Fans fear the rise of Germany's 'plastic clubs'
14 October 2016, 17:02
Berlin - The promotion of RB Leipzig to the Bundesliga has
caused resentment amongst hardcore-fans of traditional teams, sparking fears
that 'plastic clubs' could ruin the traditional culture in Germany's top
RB Leipzig are backed by Austrian energy-drinks giants Red
Bull, who took over a football licence and founded the club in 2009.
The team was renamed RasenBallsport Leipzig, specifically to
get around the German league rule forbidding teams from carrying a sponsor's
Four promotions in seven years has taken Leipzig to the
Bundesliga and their young squad are unbeaten after six games on their first
season in the top tier.
They have beaten both Borussia Dortmund and Hamburg, while
drawn with other powerhouse clubs Cologne and Borussia Moenchengladbach.
But their impressive performances so far in their debut
season has earned little respect from Germany's hardcore fans -- labelled
Some Leipzig matches have been boycotted and a severed
bull's head was even thrown onto the playing area for an away German Cup match.
Ultra fans of Cologne blocked the Leipzig team bus for their
home game in September, which led to the kick-off being delayed, while banners
reading "We Hate RB" were on display around the city.
Borussia Dortmund's Ultras boycotted their away game in
Leipzig last month, with supporters groups refusing to put their money into Red
Also read: Henderson backs Rooney to cope with boos
- El Plastico -
"Red Bull Leipzig is leading the whole system of
football to ad absurdum," filmmaker and Dortmund fan Jan-Henrik Gruszecki
told broadcaster Sport1.
"Traditional clubs like Dortmund, Schalke, Cologne and
Bayern Munich want to make money and play football.
"Red Bull want to sell a product and a brand. This is
the basic difference."
Hostility towards sponsored teams in Germany's top flight is
nothing new, but RB Leipzig have crystallised growing resentments.
Ingolstadt, Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim and now
Leipzig are all backed by wealthy companies or individuals.
None are widely popular and all are dubbed plastic clubs.
When Wolfsburg, backed by car manufacturers Volkswagen,
played Bayer Leverkusen, sponsored by pharmaceutical firm Bayer, last season,
trade magazine Kicker dubbed it 'El Plastico', a play on words using the 'El
Clasico' reference to the Real Madrid-Barcelona clash.
Theoretically, Germany has a rule that should prevent
individuals or institutions owning clubs outright.
The 50+1 rule also states that a club must hold a majority
of its own voting rights.
But Leipzig bypassed the 50+1 rule with 51 percent of the
club owned by Red Bull employees -- and the other 49 percent is owned by Red
"The peculiarity of the culture of football in Germany
is that the clubs were founded as an association, in which the supporters have
control of power and decision-making," Jonas Gabler, an expert on football
culture in Germany, told AFP.
"The wishes and interests of the fans are taken very
"This interaction of fans with their clubs is an
essential element of the culture of football.
"Now fans have the impression that this tradition is
perverted by clubs who are created by companies."
Fans of traditional teams criticise plastic clubs for
relying on a sponsor, who can withdraw the cash at will, and for taking the
place in the top flight of a less wealthy club.
For example, Leipzig beat Nuremberg, who have a strong
tradition in Germany's top flight, to an automatic promotion spot last season.
Reasonable ticket prices are a feature of German club
football, but fans fear a deterioration of the mutual respect between clubs and
their supporters could lead to a rise in prices.
"Many leaders personally reject this economic model.
And many prefer not to oppose the majority of fans on this, so they remain
cautious," observed Gabler. For
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