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.
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…”.
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 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.
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.” 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. 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). 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. 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 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.”
 Item 5, page 5, Sicheres Stadionerlebnis, 27.09.2012
 Available here: http://sportbild.bild.de/SPORT/bundesliga/2012/09/12/dfl-kriminologe-thomas-feltes-fuerchtet/es-drohen-eskalation-bei-pyrotechnik-und-gewalt.html and most definitely worth a read.
 Item 2, page 5, Sicheres Stadionerlebnis, 27.09.2012
 Page 32, Sicheres Stadionerlebnis, 27.09.2012
 Statistics taken from here: http://www.profans.de/fankongress-2012/abschlussdokument-fankongress-2012
 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
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.
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.
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.
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.