A protest banner raised against Red Bull Leipzig during the match last weekend, when they were thrashed 3-0 by Borussia Monchengladbach, almost caused the match to be abandoned.
Protesting against the plastic monstrosity that is the lawn-ballers is a central part of modern German football culture. Everyone gets in on the game. Bayern fans have snuck protest banners into Red Bull’s stadium, teams refuse to produce friendship scarfs with Red Bull and earlier this year enterprising Stuttgart fans managed to hang a sign that read “A bloc of bitches with no tradition” over the visiting Red Bull fans with them none the wiser.
With former Gladbach coach now in charge of the marketing program the game at Borussia-Park was set to be a festival of protest.
Fans whistled loudly every time a visiting player touched the ball while new, creative and insulting songs were sung about Marco Rose and Max Eberl in great chorus’ around the park. And then there were the banners.
It started off with a giant banner that read “No acceptance for RB.” So far so good.
But when fans unveiled a banner critical of anyone who would go to work for the Austrian owned club, the referee took exception.
The banner read “A son of a bitch club only hires sons of a bitches.” To be more precise it used the term huhrensohn which would literally translate to son of a whore, but is more of a general pejorative like “son of a bitch.”
When the referee, Patrick Ittrich, a police officer by vocation, noticed the banner in the 42nd minute he instructed the PA announcer to declare that the game would be suspended if the banner was not taken down. Being up 2-0 at that point, the Gladbach ultras lowered the banner and enjoyed the 3-0 stomping of Red Bull.
The matter is now steeped in controversy. Gladbach fan groups have spoken out against the move saying that Ittrich does not understand the culture of the kurve, while the referee seems unable to resist the temptation to make public statements about how he feels about insulting signs.
However the Bundesliga has a clear three step process for match suspension that the referee did not follow in uttering his threats.
In addition, the league rules are clear that a referee is only authorized to intervene in cases of discrimination or racism, not simple insults. Bundesliga regulations define discrimination and do not cover this situation.
Most experts and pundits who have looked into the matter agree that Ittrich over stepped his authority and imposed his personal viewpoint on hundreds or thousands of passionate fans.
Disciplinary action is needed. Against Ittrich, not the fans.