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):
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.