Many things were bleak in the last season at Hannover 96. The team couldn’t find a win from December 2014 till May 2015, when they beat FC Augsburg on the penultimate matchday to save their season.
The most pressing issue for fans was the lack of support from the terraces. The dispute in Germany between the fans supporting long-time Bundesliga traditions and club hierarchies who desire greater autonomy and financial clout is not restricted just to Hannover, but the problems between the active fans and president Martin Kind, a very vocal advocate of change, have been growing for years, with mistakes made on both sides. Fans complained about the treatment they get from the club and Kind is no fan of critical voices in his stadium, and rather sees fans as customers. Things boiled for a long while with little things adding to the problem, without there being a common ground to fall back upon and discuss things, and then everything got out of control a couple of years ago when Hannover 96 heavily restricted the away support to the derby against Eintracht Braunschweig, insisting on their tactics even though they had courts ruling against them. By the time the courts also turned down the club’s appeal and ultimately gave right to the fans, the game had already been played.
After this long dispute between club and active fan groups had escalated, the fans decided to turn their backs to the Niedersachsenstadion and rather support the Under-23 team in the Regionalliga Nord. The club seemed adamant to sit it out, hoping for new structures to arrive in the stadium over the course of the season.
However, things didn’t turn out that way. Despite some efforts and open letters, the atmosphere stayed bad and the away support met hardly any resistance. Moreover, the loudest action from the home crowd came when groups of Hannover fans would chant against president Martin Kind and the rest of the stadium would respond with whistles.
Players were frequently asked in interviews about that situation and always declared their disappointment that things couldn’t continue like this. As the team spiraled further down into the relegation battle and were in serious danger to go back to the Bundesliga 2 for the first time since 2002, the active fan groups returned. They declared that they’d do this for the team and still would prefer a Regionalliga game over the Bundesliga if fixtures would clash, but would support their team for now. The club quickly made sure that those fixture clashes wouldn’t happen.
Loud chants returned with the home game against Hoffenheim, also the first game of new head coach Michael Frontzeck. The game was lost 1:2 in the final stages of the game but the team had fought back from a clear offside goal in the first minute and showed spirit. And everyone was happy to hear the support from the Nordkurve also in the final two home games against Bremen and Freiburg – where the relegation was finally avoided with a close 2:1 – and in the away games in Wolfsburg and Augsburg.
The players showed their appreciation of the return by thanking the fans after the games at the fence and on the microphones. And the club realized that the fans must not be underestimated.
Make no mistake, many fans still openly oppose club president Martin Kind and his idea of modern football and the running of the club. Sporting director Dirk Dufner also isn’t much liked as much as his predecessor Jörg Schmadtke. But it feels like for now the fans are willing to push these issues to the side and support the team which has seen a major change in the squad for the second year in a row. Behind veterans Leon Andreasen and Christian Schulz, who are both 32, the next oldest player is new replacement goalkeeper Philipp Tschauner at 29, with number one Ron-Robert Zieler the 8th oldest squad player aged 26.
The club also seems a bit more serious to listen to supporters’ demands. They made way for a few more standing areas in the Nordkurve for the supporters. However, they sparked a bit of an outrage with the presentation of the new home jersey, with it being all in red from jersey to socks. Traditionally, 96 wear black shorts and white socks with their home jersey. The club received a similar shitstorm a couple of years ago with their red/orange jersey that also had red shorts, and brought back the black shorts after a couple of games. One will see how they react to it this time and whether this is just a one-off.
To sum it all up, things are not yet back to normal and it may be very difficult to ever get there, but hopefully both sides have realized that the way it was last season has no future and doesn’t help the team. And the team is after all the reason why everyone comes to the stadium.
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