Borussia Dortmund Fans Fighting Unwinnable War with Boycott of RB Leipzig

Lars PollmannFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2016

Dortmund fans light flares during the German Cup (DFB Pokal) final football match Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund at the Olympic stadium in Berlin on May 21, 2016. / AFP / John MACDOUGALL / RESTRICTIONS: ACCORDING TO DFB RULES IMAGE SEQUENCES TO SIMULATE VIDEO IS NOT ALLOWED DURING MATCH TIME. MOBILE (MMS) USE IS NOT ALLOWED DURING AND FOR FURTHER TWO HOURS AFTER THE MATCH. == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE == FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT DFB DIRECTLY AT +49 69 67880

 /         (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
JOHN MACDOUGALL/Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund face RB Leipzig in their first away game of the 2016/17 Bundesliga campaign on Saturday following an oddly placed international break after an opening-day 2-1 win over Mainz 05.

The scheduling mirrors that of last season, when the Black and Yellows played FC Ingolstadt on Matchday 2. It's the first Bundesliga home match in their opponents' history after making the jump to the German top flight.

The Ruhr side will hope history repeats itself and perhaps seeing Ralph Hasenhuttl on the touchline can serve as a good omen, seeing as the Austrian coach moved from Ingolstadt to Leipzig in the summer. However, it's highly unlikely that Dortmund will come away with an easy 4-0 win on Saturday.

Jonas Hofmann and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrated a comfortable 4-0 win over FC Ingolstadt on Matchday 2 of the 2015/16 season.
Jonas Hofmann and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrated a comfortable 4-0 win over FC Ingolstadt on Matchday 2 of the 2015/16 season.CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

That was the result when they played Ingolstadt last season, but the similarities between the two promoted sides are few and far between. Indeed, Leipzig are far from a normal promoted side.

Even though Ingolstadt are backed by a huge company themselveslocal car manufacturer Audi holds a 20 percent stake, per Uli Hesse of ESPN FC—the Bavarians' financial firepower bears no relation to the firepower Leipzig boast thanks to their affiliation with Red Bull.

Whereas the Schanzer, as fans call Ingolstadt, invested only €3.7 million to supplement the team that won promotion in 2015, per Transfermarkt, Leipzig paid a total of €50 million in transfer fees this summer without winning a single cent from any outgoings.

Only Dortmund and perennial champions Bayern Munich shelled out more money in the recent transfer window, but both of the Bundesliga's premier sides received massive fees for players they sold in return.

Their negative balance of €50 million puts the eastern Germans 10th in the world, per Transfermarkt, with only five clubs from the Premier League totalling a higher net spend over the summer despite the inflation of the English transfer market.

Leipzig's unprecedented rise to the top flight—the club has only existed since 2009, when Red Bull acquired the license of then-fifth division side SSV Markranstadt—has naturally not come without a massive backlash from fans all over the country.

"The nouveau riche club epitomises everything traditional German football fans resent," Stefan Buczko wrote for ESPN FC. Protest against the "plastic club," as those fans have branded Leipzig, has come in many forms, as Rory Smith pointed out for the New York Times:

At Hansa Rostock, supporters refused to enter the stadium for the first 10 minutes; at Union Berlin, fans dressed in black and remained silent for 15 minutes. [Earlier in the summer], when RB Leipzig traveled to Dynamo Dresden for a German Cup match, a section of the home crowd threw a blood-soaked bull’s head at the field.

It's unlikely that we'll see similar things at the weekend, for Dortmund's fans have taken a different approach. Instead of visible protest on site, the Ruhr side's hardcore fans will simply stay away.

An alliance of organised fan groups has called for supporters of the Black and Yellows to boycott the match in Leipzig's aptly named Red Bull Arena. 

"The construct of the promoted side stands against everything that we associate with football," the statement on the alliance's official homepage read (h/t Buczko): "They contradict all sporting and emotional values." 

Instead of travelling to Leipzig, the group invited fans to watch Dortmund's under-23 team play against Wuppertaler SV in the Regionalliga in time-honoured Stadion Rote Erde, adjacent to the Westfalenstadion. Rote Erde is where the club played their matches between 1937 and 1974; it is an old-school football ground with a lot of history.

After the under-23 match, fans will gather to follow the game on Saturday evening via a live radio broadcast.

It's notable, however, that the lack of away support won't be visible during the game. "The 4,300 allocated guest tickets were sold out within 23 minutes," Buczko pointed out, while RB sporting director Ralf Rangnick told German tabloid Bild (h/t ESPN FC's Stephan Uersfeld) "we could have sold more than double the amount of tickets."

With organised groups of fans not making the trip, the away block is likely to be much quieter than usual, but it shows that not all fans share the concerns of the traditionalists—it doesn't help their cause that Dortmund have a large fanbase in eastern Germany, which has been a barren landscape in terms of Bundesliga football for far too long. 

Still, club officials have acknowledged the protest in a way, refusing Leipzig the licence to use the club crest and name on a joint friendship scarf, per the Guardian's Philip Oltermann.

Some may consider it a bit rich that Dortmund fans, of all people, take offence with the club from Saxony. After all, BVB are the only market-listed club in Germany, and the Black and Yellows have massively intensified their efforts in becoming a global brand, as this writer detailed in an earlier piece.

“Of course Dortmund makes money, but we do it in order to play football,” said Jan-Henrik Gruszecki, one of the protest's organisers, per Oltermann. "Leipzig plays football in order to sell a product and a lifestyle. That’s the difference."

While it's easy to associate Red Bull with that, it's an argument that doesn't have great merit.

"For all the controversy about the source of the team’s wealth, it is hard to argue with how RB Leipzig has spent it," Smith wrote. "Its training base is ultramodern, with individual relaxation spaces for the players; a light, airy cafeteria; and an indoor, artificial-turf sprint track to gauge players’ strength and speed."

Leipzig filled a vacuum in a region that was starved for Bundesliga football for years.
Leipzig filled a vacuum in a region that was starved for Bundesliga football for years.ROBERT MICHAEL/Getty Images

The club is widely considered to have the country's premier youth academy and sends more players to youth national teams than any other side in Germany.

The senior team is filled with exciting youngsters, such as Naby Keita, who conveniently was moved to eastern Germany from sister club RB Salzburg ahead of the season, and Scottish teenage sensation Oliver Burke.

The fact that Leipzig were able to land the 19-year-old from Nottingham Forest shows they're here to stay.

As Alex Richards reported for the Mirror: "Premier League clubs and top foreign rivalsincluding Bundesliga powerhouse Bayern and Spanish giants Barcelonahad all been interested, but in something akin to a cloak-and-dagger raid, Leipzig moved first to take the starlet’s undoubted potential to Germany."

A promoted side fending off interest from Premier League clubs and signing Burke, who's merely a talent for now, for €15 million hints at the financial firepower and the aspirations of the club.

However admirable you think Dortmund's fans are in their protest against what many consider a plastic club, they're ultimately fighting an unwinnable war.

Ready or not, here Leipzig come.

 

Lars Pollmann also writes for the Yellow Wall. You can follow him on Twitter.