Eight months after violent protests resulted in the closure of the "Yellow Wall," RB Leipzig return to Dortmund. BVB fans will protest again but the authorities are confident that the match will pass off peacefully.
Borussia Dortmund supporters have announced a series of protests ahead of their club's Bundesliga fixture against RasenBallsport Leipzig on Saturday, including a pre-match march and a display of banners.
The last meeting of the teams, in February, was marred by ugly scenes outside Dortmund's Westfalenstadion as visiting RB Leipzig fans were bombarded with missiles on their way to the ground. Inside the stadium, fans on the famous "Yellow Wall" – Dortmund's 24,000-capacity south terrace – held up banners criticizing the Red Bull-backed club, which they consider to embody the perceived over-commercialization of German football.
"We reject Dietrich Mateschitz' project just as much as we did then," read a statement from the fan group Südtribüne Dortmund, an umbrella organization representing dozens of Dortmund fan clubs, referring to the billionaire owner of the Austrian energy drink manufacturer.
"'RasenBallsport' is an assault on everything which fascinates us about our sport. We will never accept a corporation exploiting football as a marketing platform for its product, despite attempts by German football and the media to ingratiate themselves and curry favor [with Red Bull]."
Calling on fans to march together to the stadium and again display banners on the south stand, the statement added: "Let us show what football means to us. Let us show that no money in the world can buy fanaticism, loyalty and an active fan culture."
Borussia Dortmund, the city's council and Dortmund police have announced measures to prevent the escalation of any protests and protect visiting fans, with "more than double" the 237 police officers who were on duty last season set to attend on Saturday.
According to RB Leipzig, only 3,000 fans are expected to travel from Saxony in contrast to the 8,000 who made the trip last season, despite an open invitation from the Mayor of Dortmund, Ullrich Sierau (SPD), to any RB fans who lodged legal complaints following the incidents in February. RB Leipzig has contracted a private security firm to protect their team bus.
"Our security concept on Saturday is aimed at protecting football fans from Leipzig and Dortmund from criminals and those intent on violence, and who don't deserve the title of 'fan,'" said Dortmund police chief Gregor Lange.
Visiting fans have also been sent police advice on how to behave when in Dortmund. As part of investigations into February's events, Dortmund police have analyzed around 170 hours of footage and have been able to identify 31 cases of criminal behavior, according to figures quoted by kicker magazine.
In their statement, Südtribüne Dortmund also criticized the "rarely seen media avalanche" which followed February's match and the "unprecedented punishment which led to the closure of the south stand."
The German Football Association (DFB) imposed a 100,000-euro fine on Borussia Dortmund and ordered the unprecedented closure of the south stand for one Bundesliga match – ostensibly due to the derogatory banners displayed inside the stadium, since events outside fall under police jurisdiction. Police found that only four out of 70 banners contained criminal content.
The decision was considered by many supporters to punish the innocent majority for the actions of a criminal minority and has fueled resentment towards the DFB and the German media. Both are considered to have facilitated the rise and acceptance of RasenBallsport Leipzig – founded in 2009 when Red Bull purchased the playing license of a fifth division team near Leipzig.
The Bundesliga's fourth most popular team?
A recent YouGov study showed that RB Leipzig are now the fourth most popular team in the Bundesliga, yet there is a large geographical discrepancy. While around 20 per cent of fans in Saxony and the former east German states name RB as their favorite Bundesliga team, that figure is around one per cent in western Germany. Reasons for this include the absence of a Bundesliga team from the former east since Energie Cottbus' relegation in 2009.
But for supporters who are growing increasingly disillusioned with developments in the modern game – unsociable kick-off times, expensive tickets, corrupt World Cup bids, soaring transfer fees, commercial club owners and a general "eventization" of the sport – the Red Bull franchise is anathema.
"We want to stop the Bundesliga from turning into a playground for investors who are more interested in maximizing profit than football," Jakob Scholz, a board member at Borussia Dortmund's 17,000-strong official membership club, told kicker this week. "We need to be critical of our own club in this regard as well, and we are."