How closeness is lost between fans and footballers

Frankfurt / Main (dpa) – There will be no selfies or signatures for the hotel this time when the national football team meets in Stuttgart on Monday.

Due to the Corona crisis, one of the few opportunities for fans to get close to their stars is also missing. However, the trend towards social distancing and social media existed before the pandemic – especially in the Bundesliga.

“Although players and fans are often the same age, they don’t have much in common. The respective worlds are far too far apart for that. No chance of meeting in person,” said Michael Gabriel, head of the Fan Project Coordination Office ( KOS) in Frankfurt / Head. This is not without problems, because the handling in the stadium becomes instrumental as the only meeting place – and the valuation is often measured by the amount of the transfer fees. “If players fail to deliver, it can quickly turn into extreme rejection,” explains the social worker.

“We often get the impression that we live in two different football worlds. It’s the same!”, Said Helen Breit, board member of “Our curve”. Because fans are currently not allowed into the stadium and there is no contact with the team through the stands, “the separation between the sports field and the fan area is of course even clearer.”

According to the Freiburg resident, it has become rare for players to identify with a club almost as strongly as fans. “Put rationally: for players, clubs are employers that you change when the time comes. For active fans, clubs are part of their lives, that’s something that lasts,” says Breit.

Of course, the players, coaches and officials in the pandemic miss their fans – as they repeatedly emphasize everywhere. Eintracht Frankfurt’s head coach Adi Hütter recently got the feeling during a lonely training session again that “you are somewhere in the country where nobody cares”. However, recently the Hessians had 125 spectators attend a training session – some other clubs are doing the same. As a rule, however, the supporters are excluded – as in the training camp of Borussia Dortmund in Bad Ragaz in Switzerland and also at the official opening of the BVB season.

At the start of the season in September, fans will be banned from the games at least until the end of October. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the prime ministers of the federal states agreed on Thursday that a working group should develop a proposal over the next two months to deal with fans at national sporting events.

Non-public training – this has been part of everyday life in the English Premier League for a long time and many fans fear that Corona will encourage such development in Germany as well. At FC Bayern, visitors for Corona were allowed to repeatedly attend the practice units. In addition, the record champions in the past have kept the tradition of players visiting fan clubs at Christmas. Nobody knows when that will be possible again. The same goes for liberties that Nils Petersen liked to take at SC Freiburg: the popular goalscorer often stood for long selfies in front of the Black Forest Stadium after matches – scenes rarely seen in professional business in recent years.

As the distance between the supporters and their favorite clubs continues to grow, so do their sensitivities. The fact that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge described his FC Bayern Munich’s triumph in the Champions League – in front of empty rows – as “the greatest spectacle I’ve ever witnessed” was not well received by the fan scene. President Herbert Hainer and CEO Rummenigge thanked Munich supporters with a letter on Monday. Rummenigge added via “Bild”: “There is a football culture and of course this football culture includes emotion and atmosphere in the stadium. We should all be very interested to see spectators get back into the stadium as soon as possible.”

The philosopher Wolfram Eilenberger sees football in the future even without a stadium audience. “80 to 90 percent of football fans are not stadium fans, but television fans,” said the 48-year-old, who holds the DFB coaching license, at “MDR-Kultur”. “It is also foreseeable that the sound carpet and background noise will be digitally simulated in the future. As a television experience, football – and this is perhaps a sad realization – can probably break free from the stadium fan.”

In addition, a new digital fan culture is emerging. It has long been perceived how important Twitter and other social media are during a game. This is now being fueled by the ghost games caused by the pandemic.

The clubs are using their social media channels more than ever to keep the fans happy and engaged. However, “Our curve” warns: “If clubs continue to focus primarily on marketing in their communication, we believe that it is the wrong focus and will have a negative effect on the relationship with the fans,” says Breit. “When is it time, if not now, to give football something more personal again (…)?” Despite the physical distance, it is important to establish social closeness.

The fan alliance is also hoping for changes to the new community of interest created by professionals around Mats Hummels, Sven Bender and Neven Subotic. “Rather than moving further and further away from the basics, fans should be recognized as an elementary part of football,” asks the “Our Football” initiative, which advocates for reform in the professional world.

“The active fans in the stadium are no longer interested in being close to the games. Instead, their expectations are much more basic: they want to be recognized as an integral part of the overall professional football event,” said KOS director Gabriel. Because fan projects support fans and clubs in these democratic processes, it is necessary to invest even more here. “After all, one of the things clubs, TV broadcasters and sponsors have learned from the Corona era is that the football event without a spectator is incredibly less attractive.”

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