Soccer derbies are always games of particular interest. The last game between Hamburger SV and FC St Pauli was no exception. Most fans are simply looking forward to a great and exciting game, some idiots see derbies as a chance to not only beat their opponent, but to beat up their fans and sometimes even players as well. Unfortunately, violence and soccer come together every once in a while, but when three Hamburg hooligans beat up Pauli-keeper Benedikt Pliquett, a right wing party saw this as a sign. Their conclusion: If three fans attack the Pauli-keeper – St. Pauli is notoriously left wing (if soccer teams are political) – many HSV fans are in favor of violence against left-wing ideas. At the next home game, the NPD set up a booth to advertise their ideas. Fortunately, this really is the exception in Germany and racist or right-wing fans have largely been eliminated from stadiums since the 1980s.
Italy, sadly, is a different story and racist fans are notoriously violent. Just a few months ago, Italian newspaper “Il Messaggero” published a picture of Lazio’s Maura Zarate raising his right arm to salute the team. This, at least in Rome, is not an exception. Former team captain Paolo di Canio is known to the European soccer world for mainly two things. His tattoo saying dux, which is latin for Führer (Führer here does not mean Hitler but Mussolini, whom he admittedly admires) and his unacceptable gestures toward the Lazio fans.
Not convinced yet? Romanian Adrian Mutu of Fiorentina was insulted and booed at after the wife of an Italian Marine was allegedly killed by a Romanian the week before the game. When playing Werder Bremen in the European Cup, Lazio fans responded to banners against racism (“Zusammen gegen Rassismus”) by celebrating Italian dictator Mussolini. During the game, Werder’s Ivorian forward Boubacar Sanogo was mocked with monkey noises.
Still not convinced? During the derby against AS Rome, a left-wing club, Lazio followers displayed banners saying “Auschwitz is your homeland – the ovens are where you belong!” But radical soccer fans are not a Roman phenomenon. In Sicily, soccer fans killed a police officer in riots after he testified in a trial against rightwing extremist fans.
Neither is it a solely Italian phenomenon. Racist fans have become a problem in France, Spain and Poland, as well. But what can be done to prevent these nasty incidents that spoil the excitement of the games? German soccer fans have set a great example. When politicians and club officials were unable to fight racism, the fans took matters in their own hands.
Natürlich haben mich auch früher schon Dinge gestört, etwa die rassistischen Rufe von irgendwelchen Neo-Nazis gegen Souleyman Sané. Damals habe ich mich wirklich geschämt, dass es um mich herum solche Leute gab, die im gleichen Stadion stehen und den gleichen Verein anfeuern.
When neo-nazis tried to take over the stands, most fans helped getting rid of advertisement stickers on the stadium walls and simply did not support any kind of agitation against, for example, colored players. The fan body did not allow neo-nazis to take over. Today, the German Bundesliga is comparably family friendly and dads can bring their sons without being afraid of getting caught in between violent fan groups. This is largely due to the fans themselves.
It will be interesting to see how Italy copes with the increased violence. Lately, Italian Minister of the Interior Giuseppe Pisanu announced that he does not have a problem with closing stadiums to the public or even cancelling games. But as Germany has shown, the fans themselves have the biggest influence on what happens in the stands. After all, soccer is just a game that everyone should be allowed to enjoy. Violence and violent ideologies cannot be tolerated.