September 23, 2017

The Best and Worst of Bundesliga Fandom on Display

Events from match day 26 put things into perspective for many a Bundesliga fan. During Sunday night’s fixture between Borussia Dortmund and 1. FSV Mainz 05, two fans in separate incidents suffered heart attacks. A 79-year-old pensioner on the Südtribüne didn’t make it, whilst the other fan was rushed to the hospital to receive further treatment. The way the fans reacted to the events was exceptional and clearly demonstrated that all 81,000 spectators at the stadium had clearly grasped that there are more important things in life than football.

The stadium singing ‘You’ll Never Walking Alone’ shortly before the final whistle and again as the players stood before the Südtribüne was a fitting and moving tribute that touched all of Germany as well as those watching from abroad. At that moment, the stadium stood together like a giant family and honoured those who just had suffered a horrendous tragedy.

 

Already on Saturday, SV Darmstadt 98 had said farewell to fan Johnny Heimes. The 26-year-old was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, but somehow managed to repeatedly fight against the decease every time it returned.Before the return leg of a promotion playoff against Arminia Bielefeld, Darmstadt coach Dirk Schuster told his players of Heimes’ fate and willingness to fight and give of himself to those even worse off than he. Inspired by Heimes slogan “You must fight – Nothing has been lost,” the Darmstadt players turned a 3-1 deficit into a win to gain promotion to the Bundesliga 2.

Heimes had inspired many people with his “Du musst kämpfen”(“You must fight”) charity which collected money for a cancer ward at a Frankfurt hospital through selling blue and white ribbons. When Darmstadt gained promotion to the Bundesliga, the players asked for Heimes to come on stage to be honoured, because they believed they wouldn’t have been celebrating a return to the Bundesliga without the inspiration Heimes had given them a year prior when their backs were to the wall. With a smile on his face, Heimes would later say that while he didn’t want to be made the centre of attention, “What can you do if you sit in a wheelchair and they roll you onto the stage?”

The Darmstadt fans bid their friend a very fitting farewell with a great choreo, stating that Heimes might be gone, but that the values he had stood for would live on within the club. Both FC Augsburg and their fans shared in the Lilies fans grief. The FCA fans who made the trip to Darmstadt held banners commemorating Heimes life, while the club’s Twitter account sent a message sharing their fans’ sentiments.

The fact this happened just before a relegation dogfight of a six-pointer shows that, at their best, German fans are capable of putting their emphasis on more important matters than the action of 90 minutes on the pitch. The fitting farewell paired with the compassion of the Augsburg fans and officials was a sublime example of keeping those values in mind.

Politics and football DO mix

While the fans in Darmstadt and Dortmund reacted to human tragedy in the best ways imaginable, fans in Munich focused on the current political climate in Germany. Sunday marked the rise of the German right-wing party “Alternative für Deutschland“(Alternative for Germany) at polls in three local elections. Already on Friday, SC Freiburg coach Christian Streich told the press that he had asked his players to vote for democratic parties that didn’t fear-monger in light of the current climate of racism created by said party.

Saturday night’s Topspiel didn’t offer any sort of entertainment on the pitch, but Bayern’s fans in the Südkurve should be applauded for their message from a banner they displayed, which read:

“The politicians ignite the fire with words. The bully throws molotov cocktails afterwards! You cowardly racists – we hate you!”

A clear message sent by the fans while debate about refugees throughout Europe has moved from helping people from war-torn nations into the direction of how to get rid of them and how those refugees are looking to exploit European welfare societies. The Bayern ultras had a clear message for the government of their federal state which they rolled out after the match:

“The intellectual arsonists are also part of the federal state government: Seehofer and Herrmann!”

Over the last few months, Bavarian federal minister Horst Seehofer has been the most vocal critic of Angela Merkel’s immigration policy, while his minister of the interior Joachim Herrmann wants to register the movement of every refugee within the EU and close the Balkan route. “Who needs racist parties if those two get their say?” was the rhetorical question of the Bayern fans’ clear-cut message.

The old notion of “leaving politics out of football” has been raised time and again, but times like these show why it is utterly wrong to do so. Football fans can send a powerful message of respect and stand up for the right values. To do so in a climate where racist tendencies become more blatant and are reflected in how voters act at the polls is more important than ever.

Football has never been just football.

Now for the bad . . .

Football not being just football, however, can also lead to actions one can describe only as utterly appalling (at best). Over the last few weeks, Hannover’s ultras have offered up more than enough proof of that theory. Players have been booed and torn to shreds by their own fans after the matches. On Saturday, the ultras even forced the players who had made it down to their stand to remove their jerseys, as they weren’t deserving of the club’s colours.

Additionally, there were banners calling the players “fuck-ups,” and one particularly idiotic fan had taken it upon himself to bring a noose to the stadium, asking the players to hang themselves.

Source: ZDF
Source: ZDF

Whatever you may think of your team’s performance, this sort of reaction is beyond pathetic and unreasonable. First of all, the players wearing the Hannover kit are actually doing the best they can, but poor squad-planning by officials over the last three years has caught up with the club. It isn’t the fault of the players, it belongs with those who have called too many bad shots.

If nothing works on the pitch, how can any of this horrid idiocy help the players to embark on a turnaround mission that seemingly looks more and more impossible? If there is no support, but just pure hatred and chants of wanting to kill the players, how can the players possible feel good about themselves or even try to create a positive atmosphere within the team that could help them in their current situation? How can one possibly expect the players to give their all if the people who are supposed to support them cannot fathom the fact that the players need all the support they can get more than ever?

On a weekend where many fans managed to display the best sides of Bundesliga fandom, Hannover fans managed to disgrace themselves in an utterly horrible fashion. What the so-called fans of the 96’ers did on Saturday serves as a reminder of what fandom shouldn’t be about.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.