheres Stadionerlebnis, 27.09.2012

[4] Item 2, page 5, Sicheres Stadionerlebnis, 27.09.2012

[5] Page 32, Sicheres Stadionerlebnis, 27.09.2012

[8] By normal I mean non-ultras, so people with a season ticket who attend the odd away game but aren’t actively involved in their club

Chemie vs Chemie – Two clubs fighting over the remains of Sachsen Leipzig

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In the district of Leutzsch in north-west Leipzig, surrounded by countless allotments and acres of forest, is the almost idyllic Alfred Kunze Sportpark. The eclectic mixture of dilapidated terracing, overgrown passageways and battered temporary buildings blend into the surrounding forest seamlessly. For most, it’s an old and decrepit, for others it’s full of character – a relic of years past – and for the fans of two football teams, it’s simply home.

BSG Chemie Leipzig and SG Leipzig Leutzsch met on Sunday for what is probably the strangest derby in German football. To understand the significance, we firstly need to be delve into the history books. Although BSG Chemie Leipzig can trace its roots back to 1899, the first true descendent of football in Leipzig-Leutzsch is SV TuRa Leipzig which was founded in 1932. Like many other German sides after the second world war, the club underwent countless name changes and merged with a number with other clubs before eventually settling on BSG Chemie Leipzig in 1963. A year later, the club enjoyed its finest hour, winning the East German Oberliga title with a team consisting of leftover players not considered good enough to join elite, state-supported clubs. (For more on the Leutzscher Legende, check out Bundesliga Fanatic’s article here.) Success has been hard to come by since then. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, BSG Chemie Leipzig was renamed FC Sachsen Leipzig. The club managed to sustain its position in the third division throughout the nineties, but only on a couple of occasions threatened to make the step up to the 2. Bundesliga.

Away from the sporting side of things, FC Sachsen Leipzig developed a unique active fan scene around the turn of the millennium. Diablos Leutzsch were formed in 2000 on the wave of mentalita ultrà spreading around Germany. In contrast to the prevalence of questionable and even openly right-wing views within the active support of city rivals Lokomotive Leipzig and other local scenes such as those in Erfurt, Chemnitz and Halle, Diablos Leutzsch turned FC Sachsen Leipzig into the home of an “alternative, tolerant, openly anti-fascist fan scene”[1]. Their ever-present vocal support at FC Sachsen was backed up with colourful, imaginative fan choreographies.

Diablos Leutzsch increasingly lost touch with what they saw as the club abandoning its traditions in the search of sporting success. The arrival of Michael Kölmel and Kinowelt AG at the now ailing FC Sachsen Leipzig, and the total financial dependence on them as a result, proved to be the last straw. Diablos Leutzsch decided to resurrect the former name BSG Chemie Leipzig and formed their own club down in the 13th tier. Of course, this led to fractures among the fan scene. Many older FC Sachsen Leipzig fans saw the departure of the Diablos as treachery, the abandonment of the club in its hour of need. Indeed, this is one of the core reasons for the existence of SG Leipzig Leutzsch, who we’ll get on to shortly.

In the 13th tier, the Diablos found the freedom they had been looking for, away from the disparaging views of older FC Sachsen fans who didn’t really understand the idea of ultrà, and sadly also away from an ever-increasing right-wing presence on the terraces. Forbidden from the FC Sachsen Leipzig board from playing at the Alfred Kunze Sportpark, BSG Chemie Leipzig hosts their home matches at the Willi Kuhn Sportplatz in the west of Leipzig. FC Sachsen continued to fight bravely against financial meltdown but fourth- and then fifth-tier football wasn’t getting enough people through the turnstiles to prop the club up. With the Diablos gone, the Alfred Kunze Sportpark was practically silent and the feisty atmospheres of less than a decade ago merely a memory.

