Tag Archives: Football in Germany

The Taylor report unpicked: Class bias

Liverpool fans desperately try to climb the fe...

Liverpool fans climbing on to the pitch to escape the crush at Hillsborough (Image via Wikipedia)

Motivated by my recent trip to watch German football matches, and my long-term interest in Football Stadia and Football culture, I have been taking a historical look at the pivotal Taylor report into the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. I’m starting with a look at the class bias of the report, and following on with a look at hooliganism, the terracing debate, and stadium architecture.

On 15 April 1989 a crush at an FA Cup Semi Final at Hillsborough resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans. The subsequent report into the disaster, the Taylor Report, led to all major football stadiums being all-seater. This meant the end of terracing at football stadiums, and along with the introduction of Sky TV at around the same time, has probably done more to shape English football than any other development.

Although the report was supposed to be focussed on the Hillsborough Disaster, the recent history of football in England had a chequered past. The 1985 Bradford Fire had led to the Popplewell Report into Fire Safety at Football Grounds. In the 1970′s and 1980′s crowd disorder had culminated in English clubs being banned from European Football after the Heysel Disaster in 1985.

Yet, reading the Taylor Report, you do not have the feeling of a Lord Justice trying to investigate the causes of 96 deaths. Taylor goes much further, almost as if he has been given a tacit remit by the Thatcher Government to ‘sort out’ English football, even elements that had nothing to do with Hillsborough and didn’t need ‘sorting out’. In short, was the Taylor Report a sledgehammer to crack a walnut?

Taylors remit from the Home Secretary was as follows:

“To inquire into the events at Sheffield Wednesday Football Ground on 15 April 1989 and to make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports events”

The ‘and’ is important. Previous inquiries had looked into the specifics of a disaster. The Hillsborough inquiry was different – Taylor was instructed by Douglas Hurd to go further than the events of 15 April 1989, and to report on the state of the game in general. The inquiry took place from 15 May to 29 June 1989, and heard evidence from 174 witnesses, as well as much written evidence. 31 sports ground were visited, including in Holland and France, and other sports grounds such as Rugby, Cricket, tennis and golf. Part I considers Hillsborough; Part II wider safety at sports grounds; Part III crowd control and dealing with Hooligans; and Part IV the proposed national membership scheme.

The Taylor report was the NINTH such report into saftey at football grounds. In 1973 the first Green Guide on safety at sports grounds was published, largely prompted by the 1970 Ibrox disaster. That Hillsborough happened, after such scrutiny, does suggest that the Government, football authorities and clubs had failed to take safety seriously enough. Measures that would have prevented Hillsborough had been proposed as early as 1924. This was due to a combination of cost, a laissez-faire attitude, and a pre-occupation with dealing with hooliganism. Taylor stated that ‘there is no point in holding inquiries or publishing guidance unless the recommendations are followed diligently’.

Taylor states that when touring grounds after Hillsborough, the inquiry encountered an attitude amongst football clubs that ‘it could not have happened here’ – this was exactly the kind of complacency that allowed disasters to happen in the first place. What is most sobering, is that Hillsborough was regarded as one of the best and safest stadiums in the country. These are all sobering and salient points.

Yet in his section ‘A Blight on Football’, Taylor belies his intentions:

“Football is our national game. We gave it to the world. But its image in our country has been much tarnished”.

There was indeed a malaise amongst football clubs before 1989. Ground improvements were minimal, as there was no pressing need to improve. In the 1980′s most clubs occupied the same grounds as they had at the turn of the century, and many stands were almost just as old. Any changes were half-hearted or not motivated by safety. In this respect, Taylor DID bring about a change in focus on the part of football clubs, and a willingness to demolish, build and improve that was not there before.

In terms of facilities, Taylor laments the poor condition of football grounds, from a spectators point of view. He describes the terraces as ‘squalid’, yet I doubt that many people who stood on the terraces in 1989 thought of it that way. Going to the football on the saturday afternoon was different to going to the Opera. In classic victorian terms of social control, Taylor states that ‘it directly lowers standards of conduct’. Unbelievably, Taylor sees fit to comment on the quality of the Burgers available to fans – ‘on sale from shoddy sheds’ – as if that really mattered. Was he comparing football to a day at the races or a night at the theatre, one wonders? The classic line, however, has to be ‘there is a prevailing stench of stewed onions’. How about if fans liked having onions in their burgers? I hardly think that stewed onions caused Hillsborough.

