Editor Axel Falk discusses the perhaps the most polarized issue of German sports.
I've been feeling the tension for quite some time now, a growing feeling of misconduct from both me and my site for not bringing the subject up enough. This is a piece about the most polarized issue in the history of German sports, its traditionalism versus commercialism.
The two isms first clashed a sunny summer afternoon when Red Bull bought the rights of local Leipzig club SSV Markranstädt, a club in the fifth division of Kreisfussball in one of the worst integrated parts of Germany- Saxony. This is a part where fascists and their counterpart more or less roam free among the different fan groups of the many teams in the area. It's a place where hatred and an anti-establishmentism can grow without boundaries. Without fences, without punishment.
RB Leipzig is a direct consequence of this exact area and that exact mentality. They are the product of hatred and the product of a city whose only teams are known for being extremists in any direction. Lokomotiv Leipzig have a history of fascism and Chemie communism. If you are a normal football fan like myself, you'll probably look somewhere else in a desperate fight for political stability in your fandom. To be able to understand the commercial side of football, you need to know where it came from, you need to understand where RB Leipzig emerged from.
As stated earlier, the city of Leipzig is not the best integrated part of Germany. This is partly down to it being divided from the rest of the country, but it's also down to the incompetence and corruption of some of the companies and governing institutions in the area around Leipzig and Dresden, institutions that contribute quite a lot to the minority-feeling of East German football.
Looking at the commercial side of this big polarized clash, one can only feel for them. The hatred towards the people supporting these commercial clubs is as always merely based on a lack of understanding from the other side. In a city like Leipzig, the people needed and still need football to be able to survive. It's not a poor city, not by any means, but considering it's divided structure and the already existing clubs' political agendas, RB Lepzig was a necessary project for the survival of football culture in Leipzig, one of the biggest cities in Germany.
Traditionalism and understanding the issue
It is naturally easy to understand the blind hatred towards the commercialisation of German football. Being afraid is natural and being afraid of change is probably one of the most human things. The fright of a change in mentality and structure in the footballing institutions of Germany and a big structural haul is one of the things German football fans seem to fear most of all. And it's understandable. Why change something that works?
This is one of the main arguments from the traditionalists and it's absolutely reasonable, why change something that works? Well, you have to consider it a sacrifice. To be able to implement the old "traditional clubs" of East Germany, it's perhaps necessary to let go of some traditional fears of structural change.
However, Germany does have the 50+1 rule, which does not allow a takeover like Red Bull's, so this is another aspect of the hatred. It's about rules and the bending behaviour of DFB and the fear of structural change is probably felt as most here. DFB is one of the main institutions in German football, they make all the tough and easy decisions that someone has to make. In the case of Red Bull, one can definitely argue that they wronged themselves. And isn't it all just black and white? Either the rule is active or it isn't, there is no middleground.
Demise of top clubs
Another aspect of the hatred against commercialism is of course the demise of the traditional clubs. Kaiserslautern, Nuremberg, 1860 Munich, Bochum, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Bremen and a few others have already felt the consequences of a structural change, a change that allows companies to finance clubs in the top tiers of German football. The change is still small, but the consequences have been dire so far. Kaiserslautern find themselves cemented in the second tier, Nuremberg as well, 1860 Munich are in a weekly crisis once again, Bochum are extremely hard to predict and just lost one of their best strikers in recent decades due to their financial situation. Hamburg have lots of money, but the players don't seem to believe in the project itself, Frankfurt is one of the clubs with least money in Bundesliga and lose players to bigger clubs constantly. Bremen are just chaotic due to incompetence and their mentality. The interesting thing about this bunch of teams is that all of them seem to believe they should be higher up the table due to their traditional values. That is at least the fans' mentality and this is highly toxic. To be traditional for the sake of traditionalism won't take you anywhere. Try to be successful first and then you can claim traditional values. Football and economy is about winning, not about tradition.
Fussball und Fresh off the Gegenpress gegen Gewalt
Now, I can definitely understand the anger and the frightfulness of the traditional fans. But this has already created a grand rift in German football, two poles with different values and views, two different isms throwing rocks at eachother. And when this starts to get violent, it's time to drop the rocks and stop the polarization. Because it seems like, as much as RB Leipzig is a Rorschach-test, this conflict will only start a civil war between these two strong sides.
Commercialism versus traditionalism is almost as big a difference as fascism and communism. They represent very different values and they truly do hate eachother. Een though the commercial fans may not have a big a reason of hatred as the traditionalists, throwing rocks at the former won't calm things down. Not at all. Obviously.
In the end we all have to consider, what is football really about? And ow different is German football from that definition. Perhaps german football and the culture taht comes with it means something else than the definition of football. Football is about winning and having fun, not about commercialism versus traditionalism, not about polarization, not about Red Bull, not about traditional values.
Fussball ist fussball, und es ist für ewig etwas besonderes.
editor and co-founder