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Dec 09, 2014

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A day in the life of a fifth-tier SLO

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SSV Ulm 1846 against SSV Reutlingen. A classic south German derby. No matter which division the clubs are in, this matchup holds a unique allure for fans, players and officials alike. It was no different on 8 November, when the two sides met in the Oberliga Baden Wuerttemberg, currently the fifth tier of the German football league system. It had been almost exactly three years to the day since their last encounter in a competitive fixture. Nevertheless, there were fears going into game that emotions – and tempers – would be running high.

With this in mind, SSV Ulm 1846 and the local police issued an open letter to the travelling Reutlingen fans in which they expressed their wish for “an exciting and troublefree afternoon of football”. It continued: “We appeal to your fairness, your sportsmanship and your willingness to contribute with the necessary composure to a purely sporting encounter“. There was also a warning, however: “The possession and use of pyrotechnics is prohibited. There will be strict controls“.

Whatever the scenario, Sabrina Bietz-Pannier’s job was to keep a cool head. The 33-year-old geriatric nurse has been the supporter liaison officer (SLO) of SSV Reutlingen for the last seven years, originally alongside her husband, and alone at the helm for the last four. She does this in a voluntary capacity, of course, as full-time SLOs are mandatory only in the top two tiers in Germany. Her main responsibility is to ensure things stay calm in and around the stadium. Bietz Pannier understands the Reutlingen fan base like no other. She knows most of them by name. It is this expertise that she is able to contribute to the Kurvengespräch, for example, a concourse meeting with club representatives, the two security officers and the police during which the mood in the stands is analysed and potential threats to the peace are identified. “Meetings like this are important, another step that allows us to intervene, if necessary, in a de-escalatory way” she explained.

On matchday the two sets of fans were kept apart both before and during the game. The Reutlingen supporters were taken straight to the away section on shuttle buses. They used to be allowed to march to the stadium accompanied by the police, but not any more. Once in the ground the fans were strictly segregated. “I always position myself in the immediate vicinity of our supporters, just like I do at home games when I stand alongside our local Ultra group.” From this vantage point she keeps a close eye on things, intervening if any tensions arise and threaten to escalate. And if words are not enough, she is not afraid to “tug on a few coat sleeves” in an attempt to placate any emotionally charged supporters.

At this fixture Bietz-Pannier was able to rely on her counterpart at SSV Ulm, Stefan Abbing, with whom she was in constant contact before the game. Another ally was Peter Kappler, the longstanding security officer of SSV Reutlingen. In the runup to the game Kappler travelled to Ulm for a briefing meeting with representatives of the city council, the police and the home club. Information was shared and tips exchanged with a view to ensuring everything passed on peacefully on the day.

Postscript:

A David Braig strike in the third minute of time added-on gave SSV Ulm a 2-1 victory over their local rivals. The match took place in front of 3,000 fans, a record in the Oberliga this season, including around 600 Reutlingen supporters. And apart from a few bangers that were let off by Ulm fans, the match passed off completely without incident. Before the game Bietz-Pannier had said: “We all hope it stays quiet on the pitch and around the stadium. From our side we have done everything we can to ensure the game goes off smoothly. I have spoken to our Ultras several times and been assured that no pyrotechnics will be used. The fans have told me it should be a calm afternoon of football without any stress“. And so it was.

This piece is based on an article in Südpresse dated 8 November.

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