As Christian Arbeit strode onto the sainted pitch of the Stadion an der Alten Försterei on Monday night, he gave himself away with a wink.
“Unioner…” as is his customary introduction to the fans that had sold out most of the stadium.
“Frankfurter…” to the Eintracht fans that were supposed to be banned.
“Shhhhhhh…” It was a tacit recognition that there were well over a thousand of last season’s self-proclaimed losers at football, but champions at fighting – the krawallmeisters in a Bundesliga season that saw them relegated – were swelling the ranks amongst the home fans.
Of course he knew they were there, after all it was the Union fans themselves who had helped for most of the tickets to fall into their hands after the DFB had announced that Eintracht would not be allowed to bring anyone to the game following trouble at the Fortuna Düsseldorf game in February.
It was a show of solidarity with a rival club. Football fans are loathe to come together in gushing scenes of mutual adoration – excepting the positively alien (and it can’t be weird just to me) of the fan friendships that spring up across the country – but the enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that. They came together in mutual distrust and loathing of the DFB – the German football association.
The backslapping would go on throughout a game that at many points nobody seemed to really be paying any attention to at all. They were concentrating on the result coming from across the city at the cannily organised derby between Union’s under 23’s and BFC Dynamo, and they were busy singing against the DFB. They were happy together about the banner adorned with a statement of beautiful simplicity, but, one must say, not the most erudite of messages. Presumably they had decided that subtlety would be misplaced.
“DFB, fuck yourselves” was there for all to see within the stadium, and without, on thousands of TVs across the country as SKY tried desperately to ignore it, and failed miserably.
Chants of “Fußballmafia DFB” washed around the stadium like a wave of self-satisfied backslapping on Oscar night, and as Eintracht took the lead after 10 minutes it became apparent just how many of their fans were in the stadium. I was stood at the opposite end to the banner – where the queues for beer are at their shortest, being a diligent football writer – and all around me people were screaming for their team. Somehow it turned out that I was the outsider in the away end. The end that wasn’t even supposed to exist.
Within minutes they were clamouring to get into the closed off pen that was supposed to be theirs. A couple climbed the fences and took their places. More and more gathered at the sides. Eventually, Union had no choice but to open the away end, in defiance of the DFB ruling, but it had to be done. It was simple common sense. Within seconds a torrent had appeared as the Frankfurters streamed to take their places.
It remains to be seen what will happen next, but it would appear that the DFB have already acquiesced to the growing campaigns against the draconian banning of away fans in German football in the wake of the protests leading up to the big one at Union. The fans have won a small battle. For now.
But it still leaves simmering resentment in the face of ridiculous kick-off times set at the behest of SKY TV, and a groundswell of opinion that the rulers of the game are as out of touch as the traditional men in blazers that have always run the game in England. The DFB will be fought all the way by football fans struggling to retain control over their own club’s destinies.
There is a slight whiff of “What have the Romans ever done for us”, as the authorities try to balance the demands of 21st century commerce in a billion euro business, while curbing the excesses of the game’s worst behaved. They lead admirable campaigns against racism and homophobia, and, personally, I am a bit uncomfortable about absolute solidarity with a section of fans that are proud of their violent excesses, but the blanket banning of away fans was never going to be successful, and is also laying the blame for the actions of the minority on the many who use motorway service stations for buying overpriced, shitty cups of lukewarm grey coffee, and not as a place for ambushing the opposition’s buses.
So, in the words of Public Enemy:
“I’m not a law obeyer – so you can tell your mayor,
I’m a non-stop, rhythm rock poetry sayer
You just got caught a – for going out of order
And now you’re servin’ football teams their water.”
Union may have lost 4-0 on the night, but the fans of both sides could celebrate a victory together.