SINSHEIM, Germany – What transpired inside Sinsheim’s PreZero Arena on Saturday during Bayern Munich’s match against Hoffenheim was bizarre.
Crowd behavior has caused match stoppages during Bundesliga games before. But the sight of Bayern players protesting their fans’ actions by kicking the ball about for 20 minutes was unprecedented, as was that of Bayern executives descending onto the pitch to address the club’s traveling support directly.
But both of those events occurred on this Saturday, a leap day, after the Bayern fans displayed two banners and a flag calling Hoffenheim investor Dietmar Hopp a Hurensohn (son of a whore).
It’s not common for a 6-0 Bayern result to be lost in the narrative. The win was Bayern’s largest in Sinsheim over Hoffenheim, a team that nearly turned around a three-goal deficit in the German Cup two and a half weeks ago.
The match saw Serge Gnabry score after just three minutes, his sixth in his last four games in all competitions. The Sinsheim crowd also bore witness to a teenager, 18-year-old Joshua Zirkzee, scoring in his first career start, and Philippe Coutinho, the club’s underwhelming big-money loan signing from Barcelona, scoring twice, his first goals since a December 14 hat trick against Werder Bremen.
The match was instead overshadowed by provocative fan banners, multiple game stoppages, a 20-minute player protest, and Bayern players turning their backs on their own fans. At the end of the day, this leap-day game will go down as one of the most thrilling and contentious contests in German football history.
A day of celebration
The timing of all the controversy surrounding this game, at least from the perspective of Bayern’s leadership, was unfortunate in that it occurred two days after the 120th anniversary of club’s founding.
The away fans appeared to be in a celebratory mood, holding up signs depicting the club’s former and current crests as the teams exited the tunnel. Smoke bombs shortly before kickoff and a sea of flares at the start of the second half vexed stadium officials and prompted the public address announcer to demand the boisterous crowd to cease with the pyrotechnics. But there still appeared to be some semblance of order in the proceedings.
Bayern Munich fans call Dietmar Hopp a “son of a bitch.”— Davis VanOpdorp (@Davis_VanOpdorp) February 29, 2020
Hansi Flick goes over immediately to tell the fans to remove the sign. #TSGFCB pic.twitter.com/a8t1bQJC33
Then came the chaos. Shortly after Leon Goretzka, making his first appearance after an injury layoff, increased Bayern’s lead to 6-0, fans in the away end unraveled a series of three banners that read: “Everything remains the same: The DFB breaks its word. Hopp remains a son of a whore!”
The display drew jeers and deafening whistles throughout PreZero Arena. The stadium announcer, clearly reading a prepared script, demanded that the sign be taken down, doing his best to speak over the ruckus.
Following the first step of the DFB’s Drei-Stufen-Plan (Three-Step Procedure) against offensive banners and racism, match referee Christian Dingert halted the play. But the match recommenced, much to the chagrin of Hoffenheim supporters, who began chanting “Spielabschluss” (“stop the game”).
Not even 10 minutes later, Dingert indeed was forced to stop the game again when a banner reading “Du Hurensonn!” (“you son of a whore”) appeared in the away end. The German referee called the players off the field, following the second step of the Drei-Stufen-Plan.
This banner brought the home crowd out of their seats, some countered the away-end demonstration with a double bird salute. Bayern head coach Hansi Flick was the first to sprint over to the away end to address the traveling Bayern fans. Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic, Thiago Alcantara, and the rest of the Bayern players soon joined him.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge then made his way onto the field just as a flag, which also appeared to be aimed at Hopp but the contents of which were hard to discern, began waving back and forth. Chairman-in-waiting Oliver Kahn could be seen standing in front of the tunnel at the bottom of the away section shouting and gesticulating at the crowd.
The pandemonium only let up when the Bayern players and executives finally retreated into the tunnel. The stadium began to empty as home fans continued to call for the game to be abandoned – the third and final step of the Drei-Stufe-Plan.
Bayern Munich players counter-protest
The home crowd, frustrated with the day’s proceedings, jeered as Dingert brought both teams back onto the field. But those boos quickly turned into cheers when the players of both teams began just kicking the ball around midfield.
Bayern captain Manuel Neuer told German media after the game that the players and coaches agreed in the tunnel during the second stoppage to play out the rest of the game in that manner. Rummenigge, who said he was “ashamed” of the support, said the players in the dressing room were “angry and shocked” at the away support.
Those uncomfortable 20 minutes were a sour end to the 6-0 result, a game Bayern dominated from the opening whistle. Gnabry’s electric opening goal was ancient history at that point. Zirkzee’s first career start was spoiled. Coutinho’s return to form felt unnecessary. Goretzka’s triumphant return from injury was just a footnote.
Instead, the image that spectators at the PreZero Arena left with was that of the Bayern players joining their Hoffenheim counterparts in saluting the home fans, their backs turned on their traveling support.
At times during his press conference after the game, Flick appeared lost for words, visibly frustrated that actions off the field overshadowed his team’s performance on it.
“I was so disappointed that something like that occurred, that something like that happened after such a terrific game,” Flick said. “Everything that our team achieved was thrown away. (Such actions) leaves one perplexed and angry.”
“You have to understand: we are upset,” Flick added. “We had a good performance and then it was destroyed. One then has to react to something that doesn’t belong in this day and age.”