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.




  1. Sohn der Medway

    Brilliant stuff Dave, top notch as usual. I would, however, like to debate one point…

    “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.”

    I’m not sure if I agree with this, it changed nothing as far as the games were concerned and it, despite the impressive spectacle, proved nothing other than the fact that German fans are capable of inventive collective actions. Such actions are led by a small clique and cry “Power to the People”, the irony is quite astounding.

    Power lies only with money, if they don’t agree with how the game/club is being run, they aren’t verpflichtet to buy a ticket and they shouldn’t do if that’s really how they feel. Hitting the DFL/DFB in the wallet is really the only effective form of protest. For me it hasn’t got to a point where I want to do this, yet.

    • David

      Cheers Tommy.

      I realise it sounds a little cheesy. I suppose I meant more that the power German fans have to organise nationwide, simultaneous protest is what is so powerful. The power to combine everyone’s efforts in a single cause.

      The problem with staying away is that the DFB and DFL make practically no money on ticket sales (if any?), so as long as people continue to buy Sky/Liga Total subscriptions, they’ll never have any problems in that regard.

      I am almost completely convinced that most of the ultras that are now staying silent for entire matches haven’t even read the motions that were passed. All this talk about “Nacktzelte” and “Vollkörperkontrollen” is really starting to fuck me off – there’s no mention of those in the motions that were passed. It’s pure hysteria, this time stemming from football fans.

    • David

      And also, you could argue that the failure of the DFL’s original proposals was a direct cause of Union (together with Szene Köpenick, Virus, etc.) publicly criticising it. It was like a domino effect, resulting even in clubs with small active fanbases (Wolfsburg, for example) rejecting it.

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