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Hamburg given green light to use 'legal pyro'

February 4, 2020

German football fans are well-known for eye-catching in-stadium displays which often involve illegal pyrotechnics. Now, for the first time, the German FA has granted permission for a 'legal' pyro show.

Bundesliga - Eintracht Frankfurt vs Hamburger SV HSV Fans
Image: Reuters/K. Pfaffenbach

In a first for German football, when Hamburg face Karlsruhe in Bundesliga 2 on Saturday, home supporters will be allowed to use pyrotechnics legally and in a controlled environment.

The German Football Association (DFB)'s "Prevention, Security and Football Culture" commission has officially given HSV permission to set off ten smoke bombs behind the goal at the Volksparkstadion in the area between the terrace and the pitch as the teams walk out.

The one-off pyrotechnic show will be carried out by selected supporters but will be supervised throughout by a pyrotechnics expert. The fire brigade will also be on hand with fire extinguishers and buckets of sand.

The experiment is a first in professional football in Germany and comes at a time when supporters and authorities have never been more deeply entrenched in the debate over pyrotechnics. Last season, Bundesliga clubs were ordered to pay a combined total of €1,056,525 ($1,166,926) in fines for their fans' use of flares, smoke bombs and fireworks.

But the worst offenders were second-division Hamburg who were fined a total of €294,000, including €150,000 for their fans' conduct in a derby away at local rivals FC St. Pauli. At this season's Hamburg derby, HSV and St Pauli were fined €120,000 and €200,000 respectively after both sets of fans again ignited huge amounts of pyrotechnics, but the fines have since been reduced to €90,000 and €140,000.

- Read more: Politics, protests and pyro: The Bundesliga off the pitch in 2020

Fußball 2. Bundesliga | FC St. Pauli v Hamburger SV
HSV fans made their presence felt away at local rivals St. Pauli. Image: Getty Images/Bongarts/O. Hardt

Despite the financial cost, HSV chairman Bernd Hoffmann has long been an advocate of finding a workable solution for supporters, who consider pyrotechnics an integral part of their fan culture, and for the authorities, who maintain that flares are illegal and dangerous. "It cannot be that something which is commonplace at every music concert is then not allowed at football," said the 56-year-old at HSV's most recent AGM.

Flares, known as Bengalos in German, burn at up to 2,500 degrees Celsius (4,532 degrees Fahrenheit), but injuries are rare. Indeed, police figures regularly show that more people are hurt in football stadiums by officers' use of pepper spray than by pyrotechnics.

In summer 2019, Bundesliga side Werder Bremen tested so-called "cold pyro," developed in Denmark, in the presence of security teams and fire service. The tests failed after it was found that the flares emitted noxious gasses and still burned at between 300 and 500 degrees Celsius, depending on color.

Saturday's test in Hamburg, which could yet be called off if weather conditions are deemed unsuitable, will use regular smoke bombs and will reportedly involve members of HSV's active fan scene. The DFB has also signalled that further exemptions could be authorized "for offical firework shows and similar events which are carried out by specialists."

However, it remains to be seen whether "legal" pyrotechnics, whether "cold" or "controlled," will be accepted by German fans in the long-term.