After a recent incident at Borussia Dortmund, Conor Thompson asks if German football’s dislike of RB Leipzig has overstepped the mark.
RasenBallsport Leipzig are currently regarded as German football’s Public Enemy No.1. Commonly referred to as RB Leipzig or simply RBL, the East German club were first formed in 2009. In just eight years however, RBL managed to rise all the way to the top tier of German football and prior to Christmas they were even Tabellenführer (league leaders) for a while.
If it seems to be good to be true, it is. The East German side were formally known as SSV Markranstädt. However, in 2009 Austrian energy drinks manufacturer Red Bull bought the licence for the club and rebranded them as RasenBallsport Leipzig. Presumably much to their annoyance, having a sponsor in the name of a football club is forbidden in Germany but Red Bull have managed to work their way around that nevertheless.
Fans of the so called “Traditionsvereine” (traditional clubs) have staged many demonstrations/protests so far this season either when hosting the Red Bulls or playing away in Leipzig. Why has there been such noise over the rise of RB Leipzig? It is partially due to the fact that until now, tradition has reigned supreme in Germany. Football is very much still thought to be the game of the working class. Even the Werkself, or factory clubs such as Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, bankrolled by major companies, have enjoyed greater tolerance. Many fans see the newest entity as a mere marketing ploy by Red Bull and deem it a threat to the integrity and tradition of German football.
Perhaps if the RB story was to happen in England, there wouldn’t be such uproar as we have already seen clubs such as Man City and Chelsea, who historically were not amongst the top teams, benefit from financial backing. For the hardcore fans of some of Germany’s most famous clubs however, RB poses a threat to the game that they love.
So how have these supporters been voicing their disgust? The Ultras of 1.FC Köln staged a sit down in front of the Leipzig team bus when they came to the Domstadt earlier in the season. This caused the game to be delayed by over 15 minutes. Fans of Borussia Mönchengladbach staged a silent protest when they travelled to East Germany earlier in the season. Gladbach fans did not begin to sing until 19.00 minutes, a clear reference to the year that their own club was formed and a dig at RBL’s mere 8-year history.
In recent weeks, however, things took a nasty turn. A group of Borussia Dortmund fans crossed the line by quite some distance. The game between the Schwarz-Gelben and the Roten Bullen was Saturday’s Topspiel (top game) and was live on TV and it was obvious that BVB fans were not going to miss their opportunity. At the beginning of the season, the Borussia Dortmund ultras boycotted their away fixture in Leipzig. This action was fairly irrelevant, however, as other fans snapped up the tickets and the away end in the Red Bull arena was sold out.
There was no messing about this time. Inside the stadium, there were anti RB banners – this isn’t anything new – but some were highly controversial and in some cases deemed tasteless. The DFB has since launched an investigation into the behaviour of Dortmund fans inside the stadium.
Some of the messages were verbal attacks aimed at those involved with RBL but it wasn’t just inside the ground that the East Germans faced abuse.
A number of Leipzig fans, some of whom were women and children, were attacked as they made their way to the Westfalenstadion. A group of Dortmund fans hurled bottles, eggs, stones and fireworks at RB fans making their way to the ground. Ten away supporters and four policemen were injured. Dortmund police stated that they have since filed 28 charges for breaches including assault, damage to property and theft. A full investigation from the DFB was to follow.
How a week in football can change things. The image of a club which is internationally recognised and known for its dedicated fans, has been damaged. How lasting will the effects of that Saturday evening be? BVB coach Thomas Tuchel and the club itself were quick to condemn the actions of those fans involved. Representatives of both clubs met to discuss measures which should be taken to ensure that similar scenes are not repeated.
Rival supporters don’t have to like what Red Bull are doing and while the reasons why Dortmund fans and those of other clubs feel the way they do is understandable, when physical violence creeps in, it’s a step too far. German football has worked too hard to try to extinguish that dark side of the game to allow it to creep back in again.7
Conor Thompson lives and works in Dublin. Having studied in Germany for a year during his university life, he has developed a keen interest in the country’s football and fan scene.