Energie Surge

Energie Cottbus (4:0) SV Babelsberg 03

Calling it a derby might be a stretch, even by the broadest definition of the term. The clubs are separated by over 130 kilometers. Their respective cities, and fan scenes, could not be more different (more on this later). Yet, in recent years SV Babelsberg 03 and Energie Cottbus has become one of the fiercest matches in all of Germany.

The two are the topmost clubs in the German state of Brandenburg, though many,  including us at Bloody Hell Magazine, consider Babelsberg a de-facto Berlin club. Though the title of Brandenburg’s topmost clubs doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight in 2017, as the state has no clubs playing in the top three tiers of German football. Both Babelsberg and Cottbus compete in the Regionalliga Nordost, the 4th tier of German football.

More casual fans of German football will instantly recognize the name Energie Cottbus, as they were last team from the former East Germany to play in the Bundesliga (relegated in 2009). Babelsberg have bounced around the lower-leagues for much of their history, but in recent years they have developed themselves as a solid mid-table club in the Regionalliga Nordost.

Recent matches between the two have been marred with crowd trouble. Cottbus has a well-documented problem with neo-nazis in their active fan scene, while the Babelsberg fan scene is strongly left-wing and anti-fascist. They have a strong friendship with St. Pauli. Last season when the two met in Babelsberg, Cottbus supporters chanted anti-Semitic slogans, gave the Hitler salute, and attempted to storm the pitch (Video of last year’s incident, and a bit more context on Cottbus via 11 Freunde).

The aftermath of that match is still lingering. Cottbus’ punishment was a 13,000 Euro fine and a match behind closed doors. Babelsberg was fined 7,000 Euros for their role in the incident. Babelsberg fans chanted, “Nazi-Schweine Raus”, among other things at the hostile visitors from Cottbus. They believe they are being unfairly blamed for contributing to the riots, and the club is appealing. After all, since when is calling a spade a spade a finable offense?

As for this past Sunday, police were not taking any chances. I’ve been to a lot of football in my life, and not always in the most friendly of confines, but yesterday was something completely new for me. I had a ticket in the Babelsberg guest-block. I caught the train at Alexanderplatz along with a good chunk of the Babelsberg contingent. Police in full riot gear accompanied us on the train to Cottbus. When we arrived, it looked as if the entire train station had been shut down for our arrival. The roughly 1.5 kilometer stretch from the station to the stadium was completely lined with police. It looked to me like there was a cop for every 2 or 3 away fans. Upon entering the stadium I was searched more thoroughly than I was on my last flight. I even had to take my shoes off, a first for me at a football stadium. On the way back to the station after the match there was a helicopter overhead. Police, again in full riot gear, accompanied us on the train ride home.

This season, Cottbus has been making a mockery of the league, as they sit in first with 32 points from 11 matches. They are 11 points clear of their closest competitor and their goal differential is plus 30. After watching the way they hammered Babelsberg 4-0 on Sunday, I’m convinced they’d finish mid-table in the 3.Liga.

The Babelsberg guest-block had little to cheer about on the day, as their side offered almost nothing, and they were lucky to not lose by an even wider margin. Babelsberg will have a chance to enact revenge in the Rückrunde when Cottbus travels to the beautiful Karl-Liebknecht Stadion. The two clubs are both still alive in the Brandenburg Cup, so a third match between the two could be on the horizon.

This season, as the right-wing element, most notably the group ‘Inferno Cottbus’, has continued to grow in size and influence on the terraces at Cottbus, the club is finally making an effort to fight back. However, one has to wonder, is it too late? Additionally, the right-wing element has reportedly started to deal in other criminal activity, including drug dealing and prostitution. This is not uncommon for hooligan groups from places such as Poland and the Balkans, but is rare for Germany. They have bullied other ultra  and fan groups at the club with intimidation and threats of violence. The problematic element was estimated to be around 100 people by police as of last spring. This is nothing new at Cottbus, as these types of problems within their fan scene have existed for years (match in 1997 where Cottbus fans hurled racist abuse at black players from Hannovers 96). Though the local press have covered the issue for a while now, a wider national and international audience is finally starting to take notice as the situation has spiraled out of control.

The club acknowledging the problem is a positive first step, but the struggle to eradicate right-wing extremism from the terraces will take time and persistence. It will also require a combined effort from multiple parties, including, but not limited to: club officials, league officials, law enforcement, opposing clubs, community leaders, fans, and even players and coaches.

I would be remiss if I did not mention what a wonderful place Cottbus´ “Stadion der Fruendschaft” is to watch a match. The ground has an English feel to it, with four distinct stands, all small, intimate, and close to the pitch,  as well as old-school floodlights which dot the corners. The ground looked particularly nice last Sunday on what was a picturesque fall day.

I hope I can someday travel to an open, tolerant, Cottbus and stand, with a good conscious, in their block for a match.