A "friendly" weekend soccer match between Germany and Slovenia quickly turned sour as before, during and after the game, German fans participated in racist violence, prompting fears of a revival of hooliganism.
The German soccer association, DFB, was quick to apologize to Slovenia for the German fans who smashed the windows of cars and shops, shouted racist slogans, and got into fist fights with police and locals in the Slovenian city of Celje, but the damage was already done.
The images of German hooligans running riot brought back memories of violent scenes during the 1980s and 1990s. During the 1998 World Cup in France, for example, German hooligans beat up a French policeman, leaving him with permanent brain damage.
A Belgian riot police clubs an English soccer fan in the center of Charleroi on June 17, 2000, following clashes between German and English hooligans ahead of the EURO 2000 soccer match England versus Germany.
The violence in Celje over the weekend was the worst outbreak of German hooliganism since the 2000 European championships, when England played Germany in Charleroi, Belgium. And, 14 months before Germany plays host to the 2006 World Cup, it has forced the issue of how to clamp down on fan violence back into the headlines.
Shock and shame
Everyone in the German soccer world, from the head of the World Cup organizing committee, Franz Beckenbauer, to DFB President Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, to German national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann, has proclaimed their shock and shame at what happened in Slovenia.
"It's our shame," said Mayer-Vorfelder, who was also attacked as he left the stadium following the German team's 1-0 victory. "It's a very, very sad matter."
"As hosts of the World Cup, this has cast us in a bad light," said Klinsmann. "It's a shame that a few rioters were able to use an international match as a platform for their mindless and dangerous actions."
German officials said they were aware that between 200 and 250 known troublemakers were in Celje and had warned local authorities.
"The cooperation between German and Slovenian authorities clearly didn't work well," said Beckenbauer. "I'm sure German security officials warned the Slovenians about the troublemakers. They must have thought things wouldn’t be so bad."
In total, police in Slovenia arrested 52 hooligans, 40 of whom were Germans.
Efforts largely successful
German efforts to get tough on soccer hooligans have largely been effective in recent years. Typically, when there's reason to suspect violence will erupt, German police bar fans with violent records from leaving the country. Known hooligans are obliged to check in with their local police every day during an event such as the European Championships and are given special stamps in their passports. Additionally, the DFB uses a screening process when selling tickets to German fans.
The match in Slovenia, however, was not sold out, meaning that German fans not screened by the DFB were able to buy tickets the day of the game in Celje, German officials said.