Red Bull in Leipzig: The fan base’s hopes and fears
Montag, 22. Juni 2009, 23:58 Uhr;
zuletzt aktualisiert: Dienstag, 23. Juni 2009, 0:13 Uhr
Abgelegt unter: BSG Chemie Leipzig, Fanszene, FC Sachsen Leipzig, Fußball & Politik, Gewalt & Rassismus, Kommerz- & Medienfußball, Vereinspolitik

Red Bull has taken over the small football club SSV Markranstädt on the outskirts of Leipzig. The new club RasenBallsport is expected to lead Leipzig to the German Bundesliga. Although the city is yearning for prime class football, the resistance among the local fan side is raising

Leipzig on a Saturday night. Red Bull wants to capture the trendy and alternative southern district Connewitz. A completely branded car is supposed to campaign for Red Bull in front of a popular disco but it doesn’t help. A group of Members of the “Diablos”, the Ultras of BSG Chemie Leipzig, attacks the car. Its driver is forced to escape. This scene gives a foretaste of how hard the first season of the new founded Club, ruled by Red Bull, RasenBallsport Leipzig is going to be.

Leipzig has a glorious football tradition

For Red Bull the conditions are great. Leipzig is a city with a population of over 500,000 people, a new World Cup proved stadium – and, in addition, no successful football club at all. Leipzig’s football club is only playing in the fifth league although the city, in which the German football association DFB was founded in 1900, has a long and glorious tradition of football. Its history is both a story of great victories and of an acrimony rivalry between the districts Probstheida and Leutzsch. Especially the last point is one important reason for Leipzig’s people to favour Red Bull and its “third way”.

Founded as a bourgeois club in 1893, the VfB Leipzig became the first German champion in 1903 and won the championship tree times. The club located in Probstheida was one of the most successful clubs before the Great War. Its follower 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig played 77 games in European competitions. In 1987, only Ajax Amsterdam could stop it in the final of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig became one of the best known clubs of the GDR in Europe.

VfB respectively 1. FC Lokomotive’s big rival is located in Leutzsch. In 1899, workers founded Britannia Leipzig. During the interwar period, the club was renamed to TuRa and became the second most popular club in Germany after FC Schalke 04. In GDR times, the TuRa follower BSG Chemie Leipzig won the championship twice despite being politically disadvantaged because of the socialist regime. Until today, the surprising championship win of 1964 is well known as the “legend of Leutzsch” due to the fact that Leipzig’s sport officials had delegated the best players to Probstheida before the Season had started. The rival only managed to finish third whereas the “rest of Leipzig” could carry the trophy home.

Brutal rivalry between Leutzsch and Probstheida

This historical grown rivalry between Leutzsch und Probstheida has never been dissolved. The antagonism even got worse after German reunification, as BSG Chemie became FC Sachsen Leipzig and 1. FC Lokomotive was renamed to VfB Leipzig. With the upcoming Ultras movement in the end of the last decade of the 20th century in Leutzsch, the antiracist group “Diablos” was founded. During the last ten years they developed to one of the most respected Ultras group and had positive influence on the fan culture of the FC Sachsen due to their antiracist self-conception. In Probstheida the development took an opposed direction. Especially in the last years, as the VfB Leipzig became bankrupt and had to be liquidated, Neo-Nazi structures have been implemented within the fan base of the new founded 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig. The result was disastrous. The rivalry between Leutzsch and Probstheida culminated in brutal attacks on the “Diablos” and their circle of friends led by fans of 1. FC Lokomotive and Neo-Nazi rowdies.

In addition, Leipzig’s divided football landscape has become even more complicated since summer 2008 when the “Diablos” and some other dedicated fans re-established the BSG Chemie Leipzig due to their dissatisfaction with the policy of the FC Sachsen board. High fan potential can also be seen in Roter Stern (Red Star) Leipzig. The club is both a football and a political project. It fights Neo-Nazism and discrimination and criticises capitalism and commerce, especially in football. There are friendly contacts to the BSG Chemie Leipzig but not to the FC Sachsen Leipzig any longer. Therefore, Leipzig’s football side is shaped by the rivalry between the FC Sachsen Leipzig and the 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig, which are the two biggest clubs with the most fans and the biggest success, on the one hand. On the other hand, the BSG Chemie and Roter Stern Leipzig are popular alternatives to the mainstream clubs in which racist and discriminating attitudes are a latent problem.

