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'German hooligans look up to the English'

Published: 02 May 2012 08:00 GMT+02:00

Even as international football connoisseurs begin to pay increasing attention to German football and Bundesliga matches are televised all over the world – the recent battle royale between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund was reportedly aired in over 200 countries – the German Football Association (DFB) is struggling to hold back a new tide of football hooliganism.

Two weeks ago, a Leverkusen player had his nose broken after being recognised by hostile fans in Cologne, while in March, 14 Dynamo Dresden fans were arrested after defying a stadium ban and getting into a brawl at Eintracht Frankfurt stadium.

Earlier in the month, a gang of Cologne fans coordinated a bizarre and terrifying attack on a bus full of Mönchengladbach fans as they were driving along the autobahn. Several cars and vans reportedly forced the bus into a service station, where around 40 men smashed its windows with baseball bats and iron bars. Luckily no-one was hurt inside the bus, which contained several children.

So what can the DFB and the police do to counter the violence? And are they doing anything wrong? Jacob Sweetman, editor of Berlin's English-language football magazine No Dice, thinks that the authorities could learn a lesson from England.

What's the first thing that strikes an English football fan coming to a German game?

It's very old-fashioned for me. It's like returning to England in the 80s. And the fans are very united, compared to England, where so many traditional fans - working class young men - have been priced out of the game. They're traditionally the ones who make the noise, but they're also traditionally the ones who cause the trouble.

In England so many young men have been priced out of the game, partly because of all-seater stadiums, and partly because of land-grabbers – people wanting to make money out of football.

In Germany, the young working class men still make up the majority of football fans travelling to games. They get pissed up, they shout and sing a lot and they fight a bit at times. That's the primary difference between Germany and England. That's also why a lot of English fans are coming over to watch German football. It's seen as being "real" football – you've got terracing, you're allowed to drink in the stadiums, it's loud and it's affordable.

But weirdly, German football fans still see England as the home of football culture. And German troublemakers even look up to England as the home of hooligan culture. You see Union Jack tattoos all the time. It's all about branding. The German "Hoolywood" label is modelled on the English "Lonsdale," which in England is associated with the far-right.

Which German clubs' fans have the worst reputation, and are they associated with neo-Nazis?

You've got Dynamo Dresden, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hansa Rostock. But it's hard to say if they're really political. You've got some nasty bastards in there, but it's more just tribal fighting, as far as I can see. Obviously, St. Pauli fans are much more left-wing than Rostock fans, so there's natural flashpoints between them, but I wouldn't say it's politically driven.

A few weeks ago, fans of FC Union Berlin held up a banner that read "Fuck the DFB," at their game against Frankfurt, and helped the away fans defy a stadium ban by letting them in. Obviously there's a lot of hostility towards the DFB, but what should it do about violence?

What can they do? They can either penalize the clubs with cash fines, but a lot of the time that is undermined by hardcore fans, ultras, who go round the stadium collecting money to pay them. The DFB needs to come up with a creative solution, because at the moment they're succeeding only in uniting the fans against them. The biggest problem is the DFB's intransigence. The fans don't believe the DFB has their interests at heart at all. That's why it gets called the Fussball Mafia – because they seem to see the Bundesliga as a beautiful little cash cow.

To a certain extent the problem was solved in England by pricing fans out of games, and that is now happening in Germany too, but that's not necessarily a constructive solution. I think stadium bans have been proven not to work. You'll still get people travelling anyway, and you'll still have trouble.

What role do you think the police plays?

One thing that doesn't help is the policing. In England they learned through the hard times how to police football fans. Here, the police still rule by intimidation and numbers, which is completely different to how football games are managed in England.

There, they learned through years of shit that observation from afar is much more effective than having an intimidating line of tooled-up, ready-for-action policemen at the stadium. They know in advance who the troublemakers are, they have spotters. They can control things a lot easier.

Here in Germany, you walk past them, eyeing you up wielding their truncheons. That's intimidating, and it winds people up and it doesn't help! If you treat people like animals they're going to behave like animals.

