The head coach of Germany’s national team Joachim Loew and former Bayern Munich incumbent Jupp Heynckes say that the good reputation of German football could be in danger after the latest crowd trouble during the second division relegation playoff between 1860 Munich and Jahn Regensburg. The incident has left the vast majority of the country’s fans in a state of shock.
“Violent fans abuse the sport of football”, said Loew, while Heynckes fears the game could even be falling apart. Both coaches have demanded that all the relevant bodies – police and the legal system, clubs and the German Football Association (DFB) – come together and solve the problem. Loew emphasized that there is an obligation to ensure children and families can visit football arenas in safety.
The relegation playoff in Munich had to be suspended for about 30 minutes after fans ripped up seats and threw them onto the pitch along with iron bars. Only a massive police presence prevented further rioting. Regensburg’s goal keeper was constantly pelted with projectiles in the final minutes of the match.
The DFB is considering abolishing standing room in German football arenas and implementing personalized tickets. A reform of the current relegation system is currently under discussion. The latest proposals include a system similar to the four-club promotion playoffs in England.
Germany has to date relied on relegation playoffs between the third last team in one division against the third from top in the lower league. Critics say the system provokes fan emotions far too much. Supporters of the current system insist that the problem of emotions would not be solved by the proposed changes, as it would only shift the action to the league’s last round of matches.
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Concern about hooliganism is growing within the DFB as clubs have had to pay more fines that ever before – the two million euro barrier was broken in the 2016/2017 season.
German football and its clubs are also facing a controversial debate about commercialization of the game, especially as fans jeered the recent cup final halftime show.
A famous German singer was booed off the stage and fans were disrespectful when the German national anthem was played.
In addition to the trouble in Munich, fans invaded the pitch in Braunschweig after the relegation playoff against first division VfL Wolfsburg. Again a strong police presence was necessary to restore order.
This season, several games had to be interrupted because fans let off flares, leaving several persons injured. While German authorities regard these fireworks as dangerous, fans say they are part of their culture. The German police recently demanded that games be played behind closed doors if the problems can’t be solved soon.
So-called “ultras” are considered to be causing the biggest problem amongst fan clubs. Several of these groups have been infiltrated by far-right political elements in the country.
Up to 5,000 fans in Germany appear prepared to resort to violence and crime and to motivate others to join their ranks. Several fan groups have held up banners declaring war on the German association, while one top team’s bus was blocked by fans.
Many in German football consider England’s system as a possible solution. Alcohol is banned in the stadium there, CCTV is in use throughout the arena and traveling fans are not allowed to drink alcohol in buses. High ticket prices are also keeping many problem fans away from attending games, especially in the Premier League.
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But fan experts criticize expensive tickets, saying it only leads to a shift of violence to outside the stadiums. Former Bayern Munich director of sports Matthias Sammer complained about an increasing loss of values in society that would affect football as well.
DFB Vice-President Rainer Koch observed a growing gap between parts of the ultra-fan groups, the association and the clubs. FC Cologne managing director Joerg Schmadtke says political radicalization is a bigger part of the entire problem.
Nevertheless, Schmadtke said there has to be a dialogue with all the fan groups, insisting that bans alone will not solve the problem. But it is clear, Schmadtke said, that German football will soon have to find some answers.