A new dimension of solidarity
It’s been a little more than a year since we learned from the press, politicians and officials that mannequins can burn, celebrating fans on the pitch spread a fear for life and terraces are the main reason for pyrotechnics and violence. For the majority of the spectators in Germany, this was new, for the rest of the country it was proof that something needs to be done immediately. But what’s really changed? Where is German football and where is the Dortmunder fan scene one year after the “shame of Dusseldorf”? On first sight, everything is still the same. Dusseldorf is back in the second division (a big fat SORRY from our side for that, again!) and there were no major changes for the spectators and visitors to German football grounds. But the last year actually brought some new understanding.
Unity and solidarity
Since many years, the fan scene in Dortmund has a leading position in the fight against modern football. Many initiatives and trends originated in Dortmund and therefore it came as no surprise that the protest against the feared and announced changes were the most rigid in Dortmund. The club management was very fast in strictly disapproving the discussion about the terraces and the reduction or abolition of standing terraces in German football. The fans did – next to protesting very loudly against the wrong presentation of the situation (“a new dimension of violence”) – initiate multiple initiatives. For example the “Ich fühl mich sicher” (I feel save) homepage was built where up till now more than 75’000 fans stated that they already feel save in the stadium and no regulations are necessary therefore. Later on, when the “Konzept sicheres Stadionerlebnis” (concept “save stadium experience”) was introduced, the 12:12-initiative was brought to life in Dortmund. It managed to include all fans of all other professional clubs in Germany and so in the home games against Dusseldorf and Wolfsburg the whole Westfalenstadion (and all other stadiums in the Bundesliga) were quiet for the first 12 minutes and 12 seconds of the game. The silence was heard, the officials were forced to negotiate with the fans. Nobody had actually thought that it would be that silent. No singing, no clapping, even hardly any celebration of goals, only creepy murmuring was to be heard in Dortmund in these two games. The expectation was that the Ultras would be alone in their protest, but the big rest of the fan scene joint the protest as a whole and therefore actually made it that big success that it was. Even when the “Ultras out!”-songs in other stadiums began to erupt, the initiative and the thought behind it was still fully supported in Dortmund. Only the first game after the concept was approved, there were audible differences when the first part of the fans sang the first 12 minutes, the rest of the fans the rest of the game. This was more a long-nurtured dislike of the Ultras by some of the other fans, than an approval of the concept. These fans might better go to one of the discussions the Ultras organize every now and then instead of fighting the Ultra-movement by silence in the stadium. All in all, the initiative 12:12 was a huge success in Dortmund and one big commitment of the fan scene for the fight against modern football.The concept is now accepted, but has hardly been used in the whole second half of the season, which is probably also caused by the fan protests and the solidarity of all fans with it. At the moment, it seems as if the concept has imploded, because the clubs can’t use it without offending their own fans. And since the 12:12-protests, no club can risk that.
A lot of solidarity – even though quite late – was also shown for the fight against racism. It sure was only after the attack of Jens Volke and Thilo Danielsmeyer in Donesk, before the fans in Dortmund visibly turned their back on racism. But in the home game against Hannover it was visible in all corners of the stadium that neither the idea of racism nor the violence that goes with it are accepted in Dortmund and that the club stands for variety and diversity.
Success for “Kein Zwanni”
The initiative “Kein Zwanni fürn Steher” (the English version “twenty is plenty” just started a few weeks ago), also originating from Dortmund, had a first really successful year. There were quite some protests against (too) expensive tickets this season. The comparison of, for example, the two promoted clubs Dusseldorf, that made very fair prices and didn’t try to profit too much from the fans, and Fürth, that asked more than 20 Euro for standing tickets from the away fans, showed very clearly that it isn’t only about some clubs. There are more and more clubs that seem to want to profit from the fans by asking very high prices. A good example is also Wolfsburg that asked almost 40 Euro for sitting tickets from the away supporters, even though the game was about nothing at all. The whole away stand (not only the Ultras) therefore stayed outside the stadium for the first 20 minutes of the game and for the first time there was a thoroughly positive and widespread coverage about the protest in the German press. The fact that many fans outside the Ultra scene solidaristicly joined the protest was part of its huge success. Some weeks before, Borussia Dortmund had announced to completely cancel the so-called “top game surcharge” for the away-fans and only charge it for two games (against Schalke and Bayern) for the rest of the tickets. No-one would protest against this punishment of the cherry-pickers, when away-fans are not punished as well. Within the last few weeks, other clubs also changed their price policy. Hertha BSC Berlin announced to sell all away-tickets for 15 Euro (no matter what) and even the highly criticised HSV (no surcharge for standing away tickets) and Wolfsburg (all standing tickets for 15 Euro) announced that they will make the prices for away supporters (at least in the standing areas) cheaper and fairer.
Even though (or maybe because of it) there are still quite payable prices asked for Bundesliga tickets compared to other countries (which is also because there are quite a lot of standing tickets sold), the above mentioned success is such a big and important step in the right direction. How it could also look like, we’ve seen while travelling Europe this (fantastic) Championsleague season. The cheapest tickets in Malaga: €45, cheapest in Madrid: €77 (including presale charges), the cheapest category in London: €72. We learned from local supporters that this was not only because of the special games. Fans of Real Madrid for example explained us that the cheapest tickets for their cup final against Atletico cost €65. We asked them if this was special and they assured us that these were the usual La Liga prices.
To be done
Even though there were quite some successes in the past year, there were two points that were nearly touched at all. One being the fair judging of stadium bans, the other the legalisation of pyrotechnics.
