Opinion: Why the “Secure Stadium Experience” is anything but.

Firstly, let me state that this article is of personal opinion, and does not neccasarily reflect the views of Yorkshire St. Pauli or its members.

The DFB and DFL recently published a document called the “Sicheres Stadionerlebnis” or “secure stadium experience”, proposing a raft of changes made to make German football grounds safer. For those who have not read it, it is available in German here.

It is essentially a proposal against violence within German football grounds, but the overall outline seems to go much deeper than that and has the potential to further erode the fan culture within German football. It seems as if German football is trying to take the same steps English football did in the late 80s and early 90s – combating hooliganism or violence with extreme measures. There is a good explanation available here of the background to these proposals, in particular the desire of the DFB and DFL to completely ban the use of pyrotechnics.

As an fan who has grown up watching football in England and who has seen the steady decline of fan culture within English football, these proposals are extremely concerning. I first started attending Bundesliga matches because of the alternative experience that it offers to English football, and these proposals threaten to ruin the German football experience entirely. I was bored of the soulless atmosphere at English grounds, I was tired of paying extortionate ticket prices to watch 2nd and 3rd division football and i was sick of being bullied by stewards who would spend the whole game telling people to sit down in their seats. English football no longer cares about the fans, who are now simply seen as a source of revenue that can be exploited. Unfortunately, it appears that the DFB and DFL are intent on sending the Bundesliga the same way.

The question is, why? For every argument put forward about the risk of pyrotechnics, the safety of all-seater stadiums or the problems with football violence, there is a counter argument that strongly contradicts them. There are some brilliant examples of this raised in the response by Union Berlin today, and these are discussed in English here.

One such proposal within this document is translated (roughly) into English below:

 “If other measures do not solve the problem, there are other possibilities for action, such as improving the infrastructural facilities for a reasonable person body control in the necessary stadium sectors (e.g. construction of containers instead of tents) are available to enable full-checks quickly and perform without disproportionate interference with the personal rights. “

Essentially, they want to set-up containers within the entrances to stadiums where they can search people and remove clothing if they deem necessary to ensure they aren’t carrying any weapons or pyrotechnics. The last line of that sentence, that this proposal would not interfere with someone’s personal or human rights is beyond belief, in my opinion. Secondly,  this search would conceivably be by an untrained persons – a steward for example, not a doctor or a trained individual. For all the faults of English football, I’m glad it has never resorted to this. I recently attended the away game in Cottbus, and I was searched in a ridiculous manner. By the end of the search, the steward must have known my inside leg size, he had taken the battery and memory card out of my digital camera to check for any pyro, and had taken my shoes off and searched them too. This alone was intrusive, are these searches now going to become more frequent, and potentially involve removing clothing to allow unqualified persons to strip search you?

Furthermore, the proposal goes on to suggest a “fan charter”. This seeks to give fanclubs the responsibility of “self-restraint”, ensuring that they comply with the stadium rules at all times – or risk punishment. This includes “no tickets to fan clubs, which are not willing to adhere to the fan agreement with the above minimum content (violence, the recognition stadium regulations, etc.), or that the minimum content of the conclusion fan agreement is ignored, or prohibit the fan as the carrying of “block flags” and banners when they are misused to conceal the perpetrator in the use of pyrotechnics or even to allow pyrotechnics.” It goes on to say that stadium bans will be given under a “zero tolerance policy” for serious breaches of these rules, such as using pyro or showing banners that are racist, discriminatory or grossly offensive. My understanding of this, is that this could see a ban on all tickets provided to fan groups. A blanket punishment on all fans. Carrying on, it also raises the possibility of limiting away tickets to “5% of the capacity” or even “just seating only”.

The whole proposal threatens to ruin the matchday experience within the Bundesliga. I have attended over 20 Bundesliga matches across Germany in the past few years, and not once have i experienced any violence or felt unsafe because of the use of pyro. The Bundesliga’s popularity is based largely on it’s fan culture and the affordability to the everyday fan. There are very few empty seats in Bundesliga grounds, the average attendance last season was 45,116 in the top division, compared to 34,601 in the Premiership. Those few seats from my own experience are mainly in the corporate seats, including at St. Pauli where the corporate seats cost €50, almost 5 times more expensive than standing on the terrace. Who wants to sit in a comfy seat on the half-way line and watch football within empty seats either side of you, whilst paying over the odds for the ‘pleasure’? Not me. Give me a blocked view on a packed terrace and an atmosphere, please. This is the reason why the Bundesliga not only appeals to German football fans, but to those of us who actively watch the Bundesliga internationally. We don’t want corporate seats, we don’t want soulless grounds and we certainly do not want to be treated like criminals simply because we spend our weekends watching our football team.

There is an article on the excellent St. Pauli Magischer FC blog (in German) which is definitely worth a read, too.

These proposals are even more fundamental because one of the people on the panel for this proposal is Dr. Gernot Stenger, St. Pauli’s vice president. The schedule for this proposal to be decided and implemented is the 12/12/2012. Importantly, St. Pauli’s AGM is before this date, where Dr. Stenger’s position will be decided. The final sentence in the Magischer FC article concludes “And all this comes in part from the pen of a board member of FC St. Pauli. And from what we know, he comes up with this great paper. There may be people who see this as an important reason for de-selection at the next AGM. We want at this time to just give you a suggestion.”

I for one hope that the board of St. Pauli find their voice and share the views of the fans, rather than further co-operating with the men in suits. Enough is enough.

Scott

Yorkshire St. Pauli