Hate is a word often bandied around with reckless abandon in some quarters, football included. Several teams are despised seemingly almost universally; Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus are hated because within their domestic leagues they are the epitome of success. Fierce dislike between rivals is a vital part of the game. Supporters of Rangers and Celtic, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce or River Plate and Boca Juniors would say that their respective bête noire is the most odious thing in the game.
A group of players can tarnish the name of one club. For all their success Leeds United will forever be known as “Dirty Leeds” for the abrasive style of play the club adopted in the 1970s.
Some clubs thrive on hatred or use it as a defence mechanism. Millwall, the notorious south London side have adopted the slogan “No one likes us, we don’t care”. The rather machismo atmosphere on a match day at The Den shows that the club thrives on its rather poor reputation. Given the lack of success on the pitch it is probably the best marketing ploy that the club can use.
However, what football club is the most hated in the world? Several Germans, particularly those who watched football in East Germany, will offer one club up: Dynamo Berlin. Google them and the fairly easy to translate skandal seems to feature in almost every headline.
Of the few things one can give credit to the government of the DRR for is their intense interest and spending on sport. The success of East Germany in the Olympics was cherished by those in the regime. Local sports clubs were affiliated to certain aspects of the state; Lokomotive Leipzig on account of one of their parent clubs had links to the train industry in the city.
The team in Berlin was no different. However, their patron was more powerful than most. Dynamo were affiliated to the Stasi, the secret police who were the regime’s eyes and ears, almost in parody of the Orwellian nightmare of 1984. The man in charge of the Stasi Erich Mielke will quite rightly be regarded by history as a far from pleasant individual. However, his love of football saw Dynamo given favoured status.
In the 1970s and 80s they were arguably the best team in Berlin. In the West, Hertha were a far from impressive force while Dynamo’s local rivals, the positively anti-establishment Union Berlin, were marooned in the lower reaches of the DDR Oberliga.
Dynamo’s success which included ten consecutive championships was not won fairly, however. Referees were bribed, players transferred from other clubs at a moment’s notice and all manner of shenanigans took place to make sure they won.
The most notorious incident, perhaps the greatest stain on Dynamo’s reputation, was the reported murder of their former player Lutz Eigendorf. Eigendorf eloped during a visit to the West and carved out a successful career at Kaiserslautern and Eintracht Braunschweig. He died in a car crash aged 26 which many at the time felt was murder ; subsequent analysis of the Stasi’s records show that he was indeed killed on Mielke’s orders.
Dynamo was therefore no ordinary football club. Its activities make any of the bribary scandals that have rocked Italian football over the years look pe- destrian. According to myth, a stadium announcer once made the observa- tion “We’d like to welcome the team from Berlin and their referee” before a match. Whether he lived to tell the tale or not is another matter.
Naturally Dynamo were not particularly loved; their stadium, located near the Wall and with a tantalising view of the West, was rarely full. They were quite rightly viewed as yet another branch of the rotting, hypocritical and unfair apparatus of the DDR state. When the Wall came down their passing into oblivion, which was fairly rapid given their powerful patrons were put in jail, was not mourned. A successor club appeared as FC Berlin but quickly changed their name back to Dynamo and have struggled in Berlin’s regional leagues ever since. Out of morbid interest on a recent trip to Berlin, I decided to go and watch the team simply known as the Stasi Club.
When the seminal moment of re- unification came for Germany many no doubt felt that a house divided had at last had the chance to come together again. Parts of Berlin, particularly sub- urbs of the former East, nevertheless retain the aesthetic lack of charm of the western districts.
The rather down at heel Hohenschonhausen is one such example, a seemingly endless stretch of 70s social housing and graffiti covered walls. It seems a ripe target for the next en masse hipster invasion which appear to capture parts of Berlin at a rate of knots depending on the latest trend. Being carried here by tram does serve a purpose though; I am off to the football, having safely abandoned my girlfriend in the comfort of the hotel spa. I suspect she did not have a trip to watch a particularly poor game of football on her city break to-do list.
The vast majority of Berlin’s football supporters will be going the opposite direction to the Olympiastadion for Hertha’s early evening kick off against TSG Hoffenheim on Sunday. Hoffenheim are particularly disliked for their nouveaux riche origins, yet this dislike is nothing compared to the residual disdain reserved for Dynamo. The bright early afternoon lights of NOFV-Oberliga Nord as opposed to the tempting floodlights of the Bundesliga are my calling.
On the same tram are a couple of gentlemen who appear to be dressed from top to toe in the trappings of ye olde fashioned British football hooligan ; Burberry scarves, a Stone Island jumper and Fila trainers are worn by several of them. Bizarrely, despite their impeccable red credentials, unrepentant communists the world over have not adopted Dynamo. Instead, some of the more extreme right wing who have appeared in the former East have decided that Dynamo are the team for them.
As one could imagine this hardly makes the club comes across as a warm and fuzzy family entity. Given that an official shirt sponsor a few years ago was the charming sounding Pro-Violence Streetwear such a vibe seems remote. Indeed, when the club was going through one the many spells of financial peril it has endured since the collapse of the DDR, men behind the subsequent rescue package were linked to a violent bunch of Hells Angels and the pub which doubled as the club shop apparently did a side business in neo-Nazi apparel. It makes you wonder when the club generates such notoriety just to remind the world that they are still alive and kicking, despite their lowly position in a somewhat literal interpretation of the mantra that no publicity is bad publicity.
Saying that, the environs of the stadium are pleasant enough. The sweet scent of grilled wurst floats through the air while the reasonably pleasant clubhouse contains pennants galore from their European heyday; Aberdeen, Roma, Hamburg, Shakhtar Donetsk and Monaco amongst others are all represented on the walls. In a cosmetic change, the club abandoned the old Stasi era badge and have replaced it with a bear, the symbol of Berlin. Despite there being more middle aged men with shaved heads than to encourage reasonable comfort some families and younger children were in attendance on the rather antiquated terracing. This was a local derby against big rivals Lichtenberg, somewhat far removed from the heyday of matches against Union Berlin, Lok Leipzig or Magdeburg but still enough to cause the more excitable fans to set off a flare. It all seemed a bit pantomime, including the waving of the old DDR flag. The atmosphere was not that far removed from that at any lower league game taking place across Germany that day I suspect, leaving me to suspect how the old man practically dozing on the crash barrier beside me could inspire such ire.
I suspect it is more to do with the club’s lack of repentance for previous indiscretions; before the crest change the old badge was proudly flaunted on club merchandise, circled with stars to signify each of the club’s championships. This was not recognised by the German FA yet they persisted with it and many fans have refused to recognise the new crest. Within the clubhouse old heroes are remembered in a hall of fame; the unofficial merchandise stand outside was doing a roaring trade in DDR memorabilia, including trinkets celebrating the club’s scandalous successes. The actions of some supporters, particularly a riot at a cup tie against Kaiserslautern, have only rejuvenated the sense that this is not a particularly pleasant club and one which seems to thrive on such an impression.
There are aspects of the club to dislike. I suspect if I had been a football mad 20-something in East Germany I would perhaps fully understand the mass hatred aimed at the club in the media. Yet it is difficult to understand why anyone would want to support a club based seemingly on cheating and the glorification of that cheating. I doubt I will return, but it does show you the irrational way in which some people chose their football clubs. They still however have failed to knock most of England’s top four off my dart board, however.