When FC Sachsen Leipzig finally succumbed to the financial pressures and was liquidated in 2011, it appeared to pave the way for BSG Chemie Leipzig to “inherit” the remains of the club and finally move back home to the Alfred Kunze Sportpark. However, a consortium headed by Bernd Bauchspieß, member of the ’64 title-winning side and three-time East German Oberliga top scorer, and Jamal Engel, former manager and youth team coordinator at Sachsen Leipzig, announced they would be forming a new club by the name of SG Leipzig Leutzsch.

The motives for this decision soon became clear: SG Leipzig Leutzsch’s new manager Jamal Engel stated publicly that there were sponsors willing to invest money in “Leutzsch football”, but not in a club where ultras played such a leading role. Whether that was entirely true will never be found out, but Engel has continued his anti-ultra sentiment ever since. Ever since its foundation, the club has been shrouded in mystery and, unfortunately, the right-wing element that was present at FC Sachsen in the latter days seems to have taken hold. Incidents in SG Leipzig Leutzsch’s eventful first season included a variation on the Hitler salute and anti-Semitic abuse being aimed at supporters of Roter Stern Leipzig in a cup match and the prominent presence of known neo-Nazi activist Thomas Gerlach at home and away matches (on the right) as part of the Lucka Supporters fan group. Despite the presence of two separate clubs fighting over the same inheritance, the presence and actions of SG Leipzig-Leutzsch fan base are, if nothing else, a vindication of the Diablos’ decision to distance themselves from that part of the fan scene in Leutzsch. As a Chemie-supporting friend put it, the existence of SG Leipzig-Leutzsch is, in principle, not a bad thing, given that all the wankers go there instead of to BSG Chemie.

Nevertheless, what this all meant was both clubs began the 2010/2011 season in the same stadium and the same league: the sixth tier Sachsenliga. On a cold and rainy autumn day at the start of the season, the two met for the first time and played out a drab 0-0. Unfortunately, despite a promising start, BSG Chemie neared the end of the season occupying an upper mid-table position, out of touch of the two promotion spots. SG Leipzig-Leutzsch also had nothing to play for, and so the second meeting in April was all about bragging rights. A glorious 0-1 for BSG Chemie which was duly celebrated like a title win in a rammed away end.

Approaching the ground on Sunday for the first derby of the new season, it was soon clear that something was different. It quickly transpired that Chemie fans were boycotting the match, instead choosing to have a barbecue and a bit of a party outside the ground. It turned out that this was in protest at 16 stadium bans being handed out for an incident at last year’s derby where a ticket office was attacked and stewards injured. The stadium bans were applied for by SG Leipzig-Leutzsch manager Jamal Engel the week of the derby and duly confirmed by the police and regional football association – why they weren’t applied for straight after the incident is a mystery, but Engel’s motives are clear: one-upmanship and a targeted attempt to hinder the BSG Chemie support. There’s no doubt that the incident last season was a criminal offence and that the guilty parties should be brought to justice, but the issuance of 16 stadium bans seemingly at random appeared to bear no relation whatsoever to the actual crime.

Chemie fans were offering “Solikarten” to show solidarity for the boycott instead of paying entry to the ground, with the money going to BSG Chemie instead of SG Leipzig Leutzsch. After all, a boycott would cost SG Leipzig-Leutzsch a six-figure sum with 500 Chemie fans expected and tickets priced at €7 each. Before the match, Chemie fans had been kettled outside a pub around the corner – police reports picked up by the press spoke of “150 rioting Chemie fans”. In reality, Mr Gerlach had made his presence well and truly felt outside said pub, which the Chemie fans weren’t that keen on. Make of that what you will.

In the actual match, SG Leipzig-Leutzsch – who quite unbelievably played in orange bibs on account of the green-green colour clash – ran out 2-0 winners. The general consensus outside the ground was that the first one was offside and the second was handball.

The future prospects of both clubs aren’t exactly secure. Word went round before the derby on Sunday that the SG Leipzig-Leutzsch management needed average crowds of 2,000 to cover costs. Sunday’s official attendance was 1195. As for BSG Chemie, the committed fanbase rooted in ultra culture is a real asset and, I hope, as long as they are behind the team, they have a chance of surviving and revisiting some of the glory days.

