Dynamo Dresden is a club in turmoil, but then again, when isn’t the club in turmoil. The 2. Bundesliga outfit played to a cracking three-all draw versus rivals St. Pauli on Saturday, August 31. Yet, once again, the headlines weren’t about their incredible comeback, when they wiped out a 3-0 deficit in the sweltering late summer heat, no, the headlines were about another incident involving the club’s far-right supporters.
On first glance and with a bit of geographical knowledge, it might not seem like Dynamo Dresden, based in the capital of Saxony, and St. Pauli, a club based in Hamburg, should be rivals, but this rivalry isn’t geographical, it’s political.
It’s a well-known fact that St. Pauli is a club with strong ties to its left-wing community and they openly and proudly champion a progressive way of thinking. It’s perhaps less well-known that Dynamo Dresden’s fanbase has strong ties to the far-right.
Every time these two face off, it seems that the supporters want to upstage each other. Last season, Pauli supporters traveled down to Dresden dressed in red and they displayed their own unique take on the hammer and sickle. Dresden fans responded with chants and sexist banners – one of their banners even read: “Antifa = left-wing fascism – There is blood on your hands”.
Sexist banners are an all too common occurrence when Dynamo and the Kiezkicker face off. During a game at the Millerntor, the home of St. Pauli, in late 2018, Dresden supporters revealed a banner reading: “No dinner for you today, because your c***s are in the stands”. Dresden fans are clearly not impressed with St. Pauli’s female supporters’ group ‘Ultrà Sankt Pauli’. Another banner read: “Merry Christmas to all St. Pauli women”, accompanied by a two-pole displaying a stove. In 2016/17, one banner read: “You should all wear burqas, nobody wants to see your faces”. A few years earlier, Dresden fans displayed a flag reading: “St. Pauli women get out of the away end, you’re needed in the kitchen”.
That was only the beginning, though. During last season’s game in Dresden, the home fans made a follow-up to the “no dinner” banner. This time accompanied by a washing machine, the banner read: “We hope your St. Pauli c***s stayed at home, it’s the perfect weather to dry the laundry”.
Towards the end of last season, Dresden not only hosted but also beat eventual 2. Bundesliga champions Köln, but, once again, that result was overshadowed by Dynamo Dresden fans causing controversy. A homophobic banner was spotted at the game.
St. Pauli ultras aren’t exempt from criticism. In early 2017, they mocked the infamous and controversial bombing of Dresden. That was quite an odd thing to do, because, like Dresden, Hamburg was also almost completely destroyed during World War II.
The most recent installment of the St. Pauli versus Dresden rivalry is perhaps the most controversial yet. So controversial, in fact, that it made international headlines with NBC Sports reporting on the events.
It all started with Dresden supporters parading Germany flags around in the stands. One flag then blocked an escape route and two stewards were asked to remove the flag. The stewards refused to follow the orders of their superior and upon being relieved of their duties and taking off their work attire, they revealed clothes with Nazi imagery. During the game, Dresden fans also held up a banner with the inscription “Transgender madness – Not a single penis in the away end”.
Dynamo Dresden has since apologised to St. Pauli, banned the stewards for life and they will also take legal action against them. That wasn’t the first neo-Nazi incident at a football game in the state of Saxony either.
Earlier that month, The Guardian reported that 3. Liga (third tier) side Chemnitzer FC had sacked their captain Daniel Frahn for ‘openly displaying’ sympathy for neo-Nazi groups.
“Star striker Daniel Frahn, who missed Saturday’s away game against Hallescher FC due to an injury, had chosen to watch his side’s 3-1 defeat from the guest block rather than the team bench, seated next to leading figures from the far-right hooligan scene.”, Philip Oltermann reported. The fans responded to the sacking by holding up pieces of paper with Frahn’s shirt number at the club’s next game. Truly, truly bizarre.
This new wave of far-right sympathy isn’t exclusive to football, however. On the contrary, it was always just a natural progression for the far-right to eventually infiltrate football. The far-right has been on a steady rise in Germany, especially East Germany and Saxony in particular.
There is still somewhat of a division between East and West Germany, even 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Economically speaking, the East is not as well-off as the West and, especially in rural areas, people still cling to an outdated way of thinking – a kind of ‘us against the world’ mentality. If you add to that economic struggle a lack of education, some news reports about crimes committed by immigrants and the remnants of a National Socialist ideology, then you get a toxic, violent and downright deplorable cocktail of bitterness and hatred – that cocktail is the people of Saxony.
Left-leaning folks are bullied for their beliefs and immigrants and people of colour are attacked and ostracised. It’s no surprise that the AFD, Germany’s far-right party, is the most popular party in Saxony. It’s like a parasite infiltrating a weakened host. West Germans still call East Germany “Dunkeldeutschland” – Dark Germany.
