”Football is the only global idiom apart from science” —Lawrence Kitchin, football journalist, 1966.
It is a little more than 70 years after the end of the second world war, and a little more than 70 years after the fall of Nazi Germany, yet somehow it is no real surprise that we keep on seeing scandals related to right wing extremism in Europe. Somehow, the toxic idea of fascism and anti-semitism has stood the test of time and it is a real issue in some countries. Even in Germany, where the whole country was de-nazified after the Nürnberg and Frankfurt trials in the 40s and 50s, the right extremists seem to linger.
A popular conventional view is that ”Football should be separated from politics.” This popular stance is accepted without even a shadow of a doubt, yet this ascent is naive and provides the main reason why I’m writing this article. In brief, I want to discuss whether football and politics can be separated and whether it’s even possible to separate them. This article also aims briefly to discuss and expose the apparent problems regarding right-wing extremists in German football. In my analysis, I draw up on a variety of sociological sources to shed objective light on the issue. I will begin with an analysis of sociology in ultras groups, followed by another analysis of the different sets of fans, a few fan groups of a few clubs are to be included, and thereafter a discussion will follow.
Thinking Sociologically about Ultras
To be able to understand the mentality of ultras, specifically and the ”why” and “if,” we first need to establish an understanding for their situation in our society and their understanding of football itself. Using an article from 2000, called ”Towards a sociological understanding of football hooliganism as world phenomenon” by famed sport scholar Eric Dunning, I will try to clarify what lies behind the decision of dedicating one’s life to one club and one sport.
In 1966, the English football journalist Lawrence Kitchin wrote that football is one of few global idioms outside science itself and while this maxim was heavily influenced by the fact that his country had just won the world cup in 1966, it is a useful depiction of the sport we all love and enjoy on a weekly basis. Football is a global idiom that keeps on exhilarating and keeps on exciting people of all genders and ages, of all nationalities and ethnicities. It’s a global phenomenon, a universal axiom, and a way of life.
According to Dunning, football hooliganism seems to be not so much a pure sociological phenomenon, but also a product of media. Therefore, the definition of hooliganism itself becomes rather loose, Dunning observes. One commonality is the proximity of sport; thus, the term ”hooliganism” is used to depict different behaviors in the vicinity of sport, as well as behaviors fueled by the passion the sport produces.
Next, focusing on football as a social phenomenon, rather than the sport itself, can help us see how people and cultures engage in group-creating activities, and therefore creating spheres of affiliation. Due to this process, people engaged in football become part of a new culture, as well as of a new social group. Most sociologists agree that group affiliation plays a big part in criminalizing people, for example.
Moreover, Kitchin’s quote reminds us that football is more than just a sport, and that we need to treat it as such. Otherwise, we will never be able to fully understand the mentality of ultras, nor their political views. We must always remember the larger social dimension.
Dunning provides a further correction to conventional by debunking the notion that hooliganism is an English phenomenon specifically. Instead, it seems like German supporters are the most coveted when it comes to incidents regarding violence in the vicinity of football. Dunning cites a dossier that calls German fans “the division of dishonour.” Dunning further demonstrates that the numbers have certainly been going up regarding frequency of hooligan incidents in Europe outside of England. He blames this trend on the media’s fascination with fans and their violence. In Dunning’s estimation, a cycle is at work in which more media coverage leads to more violence in the stands. Interestingly enough, this observation ties together well with his notion that hooliganism can be understood as a “medial” phenomenon as well as a sociological one.
To summarize, football hooliganism as a whole involves a variety of factors. First, it’s about group affiliation. Thanks to the globalization of the sport, this factor is seen all over the world near the vicinity of football. However, hooliganism is also not only a sociological phenomenon. It can also be explained as a product of media and its hype. While this point might be of secondary importance, it’s still important to note.
Clubs and their fans
In the spring of 2017, thousands of Dresden fans invaded Karlsruhe. The Karlsruher police force had not seen anything like it, as the incident was much worse than derby matches with Stuttgart. Dynamo Dresden’s fans had invaded and they broadcast their feelings towards the German football establishment. They all wore the same military costume. The fans were applauded around Europe for their fanatic behavior and their passion, but what most failed to realize what that big packs of these different groups of ultras are grand supporters of the political Pegida movement.
