In Europe, ultra groups tend to be linked with the most vile of actions: racism, sexism, club corruption, player abuse, opponent abuse, and in certain cases, gang violence. And while the majority of these offenses exist in eastern Europe, the culture of ultras crossing the line into hooliganism is not foreign to countries like Italy, France, and Italy. And most recently, Germany, as Hertha BSC fans crossed the line last Saturday.
For the most part, the ultra culture in Germany has been under control during the last decade, as most games have large police presences in order to keep offenses at bay. Large or at-risk games, like Dortmund versus Schalke or St. Pauli versus Hamburg, tend to have absurd police presences on the streets outside as well as inside the stadium, in an attempt to limit exposure between the two opposing fanbases. And while the game against Hertha Berlin was not seen as an at risk game, police were there to respond to the actions of the Berlin fans. At first, the away fans started with posters, flags, and flares, all of which when handled responsibly are really cool elements in an attempt to add atmosphere to a football game. While pyrotechnics are technically not allowed into stadiums, as long as they are handled responsibly, it is something that does not end up with people getting hurt. Members of the yellow wall have used pyrotechnics before, and their use usually ends in a fine for the club of whom those supporters belong to.
After that, the police attempted to take a banner from the Hertha fans, who in turned, climbed down from their section of the stadium to engage in violence with the police. The Hertha fans threw flares at the police from the stands, while long metal poles were being used to keep the police at bay. According to Ruhr Nachrichten, 45 people were hurt due to the violence.
After the game, the toilet designated for away fans in the stadium was found in a disastrous state, with broken toilets and graffiti all over the walls.
Ganz großes Kino! @DFB bleibt sowas wieder Unbestraft? An alle Berliner ultras, ihr seid die peinlichsten Witz Figuren die es im deutschen Fußball gibt. Einfach nur Asoziale Bastarde. Wie kann man sich nur so daneben benehmen. TRAURIG! @HerthaBSC #BVBBSC pic.twitter.com/UzbYmQFcNE— Basti (@BastiBVB98) October 28, 2018
There is not much to be said other than the fact that seeing this does not make me angry, but just sad. Football fandom is a gift to make people happy in the best of times, and gives people access to a community who appreciate the same thing. And while the actions of most ultras are despicable, I have always thought that ultras in Germany were above the majority of the vile behavior that includes racial taunts, fan abuse, player abuse, destruction of property and violence.
Ultra groups have a heavy hand in giving a stadium atmosphere and passion. Political and footballing statements alike are made through massive posters, tifos give even the most silent stadium character, and pyrotechnics are just amazing to watch. There is a line of what fans should be allowed to do, and Hertha BSC fans crossed that into hooliganism. Ultras are the vocal minority of footballing fan culture, and their presence is valuable to keeping the aspect of the Bundesliga that makes this league so amazing - fan culture. The Westfallenstadion has had examples of all three on the legendary Südtribune. I could not imagine a Borussia Dortmund game without flags waving, singing, massive celebrations, and the occasional smuggled pyrotechnic.
While the DFB may be naive in how they picture the ideal fan, getting a bratwurst and bier only to sit quietly in a seat for 2 hours, measures have been taken to decrease the influence of ultras during games. After Hertha Berlin fans’ actions on Saturday and a pending investigation into the matter, further measures may be taken to ensure the protection of fans during games, and that would hurt the common fan as much as the ultra. Hertha Berlin fans’ actions affect other teams’ fans as much as the repercussions of their actions affect themselves. And that might just be worst thing about this entire situation.