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Jacob Sweetman: Smash it up

Football in Germany is often lauded by fans in the UK for being a throwback to what the game used to be like. But in some ways it is not just the prices that have remained.

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It is often remarked by English football fans that coming over to watch games in Germany is a bit like going back to football in the 1970s or the 1980s – Terraces with affordable entry that can be enjoyed with a decent beer, a fag without being told off by an (otherwise silent) old woman, a piss off the back of the stand when you can’t be bothered to find the loos and an idle flick through a decently priced programme that is not just simply an exercise in squeezing as many pennies out of the suckers who are there in their thousands.

All of this is to be enjoyed in the company of brimming hoards of mostly young, primarily ugly, men with horrible haircuts and optional moustaches. Yeah, in many ways it is just like the 1970s.

But the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight are often closer to resembling beer goggles. A reality bending nightmare, sent by God to remind us that we are idiots and only He wakes up in the mornings after parties, safe in the knowledge that He really was witty, sparkling and urbane all evening. He always rises with a beautiful man or woman next to him (He doesn’t really care, as long as they’re beautiful) and never has to leave a hastily scribbled note on the pillow of a well-intentioned mistake.

We like to think of the football of the 1970s and 1980s as a beautiful time. The antithesis of what we are “against” in “modern football”. But they weren’t really. They were shitty times marred by violence everywhere. You may not get much noise out of the all seater stadia with the prawn sandwich eaters in the executive boxes of the premiership, but neither are they likely to try to rush your end of the ground to prove a point, or to drop concrete blocks on your motorcade out of whichever godforsaken, poverty wracked, shithole you are currently escaping. Well, not as often anyway.

The assumption was rounded off at the weekend as over 200 thugs were arrested in Vienna before Friday’s EURO 2012 qualifier between Germany and Austria. The images were a nasty flashback to memories of watching Union Jack waving, “No surrender to the IRA“ singing skinheads tearing up plazas across Europe on hyperbolic, condemning, ITN news reports.

To lament the loss of atmosphere inside the stadiums is not the same as wanting the wanton smashing up of stuff back. But it is a problem that Germany is still trying to deal with. British police became as advanced in the matters of controlling order off the pitches as their teams were hopeless on them. They had learned the hard way that treating fans like animals usually would only lead to them acting like them.

Still, it was a surprise to read that at a recent 1860 vs. Bayern Munich derby the police had to move in with truncheons swinging and pepper spray spritzing at a nearby U-Bahn station as groups of the rivals’ fans fought running battles. Not that they hated each other. The surprise was simply that this was after an under 19’s match.

Next season will see St. Pauli back in the 2. Bundesliga, whose match against Schalke called off after a fan went for the “Steve Bartman award for most stupid sporting intervention” as his beer glass smacked on the pate of the linesman. They will be joined by Eintracht Frankfurt, the self-proclaimed “randale meisters” of the Bundesliga. It was the only title the fans had a chance in, and officially they were still beaten in that by Bayern whose fines over the season added up to over €25,000.

There are similar stories through the leagues with Leipzig’s bezirkliga club Rote Stern struggling to get their opposition teams to even face them at home, due to the over inflated costs of security in the knowledge that groups will be attempting to attack the fans of the leftist team.

There are no simple solutions, other than the one I always found worked pretty well. Run like hell in the other direction. If you do it in a tatty pair of flares too, it would be just like the 1980s.