It has never been a secret that Dynamo Dresden is somehow affiliated with Pegida; moreover, this link has never been denied by the club. Albeit this link does not necessarily mean that the club’s supporters are Nazis, but when it has become clear that groups of Ultras at Dynamo are Pegida-sympathizers, it is easier to wonder. It is even easier to wonder why the club itself is one of few institutions left in Dresden to not denounce Pegida.
The notions of ”Football Army Dynamo Dresden” and ”Krieg dem DFB” paint a worrying picture, and can be used to start or even fight a war against DFB, the very same institution the Dynamo ultras and many others feel needs destroying. While this probably is the reason for their costumes and their notions, there are still a few things to wonder about related to the Fanmarsch in Karlsruhe this spring.
First, why did they use the number 88 repeatedly? For the uninitiated, “88” is commonly used as a numerical symbol for right wing extremism (8 is for the eighth letter in the alphabet- H. 88 is HH. HH is an abbreviation for Heil Hitler and is very commonly used in such groups and cultures).
Dynamo Dresden’s long known, but loose affiliation to Pegida as well as their fans’ obvious right wing symbolism, is still just a string of associations, I must argue. However, there have been examples of Dresden fanatics openly supporting Pegida during the latter’s demonstrations, and in 2015, a group of 200 Dynamo supporters attacked a protest against Pegida. Due to Pegida’s rise in the city of Dresden, there has been a proper uproar among many institutions, but the biggest football club in town, Dynamo Dresden has not denounced it, while the University, the Mayor and lots of other institutions of all sorts have. It might be circumstantial, but it is evidence to a support a strong linkage between club and movement.
Recently, I stumbled upon a story from another club from former East Germany, Chemnitzer FC (CFC). This club has had its difficulties in the last few years due to poor fiscal health, yet it really is one of the biggest and most traditional clubs in Eastern Germany. Die Himmelblauen have had a few rough years, but have stayed put in 3. Liga, where they undoubtedly belong. However, everything isn’t just blue as the sky at Chemnitzer FC. Stories have emerged from the Traditionsverein that right-wing extremists have taken over the stands at their Stadion an der Gellertstrasse.
CFC have a long ultras tradition. Their ultras group UC-99 call themselves the oldest ultra in Germany. This group has been the main part of all things fanrelated in Chemnitz during the last ten years, but a few years ago a new group emerged from this very traditional Ultras-group. The new group called itself “NS-Boys,” where “NS” stands for New Society. This group has been much more aggressive and much more extreme than UC-99 and has even been banned from the new stadium by the latter. NS-Boys uses its platform to spread hate and propaganda, and for a while it worked and Chemnitzer’s reputation was on a low until UC-99 denounced the new group. The spokesman of the club, Swen-Uwe Kuhn, told the taz.de site that NS-Boys isn’t welcome at the arena due to their violent nature and their political extremism. The leader of the ultras group UC-99 agreed with this, but also claimed that NS-Boys has been a part of the scene at Chemnitzer for awhile and that there are sympathizers for the group within the club.
The situation at CFC has calmed down though. NS-Boys have been banned and there are no links between UC-99 and the right wing extremism in the area. However, it’s curious to see that of two examples so far, both have been East German. I aim to explain the reason later on.
When speaking to Germans and non-Germans about East German football, a team they always would like back is Lokomotiv Leipzig. The reason is obscure, but it might be down to the rise of RB Leipzig. The rise of the latter has created a local and national need for football traditionalism and conservatism, which isn’t at all hard to spot. While RB Leipzig have stabilized themselves in Bundesliga after only a season and a half, their neighbors in Leipzig have struggled in the Regionalliga. However, their struggle is political as well.
In Leipzig, a situation arguably more difficult than the one in Chemnitz has emerged. Lokomotiv Leipzig, or Loksche as they’re commonly called, has a long historical relationship with political matters and it really is no surprise to see them while researching for an article of this type. Lokomotiv Leipzig was one of the first football clubs in DDR, it was the first to ever win a East German cup title, but it is also a club surrounded by political scandals. Apart from Chemnitz and Dresden, where there isn’t an obvious link between the fans and right wing extremists, Lokomotiv is different. Actually, right-wing extremism has become a part of Loksche’s image, which makes it hard for them to lure new supporters. And apart from Chemnitzer FC, Loksche’s administration hasn’t denounced the extremism, but rather embraced it.
