If the mass marketeers of the English premiership are to be believed, football is the sport of kings. More often than not some overpaid promotional splutterer for Sky TV will mention the poetry, the drama and most of all the passion of the “Greatest League in the World”. Yet I can only imagine these media facsimiles will be choking on their superlatives after a weekend that saw Millwall fans punching themselves in the face and Newcastle United fans avoiding such self-abuse by instead punching police horses. Various tabloid rags in Britain have already begun the inevitable process of proclaiming the return of 80s hooligans to football, while the rest of the normal football going public look on in disgust and disbelief at the actions of the minority. Sadly we are not the only country to suffer from grown men punching each other over football allegiances, although we may be the only ones that partake in equine fisticuffs.
My only experience of German football came when I was offered a ticket for SpVgg Greuther Fürth few years back. The day progressed as any normal match day until I took a bus to the stadium. While chatting with a friend I was stopped mid sentence by a lad of around 19 who asked if I was English. When I replied that I was he, in his best English declared “Cool, English football hooligan ya?”. To be honest I didn’t know what to say to that statement. I replied that I wasn’t but he continued “I love Green Street Hooligans, good film”. Again, slightly dumbfounded I attempted to correct him, and explain that really it wasn’t like that anymore Sadly I got the feeling that he preferred the film’s version of events to the one I was trying to sell him.
To be fair, I would state that as far as I’m aware he was neither a hooligan nor was anyone else I met that day. Aside from a flare being set off in the away stand and being prevented from leaving a bar by some rather scary looking policemen, replete with riot gear, shields and automatic weapons, I noticed very little in the way of violence. Yet, as statistics show the “English problem” is one that the German football is still facing.
There have been a number of high profile incidents recently, although representatives of German football are at pains to point out that it rarely occurs in the upper leagues. However, this weekend saw violence break out during Bayern Munich’s 4-0 victory over FC Nürnberg, with reports of 120 Bayern fans openly attacking 400 FCN fans as they walked to the stadium. By the end of Saturday 31 Bayern fans and 30 FCN fans found themselves under lock and key. Much of this was blamed on the “Ultras” from both sides, which appear to act like the English football firms of the 80s. The young man I met is perhaps typical of a minority of football fans who, to a certain extent, beatifies the English hooligan. Films such as Green Street (directed by the German director Lexi Alexander, and based on her brothers experiences of hooliganism in Germany), Football Factory and ID only serve to further glamorise the English hooligan image.
This is not to say that German football is as bad as the dark days of English football in the 1980s, although it is possible to make some comparisons with that period. This illuminating article from thelocal.de goes some way to showing that German football can sometimes give this impression with standing areas, drinking culture and policing that would possibly shock a British football fan. The latter aspect is perhaps where German football could learn from Britain and still retain the other aspects that make the German football experience so great. Yet even with the introduction of all seater stadiums, banning alcohol in the stands and intelligent policing there are still those that will attempt to bring the sport into disrepute.