Football fans, Leipzig style | Bundesliga | DW | 03.12.2016
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Bundesliga

Football fans, Leipzig style

In a sporting culture that's all about tradition, RB Leipzig have managed to create a growing and passionate fan base. Fans of the city's other clubs, however, are less than approving, says DW's Felix Tamsut.

Germany is a country of tradition and its national sport is no different. Clubs can win titles and get relegated but it's all just another part of the club's history and of the identity of each individual supporter. According to many football fans across Germany, this status quo is being threatened by one club, backed by an Austrian energy drink giant.

But as RB Leipzig notch up their eighth straight win with a victory over previously-resurgent Schalke, it's difficult to find anything that goes against the grain at the Red Bull Arena. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It feels like what it is, a legitimate Bundesliga ground, full of passionate, loud fans that are there to back their team. But outside the stadium walls, the differences can be quite profound.

'Everyone has clubs they don't like'

Blogger and RB fan Matthias Kiessling says the club's support has increased partly through word of mouth. "After our first DFB Pokal match (a 3-2 win over Wolfsburg in July 2011), people who attended told their friends how good was the match and how loud the fans were."

Attendance numbers at the ground have grown as the club rose through the ranks, with more and more Leipzigers attending home and away matches on a regular basis. Nowadays, the club averages just short of 42,000 spectators per match. They even surpassed that number against Schalke.

But it wasn't always this glamorous for Leipzig. The club played in Germany's regional leagues for three years before its first promotion and Kießling argues that helped build a fanbase that knows more than just success. “Our community was built in the fourth league," he says.

But what do the RB fans think about the fact they're arguably Germany's most hated club nowadays? Kiessling doesn't think the protests are affecting Leipzig fans, but says he can "understand" the anger. "But when it comes to the facts, there's always the counter argument," he points out. "It's hard for me to understand how people from Schalke, who get their money from Gazprom, blame RB for destroying football."

In the battle on the pitch, young, vibrant money beat the old, traditional values. Again.

A city's football culture at stake

Leipzig's other clubs have a different perspective on the newcomers. Leipziger and Chemie Leipzig fan Yuval Rubovitch tells of a fierce rivalry between his club and Lok, the city's 'traditional' clubs. "It even involved violence at times," he says.

Fußball Bundesliga FC Schalke 04 - RB Leipzig

RB Leipzig secured a 2-1 win over Schalke

So what makes an average RB Leipzig fan? The city's population is relatively young, and made up of many young families who move from other towns in the region.

"These are people that had no other team to support, Kiessling says. "And that's exactly the demographic that RB Leipzig seem to be popular in. The other aspect of it, says Rubovitch, is the fact that the city's other clubs sometimes made the wrong type of headlines, while "you can safely take kids to an RB Leipzig match." 

Despite a lack of recent top flight success in the east of Germany, Leipzig's other clubs still don't see RB as the area's dominant force according to Rubovitch. "You won't see any RBL stickers, even though they technically have more fans," he says. He admits that's changing "but don't expect to see kids playing football on the streets wearing a RB Leipzig shirt."

Can Leipzig pull it off?

So what's it going to be for RB Leipzig come the end of the season? The club’s sensational, unbeaten start has caught Germany off guard, but, even after Saturday's result, are the fans really dreaming of the title? "Nobody expected us to have 33 points at this stage, so we'll see," says Kiessling. 

Leipzig’s league position is drawing comparisons to Leicester City, who won the English Premier League last season against all expectations and to the Kaiserslautern side of 97/98, who won the Bundesliga the season after they got promoted. "I would lie if I’d say I don't have it in mind, but it’s not very probable," Kießling says. 

One thing both the haters and the fans would agree on is the fact that an RB Leipzig title win could well provide a positive source of identification for the city and a region that suffers from a poor image in the eyes of many Germans. Some of the RB Leipzig fans even use it as an excuse for their support for the club, mockingly dismissing the growing criticism against Red Bull’s involvement in the club: "So the west Germans hate us again. What's new?"

They'll hate Leipzig even more after this performance, yet another that only goes to show what every Bundesliga fan truly already knows: RB Leipzig are here to stay.

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