NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK GET LOVE

Leipzig win­ning over Ger­man fans with im­pres­sive re­sults in first Bun­desliga sea­son

New Straits Times - - Sport -

THE name ‘RB Leipzig’ re­mains a red rag for most hard­core Ger­man fans, but the con­tro­ver­sial Bun­desliga club are win­ning over main­stream sup­port­ers, and rightly so, says Michael Bal­lack.

Leipzig are sec­ond only to Bay­ern Mu­nich in the Ger­man top flight and on course to qual­ify di­rectly for the group stages of next sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League.

They are the only club from a city in for­mer East Ger­many cur­rently in the Bun­desliga.

Founded in 2009, when Red Bull took over a Ger­man Foot­ball League (DFL) li­cence, they are by far the youngest club in Ger­many’s top flight.

Backed by the en­ergy drinks gi­ants, Leipzig re­sisted the urge to buy big-name stars for their first sea­son, snap­ping up young tal­ent to nur­ture — with im­pres­sive re­sults.

Play­ing eye-catch­ing foot­ball, their young squad opened the club’s first sea­son at the top level with a Bun­desliga-record 13match un­beaten run.

They picked off estab­lished names like Borus­sia Dort­mund, Ham­burg, Schalke and Wolfs­burg in the process.

But they have re­ceived any­thing but a warm welcome in Ger­many’s top tier.

Fans of ri­val clubs have shown given them the cold shoul­der — or in­deed worse — due to the per­ceived com­mer­cial­ism they are seen to rep­re­sent.

In Au­gust, a sev­ered bull’s head was thrown from the stands dur­ing a Ger­man Cup game in Dres­den.

In Septem­ber, home fans staged a sit-down protest in front of the RB team bus which meant kick-off had to be de­layed be­fore their game at Cologne.

And in Fe­bru­ary, hooli­gans in Dort­mund at­tacked Leipzig sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing fam­i­lies with chil­dren, which led to the hosts be­ing fined by the Ger­man FA (DFB).

The an­i­mos­ity was in­ten­si­fied af­ter Dort­mund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke last year de­scribed Leipzig as a club “per­form­ing” to sell cans of drink.

But the re­sent­ment and even pure ha­tred Leipzig have been shown by diehard ‘Ul­tras’ here is not re­flected by main­stream foot­ball sup­port­ers, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey.

“It is ac­knowl­edged that re­fresh­ing foot­ball is be­ing played in Leipzig and that their fans know how to be­have,” Gunter A. Pilz, an ex­pert on Ger­man foot­ball fan cul­ture, said.

“These fac­tors can pos­i­tively change the im­age that a bil­lion­aire from Aus­tria came to cre­ate a club solely for ad­ver­tis­ing pur­poses.”

In a sur­vey of 5,950 fans from Bun­desliga clubs across Ger­many by mar­ket re­search com­pany LSC Man­age­ment, more than three quar­ters said they feel RB Leipzig have en­riched the Bun­desliga.

Some 94.5 per cent be­lieve the club are do­ing a good job.

Leipzig coach Ralph Hasen­huettl is pleased his squad are win­ning peo­ple over af­ter reg­u­larly ex­pe­ri­enc­ing hos­til­ity from op­pos­ing fans at away games.

Ex-Ger­many cap­tain Bal­lack be­lieves some of the re­sent­ment shown to­wards Leipzig is just jeal­ousy at Red Bull’s in­vest­ment in the club and the city.

“I think it is an de­bate based on envy,” Bal­lack, who hails from Chem­nitz, near Leipzig, told mag­a­zine Sport Bild.

A sep­a­rate sur­vey of 1,000 fans ranked Leipzig as the sev­enth most pop­u­lar club in Ger­many, an­other in­di­ca­tion of the ris­ing sup­port RB are nur­tur­ing.

Leipzig’s fans pro­mote a non-vi­o­lent, fam­i­lyfriendly cul­ture.

As one ban­ner fit­tingly read dur­ing their re­cent home de­feat to Ham­burg: “Bet­ter to be ob­sessed with great sport (foot­ball), than by hate and envy.”

TO­DAY: Bay­ern v Frank­furt, Darm­stadt v Mainz, Freiburg v Hof­fen­heim, Ber­lin v Dort­mund, Leipzig v Wolfs­burg, In­gol­stadt

vCologne; TO­MOR­ROW: Schalke v Augs­burg, Ham­burg v M’glad­bach.

AFP PIC

Leipzig striker Timo Werner and Augs­burg goal­keeper Mar­win Hitz vie for the ball dur­ing their Bun­desliga match last Fri­day.

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