The fury of Frankfurt
“A carnival of love” was the slogan I saw all over Cologne, written on stickers slapped all over lampposts and metro stations, as well as being graffiti’d on a number of walls. If there was plenty of love to be found at the carnival, there certainly wasn’t any on show at the stadium, despite the game falling on the weekend of Valentine’s Day.
While this isn’t the main rivalry for either of these clubs, there is certainly a great deal of bad feeling between them due to the close proximity of the cities and previous incidents between both sets of ultras. I had visited an Eintracht Frankfurt home game once before, with the great atmosphere inspiring me to try out their away end. Having wanted to visit RheinEnergieStadion for quite a while and Cologne being just two hours away by train, it was the perfect opportunity.
Eintracht Frankfurt supporters had grabbed the attention of the whole of Europe a few years ago during a Europa League campaign that was fairly good on the pitch, and an absolute triumph in the stands, with spectacular tifos and huge travelling support to the away matches. I have been hoping to see the club return to Europe ever since so I could take in a game, but this season they are sadly close to suffering the agony of relegation rather than the euphoria of European qualification. They went in to this game just one spot above the relegation playoff position, and there had been furious scenes at the end of a recent 0-1 home defeat to Darmstadt.
The ultras had confronted the players at the end of that game, with many of them jumping a wall to stand on the edge of the pitch. It was called a pitch invasion by the DFB (more on them later), but in reality it was just anger at another poor performance – only three or four supporters stepping foot on the pitch, and even that wasn’t for long.
A reader of the website from Frankfurt was able to get me a ticket in the standing section of the away end, and I was all set to experience what the SGE had to offer away from home. I didn’t realise when arranging the trip that it was also the 68th anniversary of the formation of FC Kôln, meaning they were sure to have something planned to celebrate.
Sure enough, there were clear signs of a tifo (known as a choreo in Germany) when I took my first look at the stadium an hour before kick off. It’s a truly excellent stadium, and hard to believe that it was hosting second tier football until just recently. Regular readers will know that I like floodlights in the same way that some people like art, and these were some of the best I have seen so far on my travels, rising high into the sky like a tower designed to defend a castle.
The away end was wisely situated at the furthest point from the home terrace, providing a great view of the outstanding choreo display that had been designed by the home supporters to celebrate the founding of their club. It began by displaying 13.02.1948 across the top tier, before a huge banner bearing the club’s logo was unfurled, along with a huge 1948 in the top tier, a banner talking about the honour of tradition of the club in the second, and a sea of waving red and white scarves. As the grand finale, each of the banners which displayed a number was dropped to reveal a great moment from the history of the club, starting in black and white and moving to colour as the years progressed. Finally, the last one read ‘one day…’ and mocked up FC Koln being pulled out of the hat at the Champions League draw.
There would also be action from the away stand, with most of the away end holding up spray painted scarves with ‘SCHEISS DFB” written on them, and others with “NUR FUR DE SGE”, SGE being one of the names that Eintracht supporters use to refer to the club. There was also a banner at the front of the stand which obviously I couldn’t see, but seems to have read “Free Freddy” from what I saw on Instagram after the game.
There was a terrific atmosphere from both sides of the stadium as the game kicked off, with three capos at the front of the away end leading the chants, and many of the ultras sat on the fence that divided the pitch from the supporters. I’ve always thought of Eintracht Frankfurt as being different to the usual German team, and the people who made up the away end were proof of that. Many German away ends would be full of people with 12 scarves tied around their arms, wearing a denim jacket with lots of patches sewn into the back, but this wasn’t like that. Eintracht Frankfurt feels like a club for the underdog, one where everyone is welcome. From the usual young guys in black North Face jackets to those with tattoos on their necks or a ring through their nose, it didn’t matter as long as you were SGE. The song book was also a lot more varied than “SHA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA (team name)” which you hear at some grounds, putting together a very impressive atmosphere.
Despite the palpable undercurrent of rage you could feel in the away section, they remained very supportive of their side, urging them forward. 25 minutes or so into the game, the support would be rewarded with a goal, Alexander Meier finding the back of the net and sending the away end into raptures. Despite the fact that everyone was going bonkers, you didn’t see anyone falling over or causing injury to themselves like I have done so many times in an away end with seats, further proof if it was needed that terracing simply must be an option which is available to football supporters.