To get back to the football, Dynamo Dresden being constantly at odds with its fanbase is not great from a business point of view, obviously. Like so many other clubs from former Communist Germany, Dynamo has experienced a lack of success post-reunification and as a result of that, the club has endured intense financial struggles.
Similarly to Union Berlin, just less bloody, the Dresden supporters helped the club pay off its debts. Instead of giving blood, Dresden fans voluntarily paid double the amount for their season tickets, raising more than €2.5 million.
Despite being out of debt, the club is still in dire straits financially. Having vermin within your fanbase isn’t cheap, as Dynamo have repeatedly found out throughout their modern history. Constantly having to pay fines because of your supporters’ misbehaviour leaves its mark on a club’s finances.
Dynamo Dresden are usually reluctant to pay transfer fees, instead, they are relying on free transfers, loans and academy products to do the business on the pitch. With that being said, Dresden actually spent a decent amount of money this summer – perhaps using the leftover funds from the Niklas Hauptmann sale to Köln from last season – but they will be wary of splashing the cash in January, as the fine for the incidents against St. Pauli promises to be a hefty one. The supporters are crippling their own club and its top-flight ambitions.
Frankly, I’m sick of talking about Nazis and Dynamo Dresden’s supporters, so let’s talk about the club’s success, or lack thereof, on the pitch instead.
Dynamo’s biggest achievements in recent times include the incredible DFB Pokal comeback against Bayer Leverkusen in 2011, knocking Schalke out of the Pokal in 2014, winning the 3. Liga at a canter in 15/16 – only losing twice all season – and their triumph over the most hated club in Germany (and fellow Saxons), RB Leipzig, in the DFB Pokal in 2016.
Back in the olden days, when people in Saxony had no access to everyday food items like bananas, SG Dynamo Dresden were one of the biggest clubs in East Germany – perhaps even the biggest club. Founded by the East German police in 1953 and later becoming a fully-fledged member organization of the Stasi, Dynamo enjoyed some initial success before being torn apart as the head of the Stasi wanted a successful team in East Berlin, rather than Dresden.
After re-emerging and re-establishing themselves as a big club, Dynamo started to quickly become one of the most successful and popular teams in the old German Democratic Republic (GDR or DDR in German). After winning numerous league titles and cups and establishing themselves as perennial participants in European competitions, Dynamo would, once again, come under threat, because Mielke, the head of the Stasi, was dissatisfied with the lack of success of his beloved Berliner FC Dynamo.
Mielke and the Stasi would manipulate the competition to starve Dresden of their success. So, with the backing of the state, BFC Dynamo would dominate the league for a decade, before Dresden would re-re-establish themselves as the one true behemoth of East German football.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany right around the corner – and with eight GDR league titles and seven GDR cups to their name – Dynamo Dresden qualified for the Bundesliga after coming in second in the GDR-Oberliga in 90/91. The Bundesliga would, however, prove to be a different beast altogether. After four seasons in the top flight, Dresden were relegated.
I’ll spare you of all the details about the mediocrity and financial struggles of the 2000s and early 2010s, so, instead, let’s look at the present day.
Dynamo won the 3. Liga in 15/16 with relative ease under Uwe Neuhaus. They finished the season on 78 points, 8 ahead of fierce rivals Aue, 14 ahead of Würzburg in third and 22 points ahead of fellow former East German powerhouse Magdeburg in fourth.
The fairytale continued in the 2. Bundesliga as Dynamo finished in an incredible 5th place the following season. But then, Second Season Syndrome hit and everybody came crashing back down to reality. Dynamo’s fearless, attacking style of play from years past was replaced by a sluggish, defensive, Brexit-y way of playing the game, only extrapolated by the big-money arrival of Moussa Koné from Zurich, whose only job in the team was to run in-behind and get on the end of long balls over the top of the defence. Despite losing on the last day of the season, Dresden managed to stay up by the skin of their teeth, finishing in 14th – one point ahead of Aue in the relegation playoff spot (16th) and two points ahead of Braunschweig in 17th.
The 18/19 season was even more tumultuous than the 17/18 one, but as I said in the introduction, there is no such thing as a quiet season in ‘Dynamoland’.
Dresden started the campaign with a 1-0 win over Duisburg, but after losing to Bielefeld and then crashing out of the cup against 4th division side Rödinghausen, Uwe Neuhaus was sacked. Cristian Fiél – former captain, modern-day club legend and, at the time, a coach of one of the club’s youth teams – took the reins on an interim basis just three games into the season. Three weeks later, Maik Walpurgis was hired as the new head coach.