Links:
Photos from the derby here.
For any German speakers, Bastian Pauly’s blog at chemieblogger.de is an almost encylcopaedic chronicle of the rebirth of BSG Chemie, the death of FC Sachsen Leipzig and everything else. A must read.
Article from TAZ on the establishment of BSG Chemie: http://www.taz.de/!33063/

Alemannia Aachen – a fan scene in crisis

There are some pretty awful things in life – poverty, corruption, Margaret Thatcher, Stoke City – but until these things have some kind of direct, personal effect on you, it’s sometimes hard to perceive their true magnitude. It’s possible to structure your life so that you never have to get to grips with issues that make humans real shits. Of course, others choose to take a stand and hope to achieve some kind of change to whatever circumstance is particularly shitty. The easy option though is to continue living your life in ignorance of these things but in accordance with your own moral standards, safe in the knowledge that at least you have been true to yourself and your beliefs.

The problem is, when you are confronted with something that doesn’t fit with your ideals and provides clear proof that some people are in fact proper shits, it hits you all the more harder. I guess this happened to me in a way a couple of weeks ago. While browsing Ian Stenhouse’s excellent photo galleries for No Dice Magazine, I stumbled across an album from a match between Tennis Borussia Berlin and TuS Makkabi in the Berliner Liga. In one picture, TeBe fans are holding up a Spruchband which reads “Komplett BescheUrt – Nazis raus aus dem Tivoli” (Totally idiotic – Nazis out of the Tivoli) referring to the worrying developments in the Aachen fan scene over the past year.

TeBe fans show solidarity with Aachen Ultras

The second comment simply reads “Spastis”, the German equivalent of using spastic as a swear word. Then comes a series of questionable comments with clear right-wing tones – “Do you have any flags that have anything to do with football?”, “What a bunch of wankers” along with various statements along the lines of “football is football, politics is politics” (as in, they have nothing to do with each other).

As I mentioned, the Aachen active fan scene has been anything but harmonious over the past 2 years or so. In 2010, a group of fans split away from the main ultra group known as Aachen Ultras (ACU), calling themselves the Karlsbande Ultras (KBU). They cited “differences of opinion […] in many aspects of ultra culture, from the style of the support through to the ultra mentality as a whole […]” as the reason for the move. As a result, there were now two sets of active fans trying to create an atmosphere in the stadium – something that wasn’t particularly beneficial to either set of ultras or the team. At the start of the 2011/12 season, the Aachen Ultras decided to move from their traditional position behind the goal to block S6 in the corner of the stand behind the goal. KBU set up shop at the top of block S5. Although not explicitly mentioned, the fact that the ACU have an anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-discriminatory stance doesn’t make it that difficult to guess that the “differences in opinion” were. Especially after the incidents over the next few months…

During Alemannia Aachen’s home match in the 2. Bundesliga against FC Erzgebirge Aue in December 2011, members of the Alemannia Supporters fan group entered ACU’s block, firstly to try and steal their banners and then to exercise violence. A handful of group members and one steward were injured. This was accompanied by shouts of “Kick the shit out of them”, “S6 homos” and “Fuck off you Jewish pricks, you don’t belong here” (“Jewish” or “Jew” is used as a pejorative noun by neo-Nazis and bears no relation to them thinking that the target of the insult is of Jewish faith or not) from Karlsbande Ultras members who had come to the plexiglass partition between blocks S5 and S6 and had attempted to scale it. According to the ACU, insults such as these from the Karlsbande and from other Aachen fans were nothing out of the ordinary.

