The arrival of RB Leipzig to the Borussia Park on Saturday was never going to see the Fohlen fans welcome the Saxony side with open arms. The return of their former coach Marco Rose and the news that ex-sporting director Max Eberl will be taking over at the Red Bull Arena was always going to produce a reaction, but to some including the referee, the protest went too far.
The whistles and boos for Rose were one thing but referee Patrick Ittrich decided that a banner unfurled behind the goal aimed at Eberl and RB Leipzig was unacceptable and asked the stadium announcer to warn the fans that the game could be stopped if the offending banner wasn’t removed.
So, what caused the offence?
The banner read ‘A son of a bitch club only hires sons of bitches.’ Ittrich actually had little authority to warn of sanctions according to FIFA’s three-step protocol. Discriminatory behaviour includes discrimination “on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, language, religion, political opinion.’
The term ‘Hurensohn’ while not a compliment, is by no means the worst insult in Germany, but Ittrich took the decision the react. “I have a relatively short leash on banners where insults and abuse can be seen,” he explained to Sky after the game and called for subsequent consequences: “This legal vacuum, both on the Internet and in the stadium, must be stopped and there must be clear action must also be taken.
“I think we have to take relatively clear action against such things, because there are children in the stadium and people who want to watch football. And using this area of football to trumpet his disdainful statements, that has to stop.”
Other banners unveiled read, ‘Months of playing poker with a construct without a soul – Max Eberl, your change of heart makes us sick’ and ‘Nobody here will ever forget where we come from – and where you want to go, you characterless asshole.’
This is not the first time Borussia Mönchengladbach fans have come under the spotlight for their protests. Back in February 2020 their home match with Hoffenheim was stopped by referee Felix Brych when banners appeared insulting TSG owner Dietmar Hopp. Again, the term ‘Hurensohn’ appeared, but the main offending article was a banner showing Hopp’s face in a gun’s crosshairs (particularly offensive in light of an earlier real-life shooting in Hanau, where eleven people were killed).
What does legitimate fan protest allow, and what cannot be tolerated inside a Bundesliga stadium is a question that people need to seriously consider? Discrimination is one thing, but simply being unpleasant to another person is another. While not defending the actions of the Gladbach Ultras, there is a fine line to be trodden between free speech and stamping out discrimination.