Taylor also mentions the lack of quality pre-match entertainment, which is pertinent. However, it is difficult to imagine what the football clubs could have organised – even nowadays, the usual pre-match and half-time entertainment is best filed under ‘cheese’ and is widely ignored by most fans. Taylor had clearly failed to grasp the attitude and background of the average football supporter.

Taylor recognised in his report that ‘football created special problems’ not to be found at other sports grounds – namely, the numbers in attendance and the atmosphere. Within two pages, football was being singled out for special treatment. Amongst the sports listed, it is noticeable that Football is predominantly the most working class sport, and the one that generates the most visible passion and support.

Conclusion

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Taylor Report was a part of wider class issues in 1980′s Britain – the report is couched in ‘top-down’ class semantics. Clearly, Taylor was no football fan. The language is evocative of a victorian philanthropist investigating inner-city slums, holding firm to pre-conceived agendas and prejudices. Not just from a personal perspective, but we cannot expect a Lord Justice – instructed by a hard-line conservative Government – to be too bothered about understanding the culture of Football, THE working class sport. Thatcher had shown a willigness to ‘take on’ football earlier in the 80′s – it is believed that pressure from Thatcher herself led to UEFA banning English clubs after Heysel. For Thatcher and her Government, was Hillsborough part of the wider class struggle, much the same as the miners strike and the Poll Tax riots? It is hard to come to any conclusion other than that Taylor and the Government used Hillsborough - and the deaths of 96 people – as cover for gentrifying football and firing another shot across the bows of ordinary working people.

 

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The decline of English football: a German perspective

Dietmar Hopp

Dietmar Hopp, backer of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Image via Wikipedia)

Regular readers will be under no illusions that I have a very low opinion of the state of English football. In my opinion, it is far too commercialised, bloated, devoid of atmosphere and passion, weighted far to far in the direction of the wealthy few, inaccessible to ordinary working people. Its virtually at the point of eating itself. Its not even as if the overpaid, overhyped players we are told to idolise are really any good – witness South Africa earlier this summer.

By contrast, I’ve been to a few football matches in Germany over the years, and the contrast is striking. 90 minutes spent on the terraces at Borussia Monchengladbach is like going back 20 years to the uncovered, terraced Fratton End. Not just in terms of architecture, but in terms of the culture, and the experience. Why is this so? How has our national game declined to such a pathetic level, whilst in Germany it is thriving?

Ownership and Management

Lets just take a look at the ownership of the 20 Premier League clubs – the vast majority are owned solely by wealthy foreign oligarchs, people who have little or no understanding of football or English society. Rich person’s playthings. By comparison, the majority of clubs in Germany are just that – clubs. Not only football clubs, but full blown sporting clubs, with amateur, junior and womens teams, athletics, basketball, and all kinds of other sports – Unterhacing’s logo is a bobsleigh, as the club also has a winter sports heritage. Bayern Munich, the biggest club in Germany, has 162,187 members. The football part of the club is run by a spin-off company, of which 81.82% is owned by the Club itself, and 9.09% each by Adidas and Audi. The club is not listed on the stock exchange, so is therefore a private company controlled by the members of the club.

There are several German clubs that do not follow the club principle. Bayer Leverkusen are supported heavily by the Bayer pharmaceutical company. Although the club started as a social club for Bayer employees in the town, many fans of other German clubs consider Bayer Leverkusen to be an ‘artificial’ club. Ironically, however, perhaps the most prominent example in Europe of an artifical club is that of 1899 Hoffenheim. A fifth flight club in 2000, Hoffenhiem made a remarkable rise to the top rung of the Bundesliga ladderr in 2008, helped along the way by the wealth of software magnate Dietmar Hopp. The club only turned fully professional in 2007-08. Hoffenheim and Hopp have been roundly criticised in Germany, even being referred to as 18.99 Hoffenheim. The village of Hoffenheim only has 3,000 residents.

Schalke 04 were once known as perhaps the most down-to-earth, working class club in Germany. Hailing from the heavily inustralised Rurh city of Gelsenkirchen, in recent years Schalke has evolved into a slick business operation, with a brand new 60,000 stadium. Disturbingly, in in 2006 Schalke announced a link-up with the Russian energy giant Gazprom, who also own and sponsor Zenit St Petersburg. Gazprom apparently intend to invest up to 125million Euros over 5 years, something that has been seen as an attempt to gain political influence in Germany. It’s sad indeed for such a proud, cultural club to turn its back on its roots.

Although FC St Pauli are often held up as an example of a working class club with a strong fan culture, this reputation has almost become a victim of its own success, with thousands of random people around the world deciding that they are St Pauli fans. Whilst it is OK to go along with the ideals and the culture, I cannot help but feel that an English person randomly deciding to support St Pauli ‘because everyone else does’ is like a Londoner supporting Man Utd. Why St Pauli? Pick a different team!