Aachen Ultras and Karlsbande Ultras split up in Braunschweig (source: http://www.mayener-alemannen.de)

The club pledged to identify the 20 or 30(!) members of Alemannia Supporters who were involved and hand out stadium bans. Alemannia Supporters issued an apology to all fans, but denied there was any political motivation behind the attack from so-called “loose cannons” within the group. Despite the promise from the club, the problems continued to spring up over the next few months. A few months later at an away match in Braunschweig, members of the ACU were refused entry to the away terrace by travelling Aachen stewards and the police for their own safety. They were instead led to the neighbouring seated stand and surrounded by police. After Aachen’s away match in Saarbrücken in early August 2012, members of Aachen Ultras were again brutally attacked by members of the Karlsbande Ultras and a fan liaison officer had to step in to protect a helpless victim who was being beaten on the floor. The stewards and police in Saarbrücken were hopelessly unprepared.

Both the Karlsbande Ultras and Alemannia Supporters denied that there was any political motivation and both distanced themselves from right-wing activities. Despite the fact that physical attacks were increasing and that fans of Alemannia Aachen were being attacked and intimidated, both in the stadium and at home, the club itself held a clear stance. “Provocation is coming from both sides. Both groups are at each other’s throats. This is a social problem which the club cannot resolve on its own.” Statements from the police in Aachen that the violence was “solely originating from Karlsbande”, that the group was “in the process of being infected with far-right extremists” and that “their target are the Aachen Ultras” seemed to fall on deaf ears. Karlsbande Ultras officially declare themselves as “non-political” – but the fact that several leading right-wing figures from the Aachen area such as NPD member Sascha Wagner were known to be members is pretty clear evidence contrary to this.

Aachen Ultras’ new home in Block S6

Some ultra groups showed solidarity with the Aachen Ultras – including those at Tennis Borussia Berlin of which images appeared on the No Dice Facebook page. Comments such as “ScheiSS ACU” (yes, the capitalisation of SS is deliberate) and another that was signed off “Sieg Heil” (which was deleted by the page admins, but not before charges were filed. CORRECTION: The comment was deleted by the user him/herself, but the site admins screenshotted and reported it before its deletion) make it pretty unequivocal that this is a political issue. The hypocrisy of these fans lambasting Aachen Ultras from their anti-fascist views by saying that politics has no place in stadia, only for them to then attack and insult them and almost drive them out of the stadium is quite incredible. The use of No Dice’s Facebook platform to spread these vicious views was shocking, a real smash in the face. I hope that the charges that were filed come to a satisfying conclusion.

There followed much debate between No Dice readers and fans as to whether comments such as these should be deleted and ignored, or whether they should be left there for all to see. On the one hand, you don’t want to give these people a platform, but, on the other hand, ignorance is almost acceptance and the problem needs to be drawn attention to. I applaud the editors’ decision to leave them there for all to see and commend their courage to pursue legal avenues. Aachen Ultras continue to follow the club from Block S6 but, until something is done about the right-wing virus ravaging the rest of the active fan scene, they will continue to do so in fear of their own personal safety.

In diesem Sinne: Nazis raus aus dem Tivoli.

EDIT:

Just after I finished writing this piece, it seems that Alemannia Aachen have finally taken action. Today it issued a statement announcing the following measures (amongst others):

1. Stadium bans for those involved in attacks in Saarbrücken.

2. Ban until further notice of all banners, flags, messages and any other fan articles bearing the name Karlsbande Ultras/KBU from the Tivoli stadium.

3. Ban on newsletters/flyers being distributed in or around the Tivoli.

4. Violations will be punished with stadium bans.

5. Increased police presence to protect fans.

At least something’s being done about the group itself. The next step for Alemannia Aachen is to recognise that they have a problem with right-wing violence in their fan scene and to do something about it.

DFB Security Summit shows astonishing lack of foresight

The suits at the Deutsche Fußball Bund (DFB – the German FA), Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL – the representative of Bundesliga clubs) and the German interior ministry left Tuesday’s Sicherheitsgipfel, or security summit, firmly of the belief that the new code of conduct will bring about a paradigm shift in Germany’s football stadia, but the truth is that all they have succeeded in doing is proving how out of touch they are with ultras and “regular” football fans alike.