High fan potential for prime class football

In Leipzig’s general public and media, neither comprehension nor a problem focus on the political influence of Neo-Nazi structures on the local football can be found. Moreover, Leipzig’s resonance is fed up with the situation and calling for national success of a local club which is non-violent and family friendly. At the end of March 2009 40,000 enthusiastic spectators celebrated a 4:0 victory of the German national team in the Zentralstadion. Although Liechtenstein was not an attractive opponent, it was no problem for stadium owner Michael Kölmel to sell out almost completely. Leipzig’s atmosphere and demand for prime class football have been anticipated by Red Bull which is present to implement the first marketing football club in German football.

The location Leipzig has been observed by Red Bull for years. In 2006, the company planned to take over the FC Sachsen. But due to the “50+1 rule” of the DFB for investors, they are not allowed to hold the majority of a German football club. Furthermore, branding a club by renaming it with an eye towards the example of FC Red Bull Salzburg is forbidden, too. That’s the reason why Red Bull gave up on taking over the FC Sachsen and looked for different solution. The small club SSV Markranstädt, located only 20 kilometres away from Leipzig’s centre, is an easier target than the FC Sachsen and was willing to rename itself as “RasenBallsport” which the consumer is now supposed to associate with “Red Bull”.

Markranstädt gives up history and identity

In Markranstädt no fan protests could be expected. Besides Michael Kölmel, who is the owner of the non-profitable Zentralstadion, Markranstädt’s CEO and manager Holger Nussbaum was one of the central figures in the Red Bull deal. For Nussbaum, it was obvious that Markranstädt had reached its limits with being in the fifth league of German football. Only the cooperation with a sponsor, which will provide several millions of Euro, could improve football in Markranstädt. The price is high. The SSV Markranstädt will give up their male teams and consequently will lose their history and identity. Even more importantly, the Red Bull company, which is omnipresent in sports marketing, will soon determine the association of Leipzig and sports. It is a global operating company which spends about one third of its sales on marketing. Maybe next year already, the logo and the name of the company will brand the Zentralstadion.

According to a survey of the local Leipziger Volkszeitung, which is promoting and celebrating the commitment of Red Bull, 70 percent of the informants support Red Bull and their new club. Many traditionalists RasenBallsport often compare Leipzig to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim which is financed by its patron Dietmar Hopp. But whereas Hopp himself has played in Hoffenheim in his youth and still loves their local club, Red Bull is a conqueror from the outside. Hopp supports his region, he has established a foundation trying to solve social problems. On the contrary, Red Bull is aiming at three things: becoming more popular, expanding on markets and selling tons of their energy drink.

Fans and critical observers resist

However, critical opinions are rare. But a minority of football fans and capitalist-critical observers resist. After the Red Bull deal was announced, opponents tagged Markranstädt’s home ground Stadion am Bad with anti Red Bull graffiti and destroyed the lawn with herbicide. The new club RasenBallsport Leipzig will compete against FC Sachsen and 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig in the next season. Without a doubt, these games will be classified as security matches. In addition, the German football fan scene has always been an opponent of retort clubs. Besides FC Sachsen and 1. FC Lokomotive the competitors of RasenBallsport Leipzig will be FSV Zwickau and the reserve teams of SG Dynamo Dresden, FC Carl Zeiss Jena, FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt and FC Erzgebirge Aue. All of them are traditional clubs well known in having many and particularly violent fans. The frustration is high, not only among the fans of the big local clubs. In the future, Red Bull marketing cars will probably avoid driving through alternative districts of Leipzig.

Disclaimer: Dieser Überblicksbeitrag wurde ursprünglich für das polnische Fußballportal verfasst und bietet dem aufmerksamen Beobachter des Leipziger Fußballs wahrscheinlich keine neuen Einblicke. Das Anliegen ist ein anderes, vor dem Hintergrund des Red-Bull-Einstieges sollen dem anglophonen Sprachraum grundlegende Fakten über die Leipziger Fußballkultur und -geschichte näher gebracht werden. Ich bin kein englischer Muttersprachler – für alle Fehler in Wortwahl und Grammatik möchte ich mich daher entschuldigen.


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