But these examples aside, German clubs are overwhelmingly exactly that – clubs. Clubs are viewed by the size of their membership. The differences with English football are not just in ownership. In German football Clubs are often run by former players (it is not hard to come to the conclusion that English footballers, on the whole, are too intellectually challenged to run a hot dog stand, let along a football club). Figures such as Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rumenniegge and Uli Hoeness, and more recently Jurgen Klinsmann and Rudi Voller moved not only into team management, but also club management. Club boards are also larger, and made up with a far more balanced membership, from a wide range of backgrounds. Not just the rich owners handpicked flunkies.

Fan Culture

Not only is German football different in terms of the bigger issues. I have often felt that English football has sold its soul and fogotten the very people who made it so special – the gate-paying, ordinary working fans. Now, you have to sit down and shut up. Even at Portsmouth, ‘fans’ (no doubt called Norman or something like that) complain about the noise of the singing and the drums, or when someone stands up in front of them. A club with any bollocks would tell them to stick their season tickets somewhere uncomfortable. When did English football get so soft? (see Taylor report). Fans are no longer supporters, but customers. Fans have no real stake in the club, and are there only to be exploited and taken for granted. Clubs do nothing to encourage atmosphere, or stimulate passionate support. Spectators of English football are as removed from events on the pitch as a cinema goer is from the film on the screen.

I would like to see somebody complain about standing or excessive noise on the Nordkurve at Monchengladbach. At a German football match atmosphere is appreciated and encouraged. Tickets are cheap. Huge flags and banners and singing are encouraged. Many fans will be full members of the club, so are not just spectators, but really are part of the whole club experience. No wonder they are more likely to get more involved and more passionate about events on and off the pitch. At Monchengladbach there is a Fan Haus (Fan House) a few hundred yards from the ground. Decked out in flags and memorabilia, it is essentially a hub for supporters, selling beer but also putting on live music, and surrounded by food and clothes stalls. I know of nothing like it in English Football.

In England, the supporters clubs are normally run by eccentric bearded gentlemen, often called Roger or Norman. Their most important contribution to the operation of the club is giving their opinion on the number of toilets, or the quality of the meat pies at half time. You cannot help but feel that the Football Clubs view them as a nuisance. At Pompey we have the Supporters Club, the Independent Supporters Club, and now a Supporters Trust. The next step will probably be a supporters club branch from the People’s Front of Judea.

Whereas in Germany, the Fan Club is a real powerhouse. Although independent from the clubs themselves, the supporters clubs have real influence over what goes on. Most German clubs also employ fans liaison officers, who play a significant part in looking after supporters, both home and away. When I worked in youth politics some time ago, I came across something called the ladder of participation. At the bottom of the ladder, you are standing there watching; powerless. Whereas nearer the top, you are in the thick of the action, playing a part in what is going on. No prizes for guessing where on the ladder I place English and German football respectively.

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Four days in Dusseldorf

Well I finally got back to Portsmouth at 2am this morning, after a long(er) weekend in Germany!

We flew into Dusseldorf Weeze airport, a small budget airline airport not far from the Dutch border between Kleve and Kevelaer. Weeze is actually an ex-RAF airbase, better known as RAF Laarbruch, where units of RAF Germany were stationed during the Cold War – most notably the Harrier GR force. Much of the RAF base still remains, and there is an RAF Museum on the site, which unfortunately I did not have time to visit.

We stayed in Dusseldorf, and went to watch Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Hamburg on Friday night. German football is a real experience, for anyone who can remember the time before English football sold its soul its a real experience. You can still stand on the terraces, and you can quite happily stand there drinking a beer and eating Currywurst. Its cheap as chips to get tickets, and the whole experience is far more fan focussed, so you’re not being treated like a customer (eg mug) like English football. Borussia have got a strong fan culture, and there is a ‘Fan Haus’ near the ground selling beer and playing heavy metal before and after the game. The atmosphere in German football is electric – as you would expect considering that normal people can afford to go and they still have terracing. Borussia also have an unusually strong British following, thanks to the long-term presence of a large British military presence at nearby Rheindahlen and places like Krefeld. My Uncle John watched a pre-season friendly between ‘Gladbach and Liverpool in the late 70′s when he was based at St. Tonisvoorst with the Army.

