Ask any passionate Bundesliga fan to share a few words about the RasenBallsport Leipzig football club and you will get these same words as a response: “Nein zu RB,” meaning “No to RB.” Almost all of Germany, it seems, hates RB Leipzig, but what is the reason for the hatred? Well, it’s answer you already know, just two words: RED BULL.
The Austrian energy drink manufacturer is building a worldwide stable of Red Bull clubs, and its mission in Leipzig is to take a team with fifth division roots to the Champions League.
In just five seasons, the club has already risen to the second tier. And as things stand at the time of writing this article, RB Leipzig have good chance of making it to the Bundesliga next season, currently sitting in 1st place in the Bundesliga 2.
The Red Bulls are considered an affront to German football’s famous ownership model, where members, not businessmen, have the controlling stake in their club. The German FA seems to have turned a blind eye to RB Leipzig, perhaps in part because the company is investing so heavily in the old East Germany. In football, as in most other areas, the region trails its western counterparts considerably.
“nein zu RB” (No to red bull)
Not everyone was pleased with Red Bull’s involvement in German football and upon Die Bullen’s promotion to the 2. Bundesliga last year, a campaign called Nein zu RB was set up to criticize the club, who had just been given a license to play in the league.
What irks critics of RB Leipzig is the conviction that the club is clearly flaunting Germany’s 50+1 rule, designed to prevent investors from gaining majority rights in a club registered as a stock company.
While it was possible to become a member at RB Leipzig, the high costs and the club’s ability to reject applications at will means they are anything but a community club, as Germany likes to promote. In order to meet 2. Bundesliga restrictions, RB Leipzig lowered the cost of membership from, although club membership doesn’t provide any voting rights.
United in Protest
Fans of other clubs, Audi-backed FC Ingolstadt surprisingly included, have made their contempt at this Red Bull-centered model clear by displaying Nein zu RB banners in the stands, while many Ultras groups march in the streets of their city, lit flares echoing their burning passion.
The clubs themselves weren’t keen on welcoming the newest addition to the top two leagues, either – Union Berlin, Erzgebirge Aue, and 1860 Munich (all tradition-laden clubs), for example, refused to play friendlies against Die Roten Bullen.
In Leipzig stirbt die Fußballkultur or in English: “In Leipzig, the football culture dies,” reads a banner in Union Berlin’s Stadion den Alten Försterei, and when the Berlin club won the match, as minnows SpVgg Unterhaching recently did in the Pokal, the whole nation cheered.
But RB Zeipzig have fans too!
Mostly, media coverage focuses on critiques of RB Leipzig. Less attention is given to the club’s supporters.
Despite being insulted at every turn by traditionalists and older Retortenklubs (Plastic clubs) alike, RB Leipzig still attracts a handful of fans. I’ve had the pleasure to speak to an admin of an RB fan club via Twitter and they stated that most of the club’s fans have a regional connection to the club. Most of the Leipzig fans are attracted by the prospect of going to the Bundesliga and even beyond.
After the decline of BSG Chemie Leipzig and Lokomotive Leipzig, top-level football vanished from the former East German city, leaving many of the citizens craving success.
After decades of local mediocrity, Red Bull’s acquisition of SSV Markranstädt felt like fresh air – not only does the club now have the means to play in the Bundesliga and beyond, but RB lacks the often problematic political elements of the aforementioned clubs.
Despite the seemingly widely dismissive attitude across Germany toward the club, RB Leipzig is fully aware of its lack of tradition – there is no RB fan who haven’t had a trace of wryness. The club does not have an official anthem, yet when opposition fans chant “Red Bull Schweine!” (Red Bull swine!) they would sing back, as condescending as it is self-deprecating, “Wir sind Schweine!” (We are Swine!).
Overall, RB fans are optimistic, and for good reason. While Freiburg, St. Pauli, and Bochum take turns in topping the 2. Bundesliga table, the season is far from over. RB’s newest goal-getter, former Werder man Davie Selke, has been on a good form so far, and their other big-money signings didn’t disappoint either. It’s just a matter of time (next season? until they’re playing in the first tier.
Although not everyone wants that to happen, RB fans certainly do, and their cheers, however small, will be heard by the whole nation.
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