A return to all riot on the east German front

Dynamo Dresden fans are in the vanguard of a new and worrying wave of hooliganism spreading among hordes of disaffected youth in the former GDR

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The Independent Football

They started by blocking the Borussia Dortmund players from entering their own ground. Kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes, and once under way they had the game stopped three times for launching fireworks on to the pitch. They set the toilets on fire, vandalised the kiosks and destroyed 200 seats. The damage cost €150,000, and 17 people were injured, including two police officers. It was the fifth time this season Dynamo Dresden fans have put their club in trouble with the authorities, but by far the worst. "That's Dynamo, I suppose," shrugged coach Ralf Loose after last month's game, which they lost 2-0.

There is much to admire about German football, and particularly German fan culture: its organisation, its vibrancy, its solidarity. But there is a growing problem of hooliganism, with Dynamo Dresden at its vanguard.

The largest team from the former East Germany, they have a mass following of fans who saw them robbed of East German titles by the state through the 1980s and now feel victimised by the authorities in the west. Combined with the frustrations of reunification, it has bred a powerful sense of grievance.

As punishment for the troubles in Dortmund, Dynamo have been banned from next year's German Cup by the DFB (German Football Association). "It is one of the worst punishments ever in German football history," German historian and Dynamo supporter Dr Jan Vermeiren told The Independent. "People feel that they have been treated unfairly."

Dynamo supporters do have a case: clashes between Nuremberg and Mainz fans this month even led to a supporter losing an arm, although Dynamo are still seen as Germany's worst. Eintracht Frankfurt, Hertha Berlin and St Pauli (who play in Hamburg) have all had recent fan troubles, with no similar bans.

"The ban demonstrates once again the permanent hatred of all East Germans," wrote one Dynamo supporter on Die Welt's website. "This would never happen to Bayern Munich," wrote another. "Not with the DFB, the 'Deutscher Fanclub Bayern!'."

For Dynamo, this feels like a rerun of their unfair treatment in 1995, when the DFB denied them a professional licence due to debts, forcing Dynamo into the regional leagues. "The fans relate it back to the mid-1990s when Dresden had a problem with their licence," said Dr Vermeiren, who teaches at the University of Essex. "They consider the punishment exaggerated and unfair."

The feeling of DFB bias against East German football is pervasive. Dr Christopher Young, a visiting fellow at the Freie Universitat Berlin, watches successful women's team Turbine Potsdam. "It's a very unreconstructed East German crowd," he told The Independent. "Absolutely every decision that the referee makes against their team is some sort of conspiracy theory: 'It's a DFB referee, they don't like us'."

Discrimination is part of Dynamo's history. While today it is seen to be coming from the former west, for years it came from Berlin. Sport was a crucial propaganda tool for the East German regime. "Sport was a really significant arena in which the East Germans could gain recognition," says Dr Young. "In Olympic sport, they made an unbelievable success, mainly through absolutely rigorous talent-spotting, top-to-bottom organisation, and also a drug programme."

The desire for sport's reflected prestige applied within the GDR as well as beyond it. The regime was desperate for Berliner FC Dynamo (BFC), their own team, to dominate the Oberliga. Dynamo Dresden won five Oberliga titles between 1971 and 1978, but as they were celebrating that fifth win Minister of State Security (and BFC patron) Erich Mielke walked into the dressing room and told the players it was now BFC's turn to be champions. To the surprise of no one, BFC won the next 10 straight titles. They benefited from bought referees and coerced transfers, as the oppressive weight of the East German state was thrown behind them, and against Dynamo. "Dresden was disadvantaged by the referee," said Dr Vermeiren. "It was very one-sided. Some of the players went but they didn't always have a choice."

Although the Stasi (East Germany's state security service) could rig the league they could not buy the fans. "Right across Germany the stadium is a place where dissent and disagreement can be articulated," said Dr Young. "Especially in the 1980s when a free-kick was being taken and a defensive wall was set up, the fans would shout 'Die Mauer muss weg' ('the wall must go')." The double meaning all too obvious.

BFC, the team of the state, were hated, while Dynamo Dresden, the team of the people, were loved. Oberliga average attendances fell below 10,000 in the 1980s, but Dynamo, then as now the vessel for the hopes of the region, drew 25,000.

But since 1990 Dynamo, along with other teams from the East, have struggled. Hansa Rostock's two sixth-placed finishes in the Bundesliga remain the best showings by teams from the former GDR. There has been no team from the East in the top flight since Energie Cottbus were relegated in 2009.

It is difficult to avoid comparisons with the post-reunification struggles of East Germany as a whole. With much more economic growth in the west, youth unemployment and the attractions of radical politics are problematic in the East. Ostalgie – the sense that things were better under the GDR – is common, even among those too young to experience it fully; many of Dynamo's hooligans would have been infants at the time of reunification.

"For younger people who didn't grow up with the East, it's more a sort of despair," said Dr Young, "a sense of the West having got all the good stuff. And there it can be quite dangerous: sometimes it falls over into neo-nazism, or a pretty unreflecting support for Die Linke, a fairly hardcore socialist/communist party. The sense is that they're very hard done by."

While Dr Vermeiren does not believe the recent troubles with Dynamo fans are inherently political, he does fear that the draconian measures from the DFB could strengthen Dynamo's hooligans. "This is no solution," said Dr Vermeiren. "Some people may well solidarise now with the aggressive few who attacked the police officers."