Borussia vs. Hamburg

Borussia are rooted bottom of the table with 10 points, and haven’t won a game at home all season. Not surprisingly the fans are calling for the Manager’s head. And after a lacklustre 2-1 defeat, unbelievably Michael Frontzeck still hasn’t been sacked. Zweite Bundesliga for Borussia next year… I’d forgotten just how could it is to stand on terraces, and believe me 90 minutes stood still in -15 celsius is no joke. Even when you’re wearing three pairs of socks!

Borussia Park

I’ve got a bit of a thing about football stadiums… Borussia moved to their new Borussia Park stadium a few years ago after years at the enigmatic but antiquted Bokelberg Stadion. I went to the Bokelberg in 2003 and it was a real old fashioned ground. The 55,000 seater Borussia Park reminded me very much of the identikit-Meccano stadiums that sprang up in England a few years ago (St Marys, Riverside, Pride Park, Walkers Stadium etc) that look very nice from afar, but are incredibly cheap and cheerful and devoid of character. This isn’t such a problem however, as the atmosphere in German football makes up for the bland architecture. One nice touch I did like was the use of green light to illuminate the stadium inside and out – I’ve never seen that at an English stadium, it would obviously cost too much for clubs to bother about. Near Borussia Park is an innocent looking school, that in fact used to be a hospital used for Hitler’s medical euthenasia programme during the Third Reich.

Espirit Arena, Dusseldorf

The next day we went to see Fortuna Dusseldorf vs. Greuther Furth in the Second tier. The game was at the Espirit Arena in Dusseldorf, a new 55,000 capacity stadium. I was really impressed with the ground. The U-Bahn station runs right up into the ground, which looks very good from the outside, with an effective screening technique that enclosed the outer concourse. Once inside the facilities are roomy and first class. The whole of one end is terraced, and can be converted to seats quickly for European and international matches. There is a retractable roof in the ground too.

inside the Espirit Arena

There were only 19,000 at the match, but with the atmosphere it felt more like 30,000. The Dusseldorf fans really made some noise. One guy is obviously the leader, given that he spent most of the match egging the crowd on and hollering into a mic. And it worked! When Fortuna scored to go 1-0 up he even took off his jacket to reveal huge tattooed arms. Quite a sight!

Fortuna Dusseldorf

Having fulfilled one-thing-to-do-before-you-die (watch a match with an Orange ball) we went back into Dusseldorf accompanied with some Polish Fortuna fans, and then ended up in a pub serving the excellent Koening Pilsener. A nice evening, even with the German bloke who decided to grab one of the bar girls round the neck! That aside, a night out in Dusseldorf’s altstadt is highly recommended. By now the snow was falling heavily. For most of the weekend my feet were completely soaked, even with multiple pairs of socks on. Why oh why didn’t I take my waterproof walking boots? I ate four Currywurst and fries over two days just to try and keep warm!

Dusseldorf overlooking the Rhine

The fun really began when trying to get home on Sunday. We had heard that airports and flights were looking dicey, and every other flight from Weeze was cancelled one-by-one. Our flight looked OK right up until we were at the boarding gate, at which point it was cancelled. Faced with the prospect of hanging around at a tiny airport for days, with no information and plenty of backlogged flights, we went back to Dusseldorf, got on the internet and managed to find a hire car to get to Calais. Having picked up the Car and made good time driving the 260 odd miles to Calais in about 6 hours, via Monchengladbach, Genk, Antwerp, Ostend, Bruges, Dunkirk and listening to Europop and  dodging veering lorries – we couldn’t find the car hire place to drop it off. A quick call to the car hire firm informed us that there was not in fact a branch in Calais, and they had entered our booking as dropping off in Celle in Northern Germany. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Celle is a British Army Garrison town between Hannover and Hamburg – clearly we were not going to take it there. So in the end we pretty much dumped the car in Calais, handed the keys to someone in the ferry port, and told the car hire company.

Fortunately we walked straight onto the next Calais-Dover ferry, which sailed uneventfully. The serving lady on the ferry refused to open the restaurant ‘until the Fish and Chips is ready’, in her words – brilliant, makes you proud to be British! We then managed to jump on a train from Dover to London… great!… but then the train was delayed at Ashford for an hour after the train in front was stuck on the points. After some nailbaiting the train got going, and using the high-speed rail link reached St Pancras in incredibly quick time. From there a quick hop on the underground, and we managed to catch the last train home from Waterloo. I finally got through my front door at around 2am, some 24 hours late. I really like Germany, but it’s always great to get home.

Obviously it was a seriously stressful time, but to quote Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Horrocks:

‘this is a story you will tell your Grandchildren – and mightily bored they will be!’

Don’t be surprised if I don’t go abroad during the winter for a while!

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