'Ultras' is a word that can divide followers of the game. Welcome to FSV Zwickau's Red Kaos and their extraordinary story.
Perhaps the greatest enemy of any group of active fans or ultras in Germany isn't, as you might, a rival group or even in a direct way the police. The greatest adversary of these groups, the thing that really does the most damage, is the Stadionverbot, or banning order. The term may be familiar to many UK football fans as a measure used to prevent out and out hooligans from attending matches or travelling to England away games, but the way they are handled in Germany is fundamentally different. They were originally conceived at the start of the 90s as an extension to club-specific banning orders and can be issued by a club or by the Deutscher Fußball Bund in the event of the following:
- · that preliminary court proceedings are opened,
- · of a person being arrested or banned from a certain area and there is an additional suspicion that the person concerned wanted to perform a criminal offence
- · of weapons or other dangerous objects being seized or confiscated
- · of actions or behaviour which violates human dignity
- · of a severe violation of the stadium regulations
and are usually issued for a period of between three and five years.
As stated on www.profans.de, the problem with these regulations is that there is often no circumstantial evidence, such as CCTV footage, against fans suspected of such an offence. The police simply announce that they are investigating a fan, the fan is then represented by the club's fan support project (practically every club worth mentioning in Germany has one) and, without any circumstantial evidence, it is one person's word against the other. Herein lies the issue: Who can exert more pressure when it comes to a Stadionverbotbeing issued by a club or by the DFB, the police or the fan support project? And so these banning orders have become a stick with which the DFB and the police can beat ultra groups and fan scenes with – often without any trace of evidence.
One of the most hotly-disputed examples of the recent past involves the fans of fifth-tier FSV Zwickau, and more precisely the ultra group Red Kaos. Zwickau is a small city in south-west Saxony probably best known around the world as home to the Trabant. The football team, FSV Zwickau, enjoyed great success in the early stages of the GDR Oberliga, winning the title in 1948 and 1950 and then three cups through the 60s and 70s. However, they were not selected as one of the “elite” clubs by the GDR ruling party and therefore spent the 80s as a yo-yo team bouncing between the first and second tiers. Despite a few seasons in the 2. Bundesliga in the late 90s, the club has suffered from the same problems as most other former Ost clubs – lack of investment – and now find themselves in the fifth tier.
Despite the level of football on offer, FSV Zwickau has one of the most active ultra scenes in Germany. The ultra group is known as Red Kaos and has been around since 1997, making it also one of the oldest in Germany. Their tifos and constant support are well renowned around Germany and they are also leading campaigners for tolerance, respect and freedom in football stadiums. Back in 2010, a friendly was organised with BSG Chemie Leipzig, another club with a large ultra movement, without any police or security being present. The aim was to show that being an ultra does not automatically mean that you are a hooligan hell-bent on causing riots – a fact often lost on most mainstream media outlets. In March 2010, FSV Zwickau found themselves in severe financial difficulties; so severe in fact that withdrawal from the league was threatened if a relatively-minor outstanding payment of € 2,800 wasn't made to the league authorities. The debt was cleared and it was announced that the majority of the funds had originated from the FSV fan scene, mostly down to the fundraising efforts of Red Kaos.
Fast-forward a year or so to the end of the 2010/11 season and FSV Zwickau seemed to be on stable financial footing, albeit without much sporting success. A new stadium was being planned to replace the ramshackle Westsachsenstadion and the club would be moving out in order to facilitate the planning and construction. The last match at the old WeSawould be against Borea Dresden. Of course this meant the end of the Zwickau fan scene's home as they knew it. As Red Kaos themselves stated in their post-match press release: "Block E has been our home for the past 14 years [...] This is where we have experienced all the ups and downs, made an active contribution to the development of our FSV and given football in Zwickau an unmistakable character." Red Kaos obviously wanted to bid farewell to the place where they had formed in their own special way. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.
According to the Red Kaos statement, the night before the match around 80 fans had had a party in and around their fan block (Block E). "This had been cleared with the FSV board and wasn't really anything out of the ordinary, after all it's our home and we regularly go in and out." In the morning, the club officials inspected the pitch and the terracing and requested that a few items be covered up and a few empty cans and other rubbish be removed. Again, no problems from their perspective either and this was carried out immediately. Then the police requested that all fans leave the block whilst they checked sleeping bags and tent bags, probably in the hope of finding pyrotechnics. A rumour went around that the police had indeed found fireworks (something strenuously denied by Red Kaos) and that they wanted to close Block E for the match. Presumably under huge pressure from the police, FSV director Gerhard Neef notified the fans that Block E would indeed remain closed for the match.
This was obviously an absolute disaster for the Zwickau fans. Months of time, money and planning had been for nothing and they believed they had been robbed of the one final chance to bid farewell to their home. This was something they were not just going to lie down and take, especially after the effort and dedication they had shown to help the club in its time of need. Around 100 ultras gathered outside the main entrance and decided to enter the block anyway, even though they had been "allocated" another block by the police. In the papers the next day, the talk was of "hooligans" and "rioting" despite there being nothing of the sort. "In terms of our reaction," the Red Kaos statement continues, "we made a conscious decision to act without using any face masks or ANY sort of violence whatsoever. We didn't want a riot. We just wanted to be in our block."
The referee called the match off, with club officials and directors blaming "so-called fans" and promising to prosecute all involved. Sure enough, around 30 banning orders of between 2 and 3 years in length were issued by the club (again, surely under pressure from the police), all of which involving members of Red Kaos. The treatment of any group of fans in this manner is at best questionable, but to dismiss young, active fans who have made a vital contribution to the clubs existence – both in terms of active support and financial support – as "rioters" and "so-called fans" and treat them with such disregard is beyond the pale.
As a result of almost half of their number being unable to enter the stadium, Red Kaos have decided to discontinue all active support inside the stadium until the bans are overturned. But this doesn't mean that Red Kaos just sit at home whenever FSV Zwickau have a match to play. They still travel to each match, lending their support through gates or fences or from hilltops beside stadiums. "We will continue to dedicate ourselves to the club because FSV is our life". Somewhat paradoxically, FSV Zwickau are having their most successful seasons in recent years and are currently on course for promotion to the Regionalliga (fourth tier). They even knocked out holders and big fish in small pond RB Leipzig out of this year's Sachsenpokal regional cup competition, the winners of which qualify for next year's German Cup. All of this is being achieved without Red Kaos, and maybe the club officials and directors prefer it that way; it's less trouble for them after all. Obviously, dedicating your life to a football team as ultras do should not mean that you are entitled to do what you want, but there is a worrying increase in the extent of the repression and power exerted by the police and those in charge at clubs in Germany and other European countries. It may not be for everyone, but there's no doubt that ultras and active fan scenes represent the lifeblood of football clubs. Ultras liberi.
You can read more from David at his excellent blog.