550 German fans from 60 different clubs came together in Berlin last weekend to tackle the big issues at Fan Kongress 2012. The Football Supporters’ Federation was in attendance as part of a delegation from Football Supporters Europe to see how they do things on the continent.
Saturday was devoted to domestic issues while Sunday’s agenda took in supporter experiences at a pan-European level. The organisers asked the FSF to paint a picture of fan culture in the UK and explain how increased commercialisation affected that supporter experience.
The attendance was very impressive but it wasn’t just the size of the crowd which was a surprise. The majority of fans there were in their teens or 20s – young fans are engaged with these issues and ready to get up and do something about it.
Saturday 14th January
With so many fans in one place the main congress broke up into six different halls each with its own theme and guest speakers. If you have a decent grasp of the German language you can read the weekend's post-event summary here. For those who don't, read on:
- 1. Whose ball is it? Football stadiums and private law. With Marco Noli (supporter lawyers network), Hendrik Grosse Lefert (German FA), Antje Hagel (Offenbach Fan Project), Jannis Busse (Ultras Hannover), Gerd Dembowski (social scientist), André Waiss (Security Energie Cottbus), Nicole Selmer (journalist).
While football brings people together for the public good it is actually a private event. So what responsibilities arise out of this for the clubs? Stadium bans are used to prevent supporters entering a stadium (private property) without recourse to legal means. But this means fans can be banned on a whim (true in the UK too, a few years back the FSF even heard from a fan banned for being a “smart alec”). Unsurprisingly the dividing lines were similar to what they would be on these shores.
On one side was André Waiss (security officer, Energie Cottbus) and Hendrik Grosse Lefert (security officer, German FA) with fans’ groups and solicitors on the other. Lefert argued that he was “solutions-orientated” and open to new ideas but fans said that more bans are being handed out on police recommendation alone without sufficient opportunity for fans to defend themselves - a familiar issue to the FSF.
- 2. Fan culture as a social phenomenon. Discussion with organisers from Kein Zwanni für nen Steher! campaign (€20 for a standing ticket? No way)
While €20 tickets (£17) sound like great value to many British fans our counterparts in Germany are not about to let their prices creep up without making a noise. The core of their message is that football is a social force for the good and should be affordable. Read more on the Kein Zwanni intitiative and Zum Erhalt der Fankultur (For the Protection of Fan Culture).
The FSF spoke to fans of Bayern Munich who pay €180 (£150) for their season ticket – that’s cheaper than many clubs in the fifth tier of British football. In comparison the cheapest adult season ticket at Arsenal comes in at around £1000 - that’s seven times as expensive as Bayern Munich’s best adult deals.
- 3. Opportunities and limits of self-regulation and responsibility in the stands. Discussion with a representative of the Legalise Pyrotechnics campaign, a representative of Wilde Horde (Cologne), Jens Volke (Supporter Liaison Officer, Borussia Dortmund) and Rainer Mendel (Supporter Liaison Officer, FC Cologne).
More than any other this session showed the cultural gap between many British and German fans. That’s not to say there’s a right or wrong way to support your team, they just do things differently on the continent, especially when it comes to the visualisation of support.
Nowhere is this more evident that in the attitude to “pyro” (aka flares) which are common in countries such as Germany, Norway, and Italy – click here for an example at Rosenborg. Try that here and you’ll be on the end of a banning order. But can fans self-regulate by agreeing to only have pyro in specific areas of a ground or is this unrealistic? Many in the German FA and police think the latter and would prefer a ban.
Our continental cousins don’t agree unanimously on pyro either. Some fans the FSF spoke to did want to see them forced out of stadiums although they were a minority and many thought regulated areas were the way to go. Whatever the position though it was always argued articulately, passionately, and with respect.
That goes for the media too where the German equivalent of Match of the Day devoted its full hour to covering Fan Kongress 2012 – an almost unbelievable turn of events by British standards.
Imagine Gary Lineker sitting down with fans to take a critical look at ticket prices, safe standing, or football policing at 10pm on a Saturday night? It’s a huge cultural divide although German fans admitted that seismic shift only took place in the past decade since fan activism exploded and made its voice heard. The situation in England was also explored meaning German TV has shown more interest in English fan activism than many mainstream media outlets back home.
