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There is a darker side to German football – but how best to resolve it?

Kit Holden
fireworks 300x225 There is a darker side to German football   but how best to resolve it?

Berlin's fans throw firework on the pitch during the football relegation match for Germany's first division Bundesliga between Fortuna Duesseldorf and Hertha BSC Berlin in Duesseldorf

There are few places indeed where it is better to be a fan than in Germany. Hannover 96 fans, for example, can see their team play FC Bayern for a mere 13 Euros. That’s if they don’t buy themselves a beer, of course, which they’re allowed to do. Oh and they can vote for the chap who pours his money into the club – itself a far better “fit and proper person” test than anything cooked up by the organisers of English football.

And yet, for all there is to admire about Germany’s fan culture, there is a darker side. Hooliganism is a liberally used word, but the behaviour of a number of fans at a number of clubs continually threatens to undermine the privileges which German fans and German fans alone currently enjoy.

Fan violence, pitch invasions and excessive usage of banned pyrotechnics have all reared their ugly heads again as the new season approaches. This is not, as it was for a long time considered to be, a problem limited to a select few fallen giants of the former East German Oberliga. This is a problem which saw Lukas Podolski’s tearful farewell from 1. FC Koeln overshadowed (quite literally) by police presence on the pitch and endless clouds of smoke erupting from the home stand. It is a problem which saw Fortuna Duesseldorf’s ecstatic return to the top flight endangered by their own fans’ eagerness to invade the pitch. It is a problem which has seen fans from St. Pauli, Hansa Rostock, Dynamo Dresden, Hertha BSC, Karlsruher SC and many other clubs tarnished by a small minority of idiots among their ranks.

The small minority remains a powerful minority, of course, and it is for that reason that the DFB (German FA) and DFL (German Football League) met with Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich to hold a conference under the motto of “For Football – Against Violence”.

An admirable move, and one endorsed by a number of significant figures both in the footballing and political spheres. The conference even ended in some success, with 53 of the 54 clubs in German national league footballing officially agreeing to the proposals of new, more severe sanctions for fans found guilty of violence or pyrotechnic abuse. Only the aptly named 1. FC Union Berlin refused to add a signature to the list.

Typical East German hooligans. Well, not quite. Union’s refusal was made on the basis of the conference having been, however well meaning, inherently undemocratic. For all the politicians, football bigwigs, club representatives and journalists who attended, one rather important section of the footballing community was conspicuous by their absence: the fans.

They were to be found only 300 metres away, in a different venue, holding an alternative press conference to campaign for better communication with and greater involvement of fan projects and fan groups in the hooliganism debate. More casually dressed but by no means less serious, representatives from the “Pro Fans” association sat and delivered their side of the argument under a banner reading “Without us there is no game”. Their complaint was the same as Union’s: football had lost its democratic tendencies.

It is easy to see their point. For all the good intentions of the DFB and DFL, there is precious little optimism that the proposals for tougher punishment will have any serious long term effect. While the refusal to ban non-seated stands has been greeted with much relief and approval, the move away from the policy of communication which was suggested last year has left fan groups “highly irritated”, as one Pro Fans representative somewhat mildly put it.

There is, needless to say, a certain rift beginning to emerge between those who are responsible for the game at all levels, and those who feel that they have some responsibility for its most valuable social group. DFL Chairman Dr Reinhard Rauball’s assertion that “we need to take our societal responsibilities seriously” is laudable. He and his colleagues, however, would do well to heed the warning of Union Berlin and Pro Fans, and speak to the masses before they start punishing them.

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