The last one is probably also seen quite differently within the fans themselves. Who has ever been in the middle of the smoke will be able to tell two facts: 1. It’s not funny. 2. It’s not dangerous. It would therefore be desirable if the media would differentiate and distinguish between fans who use pyrotechnics and fans who use violence. But the legalisation of it seems as far away as ticket prices like in the 80ies. So at the moment it is more a fight between the clubs and the fans of kindling – punishing – more kindling – more punishing.
The fair judging of stadium bans, on the other hands, should be a topic for all of us. Because at the end of the day, it can affect every single one of us. Of course, not visiting away games, not come close to the police and not travelling in groups helps a lot to reduce the risk. But everyone who visits an away game every now and again – especially in big groups – should be aware of the fact that it doesn’t take much to get a stadium ban. Sure, some of the people with a ban may look suspiciously well served and many of them a regular stadium visitor would not like to have next to him. But we should ask ourselves if it’s desirable to have prejudgments, mass punishment and unappealable judgments in the country that we live in. Most of the crimes that are followed by a stadium ban aren’t even brought to court. If they are, most of the suspects are not found guilty. But the bans remain most of the time. This also goes for crimes that are not visibly connected to football (if the offender wears a scarf, but is nowhere near a stadium, for example). And there are bans for whole groups of people of which only very little actually committed a crime of some kind, but all get a ban. A “preventive” ban, it is called. Also, bans are given for less than actual crimes. For firing pyrotechnics, even for hanging up a flag or throwing banana’s or plastic jars sometimes. The BAFF (alliance of active football fans, an organisation for all fans in Germany) estimates that one third of the bans are wrong, another third questionable. Reason enough to wish for a change in the judging of the bans which should be supported with the same solidarity as the fight against high ticket prices or against the safety concept.
And there is still the old and slightly neglected discussion about fan unfriendly distances for Friday and Sunday games. The necessity to take measures in this section will be easily explained by everyone who travels to away games. The discussion will probably start up again with the scheduling of the new season as the DFL is not expected to change anytime soon.
Influence on the club
With the success of the club, the influence of the fans declines, this was felt very clearly despite the above mentioned exceptions. Borussia Dortmund made it very clear that we are disposable, not needed anymore. Some years ago, a few simple “the flag must go” did the trick within weeks, nowadays the answer is simply “for every one that doesn’t want to pay, there are 100 others”. It prompts the most bizarre wish in some of us for less success, for the return to the good bad old days when there were no success fans, no marketing successes and no such answers from the club. Statements like “to invest in stones and legs” (which was one of the most famous statements from Meier and Niebaum before they invested all the money they didn’t have) and “massive investments” make the supporters afraid that the club will turn back on the old track of competing with Bayern for all means. Luckily, this is not to be expected as the people in charge assure us that they will not make any debts at all – and they are quite trustworthy when it comes to this. And the fans have – despite all the marketing campaigns and the inundation with “real love” – much more influence in the club than in the Meier/Niebaum years. There’s the round table where fans and club sit together regularly, “Fanomenal” has its own place before every home game and the fan division in the club is responsible for us fans only.
Further, every one of us has some influence. We can influence many aspects of the marketing and merchandising by simply not buying things and animate others not to do either. We can tell the club: “We do not buy your pink scarves! We do not buy your Sat.1-season opening tickets! We do not buy your lame excuses for the division of the tickets!” The last might be – especially because of all the “real love” baloney – one of the main reasons why we fans feel so power- and defenceless towards the club. Every one of us knows that you can’t make 100’000 tickets out of 25’000, no matter how hard you wish. But there are two points that the club should change if he wants his “clients” to buy the “real love” motto: every season card holder should get a pre buy option for the Championsleague home games and scarce tickets should only be sold to members. Like that, there will still be plenty of disappointed fans, but not that feeling of injustice that was felt far too often in the past season. If the club also chases down and punishes all e-bay sellers as promised, continues to refuse the cooperation with ViaNOgo and others like that and finally introduces a modern, working ticket shop, we would be not far away from an ideal ticket situation.
If we can also dissuade the club to treat us like (disposable) clients remains questionable and will probably only change (back) in times of ongoing defeat.
Not only Borussia Dortmund won a lot of new friends in the past season, also the supporters could prove themselves in Europe and left a thoroughly positive image. With their choreos, songs and their friendly invasions, they have shown Europe how football can be. What many fans weren’t used from home, the Dortmund supporters have shown them: friendly masses, continuous standing, non-stop singing. Things that are natural for us fascinated Europe. But the other way round, we have also seen what is normal in the rest of Europe when football is concerned. Wembley was a perfect example for how the future of German football could look like: the choreo failed because of the VIP seats and the excessive fire regulations, the ticket prices were beyond the pale, even for a Championsleague final, before the game was the show, merchandising was exorbitant and still bought in masses, on the street and in the stadium alcohol was not permitted or sold and a gathering of the fans was prohibited because of security reasons. Of course, voices, scarves and (shirt)colours could still make an impressive picture, but we should all do our best that this will not become our everyday football-life in the future.
So on one hand, we complain on a high level, on the other hand, it also shows that there are plenty of reasons to fight.
Let’s take this special unity in the fan scene to turn things to the positive. This season has learned us three things: We have a lot of influence if we all pull on the same string. The officials, certainly in Dortmund, are willing to listen to us if we are loud enough. And we have something very special that is worth fighting for.