That's not to say football hooliganism has stopped in England, or that German violence is as bad as it was in the old days in England. I go to about three matches in Berlin every week, and I've never seen any serious trouble.

Interview by Ben Knight

Related links:

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Your comments about this article

08:36 May 2, 2012 by catjones
If this same behavior took place outside the stadium it would be called assault and battery, the perps would be tried as a felony and if guilty, sent to prison.
10:18 May 2, 2012 by RichardDennys
I have met a few people here in Germany who love football and fit your profile in this article. They model their approach to supporting teams based squarely on English football fans prior to Hillsbrough and Heysel and the Taylor report. Most of the guys I know can rate the UK 'firms' in order of their reputation for violence and terror (Millwall, West Ham, Leeds, Chelsea etc) . However this is all based on stuff that happened a long time ago - in fact before many of the aforementioned German hooligans were even born.

Dig further and their favourite movies are Green Street, Football Factory, ID, the Firm etc all English and most based in the 70s and 80s. So it seems they are using old hooligan legend,myth and folklore to base their contemporary opinions upon.

The irony is that in the UK there is a Safe Standing campaign to try and reintroduce standing in UK stadia. Their central argument is that it 'works so well in Germany" !

Also if that banner (which means F*** You! DFB) even managed to get into a UK stadium, the CCTV in each ground would ensure any person who unfurled, touched, looked or laughed at it would get life bans and probably jail time. There would also be a cultural outcry and the papers would run and run and run on it with probably the minister for sport/culture or whoever plus the local police chief resigning!
10:54 May 2, 2012 by lucksi
If you can have raids on right wingers and radical Islamists, then why not have a nice early morning raid on those "fans"?

You know, to find out if they planned the attacks and so on.
22:54 May 3, 2012 by NUERNBERG
The german scene dont build up at this days, they are present since the 80ies. Atm the media makes big headlines cause of the things happens here like in the last 20 years. German scene are atm more than alive, but i think thy will broken in next time, cause many many young folks don´t know theire own rules and ends, so i think it will be next "italian job".

hope the best...

greetings to our enemy "iiinglaaand" :)
19:20 May 6, 2012 by roger-briggs
As a Brit Ex-Pat attending matches in Hannover as a season ticket holder, I don´t really recognise the picture of increasing hooliganism. Young German men generally don´t start a fight at the drop of a hat whenever they´ve been drinking, in marked contrast to the UK. I have not seen trouble in Hannover, either at the ground or on the way home, and I´ve been to a wide variety of away grounds and seen no trouble either. Everyone is friendly. If they are not doing it already the police should video any incidents of hooliganism - I saw a policeman accompanied by three photographers and a video cameraman at the season´s last game on Saturday, just outside the ground, so it looks like they´ve got the message. Just holding up a rude sign ought not to be enough for a conviction leading to jail but the essential thing is intelligent information gathering. Football fans, including hooligans, have rights too and I don´t want to see the sort of foaming at the mouth comments made in the UK press whenever there has been trouble but it should be possible contain and head off those who are organising and planning hooliganism. Don´t give them a fight, just defuse their fun. The ultimate test will be hearing and seeing nothing about rowdies. Then we´ll know they´ve lost.
23:48 June 4, 2012 by Greysuede
Go Germans Go ! You are the best ! Never let english bastards to snatch your beautiful game !
19:29 June 8, 2012 by darkwisdom
This is what people consider "progressive" these days? Allowing a racial alien to have governance over a land that isn't his own? As if German racial identity is interchangable? If this is so "progressive" why is America and Europe currently decaying culturally and collapsing economically?

This really is a sad day for Germany and patriotic Germans.

From the UK.
18:06 February 1, 2013 by Tetsu
icant shop in a british owned grocery store in london. it usto be a british tradition to have grocery stores which were indeed owned and run by british. the town has become like bali. the gps are mostly indian and id like to add crooks. i asked for a name change and one wanted to charge me £15 for it. i later found out it is done through the deed poll. lawfirms and many other well paid jobs have been swanped by indians leaving ofcorse british on the doll untrainned.jaguar and land rover indian
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