Terry Duffelen
Sat 4 September 2010

Borussia Dortmund supporter boycott highlights cultural differences between Germany and England

The above tweet alerted me to the planned boycott by Borussia Dortmund supporters of the away trip to their team's Bundesliga game against Schalke 04 on September 19th. This is in protest against increased ticket prices for away fans at the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen.

The boycott is backed by no less that 59 seperate supporter groups. BVB fans are angry that the Gelsenkirchen club are charging €22 to stand on the away terrace for the big derby clash later in the month (a 50% price increase, they claim).

Schalke and Borussia Dortmund are fierce local rivals and the games against each other are among the first looked for when the League fixtures are published every Summer. The boycott was announced by Daniel Lörcher of the The Unity supporter group and Marc Quambusch of the Borussen Sailors Hamburg.

"Ticket prices have dramatically increased for the Derby. Standing comes in at 22€, and seats are on sale for an average price of 55€. We believe that this is an attempt to establish higher ticket prices altogether, we have decided to fight this."

They state that this action is in response to an overall increase in ticket prices, not just at the Gelsenkirchen club but throughout the Bundesliga. One of the great virtues of the German domestic leagues is their affordable ticket prices. However, as the global recession bites, the temptation is for clubs to capitalise on the popularity of the game in Germany and attempt to raise prices. This appears to be the thinking of this particular group of Dortmund supporters.

"It is not an action taken against Gelsenkirchen (where the fans are also touched by those problems) but against a long term development, which is gonna harm football at large. We understand the Derby boycott only as a beginning to more actions to follow under the label "Kein Zwanni für nen Steher" (Twenty-Euro for standing – no way!). Our long-term objective is a fair pricing system in every stadium in Germany."

It is worth pointing out that similar complaints have been levelled at the Dortmund club leading to suggestions that BVB supporters are not so vigourous when it comes to the ticketing policy of their own club.

Nevertheless, this action seems almost unbelievable from the perspective of an English fanbase. In all the years I've been watching and following football I've rarely, if ever, heard of an instance where fans boycott games for this or any other reason. Recently, a group of Manchester United fans, weary of having to pay increased prices at away ends threatened an economic embargo at Fulham but an outright boycott of a game itself would surely be regarded as a step too far.

Perhaps the credo of the English football fan that you support your team whatever the circumstances, does not apply in Germany. The reader can make their own mind up as to whether they think this boycott is warranted. However, it does perhaps exemplify the different relationship that German supporters have with their clubs as opposed to English.

In Germany, at least 51% of nearly all football clubs are essentially owned by supporters. Fans have a direct involvment in the direction that a club takes to an extent that most English club fans do not. Perhaps this empowers Bundesliga club supporters to take more direct action against percieved injustices or trends that they identify as not in their interests.

The overwhelming majority of English club supporters don't hold a stake in their clubs. Perhaps, as a consequence, their protests are mainly held inside the stadium once they've paid to get in (eg, the Green and Gold protests at Old Trafford or the West Ham Bond scheme in the early 90's). Alternatively, protests come in the form of demonstrations outside the stadium. It is possible that supporters believe that boycotting matches disenfranchises them and consequently reduces the impact of their protest.

How effective the boycott on September 19th will be remains to be seen. It is very unlikely that the away end at Schalke will be empty as demand for the tickets are very high. What will be missing is the colour and noise that the supporter groups bring to matches. Consequently the atmosphere in the stadium may be quite different. Whether that will be sufficient to raise awareness or affect change is open to question. The match will be televised and should be screened on ESPN here in the UK. This will give English club supporters an opportunity to see how effective the boycott is and maybe even help them determine whether such tactics could be effectively employed over here.

Additional thanks to Danny Last.
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