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Opinion: Stop blaming Cologne fans for others' mistakes

Felix Tamsut Kommentarbild
Felix Tamsut
September 15, 2017

The unrest at the turnstiles and the delayed kickoff in London as FC Cologne returned to European football quickly turned the Billy Goats' fans into media scapegoats. DW's Felix Tamsut says this ire is largely misplaced.

UEFA Europa League | Arsenal London vs  1. FC Köln
The game eventually went ahead, with far more Cologne fans in the stands than theoretically sanctionedImage: REUTERS/D. Klein

Many, not least the British press, have cried foul at FC Köln fans' behavior as they traveled to London for their Europa League game against Arsenal.

The number of fans thought to have made the pilgrimage was reportedly seven times bigger than the official away allocation Arsenal provided - a meager 2,900 places in a stadium that seats just over 60,000. Many had traveled without tickets, as is often the case with away fans in high-profile matches.

Felix Tamsut, portrait photo
DW's Felix Tamsut lives in Cologne

Just how much this game meant to the Cologne faithful was German football's worst-kept secret of recent weeks. A quick search on social media was all it took for anyone to see the excitement in the buildup to the match, and local media reported about the staggering amount of people who planned to visit London for FC Köln's first European match in 25 years. In the end, they reportedly numbered approximately 20,000.

Then came the match day, and - just as expected - "Kölner" trawled the streets of the British capital in massive numbers. Their cheerful spirit and loud singing was celebrated for the most part during the day on social media. "Looks like there's going to be some atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium tonight," said one user. (Arsenal's expensive tickets and the muted nature of supporters who can actually pay these prices are both renowned in the UK.)

Köln fans everywhere, Arsenal's - nowhere

When the inevitable crush came at the turnstiles, kick off had to be postponed by an hour "for crowd safety reasons," as Arsenal announced. Some fans who traveled without tickets reportedly tried to force their way in, with some videos floating on social media showing FC supporters throwing barriers and acting violently, after they had waited on a bridge close to the ground for a lengthy period of time.

When supporters were finally allowed into the ground, segregation became an issue. (England's rules on this are rather stricter than Germany's given its more troubled history of football violence.) But still, away fans trying to get into the home end is hardly a new phenomenon, unheard of in the football world. Then remember that this was Cologne's first European match in a quarter of a century, while Arsenal fans, used to reaching the Champions League every year, have shown little appetite for Europa League tickets. Perhaps the scenes outside played a role in this, prompting some Arsenal fans to stay home or to go home, but plenty of seats in their sections were never filled when the game finally began.

Fußball UEFA Europa League Arsenal - 1. FC Köln
Some Cologne fans brought flares, prompting the Daily Mail to run the headline 'Fire and fear'Image: Reuters/Action Images/J. Sibley

The images from outside the Emirates Stadium on Thursday were worrying by any standard, but the question of where responsibility lies is too rarely asked in cases like these. One of the main features of democratic society is the fact those in charge should answer to the people, not the other way round. They're the ones paid by the public to keep them safe, and to make events like those at the Emirates as unlikely as possible. Given all the early warning signs, that simply wasn't the case here.

Poor organization

Football fans are often being blamed for their behavior and, granted, some Cologne fans were bang out of order and should have been handled by the authorities accordingly. But that same standard should apply to the entire situation. Both Arsenal and the local police seemed to just hope the issue would resolve itself; that 20,000 people would somehow fit into a stand with a capacity of 2,900, despite FC Köln's request for more tickets and the ease with which its fans could later get hold of ones meant for Arsenal supporters. Surely this also contributed to the chaos outside the ground? 

The authorities' job and main responsibility is to keep us all safe; to make sure that everyone - football fans, music lovers or others - are able enjoy an evening out in public and get home safely. And while unruly fans - or indeed, people - should be dealt with in accordance with the law, those who are in charge of keeping order and enforcing that same law should be questioned just as much as the fans after tonight's events, if not more. After all, it's their job.

Felix Tamsut Kommentarbild
Felix Tamsut Sports reporter@ftamsut