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German football club suffering from right wing links

February 21, 2024

As the protests in Germany against the far right grow, so too does the importance of the role played by football clubs. Fourth-tier side Alemannia Aachen remain at the epicenter of an ongoing debate.

, Tivoli Stadion
Alemannia Aachen are showing how important the role played by football clubs is in the current political climate.Image: Fotografie73/IMAGO

As mass demonstrations took place across Germany in protest against the rising far right, many football clubs rallied fans to take to the streets.

Alemannia Aachen, a club in the fourth division of German football, responded differently. "We're obviously against all forms of hate, incitement and extremism," their social media post read. The club would not participate in any demonstrations that "divide society," it said.

The club later apologized for the "questionably phrased" post and promised to conduct an internal investigation. But that didn't stop right-wing social media accounts celebrating the statement, including those of the far-right, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Aachen later distanced itself from the party and rejected any attempts to use it to promote the party's views.

Far-right presence at games

Alemannia Aachen are under a microscope, as experts believe the club's support is a hotbed for far-right extremism, with a violent element of its support using games to recruit new members.

According to research by the left-wing platform "Rechercheplattform zur Identitären Bewegung," which looks into connections between local institutions in Germany and the far right, Alemannia officials were seen on Instagram posts of some of the club's right-wing organized supporters in the context of their charity work. German public broadcaster WDR also reported the existence of such connections.

However, the club has shown it stands for German society's democratic values, such as commemorating Alemannia's Jewish footballers murdered in the Holocaust.

Such decisions are unlikely to deter the club's far-right-leaning fans, though, as they remain an influential element of Alemannia's organized support, sources familiar with the situation tell DW.

"Two years ago, a known right-wing hooligan group called Boxstaffel 520 was founded, and they created networks within the fans' structures," they told DW confidentially to protect their identity.

The sources said that the club's leadership was seen on social media posts uploaded by one of the hooligan group's members.

"They know who he is and don't want to anger him or his group."

A protest against the far right in Bremen, Germany
Mass protests against the far right took place across GermanyImage: Focke Strangmann/dpa/picture alliance

In addition to being present at the club's games, the sources said far-right hooligans are also using their position to recruit new members and have even been known to give lectures about the hooligan culture.

"They show themselves as strong, and they use this terrace to recruit new members as, for some people, it seems cool to be part of it."

Asked by DW, the club denied it has contacts with right-wing extremists.

In regards to the research by local groups, Alemannia said they believe those at the center of the research no longer hold right-wing extremist views.

"Should we become aware that any of our cooperation partners have right-wing extremist ideas, the cooperation would be stopped immediately."

Alemannia Aachen's Tivoli stadium
Alemannia Aachen's Tivoli stadium has long been a recruitment field for the far rightImage: Fotografie73/IMAGO

Alemannia Aachen's long struggle with far-right connections

This is not the first time Alemannia Aachen have had issues with right-wing views.

Up until the 1990s, their hooligans were known to belong to the far right. One of them, Sascha Wagner, is an active member of the Neonazi Die Heimat party to this day.

Twelve years ago, a battle between two fan groups occurred on Alemannia's terraces. Ultra group Karlsbande, considered to be open to right-wing views, and Aachen Ultras (ACU), a group that held clear anti-racist views, endured a long and violent clash, with the latter eventually dissolving.

This left Alemannia's stands in the hands of the Karlsbande group. The club initially banned any of the group's symbolism due to their acceptance of right-wing views, but after a protest, the ban was later removed. The group is currently allowed to display flags and banners at home games.

The left-wing group Aachen Ultras no longer attends club matches, but Alemannia says that while it is aware of the clashes that took place 12 years ago, fan groups are currently cooperating with each other. 

"As the club management and executive board, we are in contact with almost all fan groups, which certainly helps to ensure that such incidents are a thing of the past," a spokesperson told DW.

Politicians criticize club, demand action.

Local politicians have long demanded that Alemannia does more to combat right-wing extremism.

Ye-One Rhie is a Bundestag member of the social-democratic SPD party. The Aachen native says that both the club and local politicians missed a chance to take a stand 12 years ago.

"We've seen the club trying to become active through banning orders, maybe not in the past two or three years, but before that," she tells DW.

"Whether that's good or bad is up for discussion, but at least you felt someone takes responsibility."

Rhie, an Alemannia fan herself, can't hide from the divide. "I see two groups. One is demanding that the club takes a clear position. The other says it's good that the club stays away from 'politics,' mostly due to discontent and frustration with the current political climate in Germany."

Meanwhile, the club currently leads the Regionalliga West and could secure promotion back to Germany's third division, which could be one step toward a more concrete solution. "I don't only wish Alemannia gets promoted because I'm a fan, but also because it would mean more budget and support for the club from the German Football Association (DFB)," says Rhie.

Aachen will remain at the epicenter of the ongoing debate, but as they continue to take a stand against racism, their actions underline how important the role played by football clubs is in the current political climate.

Edited by: James Thorogood