BERLIN (AP) — Borussia Mönchengladbach supporters are being praised for taking a stand against hate messages from a minority of fans in the team’s match against Hoffenheim this weekend.
A few fans displayed abusive messages against Hoffenheim’s billionaire backer Dietmar Hopp in the Bundesliga game on Saturday, leading to a suspension in play. The game only continued after their actions were condemned by other supporters.
A group of Gladbach fans noted that sanctions were announced the day before against Borussia Dortmund supporters after they repeatedly targeted Hopp with abuse. The Dortmund fans were banned by the German soccer federation for two years from Hoffenheim’s stadium.
Hopp, the co-founder of the SAP software giant, is unpopular among rival fans for financing his hometown club’s rise from the minor leagues to the Bundesliga, and for his opposition to the league’s 50+1 rule, which protects clubs from takeovers by a majority stakeholder.
Hopp, who has been associated with Hoffenheim for some 30 years, gained a majority stake in the club in 2015 after taking advantage of a league decision to allow private investors with more than 20 years of uninterrupted and significant financial support for a club to do so.
Hoffenheim made almost 100 million euros in transfer fees ($110 million) lastsummer, fulfilling one of Hopp’s stated aims of becoming financially independent from the backer.
Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl and captain Lars Stindl went to the north stand and appealed with the fans to remove the banners. The majority of the home fans reacted with whistles and the banners disappeared after stewards intervened. Only then did referee Felix Brych allow the game to continue.
“I said I would only let play continue when the banner was no longer visible,” Brych said.
Hoffenheim coach Alfred Schreuder said his team would have stopped playing if the banners remained.
Tensions were already high as the stadium had observed a minute’s silence for the victims of the racially motivated terror attack in Hanau on Wednesday. A German gunman killed nine people before apparently killing his mother and himself.
“We make a clear statement before the game. We’re against racism and exclusion. And then 50 blockheads have to hold up a banner like that. I’m ashamed of it,” Eberl said.
But the Gladbach sporting director praised the rest of the fans for their response.
“Ninety-nine percent of the supporters showed that they didn’t want to have anything to do with it,” Eberl said. “They are cowards, they hide behind the flag, pull masks on and disappear into the crowds. Of course we hope we can find them and ban them.”
Eberl referred to another incident during a third-division game in Münster the week before, when Preußen Münster supporters turned on one of their own for directing racist abuse at Würzburger Kickers defender Leroy Kwadwo.
The fans shouted “Nazis out! Nazis out!” and forced the perpetrator to leave. He now faces police charges and a stadium ban.
“We saw in Münster that it’s possible,” Eberl said.
Hoffenheim director Alexander Rosen also praised the fans’ response.
“This sign from many people against the contempt of a few idiots is greater than the hate it sows,” Rosen said.
The game ended 1-1 after Hoffenheim debutant Lucas Ribeiro scored an equalizer in injury time.
The German soccer federation was investigating the incident involving the hate messages.
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