A stag weekend comprised of a train odyssey from Prague to Berlin saw Tom Simmonds and friends join another slightly less famous ‘yellow wall’ on Saturday, as they found themselves at a German Third Liga match between table-toppers Dynamo Dresden and Fortuna Koln, prompting Tom to ponder how a city’s history can shape its fan culture.
On the face of it, the human backdrop (all 24,000 components of it) which soundtracked Dynamo’s 4-0 win over a Fortuna side with an extremely dodgy back-line was in line with what you would typically associate with German supporters. The 70s style scarf-twirling was present, as were two young lads not watching any of the game as they banged a drum and orchestrated chants through a megaphone. Also on the checklist was Dresden’s official club anthem, a Raclette-ish lighters-in-the-air soft rock anthem which demands crowd participation in the form of the fans yelling the word ‘Dynamo’ to the tune of the theme from Blackadder.
While these displays of fandom were highly choreographed, the way Dresdenites were supporting their team had echoes of a subconscious aspect of British fan culture.
It is a truism that you tend to get the most authentic footballing experiences in cities and towns which needs its football club and whose citizens hold them up as bulwarks of pride against traumas visited upon them. Liverpool and Glasgow, for example.
Dresden is also a city which needs its football team. It is, after all, a city that has suffered heavy trauma in its history, from its centre being completely destroyed by Allied bombs in February 1945, to its residents being subjugated under communist dictatorship when it was part of the DDR (East Germany) from 1949 to 1989. The DDR years actually augured well for Dynamo on the pitch, a period in which they won eight Oberliga titles helped by state patronage and were fixtures in European competition as representatives of the DDR.
However, Dynamo fans also had to suffer the indignity of having their club conspired against on the whim of the head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke, who wanted the DDR’s powerhouse club to be based in East Berlin and thus ordered referees to favour his team Berliner FC Dynamo. Terrace dissent about this would not have been advisable living under a regime which encouraged all citizens to inform on each other. While partisanship is part of any fan culture, the type of partiality on show at the Rudolf Harbig Stadion was the sort borne of a sense of being subjected to wider injustices that require the city’s people to rally around a city institution that can generate positive publicity for their hometown.
Dynamo look likely to win the Third Liga and gain promotion to the second tier, they are currently 10 points clear of second-placed Erzegebirge. It would be a welcome return to prominence for a city (population circa 1.1 million) that is big enough to sustain a club at a higher level than the one they currently occupy.
The club has struggled since Germany was reunified, their four years in the Bundesliga from 1991-95 were characterised by struggle and they have spent a lot of the intervening years in the Regionalliga. The upward curve they now find themselves on, helped by their strong attendance figures, feels like something sustainable. The stadium is fully modernised, and it is far from a male-dominated environment. Two of the more appealing aspects of German football, the cheap admission prices (13 Euro to stand behind the goal with perfect sightlines) and the willingness of the German authorities to treat football fans like adults rather than criminals in waiting, were also in evidence, making the stadium an inclusive, fun environment that the people of Dresden can enjoy congregating at in the cause of helping their team and city gain some sporting success not tainted by association with the repressive state apparatus which once characterised them.
Do you agree that a city’s history is a crucial element of shaping elements of its club’s fan culture? What elements of German fan culture would you like to see adopted by English fans?
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