Football: Fan protest in the Bundesliga: Football fans show unusual unity in the protest against the DFL

Unusual protest: Football fans have recently been disrupting games by throwing tennis balls onto the lawn.

Photo: imago/MIS

It doesn’t happen so often that fan groups get along as well as they did on the third weekend of Advent in 2023. The organized scene played one-twos, which in some locations in the stands seemed much better coordinated than the moves on the pitch. This was the case in Mainz, where an hour before kick-off, the Null-Five fan block rehearsed insults against the DFB and DFL with the guests of 1. FC Heidenheim in alternating chants. And of course there was a banner hanging in the arena that could also be seen at second division venues such as Nuremberg and Berlin: “We will not be part of your deal – fuck the DFL.”

Banners went up in the Mainz fan block, with which the club boss Stefan Hofmann was also attacked head-on. Apparently the 36 license associations underestimated what the intended entry of an investor would trigger at the grassroots level. With the deal, which guarantees a financial partner a share in media revenues for the next 20 years, a red line in the commercialization of professional operations appears to have been crossed. In protest, the curves in many places were silent for the first twelve minutes, which allowed the viewer as the “twelfth man” to make his voice heard quite cleverly.

Professionals like Leonardo Bittencourt from Werder Bremen felt transported back to the strange atmosphere of ghost games during Corona times. In February and March 2020, similarly violent protests were directed against collective punishment; In addition, after the denigration of Hoffenheim patron Dietmar Hopp, further backlash spilled into the stadiums before the virus brought play to a standstill.

Three and a half years later, the German Football League (DFL) is actually more likely to be pilloried than the German Football Association (DFB). In the name of the “fan scenes in Germany” there is talk of a “breaking dam for the Bundesliga”: “We will pool our resources collectively in the fight against the DFL’s greed and arbitrariness. The league’s managing directors could still stop the disastrous investment project! They are not prepared to “stand idly by while German football is sold out.”

Hoffenheim’s managing director Alexander Rosen has asked for understanding that 20 professional clubs have supported the DFL plan. »Basically, it is the right of the active fan scene to show a counterpart in a very demonstrative way in the stadiums. On the other hand, you have to accept to a certain extent that the league has to develop,” he told the TV channel Bild on Sunday. “I think the problem is communication.”

In fact, the league management with Marc Lenz and Steffen Merkel, who are rarely visible publicly, have not managed to plausibly explain a decision that was not easy to understand to the fans. But perhaps the goals of private equity companies cannot be reconciled with the values ​​represented by fan culture.

What is not possible are outbreaks of violence like the one on Friday in Paderborn. Triggered by the almost infamous rioters from Hansa Rostock. “They showed complete violence,” said Paderborn’s managing director Martin Hornberge. The DFL and DFB must consider “whether clubs that have fans who are prone to such violence should even be allowed into other stadiums.”

Then it’s better that supporters, like in Mönchengladbach, throw gold thalers with sweet contents into the penalty area, which the helpers had to collect with huge bags. The next day there were also plenty of chocolate coins flying at VfL Bochum, one of which Takuma Asano unwrapped and ate, strengthening himself to score the opening goal against VfL Wolfsburg. Tennis balls were used in Nuremberg because in the Max Morlock Stadium the fans are not as close to the edge of the pitch as they are in the far west.

It wasn’t easy for those responsible to find the right key in this tricky mix. Perhaps the Spaniard Xabi Alonso succeeded best in this. As a former FC Bayern player and current coach of Bayer Leverkusen, he knows several perspectives: “We have fans in Leverkusen, but also in Spain, Argentina and Japan. We have to have a perspective to keep the tradition, but also to develop a vision because we are fighting in a football jungle, with La Liga, Premier League and Serie A. «

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