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Fan behavior under fire

May 16, 2012

Defeated Hertha Berlin have protested the result of their relegation playoff with Fortuna Düsseldorf. Fans from both sides set parts of the pitch ablaze with flares and later invaded it before the final whistle.

Hertha Berlin's Andre Mijatovic (R) and Raffael react to flares thrown by their supporters onto the field
Image: Reuters

The German Football Association (DFB) has begun an investigation into incidents that occurred during the league relegation playoff match between hosts Fortuna Düsseldorf and Hertha Berlin on Tuesday.

"The DFB and the [Bundesliga] agree that such irresponsible and dangerous scenes that threaten peaceful fans are not to be tolerated and will be consequently dealt with by the DFB's sport court," the DFB said in a statement on its website Wednesday.

During the game, played to decide which team would remain in the top-flight Bundesliga and which would be sent down to the second league, flares and firecrackers were thrown on to the field by fans of both teams, causing short delays. Later, as the final minutes of extra time wound down, several hundred Düsseldorf fans stormed the pitch, causing a delay of over twenty minutes.

The fans were cleared from the pitch, and referee Wolfgang Stark was able to resume play after 20 minutes so the final 90 seconds could be played. The incident cast a dark shadow over Düsseldorf's return to the Bundesliga after a 15-season hiatus.

Hertha's veteran coach Otto Rehhagel, who has presided over more than 1,000 games as a player and staff member, said Tuesday's chaos was a new, distressing experience for him.

German riot policemen attack Fortuna Duesseldorf soccer fans with their dogs after the fans occupied the pitch
The second-half fireworks were followed by a premature pitch invasionImage: REUTERS

"The surrounding circumstances were of course a catastrophe," Rehhagel said, adding that fans were "assuming the right to interfere with matches" more and more often. "Obviously I am disappointed. We are all sportsmen and we want games to come to a fair conclusion - and for the fans to have their fun."

Hertha Berlin announced on Wednesday afternoon that they had filed an official protest against the final result, owing to the series of disruptions - the last of which was caused by home Fortuna Düsseldorf fans.

Not an isolated incident

It was the final, ugly scene in a German football season that has seen several cases of fans running onto the field, fireworks lit during matches, and violent behavior inside and outside of stadiums.

"In general, this season these instances have reached a point where new methods against violence surrounding football matches must be implemented," the DFB said.

The DFB said that during the off-season, it would work together with league officials as well as police, teams, justice and fan representatives to come up with a code of behavior that will define the interaction between the teams and the fans. This would also include working with law enforcement officials to come up with an effective course of action.

Bernhard Witthaut, head of the GdP union of police officers, said appeals for reason and understanding had no effect on fans, and the league must take further action.

"The DFB … must look into whether deducting points [in the official league table] can bring the fans under control," Witthaut said in a statement to the GdP's website. "Only when the fans see that their uncontrolled violent outbreaks could lead to a point deduction, and in the worst case a relegation, will the violence be able to be controlled."

Consequences probably pending

No action has been taken at this stage by the DFB or the Bundesliga, although if the past is any indication, Düsseldorf will likely be looking at a fine. At a match between Dynamo Dresden and Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup earlier this year, Dresden fans threw fireworks onto the field and were punished by being completely shut out of their team's next match. The match was played in front of an empty stadium.

Nuremburg had to pay 100,000 euros ($127,000) for a German Cup match that saw fans climb a fence and head in the direction of visiting fans of Greuther Fürth.

Cologne was fined 40,000 euros for six cases of fan misbehavior where fireworks were lit in the stands, and in some cases, thrown onto the field along with coins. In their final home game of the year - which saw them relegated to the second league - Cologne fans set off smoke bombs that filled one end of the stadium with black smoke. That incident is under investigation by the DFB. Several fines of under 10,000 euros were also levied this season by the DFB for teams whose fans lit fireworks and threw them or other objects onto the field.

A huge cloud of smoke over Cologne's Rhein-Energie Stadium after disgruntled fans threw smoke bombs
Unhappy Cologne fans made their stadium look like a warzone when the side was relegated in MayImage: picture alliance / M.i.S.-Sportpressefoto

Hertha Berlin has since filed a protest against of the result of Tuesday's match. A lawyer for the team, Christoph Schickhardt, said the Hertha players only returned to the pitch to keep a bad situation from becoming worse.

"The referee didn't call the team back on the field because of football," he said on German public broadcaster ARD's morning show on Wednesday, "It was a request of the police to avoid an escalation of the situation - a bloodbath was mentioned."

A joyous indiscretion?

On the same show, Düsseldorf sporting manager Wolf Werner said Schickhardt was exaggerating the situation.

Hertha players try to remove flares thrown onto the pitch by their supporters
Fans from both sides threw flares onto the pitch TuesdayImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"There wasn't a lack of security staff in the stadium," he said. "When the fans stormed the field, it wasn't about violence - it was about joy [because of the game's outcome]. That, of course, is not an excuse. I don't want the word 'violence' to be used in this context."

The disruptive behavior of fans did not end inside the stadium. A train reserved for Hertha fans returning to Berlin was severely damaged along the way. Around 750 fans were on board, and one of the train's cars had to be swapped out in Hanover on the way to Berlin. Several hundred police were waiting for the train to arrive at Berlin's main station, but a passenger pulled the emergency brake before the train reached the station. During the unplanned stop, the fans left the train and eluded police.

Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Mark Hallam

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