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.
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”. 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.
After countless false hopes and 2 years of living on life support, FC Sachsen Leipzig has finally succumbed to its injuries. On Wednesday, administrator Heiko Kratz announced that the club would cease to exist as of 1st June 2011. Unlike the professional leagues in Germany which have already finished, many things are still to be decided in the country’s 4th tier and below, and FC Sachsen Leipzig fans have two final chances to bid farewell to their side. The first was on Sunday against Budissa Bautzen in the NOFV Oberliga-Süd and would be the last ever FC Sachsen Leipzig match at their historic, decrepit ground, the Alfred-Kunze Sportpark.
I felt that I couldn’t miss this opportunity to witness an historic occasion. It’s not often that a club goes out of business, and I was interested to see what the atmosphere would be like, even though it felt like I was visiting the scene of a horrific car accident “just to have a look”. Would supporters be sad? Upset? Angry? The weather certainly wanted to give FCS a good send off as, when I left to take the short 5-minute S-Bahn ride to the district of Leutzsch, the sun was shining brightly.
It’s hard not to draw a comparison between Leipzig-Leutzsch S-Bahn station and the Alfred-Kunze Sportpark, separated as they are by a mere 250 yards. Quite frankly, they are both in a deplorable state of repair. The one difference is: Leutzsch S-Bahn station is undergoing comprehensive renovation as part of the new transport network in Leipzig, whereas the Alfred-Kunze Sportpark… well, who knows?
I arrived with plenty of time to spare and immediately noticed how busy the ground was. From what I could gather, there were only 4 ticket sellers for all fans wanting to buy a ticket and so I had to queue for half an hour. It was obvious that so many people had not been seen at an FCS match for some time. Indeed, a couple of old Sachsen fans in front of me were complaining about this very problem. One of the main problems FC Sachsen Leipzig have had this season is that the administrators had reckoned with over 1,000 paying spectators per home game. In reality, that number has dwindled over the course of the season. The week before, against FSV Zwickau, only 800 turned up despite an impressive following from southern Saxony. After queueing for half and hour (!), I finally got my ticket for the Norddamm terrace behind the goal, at a cost of €8.
The Norddamm is one of my favourite places to watch football. It’s an old and rotting bit of classic concrete terracing which towers above the rest of the ground, and you really get an impression of how tight the rest of the ground is to the pitch from right at the top. Lord knows what it would be like if it was full. The bottom tier of the terrace is the traditional home of the most raucous FCS fans, including the ultras. Incidentally, a Union Berlin-supporting friend of mine was telling me about seeing a playoff game here 22 years ago where the attendance was over 20,000. He said the atmosphere was astounding.
At the top of the terrace, FC Sachsen Leipzig fans had made a banner printed with *1990 † 2011. Some other fans had put together a cardboard coffin with the club’s logo and the same dates (which I frustratingly didn’t get a picture of). Due to the congestion to get in, the game actually kicked off 15 minutes later. I found out later on that the attendance was around 2,500. If only those extra 1,000 or so had made the effort to go earlier on in the season, perhaps it wouldn’t have ended like it has.
Right from the kickoff, it was clear that some of the FC Sachsen fans were only going to bow out kicking and screaming. Straight away, 5 or 6 fireworks were set off and some were thrown onto the pitch amid chants of “Nur die BSG“. It was pretty spectacular, and also a little terrifying if I may say so. FCS fans looked like they didn’t care about the match and were bent on causing as much disruption as possible. After pleas from the players, manager and referee (kudos to the latter for keeping a cool head for the whole match by the way; he could easily have abandoned it), the FCS hardcore fans cooled down a little and got into their chanting rhythm. Whenever fans in Germany light fireworks, the stadium announcer always gets his microphone out and says the same thing: “Dear football fans, please refrain from lighting fireworks, etc.”, but this time the announcer just said “Dear football fans, please refrain from lighting fireworks. The costs for the club in the form of fines are…… Just stop it. Man oh man.”
I had feared that Bautzen would be too strong for FCS and would spoil the occasion by winning (how disrespectful!). My fears were unfounded though as Sachsen Leipzig started brightly and, after only 5 minutes, took the lead. Fabian Schößler broke down the right-hand side after a quick free kick and buried the ball in the far corner on the half volley past the helpless Bautzen keeper. I got the feeling that this lifted a weight off the shoulders of quite a few fans who may have shared my fears that FCS would go out with a whimper. Sachsen doubled their lead 7 minutes later, Schößler again finishing impressively from inside the box. Bautzen were showing little and it was relatively obvious that they had nothing to play for. Despite their dominance, Sachsen couldn’t get a third and put the game well beyond doubt. Pint-size, balding Georgian Khvicha Shubitidze (star of the EFW Leipzig Derby report) had a golden chance after beating the keeper, but ended up putting the ball wide.
At half time, the weather was turning and, perhaps reflecting the state of affairs at FCS, dark clouds were looming overhead. The stadium announcer, however, came up with another gem to keep us amused. Someone had requested “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (I hate the fact that Germans love this song so much) to be played as a thank you to this person’s father for taking him to his first ever BSG Chemie Leipzig match, back in the day. The announcer had left it too late though, and after the intro had finished and the “Walk on, walk on” bit was just starting, the teams came out and he had to cut it off – a head in hands moment.
The second half was a bit of a non-event in footballing terms, although FCS kept up their dominance. They had a couple of great chances and their keeper Richter pulled off a fantastic one-handed save low to his left. Perhaps a few of the FCS players are looking to get on RB Leipzig‘s books at the end of the season? It seemed like they would have the perfect opportunity to put the round off the day when a penalty was awarded ten minutes before time. Lee Gandaa stepped up and proceded to strike it easily within reach of the keeper. Another head in hands moment.
After this missed penalty, many FCS fans around me began to get visibly upset. I saw a hell of a lot of grown men crying. The final whistle came as a bit of a relief to be honest, as I’m sure people can imagine. If you know something that you hold dear to your heart is going to end for good, you kind of want it to end straight away. It’s the waiting that kills you.
The expected, and long overdue, pitch invasion took place after the final whistle, with the stewards eventually opening the gates to the pitch so that people that weren’t keen on climbing the 6ft-high fence could also have a go. There were some unsavoury scenes as some fans attempted to get into the VIP area and the board room but a strong police presence managed to quell the attempts. There was obviously a great deal of anger and despair after the game, but the writing has been on the wall for a long time now. There were cries of “You’ve sold us to Red Bull!” and such like, but as an older Sachsen fan behind me said; “The people runnig around all pissed off are the ones that haven’t paid their membership fees and have directly contributed to this situation.”
All in all, a sad turn of events in Leutzsch and it remains to be seen whether a team in green and white will be playing at the Alfred-Kunze Sportpark next season. It must be said, there were many people present at the final FCS game who I would judge as belonging to the right of the political spectrum (Thor Steinar clothing, skinheads, disgusting songs about building an train line from *enter location* to Ausschwitz) and I would say that those people wouldn’t be welcome if BSG Chemie Leipzig (the new club, formed by the left-wing former FCS ultras) took over the AKS. The Leutzsch fan scene has been divided since the formation of the new club and it remains to be seen if they are ever able to be reunited.
FCS’s last ever match will be this weekend away at newly-crowned champions Germania Halberstadt.