The Code of Conduct is the DFB and DFL’s five-point plan to eliminate violence from football stadiums across the country. No form of violence will be tolerated, nor will the use of pyrotechnics in stadia. Stadium regulations must be enforced and sanctions must be consistent. The 54 members of the Bundesliga, 2. Bundesliga and 3. Liga were invited to sign and pledge their commitment to the code of conduct. With the sole exception of FC Union Berlin, all did so.

The roots of this entire issue go back to the 2010/11 season. At the beginning of the season, ultras and other fans from all over the country used the international break in September to join forces and protest for the preservation of fan culture. All rivalries were forgotten for one day as 40,000 fans, mainly ultras, marched through Berlin. The protest attracted international attention and issues included fan-friendly kick-off times, the abolition of stadium bans and the legalisation of pyrotechnics.

Fans of 1.FC Saarbrücken at the 2010 Fandemo
Source: http://www.unveu.de

Following on from the successful protest, a lobby group was formed by the name of Pyrotechnik legalisieren! Emotionen respektieren! – legalise pyrotechnics, respect emotions – with the aim of decriminalising what many fans see as a major part of German fan culture and paving the way for pilot projects to test out the controlled use of pyrotechnics in stadia. The initiative laid down clear regulations for they saw as the safe use of pyrotechnics: Flares should be lit by nominated, registered people at defined points in time and in specific areas of the stadium – no firecrackers, no fireworks and absolutely no throwing.

The group soon gathered support far and wide – not simply from ultra groups or fan representatives, but also from clubs themselves. The campaign was naturally supported by a large number of the banned pyrotechnic displays up and down the country, with ultras deliberately and consciously complying with the regulations put forward by the Pyrotechnik legalisieren initiative. The message from the ultras to the DFB was clear: Let’s sit down and talk about this, because searches at the turnstiles won’t stop us.

The breakthrough came in January 2011 – DFB safety office Helmut Spahn announced that the DFB would “take a serious look at what is possible and what isn’t.” The DFB entered into negotiations with the Pyrotechnik legalisieren initiative regarding pilot projects to test the safety of pyrotechnics in stadia. Explosive experts, the local authorities, and representatives of the police and fire brigade would all be involved. It appeared as though the DFB had finally acknowledged the willingness of the ultra groups to engage in real dialogue.

In response to this move, ultra groups held their promise of no pyrotechnics over the first three matchdays. This was seen to be a response to the pledge from the DFB that if ultras demonstrated how disciplined they could be, they would give then the chance to test out flares in a controlled environment. The anticipation grew and grew – ultras were tantalisingly close to a reality where lighting a flare did not automatically lead to a three-year stadium ban.

Suddenly, at the start of the 2011/12 season, the DFB announced that expert reports had proven that pyrotechnics in stadia posed a significant threat to the health and safety of all football fans. Although not officially released by the DFB, the Pyrotechnik legalisieren initiative managed to get hold of said expert reports and saw that the opposite had actually been concluded: Pyrotechnics would pose no additional threat to football fans provided they were used correctly and within a controlled framework. The disappointment was huge. After months of negotiations, the DFB had simply said Nein. Pro-pyro fans felt they had been duped.

This dismissal of the issue on the part of the DFB did little to solve the actual problems, but it did draw attention to the subject amongst the wider public. However, this may have done more harm than good, as several high-profile cases throughout the season led your average person on the street to see pyrotechnics as a sign of violence and ultras as violent gangs hell-bent on causing destruction wherever their team happened to be playing. The list of punishments for pyrotechnics and fan misbehaviour soon grew: Dynamo Dresden, Union Berlin, Hertha BSC, MSV Duisburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Fortuna Düsseldorf and 1860 München were all handed hefty fines. The DFB wanted to implement their no-tolerance approach and soon moved on to ordering matches to be played behind closed doors or without away fans: Dynamo Dresden fans were banned from their away match in Frankfurt and Eintracht Frankfurt fans were later banned from attending their club’s match at Union Berlin. On both occasions, hundreds of “banned” fans gained entry into the respective stadia. When Dynamo were ordered to play a home match against Ingolstadt behind closed doors for poor fan behaviour, they ended up selling over 40,000 “tickets” raising thousands of euros for the club.

