The new Bundesliga season is underway, but it wasn’t just what happened on the pitch that was noticeable this weekend, but events in the stands that grabbed the attention.
All across the leagues, fan groups led a coordinated protest against the Deutsche Fussball Bund (DFB) with common banners, chants and a combined desire to be heard. It is not uncommon for the Ultras to come up with politicised displays and ways to protest, but what is rare is for so many disparate groups to come together at the same time.
However, the opening matchday of the new season saw the perceived common enemy—the DFB—targeted in a league wide effort. The same “Fick dich DFB” (F*** you DFB) banner was spotted at all Bundesliga stadia over the weekend and the other protest banners unfurled all followed a similar pattern. They outlined the numerous grievances fans have with the German football authorities.
Unlike in many other top leagues the word ‘Verein’ means something much more to German fans and they see themselves as a vital piece of the club and invested with not just passion, but also a legal and moral right to have their say and to protest when they see things developing in a way they see as anti-football.
The situation at Arsenal in the Premier League for example, where the fans have been marginalised and are treated as customers who can be replaced with other customers would not happen in the Bundesliga. Plenty of traditional Premier League fans see this commercialisation, hate it for what it is, but are powerless to stop it.
In essence this is what the weekend protests are about. German fan groups see certain developments and see it as their duty to act against them to protect their traditional Vereine.
The display of anger against the DFB seen on matchday one is just an extension of a long-running sense of dislocation felt by fans and a backlash against the insipid and growing ‘commercialisation’ of football.
Non-traditional kick-off times, personalised tickets, threats to the 50+1 rule on ownership, collective punishments, overseas tours, the plan to allow the Chinese U20 side to play in the German fourth tier, the razzamatazz of the DFB Pokal final (Helene Fischer’s performance) are all issues fans have taken against.
Last season the headlines were all about RB Leipzig and the fans protests (most peaceful, some violent, but all vitriolic) made it clear that the ‘plastic club’ were an abomination to tradition and something to be fought against.
RB (and Hoffenheim) are still going to face hatred, but the weekend protests went deeper than these two clubs.
Us vs Them
But is the DFB really the sinister enemy it is made out to be, and is President Reinhard Grindel really the evil James Bond villain? He and they would like to think not and have offered dialogue with the fans.
“In the past weeks and months, I have been struck by the demonstrations, declarations and protests against teams and their fans,” said President Grindel in a statement released on Wednesday. “That is not what football in Germany stands for. It’s time to stop. It’s time to think.
“Germany is envied around the world for the atmosphere in its stadiums,” he continued. “Fan cultures with their impressive choreographies, creative displays and social engagement create a unique atmosphere. The DFB acknowledges that and we are thankful for it.
“We understand that it’s about more [than a game],” he added. “Football in Germany stands for standing terraces, affordable ticket prices and the 50+1 rule. We are serious about our offer of a renewed dialogue.”
The DFB have announced the end to collective punishments for now meaning that entire fan blocks will not be disciplined for the behaviour of a minority.
This should be the first step towards a constructive dialogue between the authorities and fans, but it is not the only issues fans want movement on. However it will be case of give and take with fans expected to compromise on the issue of pyrotechnics inside stadia.
The Bundesliga- like it or not- is a very successful and attractive league and plenty of money is there to be made. Many would argue the Bundesliga is superior to the Premier League on so many levels, yet the money generated in England dwarfs what is available to German clubs.
The issue here is between tradition and the need to modernise, between football as a way of life and a marketable product. The DFB have their agenda and the fans have theirs. The protests of the weekend are likely to continue and the way this issue develops this season will be one well worth following with interest.
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