By Danny Wyn Griffith
‘Football is nothing without fans’ the legendary Jock Stein once proclaimed. As evidence of this, over recent weeks, Hannover 96 fans muted their sound levels – a popular type of protest within German fan culture. During the period of relative silence, their results yielded two away draws and a defeat to Wolfsburg at the HDI-arena. Yet this weekend, fans turned up the volume and carried their side over the line in a 2-1 victory against SC Freiburg.
Die Roten were the subject of a takeover bid by chairman of 20 years, Martin Kind. With the takeover attempt came country-wide scrutiny, as it bared threat to the 50+1 ownership structure that fans throughout Europe admire. However, the Hannover 96 faithful disagree with Kind’s intentions. They feel the club is being taken away from them and decided to hold a silent-type protest in response.
What is the 50+1 ownership structure?
This rule guards against the issue of fans being turned into customers. In short, it means that clubs – and, by extension, the fans – hold a majority of their own voting rights. Under German Football League [DFL] rules, football clubs will not be allowed to play in the Bundesliga if commercial investors have more than a 49 percent stake.
The rule is there to prevent funders from assuming decision-making powers. But there are exceptions, such as when a patron supports an association for 20 years. This is where Hannover 96 and Martin Kind come into the picture.
20 years on..
Despite a fair stint at the helm and, therefore, rightfully qualifying to challenge the 50+1 criteria, Martin Kind was bound to fail in his bid for full ownership of Hannover 96. According to widespread reports in Germany, the DFL were ready to deny his bid – which then led to Kind putting his application on hold.
After scouring the club’s accounts, the DFL came to realise that Martin Kind hadn’t actually been funding the club over the past 20 years, with funding being provided mainly through sponsorships. Therefore, this throws up the question of whether he had the capability to bankroll the club in future.
However, by agreeing to pause his request to take over the club, he managed to get the DFL to agree to take a finer look at the 50+1 ownership rules in the coming months. Regardless of his doomed bid, largescale changes may now follow.
What next for 50+1 ownership?
Recently, DFL officials maintained the 50+1 ownership method was a model of success. Nonetheless, they’ve brought the threats to the structure upon themselves. They created exceptions for Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim, and – more controversially – when energy drink company, Red Bull, took full control of RB Leipzig.
More threats to the system will undoubtedly follow. In a football world where sheikhs, oligarchs and even countries use football clubs as pawns in a much bigger political game, German football may remain exempt for the time being alone.
Still, the silent protest emphasised fan power. German fans unite like no other. They’re renowned for it, but to stop this threatening juggernaut in the future, fans across the country may need to unify.