‘Stay away’ – German fans warned ahead of Bundesliga restart

BERLIN (AFP) – The Bundesliga returns on Saturday in empty stadiums, but German fans are being warned to stay away and authorities have warned matches could be halted if too many supporters gather outside the grounds.

German football will be blazing a trail among Europe’s top leagues by resuming two months after it was halted by the spread of coronavirus, but its strategy is fraught with risks.

In a football-mad country which boasts the highest average attendances in the world, will supporters banished from stadiums be able to stay away?

In Saxony, where third-placed RB Leipzig will host mid-table Freiburg on Saturday afternoon, the state’s Interior Minister Roland Woeller has issued a clear threat.

“Fans must not use matches behind closed doors as an excuse to gather in front of the stadiums or elsewhere,” he said.

“This could lead to matches being stopped.”

His concerns are justified.

This aerial view shows the Signal Iduna Park of Borussia Dortmund in western Germany. PHOTO: AFP

Several hundred fans gathered in Moenchengladbach when the hosts beat 2-1 Cologne on March 11 – the only previous German league game played behind locked doors, just days before the shutdown.

Eintracht Frankfurt have appealed to their supporters before they resume their season against ‘Gladbach on Saturday.

“We’ve talked a lot with our fans and said: ‘listen guys, don’t show up at the stadium’,” Frankfurt’s Sports Director Fredi Bobic told ESPN.

Under German league rules put in place to resume the season, the home side is responsible for ensuring fans do not try to approach the stadium to support their team from a distance.

After weeks of meticulous planning and mass testing of players and backroom staff, it would be a nightmare for the Bundesliga if the fans were to derail the fragile recovery attempt.

CEO of the Bundesliga Christian Seifert does not expect fans to play into the hands of critics who fear they will mass outside grounds despite large public events being banned in Germany.

Seifert accused the critics predicting that football fans would fail to respect the pleas for restraint of making “sweeping statements”.

“I don’t believe that the fan scene and the fan organisations will do their critics… the favour of behaving in exactly the way” that those doomsayers fear, he said.

The Bundesliga boss said all the talks he had held on the issue “do not give any indication” that supporters will gather.

Broadcaster Sky has agreed to show some of Saturday’s matches on a free-to-air channel, allaying fears that fans will gather in public places which have a subscription for the pay-per-view service.

However, Seifert said while they are taking every reasonable step to discourage fans from meeting up, “the DFL’s responsibility ends at a certain point”.

The centrepiece of Saturday’s return to action is Borussia Dortmund at home to Schalke in the Ruhr derby, a match which would usually draw a crowd of 82,000 to Signal Iduna Park.

Instead, it will be the first time this fixture is played behind closed doors since it began in 1925.

Germany’s huge stadiums – for example Bayern Munich’s enormous Allianz Arena holds 75,000 – will remain empty for the forseeable future.