RB Leipzig – Germany’s most hated football club
MK Dons have never been very popular outside of Milton Keynes among football fans because of their ‘Franchise FC’ roots.
But imagine how despised they might now be if they had gatecrashed the Premier League a few seasons after assuming Wimbledon’s identity, throwing wads of cash around in the process.
About as hated as Red Bull Leipzig are by other Bundesliga fans…
RBL gained promotion to the German top-flight last season, and it’s fair to say the rapid rise of the former East German minnows has enraged supporters of rival clubs.
The reason for the widespread antagonism towards them lies in the ‘Red Bull’ part of their name…
Who are RB Leipzig?
Formally known as SSV Markranstadt, they were bumbling along in Germany’s lower leagues until 2009 when the energy drink giant purchased the club and gave it a full makeover, changing its name, club badge, kit, the works.
Red Bull’s billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz had been looking for a club to invest in since 2006, trying without success in cities including Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Munich.
Firm plans were drawn up at one stage to purchase Fortuna Dusseldorf and rename it as Red Bull Dusseldorf, but they became public and were rejected by the club’s members.
Eventually, Mateschitz settled for buying and transforming SSV Markranstadt, and since then has pumped large sums of money into the club.
With RB Leipzig curently second in the Bundesliga, the Austrian is now reaping the rewards – and still spending.
The Bulls made a statement of intent for this season by signing Scottish international Oliver Burke from Nottingham Forest for £13m, and have Andre Wisdom on loan from Liverpool.
Leipzig are the first club from the old East Germany to gain promotion to the Bundesliga for seven years, and Mateschitz has stated he wants them to win it within the next couple of seasons.
Of course, where success is perceived to be the result of becoming a rich man’s play thing, dislike – if not downright hatred – is likely to follow.
Geoff, who is a Brighton-based fans of Bundesliga rivals FC St Pauli, believes RB Leipzig’s achievements run counter to German football’s traditions.
“Germans are proud of their tradition fan culture,” he told me. ‘It’s what’s attracts many suppporters from outside Germany to clubs like St Pauli instead of the modern football typified by the English Premier League.”
“The involvement of Red Bull financially, their branding and RB’s control of the fan membership is an abuse to the 50+1 rules”
For many, Red Bull’s involvement violates the spirit of German football’s 50%+1 rule, whereby ordinary members have a controlling stake in their local club, and commercial interests can’t gain overall control.
As Geoff explained: “The rules are in place to maintain the fans’ connection/control of the clubs and maintain fairer competition between sides.”
Red Bull Leipzig’s meteoric rise has led to opposition fans dishing out abuse. When FC Erzgebirge Aue faced Leipzig in a Bundesliga 2 game, the Aue fans compared Mateschitz to Hitler and RB fans to Nazis.
Rival supporters are now adopting other methods of signalling their dislike, and Geoff said: “The majority of protests seem to be about boycotting periods of games – with a philosophy of if you don’t engage with them and ignore them, they’ll go away. No interest, and the corporates will move on.”
When Borussia Dortmund played away at Leipzig in September, their supporters stayed away, with one fan group arguing that they wouldn’t travel to support their team against a side that stands “against everything we associate with football”.
However, Leipzig had the last laugh as they won the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from substitute Naby Keita.
Their fans would, of course, argue that the hatred directed at their club is borne out of envy, while pointing to RBL’s impressive youth system which has seen their players representing Germany at almost every level.
The future – more ‘company clubs’?
Red Bull’s sporting investments also include New York Red Bulls in the MLS and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, not to mention the Formula 1 team.
“I think the response to RB Leipzig being so disliked is to dissuade other companies from getting involved in clubs”
If other companies follow their lead, are we looking at a future where more football clubs have their identities remoulded by corporate ownership in order to achieve success?
Geoff said: “RBL are the first and were unopposed. If others do follow they’ll be in competition with each other and I think it’s more likely for them to struggle.”
He added: “Fans in Germany, even if not directly affected, are very intelligent and able to look further ahead to when they themselves might be affected.
“I think the response to RB Leipzig being so disliked is to dissuade other companies from getting involved in clubs.
“The 50+1 rule is there for a reason, to protect fans’ control of their clubs. Removing that and the Bundesliga could lose its special qualities and become another EPL with ticket prices and its customers-not-supporters approach.”
Find out more about Geoff and his FC. St Pauli fanbase in Brighton.