Neo-Nazism and Sexy football prove uneasy bedfellows for the German game

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Updated: April 20, 2013

While the Bundesliga currently enjoys an increasingly positive image abroad for its football, the situation on the terraces is rapidly changing for the worse. It has often been described as a problem of lower league clubs and clubs from East German , but neo-Nazis are re-gaining the terraces and are frighteningly undisturbed as they doing so. In fact German football appears to have two faces these days:

Sexy Football, Excellent Grounds, Reasonable Prices

The most recent success of all seven German clubs in this season’s European competitions (albeit, after the first knockout stage of the Europa League, only 4 clubs are left in Europe) has given German football an incredible image boost abroad and for all the right reasons. It is true that besides Bayern there really was no club that could muster a regular challenge on the European stage. Borussia Dortmund reached the UEFA-Cup final in 2002, but lost.

Werder Bremen also lost in 2008. Bayern have reached two Champions League finals, 2010 and 2012. In addition to the clubs’ occasional success, the German national team, Die Nationalmannschaft, is currently playing its best football for decades. No one gave them a chance in the 2006 World Cup, when they automatically qualified as host nation, nor in South Africa four years later when it was thought the team lacked international experience after the injury to Michael Ballack and the retirement of Torsten Frings.

Yet, on both occasions the team excelled and reached the semi-finals – subsequently coming third in both World Cups. Sandwiched in between was the EURO 2008 final, another loss but once more a solid performance. The qualification for EURO 2012 was assured with a maximum of 30 points from 10 games and surely gave some credibility to the team’s status as favourites. Once more, it was not to be as Italy proved too much – continuing Germany’s dismal record against them – and Jogi Löw out-coached himself.

The Bundesliga, just like the Nationalmannschaft are packed with ‘obscenely talented players’ as the Stiles Council writes. On top of that there are cheap tickets, beer is allowed on the terraces as is standing. As an example, Borussia Dortmund’s most expensive season ticket costs €840, even at Bayern Munich, they are only €650 for the most expensive seats at the Allianz Arena. As a comparison, the cheapest ticket for Arsenal costs £985, even Man United can’t top that with £950 being their most expensive season ticket.

According to this report from the BBC, the Bundesliga has the highest average gate figures in Europe, with 44,000 spectators; England’s Premier League manages 34,600. Of course, both leagues have different income patterns. Germany relies more on the day to day income and merchandise while the Premier League has the best television deal of more than £3bn for the next 3 seasons.

It seems, the Müller’s, Götze’s and Reus’ are among the top of European football.

However, there is another side emerging to the German game that is unpleasant, if not worrying:

Attack from the Right

In January this year, the Aachen Ultras stopped their support for Alemannia Aachen after suffering continuous attacks from the Karlsbande, an organisation alleged to be open to right wing ideas and open neo-Nazism. This is only one event in a long chain of events in recent years. Football and racism have enjoyed a long liaison in football; in Germany it was most often linked with East Germany – with some justification – and lower league football where security was and mostly still is less prominent than at first division grounds. The lack of any television cameras in third or fourth tier grounds makes it more difficult to gather evidence.

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung three members of the Ultra group spoke candidly about their reasons. And these are worrying. Members of the group have experienced an increasing threat from the Karlsbande, a group of fans officially classed as non-political. However, it appeared this group was very open to integrating those with racist views. What began as minor skirmishes on the terraces ended with violent attacks on ultra members who were on their way to work, school, university or on a night out. In this climate of continuous threat and feeling unsupported by their club, the ultras felt no longer in a position to continue their support for it.

Alemannia Aachen have not taken any clear stand against racism in the ground, rather played the incidents down as skirmishes between rival groups of fans. That this was not the case has become all too clear now. Many comments from  reports at 11freunde argued that the Ultras asked for trouble as they were  the ones who brought politics, left wing politics into the ground and therefore other groups simply reacted. Does this justify violence and open racism? It beggars belief to read such a reply in an attempt to justify violence against football fans.

However, recent events at other clubs, Borussia Dortmund and Fortuna Dusseldorf have set the alarm bells ringing. While the media focus was often, if not exclusively on the East of Germany, a neo-Nazi scene could grow almost unnoticed at Aachen and elsewhere in the West. The current German champion Borussia Dortmund not only create headlines with their football but also with news that steward(s) at their ground hold racist views and sympathize with neo-Nazi groups.

Even the famous and feted Yellow Wall, the 25,000 capacity south stand appear to be infiltrated by neo-Nazis or those sympathizing with the far right. The club’s most notorious hooligan group during the 1980s, the Borussenfront were openly racist  of West Germany’s hooligan firms.  A report in the New Statesman covered the problem in the City of Dortmund and the football club.

Similar reports to that of Aachen also come from Dusseldorf where the Ultras have disbanded after Nazi salutes appeared at games. It was also reported members of the group were beaten and there were attempts to block t-shirts with the slogan ‘Ultras gegen Rechts’ to be worn by supporters of the club. However, unlike their Aachen counterparts, the Dusseldorf Ultras are reluctant to speak openly about the events and the climate.

At a recent indoor tournament in Potsdam, fans of Polish club Polonia Bytom openly gave Nazi salutes but received no punishment. Instead, fans of TeBe Berlin and SV Babelsberg 03 left the scene after feeling threatened by the behaviour of the Polish and Dynamo Dresden fans, who are also reputed as being right leaning.

German author Ronny Blaschke argues that the lower German leagues are a particular fertile ground for right wing organizations  to recruit new members. Furthermore, football grounds have become a focal point, a pressure cooker, for diverse developments within German society to become visible to the wider audience. Just because the Bundesliga does not experience open racism does not mean there are no fans in any of the 18 grounds holding racist or any other extremist viwepoint. That there are people who not only silently hold far right beliefs has become clear in recent weeks and months.

German football is not as perfect as the action on the pitch suggests. In fact, there are huge problems to be dealt with. The rise of neo-Nazism is, once more,  the most urgent. The debate about pyrotechnics at grounds and tightened security in its wake is another and should be highlighted at a later date. Racism is an issue that cannot be tolerated and should take priority, however, it is a problem football cannot solve on its own; it is a problem society must tackle.

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For more from Christoph follow him on Twitter at @wagnerc23

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