Lok Leipzig fan culture interview (English)
This interview was originally conducted in German, and is available to read auf Deutsch here
This weekend I was interviewed by @Matt_4d for the official Lokomotive Leipzig matchday programme, where I spoke about fan culture, derby matches, Cardiff City and finding a new home at Feyenoord. Here is the English version of the interview:
Just briefly, describe the events leading to the takeover of Vincent Tan? What were the reactions and thoughts of the fans?
The club had had real financial problems after the ownership of Sam Hammam (once of Wimbledon) and Peter Ridsdale (responsible for the demise of Leeds) and was desperate for cash. Initially it was a different Malaysian investor, Dato Chan, who got involved, before he asked his friend Vincent Tan to get involved. When they first took over the club before any mention of the rebrand, reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
Is it fair to say that many fans were happy to accept the new money due to the promise of premier league football?
Absolutely. The fact that Cardiff had lost in the playoffs three years in a row, combined with the fact arch rivals Swansea were doing so well meant that many supporters would have accepted literally anything to get to the Premier League. Of those who did resist, the signing of Craig Bellamy from Liverpool was enough to convince many to accept the change.
Cardiff fans have reacted in various different ways since the takeover. Some happily wear the new red kit, others still attend games but still wear blue and others like yourself have boycotted altogether. Is there any animosity among the fans themselves?
During my protest against the club I received six death threats, my address was posted on the internet and people contacted my workplace trying to get me sacked. At a fans meeting called to discuss action we could take, former members of the Soul Crew (Cardiff’s hooligan group) promised to “bury” anyone who waved a blue flag in the stadium. But really this is only a very small majority, and most Cardiff fans respect the decision of those who have stopped watching the club, just as I hold no ill-feeling to those who have retained their season tickets. Indeed, I often follow Wales away and still meet with many of the friends I made in my Cardiff days without us arguing over the issue.
What was your personal tipping point?
As soon as I saw a picture of the red shirt, I knew it was over for me. I went to the stadium, left my scarf tied to the stadium gates and let off a blue smokebomb. I haven’t been back to this day.
Were there, or are there, any plans to found a new club along the lines of AFC Wimbledon, Austria Salzburg or FC United of Manchester?
It was discussed briefly, but support was simply not there in enough numbers. Another factor was the likelihood that the club would have had to play in the Welsh pyramid, rather than being allowed to play in England.
Where did the idea for your http://www.supportersnotcustomers.com come from originally?
I knew I wanted to set up a fan culture website to try and turn the tide of modern football, but wasn’t sure what to call it. Ironically enough for this article, I saw a group of Borussia Dortmund fans marching through Manchester before their game at the Etihad, and the ‘Supporters Not Customers’ banner they were carrying seemed the perfect name.
You’ve travelled all over Europe watching big derbies and experiencing some great atmospheres. Which trip stands out and why?
The craziest game I’ve seen was Red Star Belgrade vs. Partizan Belgrade, the ‘Eternal Derby’ of Serbia. From banned fans parachuting into the stadium before the game to the away supporters setting the stadium on fire after going behind, it was on a completely different level to anything else I’ve seen. I’m going back to Serbia in a few weeks time to see the game at Partizan, which I’m sure will be just as wild.
On Monday, Chester beat Wrexham 2-1 in the cross-border derby. What’s that derby all about? What other rather unusual derbies or rivalries have you experienced?
I actually attended this fixture last season when Chester won 2 – 0 at Wrexham, and was amazed by the level of hatred. Genuinely, it exceeds anything in the Premier League. The Wrexham fans even had a banner mocking the death of two young Chester fans, while flares were thrown between the stands. A lot of the rivalry is based on the England vs. Wales thing, but it also comes from them being ignored by the other clubs around them such as Everton, Liverpool etc. With only one side to hate, the feelings are intense.
Describe the rivalry between Cardiff and Swansea?
Before the invention of the ‘bubble trip’, it was probably one of the most violent in the country. The Swansea fans destroyed a large section of Ninian Park on one particular midweek visit, while fighting was commonplace whenever they played. As well as the geographical reasons for the rivalry, Cardiff is the capital city of Wales, a status Swansea believes they should have for themselves. Of course, the last few years have firmly given Swansea the bragging rights, but until recently they were generally regarded by the media as poor relations, the ‘other’ Welsh team. If it was needed, this gave Swansea even more reason to want to beat the boys from the capital.
What is the best German derby you have witnessed?
I always hear about the Berlin derby, but I’ve never been particularly impressed with Hertha supporters and I’m told that while there is a good atmosphere at the games, the intense hatred isn’t particularly there.. With that in mind I’m going to say Niedersachsenderby between Hannover and Braunschweig. The hatred feels strong unlike the game in Berlin, and the fact they don’t happen all that often adds to the occasion. I’d also like to see Hansa vs. St Pauli one day, the idea of a derby based on politics rather than geography interests me.
Have you ever been to Lokomotive Leipzig vs Chemie Leipzig? And what’s your opinion on Red Bull Leipzig?
Not yet, but after reading a little about the fixture in preparation for this article, it sounds like I have to see it for myself when it eventually happens again! As for Red Bull Leipzig, they aren’t a football team. They are a marketing tool for a company which doesn’t care about football at all, and cares about supporters even less. The day Red Bull is removed from football completely will be the best one in recent memory. I have visited Salzburg on a couple of occasions to support the true club there, and will do so in the future in Leipzig (if you’ll have me!). Any supporter who stands in defiance of Red Bull greed is the true definition of a supporter rather than a customer, and I have huge admiration for them all.
You currently live in the Netherlands and are a season ticket holder at Feyenoord. Why Holland? And why Feyenoord?
In truth, the only thing really keeping me in the UK was Cardiff City. Once they were no longer a factor in my life, I knew I would end up moving abroad. I made a lot of friends in Rotterdam on one of my football trips (a 4 – 2 victory for Feyenoord over Den Haag), and by chance was offered a job in the country a few months later. Feyenoord have the best supporters in the country (closely followed by Go Ahead Eagles), and despite the fact they lose on the pitch most weeks, it’s an absolute pleasure to be involved in the atmosphere in the stands every time.