But the crowning moment of the season, a scene that will remain etched on every German fan’s memory, was the Bundesliga promotion/relegation playoff match between Hertha BSC and Fortuna Düsseldorf. In the dying seconds of the match, Fortuna fans invaded the pitch thinking that the final whistle had been blown. The scenes were incredible, people digging up parts of the pitch, climbing on the goalposts – before the match had even finished. In the media, the pitch invasion was portrayed as violence. Hertha players were said to have “feared for their lives”, it was a “new generation of violence”. Minor celebrities were lining up to appear on the German equivalents of The Wright Stuff and Loose Women to broadcast their nonsensical, ill-informed opinions about “so-called football fans”, complete with live flare tests using burning mannequins. In one particularly poisonous “talk” show, ultras were referred to as “the Taliban of football”. What almost every single commentator seemed to miss was the fact that what happened that evening in Düsseldorf was exactly what football is supposed to be about – absolute pure, undiluted emotion. The flare-throwing from fans of both teams that night is not something that can be endorsed and was a direct breach of the regulations set down by the pro-pyro movement. But didn’t that evening epitomise why we freeze our arses off on a terrace in Meppen, Aldershot, Stenhousemuir or wherever every Saturday? Fortuna Düsseldorf – a club with a rich history who hadn’t been in the Bundesliga since 1997 – had finally got back to where the fans felt they belong. Let’s not forget, the DFB introduced the playoff system to increase the excitement of the season. It worked.

The thing is, this media reaction and subsequent public outcry has forced the DFB’s hand. They have to be seen to be acting against this new plague of pyro-fuelled violence, otherwise they appear weak. And so we come to this security summit and a code of conduct to be signed by all professional clubs. The talk beforehand had been of the removal of fan privileges, whatever that is supposed to mean, and terracing being banned. What we did see is the maximum stadium ban period being increased from three years to five, reversing the move made in 2007. In the end, the DFB didn’t even invite the Fanprojekte – organisations at each club that take care of fans and fan issues at each club which is partially financed by the DFL and even the local government. One club, 1. FC Union Berlin, chose to not attend the conference. President Dirk Zingler cited the club’s policy of intensive dialogue with fans and the fact that the Code of Conduct had been received a mere 20 hours prior to the actual summit as reasons for staying away. The club has attracted a great deal of praise from fan groups and will have been a source of great embarrassment to the DFB.

Clubs sign the code of conduct – one signature is missing
Source: http://www.textilvergehen.de

When will the DFB learn that this top-down, no-tolerance approach simply does not work?  Harder penalties do not necessarily mean a reduction in “violence”. And what about the figures that show that crime in relation to football matches has been decreasing for years? Even in cases where violence is committed, the draconian punishments simply foster a feeling of injustice. Our justice systems realised long, long ago that simply putting people under lock and key does not address the issues underpinning why people commit crime. Some clubs have implemented schemes where fans with stadium bans can volunteer at the club as a form of community service to reduce the length of their bans, something that the DFB has been praising for months. Instead of showing foresight and a willingness to listen to the people that make the game they govern so successful, they have resorted to treating ultras and pyrotechnics with the same techniques used 20 years ago to fight hooliganism. It’s about time they learned the difference.

Regionalliga Nordost begins to take shape

It may be the fourth tier of German football, but next season Regionalliga Nordost is going to be tremendously attractive for football fans of a certain persuasion (i.e. me). How many other fourth tiers around the world contain a former Cup Winners’ Cup winner (1. FC Magdeburg) AND two other former UEFA Cup finalists (FC Carl-Zeiss Jena and 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig)? The heydays of some of these clubs may have been over 20 years ago, but that doesn’t stop them being huge sides with corresponding fanbases. And the promise of classic matches from the days of the DDR is sure to attract even higher crowds, especially at sides such as Lokomotive Leipzig who, with promotion, will have clambered back up to the level they were at when they went bust eight years ago. An added interest for me is the fact that the reserve side of my club, 1.FC Union Berlin, have just won promotion to the tier the first team were in a mere seven years ago.

