1.FC Lok vs. Chemie Leipzig

The German Regionaliga clash between Lokomotive and Chemie has been billed as a ‘political derby’.

But what exactly did the German media mean when this fixture was framed in such a way?

To answer that question it’s worth looking at the modern media and to delve back into the history of this part of Germany.

Like in the US the media landscape in Germany has been a driver of political polarization for sometime.

This has particularly been the case in the ‘coronavirus age’ with mass use social media tools used to drive misinformation and increasingly polarized societal views.

Traditional and social media channels have exacerbated political polarization by spreading disinformation to users.

According to some sources in the German media (and dare I say it UK based The Guardian) 1.FC Lokomotive Leipzig fans share a fierce and often violent political rivalry with the supporters of Chemie Leipzig.

The German daily newspaper Die Welt called the match a ‘meeting point’ for German hooligans.

One side has been portrayed as politically left wing (Chemie) and the other (Lokomotive Leipzig) as ‘far right’. This stigmatization by the media has seen a spectrum of polarized opinion become attached to the two clubs.

The truth of course is not as polarised as portrayed. Things are far more complex than the picture that has been painted.

Like most football clubs Lokomotive and Chemie has fans of all types and who have views from all sorts of political persuasions.

While it is true that Red Bull fans are more likely to equate themselves with the values of the new modern Germany (themes of equality, climate action and diversity) it is equally fair to say that a more ‘traditional’ type of football fandom is the norm at Leipzig’s lesser light clubs.

RB Leipzig has marketed themselves as a club with a clear philosophy on and off the pitch – where as at Lokomotive the club values are supposedly unclear or have been tarnished by its DDR history.

The truth is that while the Berlin Wall did not last 100 years not all barriers to German unity fell when it was pulled down.

Deep attitudes to the east still persist and its not unfair to say that a lot of them have roots in the western states of Germany.

The German Democratic Republic (GDR) may have been wiped off the map of Europe by the time of Italia ’90 but its legacy has never really faded. Its sharp edges and cultural lines remain etched on Germany’s social, economic and political landscape and that includes football.

Many German people I know call some areas of the older East Germany ‘dead lands’. An area perceived to be very far culturally, economically and socially from the thriving western states.

In the eastern cities of Jena, Erfurt, Cottbus and Magdeburg you are more likely to see, feel or hear anti-establishment movements and the same goes for Leipzig – but its not as self contained and cocooned as the media would have you believe.

In short a diverse range of views exists everywhere in Germany, also, one would presume, at RB Leipzig.

Essentially East Germans and its football clubs have long been viewed with suspicion by the German media landscape that is overwhelmingly dominated by West Germans. Regional papers in the east are now run by western editorial staff, and people who were born long after the events of 1989. And essentially this has consequences for the way people are seen and portrayed – most commonly either communists or fascists.

Very few East German clubs are now playing in the top two tiers of the German Bundesliga.

1.FC Magdeburg finished the 2023-24 season in Bundesliga 2 in the lower half. But likes the likes of Energie Cottbus, Lokomotive Leipzig, Dynamo Dresden and Hansa Rostock find themselves even further down the ladder of financial esteem and footballing prosperity.

This summer a host of German football stadiums will play host to the UEFA cavalcade of Euro 2024.

But life is somewhat different at the Bruno-Plache-Stadion a multi-use stadium and the home of 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig. The fan shop is an old bratwurst and beer outlet where humble merchandise is sold to fans who pay in cash.

Its a far cry from the glitzy modern retail outlets RB Leipzig utilize to sell 1000’s of printed shirts.

Fans of 1.FC Lok will tell you themselves that the venerable home ground of the club – in contrast to the feel good modern arena at Red Bull – is much more intimate and richer in history. But such is the state of present day disrepair and the associated safety concerns only around 10,000 can squeeze into a venue.

This is a venue that could easily host 50,000 back in the 1920’s.

The driving force of Lokomotive remains the historic men’s team and crowds of up to 10,000 can still be seen at home Regionalliga Nordost matches. This remains someway short of the 40,000 Red Bull Leipzig can draw to a home Bundesliga fixture but equally its a fair reflection of the club’s status in Leipzig despite years of footballing decline.

This derby clash was branded as a local affair by the home club and in all truth Lokomotive got the marketing chemistry just right.

Support your lokal fußball club‘.

Outside, thousands of t-shirts were on sale depicting the city scape of Leipzig with that messaging and inside the fan display expressed the same symbolic message.

In the Chemie Leipzig area of the ground the gaste fans hoisted a flag with the club name and the green colors were vividly on display. If anything the visiting fans displayed a sense of noise heightened at least a few decibels higher than the home end. Understandable in some ways given the dire state of effort from those in yellow.

Two goals separated the rivals – both coming from the visitors one in each half.

By the end, the home fans has stopped flying the yellow flags handed out before the game and many were left to reflect on a day that started in bright sunshine but ended with rain clouds and messy puddles.

When RB Leipzig was founded on 19th May 2009 they branded themselves as the new players in a city with a rich footballing history. Four promotions in seven years have seen them turn into a major player in European football regularly competing in the UEFA Champions League group stages.

In Leipzig its generally the home shirts of RB Leipzig you see teenagers wearing.

RB keep reaffirming an association with attractive and dynamic football. They see themselves as a club with ‘young and ambitious players’ (rather than being deeply rooted in the past like Chemie and Lokomotive). The philosophical branding surrounding RB just about covers everything when it comes to modern day football in Germany and how it wants to position itself on a global scale.

Young vs. Old, Traditional vs. Modern football, Money vs. values, Communist vs. fascist.

Cowboys vs. Indians. Good Guys vs. Bad guys.

RB Leipzig may well mean ‘football fun for the whole family’, in a peaceful environment and with a great atmosphere of ‘new horizons’. But while Lokomotive and Chemie may not longer have the support of an entire region, these local clubs are still major players in the lower leagues of German football and have rich traditions.

Young, dynamic, feisty, and open-minded and always looking to inspire people could easily pass off as a branding sales pitch for Red Bull energy drink rather than a football team. At RB Leipzig its all about fulfilling potential both on and off the pitch.

Things may ‘no longer be’ at Lokomotive Leipzig but this is a club whom have written a page in German football history – one that RB Leipzig are never likely to obtain

Undoubtedly there is a rich chemistry to the football landscape in the German city of Leipzig.

Lokomotive want to keep writing history despite numerous struggles – whereas at Red Bull the club is only really just getting started. For Chemie meanwhile (winners today) they are but another element to this great football city if not the main catalyst to the mix.

Attendance: 10,400

Bruno-Plache-Stadion, Leipzig

Regionalliga Nordost (IV)

Result: 0-2