What’s going on at Hertha BSC?
Compared to other Bundesliga outfits from major German cities, Hertha BSC has traditionally been overlooked by international spectators. The fact that the German capital has never produced a Bundesliga champion certainly contributes to the distinct lack of attention die Alte Dame receives from Football enthusiasts abroad, and the Olympiastadion’s inability to reach full capacity at home fixtures (excluding ties against BVB and Bayern) helps propagate the notion that Hertha’s home support is below the German average. Ask non-German Bundesliga followers which is their favourite side, and they will likely say ‘Gladbach, Werder Bremen, Schalke, Eintracht Frankfurt, FC Bayern or Borussia Dortmund. Hertha is never a name you hear.
Yet out of the blue, video footage of Hertha’s away support rampaging against the police inside the Westfalenstadion has gone viral across social media. The brief but fierce Ausschreitung against the Nordrhein Westfalen police force made for very exciting footage, particularly as the police were seen to withdraw and steadily back down from the conflict. The Herthaner however have not emerged victorious from the fray, as the club chairman Michael Preetz has now called for punitive measures to be undertaken at home fixtures. A huge amount of attention has suddenly been directed toward one of the Bundesliga’s more obscure clubs.
So, what’s going on?
Let’s start by observing that the actions conducted by Hertha fans away in Dortmund last Saturday were not motivated by animosity toward the Scharwz-Gelbe. Like Dortmund, Hertha identify Schalke 04 as a key rival on and off the pitch, a fact that has traditionally helped foster strong sympathies between members of the Yellow Wall and the Ostkurve. Hertha fans in the away section were not trying to be provocative or aggressive. They were in fact celebrating the 15th year anniversary of one of Hertha BSC’s leading Ultra Groups, the Hauptstadt Mafia.
The group produced a banner during the match to celebrate and predictably ignited a couple of flares after having displayed it. This was the spark of the conflict; the use of pyrotechnics within the stadium drew the security forces toward them, who sought to curtail the away fans’ festivities. Many Ultras see the use of pyrotechnics as a pivotal role in their support for their club and are unwilling to acknowledge their use as a crime. Police officers in full crowd pacification gear attempted to pick up the Haupstadt Mafia’s banner off the ground (where it lay after having been used). Many Hertha fans interpreted this as theft of their own property and responded in turn by trying to maintain possession of the banner by all means necessary.
A tug of war ensured, which drew more officers in. A number of unidentified Hertha fans decided to strike their adversaries with plastic flag poles, while others to the right of the fan block (as you are looking at the pitch) took a more direct approach to combat the police. They climbed onto the concrete pathway between the pitch and stand to confront the police officers directly.
I don’t need to describe what happened next; you surely have already seen the video footage. It is however worth noting that police have reported injuries to 45 individuals involved in the episode.
In the short term, Ultras, fanatics and the like will have interpreted the subsequent retreat of the police officers away from the fray several minutes later as a victory for the fans. Indeed, in the Yellow Wall opposite, 25,000 Dortmunder were heard to chant “Alle Bullen Sind Schweine!“, a ubiquitous anti-establishment fan chant that translates as “All Cops Are Pigs”. Objectively speaking, the nature of the stand-off the Hertha fans had against the police officers present at the incident was impressive. Yet, if this episode is to be viewed as a victory for the fans, it was certainly a short lived one.
Under pressure from the Nordrhein Westfalen police force, BVB Borussia Dortmund management and of course the Deutsche Fußball Bund, Hertha BSC chairman Preetz needed to be seen acting in response to the extraordinary behaviour conducted by Hertha fans in Dortmund. An immediate and indefinite ban on all flags and flagpoles inside the Olympiastadion (home and away sections) during Bundesliga fixtures has been introduced with immediate effect, with increased security personal present at games also. This measure has been met with a combination of ridicule and inevitable anger from Hertha fans, who see themselves as plucky underdogs subjected to nothing short of attempted theft on behalf of the officers in Dortmund.
Their response? A boycott of fixtures, not in terms of attendance, but in terms of atmosphere. The Ultras of Hertha BSC, including understandably the Hauptstadt Mafia, have openly declared that they will not take it upon themselves to work to create the atmosphere in the Ostkurve that makes attending Hertha fixtures so enjoyable for many.
We obviously do not know how this stand-off will resolve itself. However, judging by the ongoing tensions at Hannover 96 between Ultras and owner Martin Kind, Preetz will be unwilling to give in to pressure from the Ostkurve to reverse his decision. However long this lasts, one thing is worth nothing. The Hertha badge has for decades prominently featured a fan flag raised triumphantly sporting the club name in the proud colours of blue and white. If this ban on flags and flagpoles being used inside the stadium should continue, somewhat amusingly the club will have more fan-made flags on its crest than it will do in its entire stadium.
Keep your eyes pealed on how this story develops.