Why all is not well with German football

It’s 1.30pm on a Wednesday. Frankfurt is freezing. Yet football fans are gathered outside one of the German city’s business hotels.

(Getty)

(Getty)

They’re not waiting for a new signing to emerge in a sports car. The majority do not support a local club. They have travelled miles just to show the people inside that they exist – traditional rivals with different coloured hats and scarves, but the same opinion about the events at the press conference inside. This is the culmination of their 12:12 campaign, on the day after which it is named.

The 12th day of the 12th month was set weeks ago as the day on which German football authorities would announce new security proposals. It would be an understatement to say their plans were not universally popular.

“The German fan culture is very important for the German football culture – unlike in England, for example,” continues Liebnau, a spokesman for Hamburger SV’s Ultras group. ” The Bundesliga is not the best when it comes to success in Europe,  but we do have a very unique atmosphere. The German fan culture is very ‘involved’. There are organisations that could speak for thousands of fans. None of them was involved and that is a pity.”

The Bundesliga and the Ligaverbandes – the body that represents Germany’s professional clubs  – are responding to political pressure. Football-related criminal proceedings are at their highest in 12 years. And the next German federal election will take place, coincidentally, at the start of next season.

For the 12:12 campaign, supporters chose a rare weapon: silence. At recent games, they didn’t sing or chant for the first 12 minutes (and 12 seconds for the more officious terrace watchdog). They wanted to show what it would be like if they were not there. Then some of them turned up in Frankfurt to show they most certainly were.

Dr Rauball has announced 16 new security rules, but they are not as severe as some fans feared.

They were worried in particular that there was going to be a big reduction in ticket allocations for away fans. They credit the mandatory allowance of 10% of capacity as a crucial factor in the vibrant atmospheres the league enjoys.

But travelling armies also bring security issues – Borussia Dortmund’s stadium holds more than 80,000,  which means Schalke 04 were entitled to 8,000 tickets forOctober’s Ruhr Valley derby. Widespread violence was reported.

According to international headlines, the biggest threat was to Germany’s much-treasured standing areas. In reality, Germany’s federal system would make a ban somewhere between impractical and impossible in statute, and there is little-to-no will within the game for any such change.

One advocate of the ban – German Police Union chairman Rainer Wendt – used trouble at a Hertha Berlin game  to advocate his cause. Berlin’s Olympic stadium has no standing areas.

Supporters dispute the figures, with evidence from the country’s National Football Information Point (NFIP). Stuart Dykes, an English-born Schalke fan, says: “There hasn’t really been an increase in violence and the NFIP figures back this up. And the injuries haven’t doubled. They have increased – from 846 to around 1,110 out of nearly 18 million fans! But the figures tell you nothing about how these injuries occurred because the police don’t know. It is estimated that half are caused by officers wielding pepper spray.”

Security at grounds will certainly increase. Proper training and certification for match stewards and security staff will be provided, though anything beyond a “pat down” search must in future be carried out in front of a supporters’ representative, if requested.

“The league and the clubs understand that they made some communication mistakes in the last weeks. But in future – whether they are in the standing area, the family block or the VIP seats – the fans will see that the clubs and the league will do anything to support the fan culture we have in Germany.”

That culture provides the continent’s highest crowds – a match-day average that is 10,000 above the Premier League’s.  The cheap standing tickets (it costs less than £15 for adults to watch champions Borussia Dortmund from behind the goal) are subsidised by higher prices for the seats, which have their own charms, including the delivery of beer and sausage in some stadia.

“It was an important day for professional football but there’s no feeling of triumph or something like that,” says Dr Rauball of the new measures, which take force from next season, with a review to be held after three years.

“It was a day when we had to do what is necessary for our security in the stadia. We have to find a way that the fans and the clubs have the same base. I’m sure the clubs will work on it and we will see the result in some weeks, months or years.”

Read Protest at security measures: why all is not well with German football on the BBC website

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