The make-up of the division is still dependent on a number of factors, namely undecided promotion battles in the Oberligas and the Regionalliga Nord and the submission of applications for promotion to the Nordostdeutscher Fußball Verband (NOFV). It may be the case that smaller teams such as Fortuna Chemnitz see the step up to the Regionalliga Nordost as too high and consciously decide to remain in the Oberliga.

In principle, the division will consist of 16 teams. Eligible are teams falling under the remit of the NOFV, which conveniently corresponds with the geographical area of the former GDR (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Berlin, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia). All NOFV teams currently in the Regionalliga Nord will qualify for the Regionalliga and the remaining places will be filled by teams from the Oberliga Nordost-Nord (roughly covering Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg and Berlin) and the Oberliga Nordost-Süd (covering Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia). Assuming it is Hallescher FC who win promotion to the 3. Liga and not Holstein Kiel, 8 teams will move from the Regionalliga Nord to the Regionalliga Nordost and be joined by FC Carl-Zeiss Jena, who were relegated from the 3. Liga. That leaves 7 spaces for promotion from the Oberligas; with the top three from being promoted directly and the fourth-placed teams playing a two-legged playoff.

This all sounds simple enough, but another regulation is that reserve sides from the 3. Liga cannot be promoted. That rules out three of the top seven in the Oberliga Süd and the current leaders of the Oberliga Nord, Hansa Rostock II, as can be seen below.

NOFV Oberliga Nordost-Nord table
Source: http://www.kicker.de

NOFV Oberliga Nordost-Süd
Source: http://www.kicker.de

Provisional list of clubs, those in bold are already assured of their place.

1. FC Carl-Zeiss Jena Relegated from 3. Liga.
2. RB Leipzig Assuming Hallescher FC pick up the point they require for promotion from this season’s Regionalliga Nord away at ZFC Meuselwitz on Saturday.
3. Berliner AK  
4. VFC Plauen  
5. ZFC Meuselwitz  
6. Hertha BSC II  
7. Germania Halberstadt  
8. FC Energie Cottbus II  
9. 1. FC Magdeburg  
10. FSV Zwickau Champions of the NOFV Oberliga Nordost-Süd
11. 1. FC Union Berlin II Runners-up in the NOFV Oberliga Nordost-Nord.
12. VfB Auerbach Runners-up in the NOFV Oberliga Nordost-Süd
13. Optik Rathenow Need one point from remaining two games
14. 1.FC Lokomotive Leipzig Will seal promotion with victory against Dynamo Dresden II on Sunday. Budissa Bautzen are waiting to pounce should they slip up.
15. TSG Neustrelitz Require 4 points from final two games to secure promotion, otherwise Torgelower Greif could sneak in.
16. Playoff Playoff between teams from the NOFV Oberliga-Süd and Oberliga-Nord for the final place.
TSG Neustrelitz/Torgelower Greif/Berliner FC Viktoria 89 vs. 1.FC Lokomotive Leipzig/Budissa Bautzen/VfB Fortuna Chemnitz

Hansa Rostock: Sinking ship kept afloat, but at what price?

The financial crisis at Hansa Rostock must be a dream for headline-writers everywhere. Rostock is a city defined by the sea – a member of the Hanseatic league for over 600 years and still an important port for freight and passenger ships. Hansa Rostock’s nickname, Die Kogge, is even taken from the name of type of ship that adorns their badge. Sinking ship and bail-out puns aplenty, then.

