Fan Projects Against Violence and Racism in Football

Football fans

For many Germans football is part of their identity. Many young people, however, take their frustration with them to the stadium. In order to prevent this spilling over into violence, politicians are championing the benefits of committed social work.

It has been almost 130 years since the first German football club – “B. F. C. Germania 1888” – was founded in Berlin. Today the German Football Federation (Deutscher Fußballbund/DFB) has about 25,000 clubs and over 6.8 million members, making it the largest sports federation in the world. And wherever you look, football is being played all over the country – be it in Munich, the home of the German record-setting champion FC Bayern, or in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, the home of fifth-division team TSV Schilksee.

For many soccer-crazy men (and more and more women) identifying with their town, their region and their “home” is always related to the colours of their club: blue and white for Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen, black and yellow for Borussia Dortmund and red and white for Hamburg SV. Offenbach and Frankfurt, for example, are both in the Federal State of Hesse and are only about ten kilometres away from each other. Nothing in the world, however, would ever get a fan of the Offenbacher Kickers team to cheer on Frankfurt – and it would be exactly the same the other way round. 

When enthusiasm turns into violence

This mania for football in the country of the three-time world champion, however, also has a dark side. Again and again we hear about the passion the fans feel for their club erupting in violence. Most of the people watching the matches are of course peace-loving, but the number of acts of violence is on the up and up. According to statistics from the Zentralen Informationsstelle für Sporteinsätze (Central Information Agency for Sporting Events), an organisation that works under the auspices of the North-Rhine Westphalian police, there were just under 1,700 cases of assault and battery in the 2012/13 season. Five years before it was only around 1,200. On a national level about 10,000 people have been registered who have been assessed as “potentially violent” or “looking for violence”.

If these figures are observed in relation to the number of people watching the matches in the stadiums, it becomes quite clear that these outbreaks of violence are in fact quite rare. With a total of about 18.2 million fans pouring into the stadiums of Germany’s first and second division clubs in the 2012/13 season, the percentage of those who turned violent was a mere 0.009. In the opinion of sports sociologist, Gunter A. Pilz, these are almost “heavenly conditions”. These days many fans consider themselves to be “Ultras”, true football fans who adhere to the kind of football euphoria found in the countries of southern Europe, says the expert in sport-related social work. He continued that the potential for violence was not to be compared with that of the 1980s and 1990s when aggressive hooligans set the trend all over Europe. 

A national security concept and preventive fan coaching

This culminated sadly in the tragedy at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels in 1985, when FC Liverpool were playing Juventus Turin in the final of the European Cup. Mass panic broke out and 39 people died in a stampede that was triggered by the British hooligans. In Germany it took another six years for politicians and the DFB to realise that they could no longer play down the danger of fan violence. In March 1991 hundreds of fans of Dynamo Dresden went on such a rampage in the European Cup game against Red Star Belgrade that the police had to intervene and the game had to be called off. This led to the Interior Ministers of Germany’s 16 federal states bringing forward the Nationale Konzept Sport und Sicherheit/NKSS (National Plan for Sport and Security) in 1993. For the first time this set out guidelines for preventive social work among the fans.

This social work focuses on fan projects whose costs are born by the youth welfare authorities of the towns and communities and whose “scene-related, socio-educational approach” distinguishes them from other institutions. The financing does not come from the clubs, but from the governments of the federal states, municipal authorities and the DFB, whereby the municipal authorities have to provide a  minimum of 60,000 euros per year. The DFB then follows suit with the same amount. The professional clubs, right down to the third division, are obliged to appoint a fan-representative as a contact person.

Preventing right-wing extremist infiltration

In the meantime Germany has 49 fan projects; there is even one in Cottbus in the state of Brandenburg where FC Energie Cottbus has just been relegated to the third division. The emphasis of this project that has been sponsored to the tune of about 200,000 euros is on “outreach social work”, meaning that the three-strong team go out and try to motivate teenage football fans to take part in a diversified range of leisure activities away from the stadium. One of the social workers, Sven Graupner , said that the work they had done over the last 15 years had really been worthwhile. The number of acts of physical violence in and around the football games had clearly decreased. The main problem was much more the “latent racism” that pervaded all fan groups. “The democratic understanding among some of the fans is not particularly well developed,” according to Graupner. In order to prevent right-wing extremists from infiltrating the stands, Cottbus has also started a campaign for the “political education” of the fans.   

Michael Gabriel, longstanding manager of the Koordinationsstelle Fanprojekte (Fan-Projects Coordination Office), praises the intensive “work in human relations” that is done in the various individual projects every day. “It really does me good to be working with so many committed people”, says Gabriel. Gunter A. Pilz also thinks that the fan projects are “indispensable”. They will, however, have to be financed in a better way. “If 3,000 policemen cannot solve the problem, how on earth can one or two social workers manage it?” The renowned fan researcher went on to say that it was above all the task of the politicians because the causes of this violence were not to be found in football, but in the social milieu of the fans. The everyday lives of young people have to be led in such a way that “they feel at ease with them”.