The German national team were welcomed to Wolfsburg for Wednesday's friendly against Serbia by dozens of banners criticizing the football association (DFB). Fans of local side VfL Wolfsburg have claimed responsibility.
It's an age-old debate among football supporters: what's more important, club or country?
Ahead of Germany's international friendly against Serbia in Wolfsburg on Wednesday, supporters of local Bundesliga side VfL Wolfsburg have made their position quite clear, hanging around 40 banners around the northern German city.
"Love your club instead of international hype!" read one banner hung from a road bridge overnight, while others displayed around the city, including at VfL Wolfsburg's former Elsterweg stadium, featured rather less polite messages aimed at the German football association (DFB).
"We would like to take this opportunity to highlight once again the criticisms and demands made by German fan groups regarding the DFB," read a statement from Nordkurve Wolfsburg, a coalition of Wolfsburg fan groups including the club's hardcore ultras, claiming responsibility for the banners.
The statement went on to list a number of grievances which have regularly been aired by German football supporters at Bundesliga matches over the past two seasons, including: kick-off times, the retention of the 50+1 rule, collective punishments, fan materials, VAR and greater transparency in decision-making.
"The DFB, the DFL [German Football league] and the clubs finally need to start communicating with us openly and frequently on supporter-related issues," continued the statement, demanding publication of voting behavior at federation meetings. "This is the only way to construct an informed opinion within the clubs."
"It's only just begun"
In February 2019, the Fanszenen Deutschlands, a national coalition of active German supporter groups, including many high-profile ultra groups, announced that "It's only just begun!", referring to the wave of protests which has swept across German football since Dynamo Dresden supporters "declared war on the DFB" during a controversial fan march in Karlsruhe in May 2017.
In September 2018, official talks between the DFB and the Fanszenen Deutschlands broke down, with fan representatives describing the DFB's approach as "ignorant, arrogant and unprofessional." Two months later, fans celebrated an initial success when the DFL confirmed that unpopular Monday night fixtures were to be abolished – but trust has been damaged and the protests have since continued anyway.
Emails seen by German news magazine Spiegel revealed that the DFB had moved Germany's friendly against Peru in September from Frankfurt to rural Hoffenheim due to concerns that protests by hardcore Eintracht Frankfurt ultras could damage Germany's bid to host the 2024 European Championships.
"The risk of us experiencing a disaster which could have a negative effect on the awarding of the Euros is too high," read a leaked email from DFB president Reinhard Grindel, who has since been elected to FIFA Executive Committee. "The Frankfurt ultra scene is far too unpredictable.”
Reconnecting with fans
It is unlikely that any Wolfsburg ultras will attend the friendly against Serbia, for which tickets were still available on the day of the game. Germany's last two home games against Russia in Leipzig and the Netherlands in Gelsenkirchen also failed to sell out, attracting crowds of 35,288 and 42,186 respectively.
As part of its detailed investigation into Germany's failure at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the DFB announced measures to rebuild the national team's relationship with fans and address the diminishing support for team, including the introduction of cheaper tickets starting at just €15 – although these won't be available until the Euro 2020 qualifier against Estonia in Mainz in June.
With a new generation of German players taking center stage following the demission of veterans Thomas Müller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, Germany are looking to launch a new chapter on the pitch – but the DFB has work to do off it, as well.