Lokomotiv’s right wing extremism and the neighbour Chemie Leipzig’s left wing extremism has created a state of political madness in the football crazed part of the city and it therefore comes as no real surprise to see the neutral RB Leipzig lure new supporters away from the extreme poles of the political scale. The political chaos in the football-crazed parts of Leipzig has made it easier for RB Leipzig to grow in the city.
Western Germany hasn’t had too many clubs with this kind of right-wing culture. There has been reports and articles on Borussia Dortmund’s ultras and their behavior, which can be seen as one of very few clubs with right-wing sympathies, even though it’s very clear that the club itself absolutely denounces the very same. It is very interesting to see the difference between eastern Germany and western. Western Germany has more or less only clubs with clear left wing sympathies, while right wing sympathizers are much more common in East Germany. Clubs like Dresden, Lokomotiv Leipzig and Chemnitzer have all had to face the threat of being seen as a right-wing sympathizing club; and although while Chemnitzer has denounced it, the other two haven’t. This of course begs the question: do these clubs sympathize with right-wing extremists or won’t they comment due to a lack of interest in political matters? It is hard to tell.
The Red Riding Hood Syndrome
A few reasons can be seen to be behind the rise of right-wing extremism among clubs in East Germany. First is the ”red riding hood-syndrome” as I like to call it. Due to a lack of competence in the ranks, they have let questionable people in to be part of their administrative system. One can put ut like this: some clubs have let the wolf in and still think it’s their kind little grandma.
The effect is also due to the de-nazification of West Germany. This process only formally took place in Western Germany in the parts controlled by United States, Great Britain and France. Therefore, there are more right-wing sympathizers in eastern Germany than in western.
Finally, this effect is also due to a overreaction after the fall communists. Consider a child who’s been held back its whole life and who’s never been allowed to do anything. What happens when that child gets the freedom it deserves? It goes wild, because it can’t handle the freedom. This is what has happened to the clubs in eastern Germany, who suddenly found themselves with more freedom in a region of Germany that wasn’t formally de-nazified.
Right-wing extremism is a big deal in German football, but the hateful ideology has almost been wiped out among football fans in the western parts of the country. However, due to a lack of competence and an apparent lack of de-nazification in the eastern parts, the ideology still lingers in clubs in eastern Germany, in some more than in others. It has become clear, through this article, that right wing extremism still is a threat to football and the reputation of football clubs in eastern Germany. It has also become clear that the de-nazification of the forties and fifties was, in fact, highly successful. Some clubs need to denounce the ideology, some clubs need to get dissolved before further damage is taken.
Politics in football is undesirable, but in fact highly inevitable.
Sources used in this article:
Dunning, Eric, Towards a sociological understanding of football hooliganism as a world phenomenon (2000), https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/35332794/dunning_-_towards_a_sociological_understanding_of_football_hooliganism_as_a_world_phenomenon_2000.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1510185010&Signature=h42sklYee7Gv0nNdDrJw49ESJdc%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DERIC_DUNNING-TOWARDS_A_SOCIOLOGICAL_UNDE.pdf
Einsiedler, Martin, Krieg spielen mit nationalsozialistischer symbolik, Der Tagesspiegel 15.05.2017, http://m.tagesspiegel.de/sport/dynamo-dresden-krieg-spielen-mit-nationalsozialistischer-symbolik/19803940.html
Falk, Axel, I högerextremismens grepp, SvenskaFans.com 02.02.2017, https://www.svenskafans.com/tyskland/tyskland/i-hogerextremismens-grepp-565676.aspx
Kopp, Johannes, Ultras, NS-Boys und die Kurve, Die Tageszeitung 20.09.2008, http://www.taz.de/!5175573/
Ruf, Christoph, Das hartnäckige Nazi-Problem auf der BVB-Südtribüne, Süddeutsche Zeitung 17.11.2016, http://www.sueddeutsche.de/sport/rechtsextremismus-im-fussball-das-hartnaeckige-nazi-problem-auf-der-bvb-suedtribuene-1.3252635.