It is with a certain amount of reticence that I write this week, but I’ll start at the start if you don’t mind, it seems the best place for it. As he always does, the photographer for No Dice, the magazine I co-edit about football in Berlin, was at a game in the nether regions of the footballing landscape. He is not interested in the most gleaming action shots, scrubbed up to within a molecule’s sharpness. He likes to set the scene of a game, to put it in a context that will last a lot longer than just another picture of an unremarkable striker scuffing the ball wide from 10 yards out ever will. His photographs, much like football in its wider context, tell stories.
He posted a picture on our Facebook page from the Berlinliga fixture between Tennis Borussia Berlin (TeBe) and TUS Makkabi. It was one of over 40 posted, but through the ever extending tentacles of (a)social media it worked its way into the hands of a handful of seemingly right-wing Alemannia Aachen fans. The photo was of a banner draped behind the goal, it said simply:“Komplett BescheUert. Nazis raus aus dem Tivoli.“ The capitalised K, B and U stand for the Karlsbande Ultras, a group who have identified the left wing ACU (Aachen Ultras) as being the enemy within their own stadium – the Tivoli.
It is hard to argue that publishing this picture was not in itself a political statement – indeed I would argue that football is inherently political, but this I will come to later.
One of the comments posted under the image went: “Now I understand what you have always meant, that politics should be kept out of the stadia.”
A quick glance at his page showed that on being posed the usually inane and pointless question, “What concert would you love to see?” He has answered with the damning one word answer: “Hitler.”
Maybe I have got the poster wrong, and that his comment merely shows that the nuances of German in a 21st century medium have sailed over my head like a Mario Gomez shot from five yards out, but I sadly think not. Two posts above his was one that simply stated “Spastis”. Another one was just as erudite, with the SS in “Scheiss ACU” capitalised to avoid any ambiguity.
So what were we supposed to do? I disagree entirely with censoring the opinions of the right in public – believing that if their beliefs are made clear, then the majority of people will see through their ignorance (and in many cases, it is simply ignorance), and come to an opposite opinion. In the words of The Clash, simply, “Give 'em enough rope.”
But this is where it gets tricky. The right are not the only people who believe that politics don't belong in football – despite the fact that in this case it is they who appear to be expressly politicising the issue.
Aachen was not in the GDR. For many in the former East of Berlin, political interference in the sport that they love means a completely different thing to you or I. Far be it from me to tell reasonable people who grew up under a repressive regime that used football for its own means what to think – it is patronising in the extreme.
This is often not a question of left or right, it is simply about a standpoint brought on by years of living in a world that I never visited, never experienced and certainly never had interfering in my life.
There is also the question about what is relevant in the stadia. About opposition, and about the tribal nature of football. Another comment underneath the photo said mockingly, “Don't they have any flags about football?” This is a point that I have heard from other fans, whose political views are similar to my own, and at times I myself have been critical of the TeBe fans whose political allegiances I too often took to be simply worn as a fashionable badge of honour – everybody wants to be the new St. Pauli nowadays.
This, however, misses the point entirely. TeBe is a club with a strong identity forged by the fact that the banning of Jewish players in the 1930s crippled it. The name Makkabi itself is obviously that of a team with a strong Jewish identity. A game between these two teams is in itself political, like it or not.
A comment deleted by the user after posting (possibly after we notified the authorities) signed off with “Sieg H??l”. Whoever posted it is not only sickening, but also a fucking coward.
I believe that if there is racism, homophobia, sexism, whatever in the stadia, then it should be confronted in the same way that fans join together to stand up for each others rights in the face of heavy handed policing, outrageous financial exploitation or any of the other litany of crimes committed against normal football fans. I believe it is the world’s game for a reason – and this in itself is a commitment to inclusivity. If these are not political points, then I don’t know what is. If we all take the default position that politics is simply what Peter Tosh called Politricks, then it follows that football will surely eat itself.
We left the comments up underneath the page with a beautifully articulate response by my co-editor explaining that these comments were not from, or endorsed, by us as a whole. I hope we’ve given them enough rope.