The former Ingolstadt boss got off to a flyer, winning his first three games in charge and it looked for all the world that he was going to be the man who would turn Dresden’s fortunes around, but alas, it was merely a case of the good old ‘new manager bounce’. The team would only win three of its next sixteen games – a rotten spell which included an 8-1 shellacking in Cologne – and the aforementioned slow style of play would become even slower and the attack even more toothless. Even Moussa Koné, renowned for his blistering pace and deadly finishing, seemed to have forgotten how to play the beautiful game at times during Walpurgis’ reign of miserable mediocrity.
On February 23, Dresden were well beaten by Darmstadt after another lacklustre display and the following morning, Walpurgis was relieved of his duties. Cristian Fiél took the reins once again, but this time, on a permanent basis.
Even though there wasn’t a huge change in terms of where the club was sitting in the table, there was a drastic improvement in results. Fiél took over with eleven games left to play and Dresden only lost three times. The 39-year-old even managed to turn them into somewhat of a big-game-team. Dresden beat rivals Aue 3-1 and St. Pauli 2-1, battered champions Köln 3-0, drew 0-0 with Union Berlin – who famously went on to win promotion to the Bundesliga – and almost ruined Paderborn’s automatic promotion to the top flight by inflicting a 3-1 loss upon them on the last day of the season. Dynamo Dresden finished the campaign in 12th place.
There were some radical changes over the summer. A lot of players left, some new ones joined, but most significantly, a completely new style of play was implemented. Begone, route one, pleased to meet you, tiki-taka. Well, it’s not quite tiki-taka, but Dresden’s new philosophy is possession-based football turned up to eleven. The Black and Yellow come in second in terms of average possession per game (58.1%), only trailing league leaders Stuttgart in that department.
Keeping a hold of the ball is all well and good, but can you break down a defence? Well, Dynamo can’t…yet! It’s still very early days, Dresden have only played six 2. Bundesliga games and, to be honest, there really isn’t enough data to draw any conclusions yet. So far, Dynamo have either scored from crosses and set pieces – set piece specialists Chris Löwe and Patrick Ebert have been invaluable – or because of moments of individual brilliance from Baris Atik and Jannis Nikolaou.
In the past few games, Fiél has called upon Moussa Koné and his pace on the break to get some important goals. The Senegalese sharpshooter fell out of favour after subpar training performances and he was even linked with a move to Strasbourg after Dresden brought in some attacking reinforcements towards the end of the transfer window. The 22-year-old has scored three goals in four games.
New Swedish striker Alexander Jeremejeff has impressed with his overall play, but he has been quite wasteful with his chances. 18-year-old Kevin Ehlers has been a mainstay in the leaky Dresden defence and he has shown signs of immense promise. Sascha Horvath has come back a completely different player after his loan spell with Wacker Innsbruck, he has looked really sharp these first few games.
Attacking midfielder Baris Atik, who arrived last season from Hoffenheim, has been the most impressive player thus far – and it’s not really close either. The 24-year-old already has two assists to his name and he averages the 3rd most key passes in the team (set piece takers Löwe and Ebert are ahead of him. Also, I’m not counting Niklas Kreuzer. He leads the team in key passes, but he has only played 98 minutes). Of all the players in this Dynamo Dresden team, Atik and Ebert, who is 32, look most likely to be able to unlock defences in tight games. Baris Atik is the player who Fiél should build his team around.
Results-wise, things haven’t been great for Dresden. They lost their first two games, then beat Heidenheim, before drawing their last three games. Dresden’s defence has looked less than convincing, especially in their two most recent games. They gave up three first-half goals at home against St. Pauli, before miraculously coming back to salvage a draw, and then they blew a two-goal advantage versus Bochum. The thing is, in terms of performances, Dresden have been quite impressive. They were unfortunate to lose to Nürnberg on the opening day and they would have won against Darmstadt had it not been for some bad finishing.
Going into the season, Dynamo were one of my favourites for relegation, but now, after six games, I think they will stay up comfortably. If Moussa Koné can keep up his recent goalscoring form and Alex Jeremjeff can continue to impress and if they can iron out some defensive frailties, then they’ll easily finish in the top half of the table.
In terms of the club’s toxic fanbase; the organization has to come down hard on the people responsible for these reprehensible actions – but they won’t, and that is the big problem. The club will ban those who displayed neo-Nazi imagery and that will be it. The club is already just doing the bare minimum with its “Love Dynamo, Hate Racism” campaign. Sadly, there is no end in sight as far as the racist, homophobic and transphobic abuse is concerned. On the contrary, the far-right influence will probably continue to grow and there will be more incidents at games.
If the club’s fans can’t get their act together, more fines will follow. Eventually, the financial strain will be too much to bear and its own supporters will have been responsible for Dynamo Dresden’s downfall.