September 24, 2017

Dynamo’s Tifo Record, Otherwise Known as the Biggest Sewing Project I’ll ever See

I’ll make a safe assumption. You are not a cave-dweller living by the fire’s shadows dancing on the rock walls. No, you’re online and on social media. Which means that you probably already know what happened in Dresden this past weekend:

An instantly viral event. Oh, and Dynamo won the match, too. But we won’t remember the result. Instead, it’s the sewing we’ll remember. “Dude, remember that one time Dynamo covered itself in a big freaking scarf?” “Yeah, man. Football. Bloody hell.”

The basics are, indeed, impressive:

  • The banner was 450 meters long.
  • 70 kilometers of yarn stitched it together.
  • The banner cost supporters about €25,000.
  • The banner took about 2 years to construct.

What did the banner say? Well, it was self-congratulatory in nature: Die Legende aus Elbeflorenz. Der Verien mit den besten Fans! In English, it reads something like this: “The legend of Florence on the Elbe. The club with the best fans” (reportedly, Dresden is known as a Florence-like city on the river Elbe). Anyone remotely familiar with German fußball already knows the supporter-centric reputation of Dynamo Dresden, as well as their opponents, 1.FC Magdeburg, both clubs from the former East Germany. This tifo event occurred in the perfect context.

At this point, most articles wrapped up the Dresden tifo story and moved on.

I mean, what do you say about supposedly Europe’s largest-ever choreo? Well, it seems nobody had anything else to say.

What a missed opportunity.

For my money, this short-shift treatment of the Dresden tifo underscores an assumption made by football media and consumers that items like tifos are merely props coloring our device screens or populating our social media feeds. That is, according to this conventional thinking, tifos are props enhancing the “product” of football through atmospherics – “Gee, what a crowd” – or simply reifying readily recycled narratives about footballing culture, like “Man, in Germany they sure know how to be football fans.” Either way, these lines of thought simply condemn the Dresden tifo to the flat confines of visual spectacle with its “OOOOOhs” and “AAAAAhs.”

You know, all those amazing elements – the time, money, material, and labor – imputed into the tifo are obliterated into the quick two minutes of viral-video-dopamine-pings we give ourselves. And then we move on, waiting for the next video.

However, we do ourselves and those Dresden supporters a disservice with our spectacle-consuming habits.

Instead, I encourage you to reflect on the small miracle you just witnessed. No, I’m not referring to the impressive event “stats”, which are super impressive! Instead, I’m referring to the small miracle of sustained collectivity and meaning represented by the Dresden tifo.

Dozens of videos litter YouTube showing the tifo / choreo’s (feel free to correct my diction in the comments below) unveiling. One of my favorite, however, also documents the process of making and setting up the massive thing:

This video needs to be seen for the numerous details: an apartment loft with a sewing machine, the cloth being fed throw a window, the cloth spread out in an industrial area, many volunteers working collaboratively, the rehearsal, the BIG MOMENT, and the actual match. These details shrink the tifo’s scale to something – dare I say? – human, local, and even mundane. 450 meters of cloth is divided into camera frames and human-sized pixels of labor (sewing, sketching, designing, painting, etc.). Even here, the camera is condensing immense amounts of work. That is, the project’s ambition and massiveness can’t help but break the camera’s frame.

But the work is visible, which is important because it reminds us of the obvious fact that our teams are really clubs and these clubs – no matter which players, coaches, sporting directors, etc. come and go – are really supporters.

Yes, my observation is Hallmarkesque syrupy sweet. But the tifo event reminds us, or at least me, in a very concrete way that clubs are supporters, a mantra is too easy just to pay lip service to thousands of miles away.

Is your heart warmed? I’m warmed. “Modern football” can run ramshod on our sport all it wants, but what is a professional football match without its supporters? Nothing. This fact reveals the latent power us fans have always had over our beloved sport, which brings me back to YouTube.

Videos of the tifo fall into perhaps my favorite YouTube genre: football supporter stuff. YouTube is a stunningly rich repository for clips of tifos/choreos, ultras, pyro shows, marches to the match, chants/singing, etc. And it’s grassroots stuff, which is what I love most about it. There’s always the chance I’ll discover something new. I don’t need to worry about a ginormous entity, like the DFL or the FA, asking YouTube to take the videos down because of copyright violations.

Moreover, this genre of football-related videos demonstrates the “constructedness” of football as something we can experience collectively and derive meaning from. That is, we can make, or “construct,” this meaning through synthetic symbols, like tifos, chants, flags, etc. The fact that these items are homemade is crucial. Like any craft, imputing our attention, resources, and time into them creates meaning.

I’m not saying anything earth-shattering here. I’m just trying to contextualize the Dresden tifo within the attempts to collaborate and make meaning. And given the tifo’s long-standing place in German footballing culture, coupled with the principle of German Mitbestimmung that animates something like Germany’s famed supporter culture and the famed 50+1 rule, is it wonder that last weekend’s small miracle came from Germany and from Dresden?

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. He writes for Howler magazine's website. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and coaching the U8s are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, and his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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