The silent 12:12 protests at this weekend's Bundesliga matches were about more than just a few DFL safety measures. They were about preserving what many say makes the Bundesliga the envy of Europe - its fan culture.
For two match days now, Germany's soccer fans have created an eerie new sensation at Bundesliga stadiums across the country. The first 12 minutes and 12 seconds of most of this week's games were played out in front of tens of thousands of near-silent supporters, in protest at a catalogue of new security proposals made by the German Football League (DFL) authorities.
The demonstrations had an unnerving effect on the pitch, as the players suddenly heard their calls to each other and the smack of boot on ball echoed around the stands. "I found it horrible and strange," said Frankfurt coach Armin Veh after his side's clash with Mainz on Tuesday. His captain Pirmin Schwegler added, "The first 12 minutes didn't have that Bundesliga feeling at all."
"There's no question that it's no fun," said Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel. "The fans' support is part of it. It's really odd when you can hear it buzzing and humming, and you know the place is full, but no one is saying anything."
Body searches, no fireworks
The players will have to endure it for one more match before the protest is to end on December 12, when the clubs are due to sign off on the DFL's new measures. The proposals that stick in the fans' throats most include reducing the away-support ticket allocation from 10 percent of all tickets to five percent, a ban on away support standing areas, a ban on flares and fireworks in the stadium, and full body scans for all fans.
After two days of protests largely observed by "ordinary" fans as well as "ultras," the fan organizations say the DFL is now forced to make a decision.
"Basically it's now up to the DFL to say, 'we see that everyone is against it, so we're going to reach out again for dialogue.' " said Philipp Markhardt, spokesman for the 12:12 protest initiative and supporter organization Pro Fans. "This plan would put a deep divide between the fans and the DFL."
Some clubs have also expressed their concerns about the new plans. But Hannover President Martin Kind also urged fans to read the proposals, which were published on the Bundesliga's website on Thursday, and re-consider them. After all, he argued, they had been drawn up with the interests and safety of fans in mind.
But for the fans, this misses the essential point - they suspect the new report is the result of political pressure fuelled by media reports that demonize football fans as "ultras" and "hooligans." In an interview with football magazine Kicker, Thomas Weinmann, fan representative at Borussia Mönchengladbach, was at pains to make clear that, as far as he was concerned, there had been an "extreme reduction in violence" in the past few years.
"Today, a football game is a family event," he said. "Children come to the stadium, the proportion of women is often a third. The atmosphere in the stadiums is great, and mainly peaceful … I don't see a 'spiral of violence.' "
Still, that image is at odds with reports like those that appeared after Friday night's game between Fortuna Düsseldorf and Eintracht Frankfurt, where 98 people were arrested during clashes between fans outside Fortuna's stadium. And yet an "I Feel Safe" campaign that started by fans in October, and has already gathered over 57,000 signatures in an effort to convince the authorities that football violence is not as big a deal as they think.
Keeping tickets cheap
And, the fans say, there is much to lose by the new measures. For Jan-Henrik Gruszecki, spokesman for the Dortmund fans organization, the new DFL measures will cause real harm, because they will erode that unique factor that makes the Bundesliga the envy of Europe. He argues that in a league where there are no foreign oligarch owners, fan culture has a privileged position and must be preserved.
Seifert said no one wants to take away the standing areas
"If away fans tickets are reduced, and if eventually they even get rid of standing areas, then we will have conditions like we had in the first 12 minutes today," Gruszecki told news agency DPA. "I don't think any player or official wants that."
Weinmann added that getting rid of standing areas "would be a disaster. Think of the example of England… It's about socially inclusive prices. Without standing areas certain social groups would be marginalized. If the prices are twice as high for a seat then a lot of people can't come."
But Bundesliga chief executive Christian Seifert warned fans - if some sort of compromise isn't reached, the politicians will step in. "There is a very real threat from politicians that if we do not solve the problems we have, they will require us to have only seats, no standing, which would have the potential that prices would rise," he said. In other words, the fans should accept this deal, or risk have a worse one imposed on them.
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