Petty English fans should learn from Germany what to protest about
The realisation is finally beginning to set in. English football, after years of denial, dismissal and derision, has finally come to accept that the Germans might actually be doing something right with their national league. And how could it not? Borussia Dortmund have dumped the pride of Premiership profligacy out of Europe altogether, Schalke have trumped an albeit unimpressive Arsenal outfit, and FC Bayern are generally seen as the side who, were it not for their own wastefulness, would have beaten Chelsea in Munich last May.
Indeed, so vigorous is the enthusiasm for German football, that the old clichés may even be in danger. German success, for so long attributed to a supernatural, abstract notion of ingrained efficiency, has come to be defined by its real virtues – namely a well structured league, an authoritative and progressive FA, and a respect for its fans.
If you want proof that the tables have turned, you need look no further than the indignant minority of columnists and fans who are still determinedly screaming that we are all being conned. Praise for the German model has become so ubiquitous that it is now being dismissed as a dangerous cliché. Well, better that than being dismissed altogether.
Whatever your views on fan ownership and financial regulation, though – and there is a real debate to be had there, for the Bundesliga system is not without its flaws – one thing is certain. German fans are impressive. They are impressive in their raucous away support, they are impressive in their sheer multitude and, most of all, they are impressive in the way they protest.
For while Chelsea fans reached new levels of petulance this month with their antipathy towards Rafa Benitez (very few have the guts or the wit to identify the true villain at their club – Mr Abramovich himself), their counterparts in the Bundesliga have been occupying themselves with more pressing issues.
This month saw the DFL introduce yet more stadium security measures. A tightening of the already polemical ban on flares, a ban on away support standing areas and full body scans for fans entering the stadium are among the new initiatives to be signed off by Bundesliga clubs next week. The fans, needless to say, are against it, and they have raised their voices in protest. Or rather lowered them.
For the last two matchdays, fans around the country have remained silent for the first twelve minutes and twelve seconds of all Bundesliga games – a reference to the date on which the new measures are to be set in stone – the 12th December. Their motto? “No voice, no atmosphere”. It sounds rather better in German: “Ohne Stimme, keine Stimmung”.
The protest is another in a long line backed by the increasingly prominent supporter organisation Pro Fans, which seeks to defend the Bundesliga’s revered fan culture from the apparently malevolent influence of commercialism and security.
It is another chapter in the ongoing saga around fan violence in German football, a phenomenon which cannot be ignored, but, in the eyes of the fans, has a tendency to be exaggerated. For while the sporadic outbreaks of real violence are to be roundly condemned, the fan movements argue they are too easily conflated with other, less black and white issues such as the debate over flares, and the presence of the extreme groups of Ultras.
The hooligans within the Ultras and other fan organisations, however, are largely a minority. In general, even the most extreme fan groups are able, and willing, to engage in real debate over controversial issues. They are concerned not with blind loyalty to the name of their club, or their right to “reclaim” racist terminology, but with the essence of fandom, and the prosperity of the game as a social entity.
For the Bundesliga fans, standing tickets and low prices are not just trendy clichés – they are an integral part of the enjoyment and universalism of football. As Thomas Weinmann, a fan representative at Borussia Moenchengladbach, put it: “It’s about socially inclusive prices. Without standing areas certain social groups would be marginalised. Think of the example of England.”
Well, quite. The Premier League has welcomed the influx of rich, foreign owners and the trophies they bring, and has gladly paid its dues in ever spiralling ticket prices and an ever marginalised fan culture. That is as valid a decision as any, but it makes a mockery of the English fans who then turn around and get upset when their rich owners behave in a reckless and nonsensical manner, with no regard or respect for the fans.
Even if the Premier League is unwilling to adopt stricter financial regulations or restore standing areas – and there are valid arguments against both – one thing remains undeniable. Its fans would do well to take a leaf out of the Germans’ book when it comes to what to protest about. Then, perhaps, they would gain a little more respect from us all.Tagged in: Chelsea FC, england, football
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