Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My First Fußball Game

On Friday night I had a sleepover with a good friend of mine here in Kaiserslautern. It was a great night filled with wine, cheese, conversation and chick flicks. The next morning, we decided to go to the FCK game that afternoon.

Those that don’t know, FCK is Kaiserslautern’s local fußball team (Fußball Club- Kaiserslautern).

We decided I would drive home, change and then we would meet at the stadium. Her house is about 5 miles from mine, so I guessed about a 10 minute drive home. In reality, it took me 45 minutes. Once I arrived home, rather irate, I texted her how crazy the traffic was, and on my drive I saw hundreds (yes, hundreds) of riot police surrounding the train station.

She looked online for tickets and noticed that FCK was playing Karlcruher SC- one of their biggest, most recent, rivals- hence the riot police.

Since fußball culture has become rather aggressive, the riot police literally have to escort the opposing fans from the train station into their seats. And while they’re in their seats, there are dozens of security guards and police surrounding the section.

More on that later...

Annika got us tickets, and we headed to our section. Being a last minute decision, our seats were on the third level, but I didn’t mind. I was just excited to be experiencing my first fußball game. We ordered beers and climbed the multiple sets of stairs to our seats. The section we were in was rather empty and tame. Everyone was sitting down, idly watching the game. They of course cheered and high fived when we scored, but overall they were pretty mellow.

Diagonal from us was the hardcore fan section. With their flags and scarves and standing 100% of the time. They didn’t seem too rowdy, just the occasional torch being lit and unison smack chanting to the opposing team.

The game was awesome, just being in that environment and seeing the loyalty the fans have. I might add that the attendance of the game was 39,500 people. That is LITERALLY half (half!) the population of Kaiserslautern. These fans don’t play. Oh also… we won!

One thing I really liked was at the end of the game; all the FCK players came out on the field and walked around the perimeter clapping for their fans. They stopped longer in front of the official fan section and sang chants along with them; it was really neat to see.

As we left the game I was chatting with Annika about all the riot police and if they’re really necessary, as the fans seemed decent enough. Right at the moment, 12 riot police started shouting and sprinting past us. Then an announcement came over the loud speaker from the stadium. She translated it for me. They were saying, “Stop rioting. Stop rioting. Stop the random attacks. We are filming and will find you and arrest you. Rioting is a felony. We will arrest you. Stop the random attacks.”

She explained that a lot of the people instigating the attacks and rioting are not even fans. They’re just hooligans looking for a fight. (Although some were fans...)

I just read an article about the game, and they reported that the riots started in the stands after the final whistle blew. Police were able to calm down the rioting inside relatively quickly, but the riots outside the stadium were quite worse.

Mission control said he was “stunned by the violence of both fans.” Overall there were 18 people injured and 3 arrests.

As we heard the announcement, we cautiously started walking back down the hill towards the downtown. There’s about a half-mile hill that everyone must walk down to get to the train station or back downtown. So as we were walking, we noticed groups of men, not necessarily fans, just standing around shouting obscenities, calling random people names, getting in people’s faces.

It was a little scary, but the half-mile path was lined with police. Once we were almost down the hill, we came to stand still. They weren’t letting anyone through because the riot police were still escorting the Karlcruher fans to the train station.

So were stuck with hundreds of other people on this hill for 45 minutes until they made sure all the fans went home and no more violence was breaking out. As this was happening, there was a helicopter overhead. Annika explained to me it was monitoring pedestrian traffic flow and essentially where the riots were breaking out.

We eventually made it through the crowds and into the downtown for some lunch. It was very cool to see my first fußball game, especially one featuring my “hometown” team. But the after game violence was very interesting to me. Yes, in American football I’ve seen taunting and booze-fueled chanting, but nothing that violent. I suppose I don’t see the POINT of it. It’s just a game.

The entire way home, I was just so curious about all of this, so I did some research. There’s a name for it. It’s called Football hooliganism. (European football that is).

It refers to unruly, violent and destructive behavior by overzealous supports of football clubs. It involves conflict between gangs, often known as football firms, formed with the purpose of intimidating and physically attacking supporters of other teams. Some clubs have long-standing rivalries with other clubs and hooliganism associated with matches between them sometimes are called local derbies (and these ones in particular can be severely violent.)

The article I read where I found out what happened after the FCK game was titled “Southwest Derby”.

Specific to Germany, some football hooliganism has been linked to neo-Nazism and far right groups. Which makes sense since the sub-culture of football hooliganism discusses how the hooligans are less interested in the football match, and more so in the associated violence.

So there you go. Your knowledge bomb for the day. 

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