Fireworks being lobbed in the stadium, banana’s showering the pitch and Che Guevara flags being openly burnt in the terraces.
Welcome to Hansa Rostock v St. Pauli, or as it’s known in Germany, the ‘fear derby’.
It was March 2010 and although I was warned not to attend this game by locals, the lure of a massive European football derby was too big to turn down despite its long history of violence.
With news being that there would be one police officer for every fifteen fans, I soon found out the seriousness of the hatred between fans of both clubs.
What could bring upon such hatred between two sets of people who live no more than two hours driving distance away from each other over a game of football?
The answer is simple: politics.
Rostock, although a relatively small city, is a flourishing hub for Neo-Nazism. St. Pauli on the other hand is Germany’s Amsterdam – a very liberal left-leaning city whose football fans are more than happy to display their love for Che Guevara and various other leftist ideologies through banners and choreographies.
Although the Hansa Rostock ultras aren’t as extravagant in their showing of their far right-wing beliefs as St. Pauli’s are with their left (it is a criminal offence in Germany to do anything that promotes/supports Nazi ideology), little hints appear as I cast my eye over the home fans end of the stadium.
I could have been wrong, but the amount of men with shaved heads suggested something more than a boldness problem in the city of Rostock. If that didn’t give it away then it was the same guys with the shaved heads all wore black hoods with a massive number ‘88’ emblazoned on the back probably did.
To those not in the know, Neo-Nazis use the number 88 as a code to symbolise the slogan ‘Heil Hitler’ as the letter H is the eighth letter in the alphabet.
Although there were only minor incidences before the game – probably due to the massive police presence – a late St. Pauli goal triggered a violent response from the Hansa Rostock ultras, who began to pepper the celebrating St. Pauli away end with fireworks and flares as well as throwing banana’s at St. Pauli’s black goalkeeper.
From amongst the smoke appeared a twenty-metre long banner in the away end, with “St. Pauli Antifa – Red or Dead!” painted on concrete underlay. Antifa being short for Anti-Fascist, this only angered the home crowd even more, who continued the barrage of missiles on the St. Pauli fans until the match was stopped by the referee.
As well as being the winners of the derby that night, the St. Pauli Football Club has become somewhat of an icon for Anti-Fascists around the world, with popular Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros known to wear St. Pauli ultras t-shirts at many of their gigs.
The ‘fear derby’ definitely isn’t the only fixture in Europe to be plagued by political-related violence.
Perhaps the most notable was the infamous Dinamo Zagreb – Red Star Belgrade riot of 1990, which many in the Balkan region suggest was one of the main precursors to the war that broke up Yugoslavia.
Dinamo Zagreb’s Bad Blue Boys and Red Star Belgrade’s Delije ultras groups clashed in running battles both inside and outside the stadium in which over 60 people were wounded.
The riot took place just weeks after Croatia held its first elections under Yugoslavian communist rule, in which the people voted for an independent Croatian republic. The BBB, fierce Croatian nationalists, fought against the Yugoslav-controlled police who protected the Red Star fans throughout the fighting and just months later the Croatian ‘War for Independence’ began.
Many BBB fought and died for Croatia during the war and now a large monument stands at Dinamo’s Maksimir Stadium in remembrance of the men.
Although not ‘traditional’ ultras, fans from massive rival Egyptian clubs Al-Ahly and Zamalek joined forces during the Arab Spring in an effort to help overthrow the Mubarak government. The main supporter groups were pivotal in organising the rallies in Tahir Square.
They say that politics and sport should never clash, but a sport as big as football in Europe cannot escape it; they are and always will be intertwined.