After official talks between the German Football Association and a national coalition of fan groups broke down, two of the supporters involved have criticized the DFB's approach in an interview with a BVB fanzine.
The German Football Association (DFB) and German Football League (DFL) have been accused of ignorance, arrogance, disinterest, poor communication and a lack of organization in their official talks with football supporters, which broke down last month.
After a year of fan protests in German football against the perceived over-commercialization of the game, kicked off by a dramatic "declaration of war" by Dynamo Dresden supporters in Karlsruhe last May, the DFB agreed to enter into a dialogue with the Fanszenen Deutschlands, a national coalition of fan groups. But discussions broke down after just two meetings with supporters unconvinced about the associations' willingness to act.
Now, in an interview with independent Borussia Dortmund fanzine Schwatzgelb, two BVB supporters who were involved in the talks have described how the discussions were arranged, what they entailed and what was achieved — or rather not achieved.
"Publicly, they say they're open to discussions but ultimately they just string you along and don't have any interest in actually discussing any topics," said Christian, a member of the The Unity, the largest ultra group on Dortmund's Südtribüne.
"The talks were very bureaucratic with a list of speakers who needed to register before being called up to speak," said Nicolai, also a member of The Unity and contributor to Schwatzgelb, adding that half of the time in two meetings in Frankfurt and Cologne was swallowed up by lengthy introductory speeches by DFB President Reinhard Grindel and DFL President Reinhard Rauball.
Out of touch: supporters have been critical of DFB bosses Reinhard Grindel (l) and Reinhard Rauball (r)
'Far removed from the grassroots'
"You have the press officer who doesn't say a word for four hours, social workers who don't contribute anything and Herr Grindel sits around playing on his phone while you speak to him. It's nothing like a normal conversation. You end up asking yourself: 'Why am I still here? Why don't I just go home?' It was anything but satisfactory."
Initial contact came when representatives of over 30 fan groups from across the country unexpectedly attended a meeting between the DFB and Dynamo Dresden ultras in July 2017, initially intended to discuss the incidents in Karlsruhe and attended by DFB vice-president Rainer Koch and security chief Hendrik Große-Lefert. Instead, the fans listed all the issues they wanted to talk about.
"It wasn't really a discussion," the fans admit. "We used the meeting to list every single issue because we would otherwise never have had the chance. Koch was utterly ignorant and arrogant — he is so far removed from the grassroots."
Additional meetings were subsequently arranged in Frankfurt and Cologne, but the supporters say even setting these dates proved difficult.
"Unless you repeat your request, you don't get a response," they recall. "The DFB isn't particularly well-structured. You send an email to Grindel, Koch and Große-Lefert and then it goes to however many sub-divisions and information trickles away.
"We're doing all this voluntarily, producing concepts in our spare time and then we don't hear anything for three months from a full-time organization. It's not a good sign; it's unprofessional."
When the associations did respond with a presentation of their own, the supporters say it was full of "nothing topics and platitudes" which "led to considerable irritation," while the presentation itself was sloppily put together.
"The content and the editing was weak and the lay-out was a catastrophe with figures not even in the right places," they remember. "When we enter a dialogue respectfully and on an equal footing, we at least expect a similarly detailed approach from the opposite side. But we didn't get the impression Herr Koch, Herr Grindel, Herr Rauball or Herr Seifert had even seen our presentation."
When approached for comment by DW, the DFB referred to a statement released jointly with the DFL last week, in which they expressed their "regret" at the supporters’ decision to withdraw from talks, "especially given that the intensive and critical exchanges last winter had been considered open and constructive."
"The DFB and the DFL remain open to an exchange of opinions and ideas with supporter groups," the statement continued. "However, any exchange must be objective and fact-based. Generalized accusations against the federations or individuals are not productive."
When the new season got underway last month with the first round of the German Cup, supporters across the country addressed the DFB with banners reading: "You will hear from us!" But the Borussia Dortmund supporters wouldn't be drawn on what form that communication will take.
"We all have jobs and we all have private lives," they said. "We want to change things but the form of dialogue has to change. We're definitely flexible and creative."
The interview was conducted by Borussia Dortmund fanzine Schwatzgelb and can read in full (in German) at www.schwatzgelb.de