There’s one thing my coach never tired of saying to me: “Hau den Ball ins Tor hinein!” – best translated with: “Just slam it into the back of the net!” What did yours used to say to you? What about this one: “I want to see you struggle!” Well, professionals in the Bundesliga are hearing this one a lot at this decisive point in the season: and it’s their own fans who are saying it.
The relationship between players and fans in the Bundesliga is simmering just below boiling point this season. After Hannover’s goalkeeper Robert Enke, suffering from a severe depression and trying to hide it from public view, ended up committed suicide in November of last year, Bundesliga officials, players and fans have been talking a lot about developing an atmosphere of respect, care and recognition – but these last six months have not seen these words become reality.
Whilst victory sees the players and fans dancing together, in raptures of ecstasy as goal-scorers kiss their tops and balance on the barriers around the pitch, yelling victory chants into megaphones, defeat sees the brutal opposite occur. After all, there’s a lot of money in the Bundesliga now and if success is not achieved, the fans start to see their players as nothing more than spoiled brats cashing fat pay-checks without putting in the performance.
The effects of this attitude could be seen on this 30th day of play, with only 30,000 spectators being allowed in Berlin’s Olympiastadion. Despite good-humoured Cold-War-quips about the “Eastern sector not being occupied”, the reason for the empty stands was the pitch invasion by Hertha Berlin fans after the game against Nuremberg four weeks back, which was also followed by riots. This led to the Eastern tribunes, the seats taken by the hardcore Hertha fans, being completely closed off; many fans had to content themselves with a big-screen showing of the game against Stuttgart.
Bad behaviour by fans also led to 1. FC Köln supporters being prevented from accompanying their team to Hoffenheim; at all previous away games, Cologne fans had been setting off fireworks as well as throwing handfuls of coins and lighters at players. With heavy fines having failed to prevent this kind of behaviour, more drastic measures had to be employed – 1. FC Nürnberg will also have to play away games without its supporters due to similar behaviour on their part.
Sometimes, players get involved, with HSVs Paolo Guerrero cracking after the taunts of one fan got too much. He lost his cool and threw his bottle at this particular “supporter”, but the Peruvian was still allowed in the European league starting line-up just four days later; on top of that, HSV also complained to the Bundesliga about the five-match ban he got himself for this lack of composure. It appears to me that there is a question here: how can teams demand respect from their supporters if they treat abuse of them so laxly?
Even in quiet little Hoffenheim, the Disneyland of German professional football, football’s loudmouths are gaining the upper hand. Hoffenheim’s fans just won’t tolerate mediocrity from their high-earning players and shout “Greedy bastards!” or “Get rid of Rangnick!” whilst blocking the team’s route to the bus after matches. The reason for this outpouring of bad feeling was Cologne’s 2:0 victory against TSG Hoffenheim, which seems to have saved 1. FC. from relegation. By the way, it could be interesting to speculate as to whether Hoffenheim fans are talking to just their players when they shout out “Greedy bastards”: after all, the team is kept by patrons who are not just million- but billionaires.
Now back to the Berlin fans who weren’t watching as their team played on home turf against VfB Stuttgart. This was the same Stuttgart team, by the way, whose own fans shouted slogans like “If you get us relegated, will kill every last one of you” while they were going through a rough patch in November. Now that they’re catching up in the second half of the season, though, the fans are dancing again – just as they were on the weekend after Stuttgart’s 1:0 win against the boys from the capital city.
The only fans who seem to be very happy at the moment are Bayern Munich’s. After beating Schalke 04 last week and then moving into the semi-final of the Champions League against Manchester United, the team and supporters had a 1:1 draw against Leverkusen, competitors for the Bundesliga title, to celebrate about. This game secured Bayern’s place at the top of the table, with Schalke obligingly losing to Hannover in a 2:4 shock defeat. Mirko Slomka, Hannover’s coach, used to train Schalke and so had the pleasure of ruining the championship chances of his former club. You won’t hear Schalke fans complaining, mind you, since they’re all in awe of the all-powerful coach Felix Magath. “Drop Magath!” is one chant you won’t be hearing just yet.
Results Matchday 30:
Borussia Mönchengladbach – Eintracht Frankfurt 2:0
Hertha BSC Berlin – VfB Stuttgart 0:1
1. FSV Mainz 05 – Borussia Dortmund 1:0
Hannover 96 – FC Schalke 04 4:2
1899 Hoffenheim – 1. FC Köln 0:2
Werder Bremen – SC Freiburg 4:0
Bayer Leverkusen – Bayern München 1:1
VfL Bochum – Hamburger SV 1:2
1. FC Nürnberg – VfL Wolfsburg 0:2
1 Bayern München 60 P
2 FC Schalke 04 58 P
3 Bayer Leverkusen 54 P
4 Borussia Dortmund 52 P
5 Werder Bremen 51 P
6 Hamburger SV 48 P
7 VfB Stuttgart 47 P
8 VfL Wolfsburg 46 P
9 Eintracht Frankfurt 44 P
10 1. FSV Mainz 05 41 P
11 Borussia Mönchengladbach 37 P
12 1899 Hoffenheim 34 P
13 1. FC Köln 34 P
14 1. FC Nürnberg 28 P
15 VfL Bochum 28 P
16 Hannover 96 27 P
17 SC Freiburg 25 P
18 Hertha BSC Berlin 22 P