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German fans and police clash again as Euro 2024 looms

November 28, 2023

More than 200 people, including police, stewards and fans, were injured in violent scenes during a Bundesliga match in Frankfurt on Saturday. Are we seeing more of this in Germany?

Police gather outside Eintracht Frankfurt's stadium
Clashes between police and fans have become commonplace in Germany of lateImage: Bernd Kammerer/Presse- und Wirtschaftsdienst/picture alliance

What happened?

That depends, to some degree, who you ask. What we do know is that Stuttgart's Bundesliga away win over Eintracht Frankfurt was marred by widespread violence which has left roughly 200 people — police, stewards and fans — injured. Many home fans failed to take their place on the terraces during the game as a result, with police intervening in the stands.

The trouble seems to have begun at Block 40 of the Waldstadion, where Frankfurt ultras enter their home stadium. Skirmishes between stewards and then police appear to have broken out there, with the arrival and heavy-handed tactics of the latter aggravating the hardcore elements of Frankfurt's fanbase. The police have launched a special commission to investigate and claim that barriers and fire extinguishers were thrown by fans, with several officers hospitalized and several fans arrested. 

What has been said?

Frankfurt police chief Stefan Müller called a press conference on the Monday after the game to lay the blame directly at the door of "problem fans" at the ground. "The pictures shocked me very much," he added. "Such an excess of violence is unacceptable."

That version of events is hotly disputed by organized Frankfurt fan groups like Der 13. Man (The 13th Man).

"I've never experienced anything like that and I've been going to football for a very long time. I was there live and experienced it. I was shocked. A lot of people were shocked," said Ina Kobuschinski, spokeswoman for the organization. "We've never had so much blood and so many problem cases before. To go in like that was simply disproportionate and terrible."

Police and fans clash on the terraces in Frankfurt
Frankfurt's home block stood nearly empty for large parts of the match as police entered the terraceImage: Arne Dedert/dpa/picture alliance

Eintracht apologized to all those involved, whether directly or indirectly, and said it will take time to draw proper conclusions about what happened. The club also said Stuttgart fans were blameless and said the police had not communicated to the club that the game carried an increased security risk. The statement also condemned the violence against security staff that sparked the conflict as "inexcusable."

But the club also noted that Saturday saw a police operation and response that: "in terms of duration and intensity has never before taken place in the stadium in this form."

What is the background?

Clashes between football fans and police have escalated significantly in Germany of late, with fan groups across the country complaining of poor treatment by authorities and various infringements of civil liberties.

"The situation is deadlocked, a solution with any kind of fan-police dialogue is unfortunately unrealistic," said fan representative Dario Minden from Unserer Kurve, an umbrella organization of German fan groups, earlier this month. Fans generally believe that an increased, and more aggressive, police presence is exacerbating any issues and increasing tension.

From the other perspective, Hamburg police chief Falk Schnabel said: "We are not dealing with fan culture here, but with violent criminals." Such statements are common from police authorities across the country, with forces also keen to clamp down on pyrotechnic displays.

What happens next?

The police commission, comprised of about 50 people, will investigate the situation, as will Frankfurt, while fan groups are limited to protests and press releases. 

All eyes will be on Frankfurt's next home match, on Thursday in the Europa Conference League against Greek side, PAOK. The German team have been hit with a number of UEFA charges relating to fan behavior in recent seasons and Frankfurt fans are banned from traveling to the team's next away match in the competition, against Aberdeen in Scotland next month. Last season, UEFA also informed Frankfurt that Napoli had imposed a ban on fans traveling for a Champions League match in Italy.

Massive ultra clashes in Naples

Will this affect Euro 2024 in Germany?

Though it seems unlikely that Euro 2024 will be significantly impacted by the nationwide escalation of fan and police conflict that peaked in Frankfurt, UEFA told DW it is monitoring the situation, adding that specific security issues would be handled by the German police and interior ministry.

"UEFA is in permanent exchange with the local authorities, the police and the ministry of interior in Germany to discuss the planned security concept and measures for the final tournament next summer," the statement read.

A number of UEFA's flagship events, including the 2019 men's Champions League final ,where UEFA's own report admits the organization bore "primary responsibility" for chaos that made it "remarkable that no one lost their life,", and the final of Euro 2020 at Wembley in London (where this year's Champions League final will be played) were marred by inadequate policing and stewarding. The organization point to a number of changes at the home of English football since.

Frankfurt is one of 10 German cities which will host matches at the tournament, and will see four group matches and a round of 16 tie.

Edited by: Jonathan Harding