If you speak German, watch that show in full below:
- 4. Identification of fans with their club in the era of 'modern football'. Presentations by Oliver Schaal (Commando Cannstatt 97) and Holger Keye (Wuhlesyndikat Union Berlin).
This session looked at the preservation of club identity and values at a time of increasing commercialisation. One of the better known examples in Germany is at FC Nuremburg. The stadium was renamed after a commercial sponsor easyCredit-Stadion for five years but fans stuck with the Max-Morlock-Stadion, in honour of one of the best players in the club's history. In Germany there also seems to be an assumption young fans are increasingly identifying with their clubs through the stadium.
- 5. Is the 50+1 rule important? With Martin Kind (president, Hannover 96), Robert Pohl (Unsere Kurve), Jens Wagner (HSV Supporters Club), René Lau (supporter lawyers network).
Hannover 96’s president Martin Kind wants the German FA to overturn the 50+1 rule which means all clubs (with two notable exceptions) must remain in the control of member fans. If he doesn’t convince the authorities he feels the German or European courts will eventually overturn the ruling which he believes is discriminatory. At present Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg are owned privately (for historic reasons) while every other club has a controlling share held by its supporters.
Kind argues this gives Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg an unfair advantage in attracting investment. However, fans in attendance were overwhelmingly pro-50+1. Even if Hannover 96 were allowed to auction ownership, so would every other club and it’d be back to square one…except that clubs would be in the hands of potentially unscrupulous owners, rather than the fans.
The German FA are trying to discourage the courts from becoming involved by allowing clubs to be sold if the buyer has had a 20 year+ stake in the club. This means that member control of clubs could dwindle over the decades.
- 6. Football grounds - a place where laws don't apply? Workshop with Angela Furmaniak (supporter lawyers network), Markus Schmalz (Commando Cannstatt 97), Daniel Epple (Commando Cannstatt 97), a representative of Ultras Hannover, Frank Hatlé (supporter lawyers network).
This session asked whether it is legitimate for clubs and authorities to share data such as group membership, license plates, employer details, and other personal data between one another in order to “defeat hooliganism”. The institutions think it is whereas fans believe it is often shared in order to keep peaceful but dissident voices outside of the stadiums. Supporters also asked whether clubs acted within German data protection laws when sharing such information.
Sunday 15th January
Sunday’s event covered similar issues to the previous day but there were two significantly different factors: 1. The talk focused on the experience of fans from across Europe, rather than Germany. 2. Everyone looked a lot more hungover - Berlin is a great city to spend a Saturday night in but that’s not always conducive to early starts.
Taking that into account the 200+ fans who turned up for Sunday’s event were a surprisingly perky bunch. Considering that the entire day was focused on, for them, the foreign fans’ experience it was a fine turnout by the German audience and they were treated to a range of speakers from Denmark (Brondby), England (FSF), France (PSG), Italy (Roma), Norway (Rosenborg), Scotland (Celtic), and Turkey (Fenerbahce).
The FSF was represented by Michael Brunskill who explained to German fans how prices in England had exploded over the past two or three decades - in 1989-90 it was still possible to get into Old Trafford as an adult for £3.50. Tales of £1000+ season tickets and Championship tickets of £30 and more were a surprise to many in the audience used to paying as little as €10 for top-flight football. Even at non-league level tickets go for anything up to £18.
The demographics of English football fans also caught the attention of the audience. While there’s a broad age range attending football matches in the Bundesliga it’s still considered a young person’s sport and is affordable to that age group. The average Premier League fan is currently in their mid-40s.
Germans, quite fairly, view Britain as a society where the free market rules and this seeps into our sporting culture. Whereas British fans are mostly happy to be beholden to an owners whims, as long as the results are coming in, German fans reject this model and view clubs as social beings critical to a community's functioning. They are extremely vocal in defence of the 50+1 rule.
Their understanding of important historical points in the development of the English game was also very impressive with questions about the post-Hillsborough Taylor Report (Taylor recommended £11 tickets and football ignored that part of the report).
But the best question was left till almost last as German fans asked what they could learn from British fans. Germany is a nation with safe standing areas in its top-flight, €10 tickets, beer served in the stands, and controlling shares in their clubs. What can German fans learn from British fans? More like what can we learn from Germans…
The FSF intends to ask that very question via a series of interviews with fans from across the continent over the coming weeks and months. If there’s a specific campaign, club, or country which you think should be featured let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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