November 19, 2017

Politics and Football: Uniting and Dividing the Fatherland

Politics and football have quite a storied history in Germany. With the federal elections taking place a couple weeks ago, let’s take a look at how the two went hand in hand.

The national side has figured out ways to get themselves into politics every time they’ve hosted and/or won the World Cup. Let’s see how this happened.

1954: Wir sind zurück (“We are back”)

Germany came back into the international football picture in 1954 after receiving a ban from the 1950 World Cup. Not even a decade after the unspeakable atrocities of the Second World War, Germans were still wondering how to live with themselves and pick up the pieces of the absolute destruction.

In the footballing aspect of German culture, there was no nationwide league but rather multiple regional leagues known as Oberligas. These leagues were fairly top heavy, leading to broken records striking the tune for some leagues (e.g. Hamburger SV won 15 of 16 possible Oberliga Nord titles before the Bundesliga formed).

The 1954 World Cup was primarily remembered for the attacking play of the top teams. The average goals per match was a record: 5.38, which is still the highest average in any tournament. West Germany was on both ends of the stick on that aspect. After handing Turkey a 4-1 defeat in the first game of the group stage, they were no match to the Golden Team of Hungary in an 8-3 loss. For the playoff match, West Germany took care of business with a thumping 7-2 victory over Turkey. West Germany then went on to the final and took down the Golden Team in what is now known as Das Wunder von Bern.

1974: Socialism wins the battle, but Capitalism wins the World Cup

Twenty years later, West Germany found themselves in a political quarrel that spilled onto the pitch. The West German government only recognized East Germany, and vice versa, two years before the World Cup came to West Germany. In their only World Cup appearance, the East met the West in their last game in Group A. Both sides were through to the knockout stage and could focus on the task of political supremacy on the pitch.

At the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg, members of the Stasi and carefully-selected people from the Socialist party made up the East German support. The 2,000 GDR fans left the grounds the victors as Jürgen Sparwasser netted the lone goal in the 77th minute for the people behind the Iron Curtain.

There were accusations that flew around the West German team deliberately did not play well with their assured place in the next round, or to avoid Brazil or Holland in the next round robin, but trainer Helmut Schön could not stand to look at his team after the loss and introduced radical changes in the lineup. Uli Hoeneß and Günter Netzer were taken out of the starting eleven, with Rainer Bonhof and Bernd Holzenbein taking their places. Franz Beckenbauer also proved himself on and off the field as a strong leader for the squad, which eventually took down the Dutch’s total football in the final.

1990: the Wall came down, along with the DFV

West and East Germany came together as hammers took to the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. The political lines were still on the ground but the line in the sand was swept up with a rush of unity once more. Perfect timing heading into the World Cup the following year.

The mental borders between West and East Germany were non-existent when Italia ’90 came around and the fledgling East German government allowed their citizens to support the West German team for the first time under their rule. The same year also marked the last match for the DFV, who had played against Belgium only a couple of weeks before the political reunification was officially recognized.

2006: The Flag Comes Out

Politically speaking, there was a mental divide between the West and the East. There was only one former East German stadium in use during the World Cup (Leipzig), and there were grudges between the west and the east. West Germans were annoyed at how East Germans could still need help 16 years after the country was sewn together, and East Germans felt the west did not help enough. Those stitches were coming apart and no amount of political adhesive was working.

Only three months before Germany was to host the World Cup, confidence in the German side was at an all-time low. FIFA ranked them number 22 in the world, the worst ranking ever received. They struggled against Turkey, China and France before getting their teeth kicked in by Italy in Florence. Trust in Jürgen Klinsmann was dissolving faster than mentos in Diet Coke. To top off the problems heading into the World Cup, Oliver Kahn was not on the starting XI, with Jens Lehmann taking his place. Nevertheless, instead of losing all hope, Germans suddenly came together and united around the squad.

And come together they did. Any time the Nationalelf entered a stadium during the World Cup, it was filled with white shirted fanatics as well as millions of fans in the public viewings around the country. Flags were picked up, painted on all parts of the body and there was even a response to England’s taunting chant Ten German Bombers in the air, in the form of We’re Going to Berlin Without England. The German team responded with a third-place finish in what is arguably the most important event in Germany in the 21st Century.

Also, the whole world got to see Chancellor Angela Merkel’s classic goal reaction for the first time. Rise out of the seat, beam with joy, raise arms, close fists, and shake that powersuit.

Still, there was another tournament that received special attention from all sorts of nations. Just days before the FIFA World Cup, there was the FIFI Wild Cup in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg. The place known for punks, anarchists and flipping the bird at modern football hosted a tournament involving nations of political dispute. Greenland, Northern Cyprus, Zanzibar, Gibraltar, Tibet and the host district of St. Pauli took part in the lone FIFI Wild Cup. An alternate World Cup if you will, that only St. Pauli could pull off. Of course, there were snags along the way, especially with heat coming from China and FIFA, on top of visa problems for Northern Cyprus players. But St. Pauli firmly kept their middle finger in China and FIFA’s faces and the tournament went ahead, finishing with a Northern Cyprus victory.

I expect that China will send a letter barring entry into their country any time now.

Of course, there are also clubs in Germany with derbies based in politics.

St. Pauli-Hansa Rostock: Politischenderby

This derby match is the epitome of politics in club football in Germany. The punks and anarchists of this district lean heavily to the left and will defend their beliefs with their feet, mouths and fists (with middle fingers out of course). Rostock featured one of the more popular sides of East Germany, still followed by millions despite their troubles in the reunited Fatherland. However, there is a strong supporter section of Rostock that goes far to the right, giving enough votes for the Neo-Nazi NPD to earn seats in the local government of Rostock and the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Unfortunately, the ultras for the team have plenty of the hard-liners. And when St. Pauli and Hansa Rostock meet, it turns into a sea of free-flowing fists, batons of riot police, tear gas and water cannons.

I was in St. Pauli for the last time these clubs met,  knowing that something was bound to happen. At about 9:30 on a Sunday morning, at least 30 caravans filled with riot police in full gear charged down the Reeperbahn towards the Altona train station. The march of St. Pauli fans arrived at the stadium about 90 minutes later, holding a “funeral” for the death of their fan culture at the hands of police. Since I could not get a ticket to the match out of safety concerns, I decided it was best to miss the fire hoses that came later and headed back to the town I was studying in.

And be sure to get used to seeing Merkel’s classic celebration for a few more years. Die Kanzlerin won her third term as the most powerful woman in the world. Perhaps she could incorporate her Raute in her goal celebration.

Header courtesy of n24.de

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