The 1. FC Köln has known for months that punishment for fans having flares in the away stands in the second-round DFB Pokal match at MSV Duisburg was coming.
In the wake of another incident involving the forbidden Bengalos at Mönchengladbach, the club knew that whatever fines were to be levied would be increased.
When a handful of hooligans stormed onto the pitch at the end of the Karneval-weekend derby at Borussia Park, leading to clashes with police and home fans, everyone had to suspect that the consequences could ultimately be severe.
And severe they are.
A total of 200,000 Euro will be paid as a fine for the spectator actions during the two aforementioned matches, with the goal for the funds to largely be used to install preventative measures to avoid future instances.
In addition to the fines, a pair of blocks at RheinEnergieStadion will be closed to fans for dates against Hoffenheim, Leverkusen, and Schalke. Approximately 2,500 season-ticket holders will be impacted by the closures and will be reimbursed for the missed matches. Single-game tickets sold for those three dates will be cancelled and the costs refunded.
Tickets for away matches at Freiburg, Berlin, Augsburg, and Mainz will be sold only as personalized, explaining yesterday’s announcement by the club that the on-sale date for the upcoming trip to SC Freiburg was being postponed. Ticket holders will be required to present legal personal identification for entry to those games.
After the mid-Februrary incident in Mönchengladbach, the club acted swiftly by expelling “Wild Boyz” as an official fan club and issued a stadium ban on members. The “Boyz,” with support of some like-minded fan groups, objected to the notion of a “collective punishment.” “Wilde Horde,” in allegiance to “Wild Boyz,” boycotted fan-group action the following weekend for the home match against Hannover 96, with the end result being a relatively quiet stadium.
The club has since revoked the stadium ban for a handful of “Wild Boyz” members who were able to demonstrate that they were not in attendance at Borussia Park, but has otherwise stood resolutely behind their initial decision to ban the group and indicated in today’s statement their belief that such decisions helped avoid even harsher penalties, noting that the DFB’s block closures seem to target areas of the stadium (south curve blocks S3 & S4) which generally host the “Ultras”-style fan groups, among others.
Also noted in the statement was the overwhelming support of club actions by most fans of their post-derby actions potentially having played a role in minimizing punishment that, while severe, certainly could have been worse, stating that “the positive reaction of the majority of FC fans in the wake . . . played a role in this result.” Had the club not acted swiftly and harshly itself, the complete shutting out of fan attendance for a match or more as well as a points-reduction are but two of the more-grim consequences potentially avoided by initiating some self-policing measures.
Such pronouncements are not mere conjecture, either. Hans E. Lorenz, chairman of the DFB “sporting court,” confirms that the club having had “the courage to take unpopular measures against it’s own problem-causing fans” likely prevented a minimum of one match played before a stadium full of seats occupied only by ghostly spirits.
“Without the extensive and exemplary measures of 1. FC Köln in the wake of the events in Mönchengladbach, at least one Geisterspiel would have been very likely,” explains Lorenz. “With this ruling, we have honored the self-initiative of the club having imposed sustainable sanctions against its own so-called fans.”
“With the partial exclusions, we avoid the majority of the innocent spectators being forced to suffer from the misconduct of certain individuals”
Even so, for a club that just won for only the second time in twelve home matches while fighting against relegation, losing a segment of the home atmosphere will have its own effect, even on those who will still be in attendance for those matches on match day and beyond. The fines and lost revenue will also further limit potential personnel moves in the coming summer, during which the club will be hoping to further build the foundation of a first-division regular, rather than one capable of maybe surviving just another season.
Which is why at least one member of the German legislature has publicly decried the punishment, even though ostensibly reduced from what would otherwise have been considered, far too harsh.
“Here we have a club being punished after having done everything within it’s power to prevent riots such as what happened in Mönchengladbach,” said Bundestag Home Affairs Committee chair and regular RheinEnergieStadion attendee Wolfgang Bosbach. “The innocent are punished as is the team, which, through the partial exclusions, will lose some of acoustic support of the audience.”
Bosbach concludes that “exceptionally hard and disproportionate” punishment could have been simply fines and probation, so avoid punishing the innocent and peaceful fans of those closed sections “for the work of anarchists who call themselves ‘fans,’ but in reality are not.”
The 1. FC Köln has accepted the punishment and will not appeal.