After the violent scenes witnessed in Nice and Marseille recently in games involving Köln and Eintracht Frankfurt, as well as the incident that stopped Union Berlin’s match with Malmö, does Germany have a new hooligan problem in European football?
When Köln travelled to Nice in the South of France for their opening fixture in this season’s Europa League they took thousands of fans with them and the start of the game was marred by violent scenes both inside the stadium and outside. The Champions League game between Olympique Marseille and Frankfurt also saw serious crown disturbances inside the Stade Velodrome with fireworks being fired directly at fans.
Union Berlin then saw their recent Europa League match in Sweden against Malmö temporarily suspended and the players taken off after incidents involving offensive banners and fireworks being fired into fan blocks. These are not isolated incidents and with Köln set to travel to Belgrade on Thursday, further incidents of fan disruption cannot be ruled out.
To say that Germany has a ‘new’ problem is not the case. This is an on-going issue with ‘minority’ sections of Ultras magnified this season by incidents in France, which itself has some serious issues with fan behaviour. The fact that Köln fans travelled to Nice in numbers well in excess of the number of tickets they were allocated is an issue and a similar problem occurred the last time they were in Europe and faced Arsenal in London.
However, there is clear evidence that the incident outside the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice was sparked by Köln fans being attacked and that there was a notable presence of PSG ultras from the Supras Auteuil looking to provoke the Nice fans. Rumours of a stabbing outside the stadium filtered into the stadium and sparked the fan unrest that was portrayed on TV and in social media posts.
What was not as apparent from the pictures was the attempt by Köln fans once the match had started to unmask the Ultras and chants they weren’t the real Köln fans rang out. The wisdom of Nice increasing the UEFA allocation of 1750 tickets to Köln to 8000 also needs questioning.
Köln CEO Christian Keller insisted that the club had warned the French authorities that a “much greater police presence would have been appropriate,” but that his warnings “were not taken seriously or acted upon.”
He added: “It was known that there are rival fan groups and it was known that the banned PSG group would probably come and that they have problems with Nice. But our suggestions were generally dismissed.”
In Marseille it appears that the firing of flares and fireworks began with home fans aiming them into the visitors block and Frankfurt fans were just ‘responding in kind’. That this is no excuse is clear, but it does indicate a level of provocation.
The trouble seen at the Malmö game with Union saw the game almost called off as rockets and flares were exchanged between the away end and the home fans. Who started it won’t be easy to ascertain, but the question remains over security and how these pyrotechnics are making their way into the stadia.
All the above incidents could be avoided with proper policing and security, but it seems that is lacking in so many of these occasions. The Champions League final debacle in Paris just highlights the ineptitude of the organisation for some of UEFA’s biggest events.
The German clubs involved have been very quick to distance themselves from such behaviour and warned that bans will follow for any fans identified as being involved. Blanket punishments or being forced to play behind closed doors in a way punishes the wrong people.
The three matches that have made the headlines do no favours to the image of German football, but they are a minority and factors such as outside influences (PSG ultras) and poor security have magnified them. Domestically the authorities get so much right to make the Bundesliga matchday experience a good one. Something however is going wrong on the European stage and it needs to be rectified.