The away end linked arms and bounced up and down to celebrate the opening goal, as well as one of the many football chants that is now firmly stuck in my head for the rest of my life “Köln, Köln, wir scheißen auf , die Dom”. If you don’t speak German I’ll tell you that “Dom” is the word for cathedral, the rest I’m pretty sure you can work out for yourself.
So, would this be the day it all turned around for Eintracht Frankfurt, a glorious away win in Cologne helping the eagles soar towards the top half of the table? Well, no. Barely five minutes had gone by when a terrible error from a defender gave Koln an easy chance from just a couple of yards out, one which was gratefully taken by the attacking player, blasting the ball past the keeper who never had a chance. All the good work undone in an instant, and that would be a theme for SGE throughout the match. Several times their players would pull off a great bit of skill, only to mess up something much easier a moment later.
Half time arrived with the score level, and it would be this 15 minute break that would see the kind of organisation that the midfield and defenders could only dream of. “Scheiss DFB” banners were distributed to the entire away end, including people in the top tier hanging their scarves over the edge, with supporters in the lower tier wrapping the flags around their scarf to be pulled back up. They were also rolled into a ball and thrown up, ensuring that everyone had one.
As the players came out for the second half, the protest against the DFB banning supporters, preventing tifos from taking place and punishing Eintracht for the use of pyro, among a list of other reasons that was posted in the away end – these were just the ones I could translate from German. The banners were raised aloft, sending a message that was impossible to ignore. Just in case they tried, the chanting could be heard for miles around: “**** THE DFB, EINTRACHT FRANKFURT WILL FIGHT YOU” is the best literal translation I can give, it could also mean “will keep fighting”, but the message is just as clear either way. This went on and on and on, only pausing for the first time when the home side took the lead on roughly the hour mark – more poor defending leading to SGE falling behind.
Still the away supporters did not give up hope and did not turn on their team, but you could sense they didn’t believe the 11 men on the field could give them the kind of result and performance their efforts deserved. It was party time in the home end meanwhile, with the home terrace bouncing up and down as if they were doing their best to cause an earthquake. While the focus of my story is on the away side, credit really must also go to Koln, it’s one of the best German stadiums I have visited and certainly somewhere I would recommend for lovers of football culture everywhere (ok, maybe not in Gladbach, but most places).
Not too long after the second goal for Cologne, the third one arrived. Frustrations had already boiled over on the pitch a few minutes before, three players being shown a yellow card after some prolonged pushing and shoving that probably should have also seen at least one red. With their side now 3 – 1 down and the rest of the stadium a sea of twirling red and white scarves, the full fury of Frankfurt was unleashed. Many supporters climbed the fences of the away end to encourage those in the home end to see them outside, and probably not to swap scarves and chat about the game.
The capos at the front of the stand were screaming into the microphones to keep going and keep supporting the team until the end “Give them everything you have for the last ten minutes”. So they did. Until the bitter end they kept singing and supporting their team with proud and defiant chanting. Again my translation is not perfect, but the final chant was something like “The first love, the one that lasts forever, Eintracht Frankfurt my team”. After ensuring that their team had been supported for 90 minutes, the supporters stopped holding back once the full time whistle blew. As the players reluctantly made their way over to the away section, many of the ultras scaled the fence to launch furious verbal abuse at them for their failure and perceived lack of effort.
As an additional method to show their fury, a bonfire was started at the front of the away end, with the protest flags from earlier being set ablaze. Anyone who regularly follows a team away that isn’t Barcelona or Bayern Munich has probably been angry enough to want to set the odd away end on fire after a game (you should have seen me in 2009 at Sheffield Wednesday), so I have to give credit to SGE for actually doing it!
All in all this was probably the angriest away end I have ever been in, and I fear that it is only going to get worse over the coming weeks for the Frankfurt side. There was not much to suggest that the players have the fight for a relegation battle. One thing is clear – it would be a football culture tragedy to lose this club from the Bundesliga, especially if they are to be replaced by the latest vile Red Bull marketing project in Leipzig. For some perspective, my ticket cost 15 Euro, I could stand up, nobody tried to sell me a half and half scarf and no stewards rushed to stop any signs of protest – the DFB hasn’t allowed things to get as bad as it is in England just yet. But they certainly need clubs like Eintracht Frankfurt more than Eintracht Frankfurt needs them, and if they enter a war, it might just be one they cannot win.