We all know what happened on the pitch against the Czech Republic in Prague. A fantastic start for the Mannschaft, more than a hour of trying-too-hard football, a fantastic equaliser from the opposition, and then a last-gasp winner to grab all three points.
You would have already got a taste of the match with my minute by minute commentary and Susie’s post-match pointers. It was a lucky performance, and one that was more than a little bit boring. But there was one story that would become even bigger than the match itself, something that I had failed to notice at the time.
During the national anthems, I had heard nothing but silence from the crowd. Perhaps this was due to the positioning of the pitch microphones. The same with the minute of silence for two recently-departed Czech football officials, which registered nary a peep on the television coverage I was watching.
But as the match ended, a different story had started to emerge.
On September 1st 2001, Germany were subjected to that humiliating 5-1 thrashing at home to England. Sixteen years to the day later, there was an embarrassment of a different sort.
The Sky Sports red button coverage here in the United Kingdom ended just moments after the final whistle, meaning that that I was unable to see the team greet the throng of visiting supporters. Or not, as it turned out. Having heard inappropriate chants from some sections of the German crowd, the team had decided to head straight for the tunnel instead.
For the most part, I have tried as best I can to separate politics from sport. Mainly because I hold some opinions that are not shared by many in the football writing community. Like the mainstream media as a whole, it can be hard to maintain conservative opinions. I have always tried to keep this largely to myself when writing about football, if just to avoid it leaking into what I consider objective reportage.
Nevertheless, if something needs saying, I will say it. I have made it a point in the past to criticise those players who have benefited from growing up playing football in Germany, only to jump at the first chance to play for another country. Likewise, I have turned a critical eye on players that remain silent during the singing of the Nationalhymne.
These are opinions that may not sit well with some.
In recent weeks, I have taken the side of German football supporters who feel threatened by internationalisation, unnecessary half-time shows and the external threat to established principles such as the 50+1 rule. While not joining in with the chants of “Scheiß DFB” myself, I have expressed a sympathy with some of those that have.
Again, these are opinions that may not sit well with some.
When all this is said and done, however, there is no disputing the fact that the conduct of some German “supporters” in Prague was a disgrace. No, let’s go further. A criminal disgrace. The actions of this boorish Lumpenmass had nothing to do with football, let along the legitimate demands of football fans.
When I saw what was being said in the hours after the match, I was slightly surprised. After all, what I had seen and heard from my own living room had suggested nothing of the kind. But when the pieces started to come together, I was appalled. My own political position on many contemporary issues notwithstanding.
Beyond the pale
It is one thing to criticise the DFB based on their decision-making. It is something else to do this while ostensibly supporting the national team, and supporting players who are representing the DFB in another country. Irrespective of the situation, there will always come a time where you will have to wind your neck in.
I have always believed that it is fair, within limits, to make one’s feelings known about clubs that are threatening German football, such as RB Leipzig. However, this does not give anybody the right to personally target a player when he is representing the German national team. I can understand the depth of distaste for RB Leipzig, its methods and its marketing. But this should stop short of insulting a young and talented player like Timo Werner.
Quite simply, it is beyond the pale.
Then, we have the chanting that took place. Highly audible chanting that was noticed by the players, prompting them to avoid the usual thank yous and make the decision to walk straight back to the dressing room at the end of the contest. Midfielder Julian Brandt would sum things up perfectly. “If you hear chants with a national socialist background, we cannot support that by going over there”.
It is one thing to express a patriotic zeal. I am strongly behind the concept, and would like to see more of it. Whether it is players showing more obvious loyalty and those from a migration background singing the national anthem, I am firmly behind the idea.
But serving up chants that have long and rightly been consigned to the dustbin of history? We are on completely different ground here. What remains now is for those concerned to identify the culprits and ensue that they never step into a football ground again. Such types are not wanted, not by anybody.
The decision of the players may not have been fair to those legitimate German supporters who were there to support the team, but it was the correct statement to make.
Who were they?
There are a number of questions that have to be asked. Who were these “supporters”, and where were they from? How were they able to get tickets to get in to the ground? Was the security adequate? Why, when they started their boorish chanting, was nothing done to expel them?
There have been rumours that this unauthorised group may have made their way across the border from Dresden, domestic archenemy of RB Leipzig and home to a still simmering neo-Nazi political scene. Prague is only a couple of hours by train from the Saxon city; it would not have taken much effort to gather a crowd and head across the border in search of cheap and available tickets.
Very few of these individuals were dressed in national colours. They were a far cry from the happy, colourful characters who have become part of the travelling German fan base over the last few years. Around two-hundred people, for the most part, dressed in black. A rather sinister looking mob, an unwanted relic of the early 1990s.
Ironically, a Europe with tightened borders would have made such an expedition far more of an expedition. Passport numbers would have been checked, and names flagged. The authorities might have even swallowed up the ringleaders by now. Instead, German football has to put up with an unnecessary and unsavoury embarrassment. Mercifully, there was no violence. The idiots, thankfully, just packed up and went home after they were done with their idiotic grunting.
Rights and responsibilities
Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw has been unequivocal in his condemnation of those responsible for Friday’s incident. And rightly so.
As football fans, we should have the right to criticise the institutions that run the game. We should have the right to criticise coaches and players for what happens on the pitch. We should also have the right, should one be inclined, to politely request that players sing the national anthem when lining for for an international match.
But disrespecting minutes of silence, aggressively targeting players, and neo-Nazi chanting? We cannot have time for that. We have rights as football fans, but there are also responsibilities. It is up to everybody to keep this virus out of the game we love.
To not do so brings nothing but shame on us all.