Yesterday, the Bürgerschaft (equivalent to a city council or parliament) came together at the town hall to vote on an urgent bail-out to save Hansa from administration. The omens weren’t good. Hansa Managing Director Bernd Hoffmann made it painfully clear that this was the last chance saloon; that only the city itself could save the club and there would be no last-minute sponsor assistance such as was case with Arminia Bielefeld last season. The financial committee of the city council had already recommended that the bail-out fund be rejected. But what exactly did the projected bail-out entail? Hansa’s total debts amount to more than 8.5 million euros, 4.5 million of which originates from unpaid tax between 1999 and 2001, right in the middle of their 11-year stay in the German top flight. This is what they were granted by the council yesterday:

  • Cancellation of € 680,000 of the € 4.5 million tax debt to the council.
  • A direct injection of € 750,000 to maintain the club’s capacity to operate as a business.
  • The purchase of the Hansa Rostock stadium and training centre by the city council at a cost of € 530,000.

This all racks up to an eye-watering € 1.96 million.

5,000 Hansa Rostock fans gather at the Neuer Markt to await news.
Source: http://www.rostock-heute.de

Since it became clear that the decision would be made on 9th May, Hansa Rostock fans have been organising protests, benefit events and petitions to encourage a yes vote and to garner support from others who hadn’t yet made up their mind. 5,000 gathered in front of the town hall on the afternoon of the vote and a petition containing 28,000 signatures was handed over.

If there were Hansa fans harbouring any hopes of a quick and painless yes or no, these were quickly extinguished. The debate began at 4:30 p.m. and the members of the council took turns to highlight the position of their respective parties before declaring whether they were for or against the motion. Eva-Maria Kröger from Die Linke began by praising the dedication of the fans but also highlighted the consequences a yes vote would have on the city’s finances. Her statement was the first clue as to the general feeling amongst the politicians: “[…] There were also many who registered their displeasure at a possible bail-out for Hansa,” said Kröger, “[…] but for many others the club is everything; their lifeblood. We cannot take this away from them”.

Spokesmen for the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats declared that different members of the council in their respective parties would be voting differently. Dieter Neßelmann from the CDU assumed that “this would not be the last of the financial assistance [required by Hansa]”. There was also stinging criticism from him of former directors at Hansa, with complaints that the city council had been left to face the music and pay (both literally and metaphorically) for the mistakes of others. Several other council members from other parties declared their support of the plan and it soon appeared as if there was light at the end of the tunnel.

It appeared as though the main crux of Hansa fans’ argument, namely that Rostock needs Hansa just as much as Hansa needs the city of Rostock, had rung true for the people making the decision. Steffen Bockhahn (Die Linke) hit the nail on the head with the following quote: “The rational decision would be ‘no’. But I will pin my hopes on the principle [of the financial assistance working] and say ‘yes’”. By this point it was clear that a majority would vote yes and Hansa fans could slowly but surely begin to relax. Sure enough, just before 6:00 p.m., the motion was passed with 31 council members voting yes and 12 no.

Opposition to the plans may not have been as vocal as the support from Hansa fans, but it was most certainly there. When there isn’t any room in the budget to fund carers for the elderly or kindergarten places or any other local projects, detractors of the bail-out are sure to look to FC Hansa Rostock as their main source of chagrin.

Of course the fans of the club have every right to be delighted that the city council has stepped in to save them from extinction; but there are sure to be hard times ahead. Three seasons ago, Hansa lost the relegation playoff from the 2. Bundesliga to FC Ingolstadt and were relegated to the third tier for the first time in their history: they never played lower than tier II in the DDR and spent most of the 1990s and 2000s in the top tier. The team was ripped apart; with hardly any players in possession of valid 3. Liga contracts. Despite this, Hansa made short work of the 3. Liga and were back up in the 2. Bundesliga within a season.

This time, the situation is slightly better. Seven players will have contracts valid in the 3. Liga and, perhaps most importantly, head coach Wolfgang Wolf has extended his contract until June 2013. He took control at the Ostseestadion in December 2011 and almost engineered an implausible great escape. TV money will be drastically reduced from over € 4 million to around € 800,000, so Wolf will be looking to Hansa’s youth academy to unearth another Toni Kroos. If Hansa’s last season in the third tier is anything to go by, this sojourn won’t be going on for too long either and the fans certainly hope that the club will rise back to where they feel it belongs.