Fan behaviour is a hot topic in Scotland but David Bates recently experienced a new extreme in Germany, when the referee ordered the players to seek shelter off the pitch during a game.
He is doubtful whether such a tactic would work at home. In any case, there’s a fine line between employing such strict measures and destroying the much-admired atmosphere at German matches.
This is the case even in the second tier where Bates’ club SV Hamburg currently reside, along with city rivals St Pauli. When the clubs met earlier this month at St Pauli’s Millerntor stadium for the first time in eight years there were fireworks – and then some.
Play was interrupted several times. The referee warned he would take the players off the field, before doing so in the second half.
Bates was asked whether referees taking players off the pitch in order to quell offensive behaviour in the stands might work in Scotland. “I’m not sure – the players from both teams (in Germany) go over and tell the fans on both sides to relax,” he said. “But the supporters make the atmosphere when they’ve got the flares and the like.”
As a former Rangers player he has of course experienced the passion of an Old Firm derby, even if there’s not been a case of players being ushered from the field by the referee – yet. “It was different (to the Old Firm fixtures) as there were only 29,000 at St Pauli,” he said. “The European atmosphere is different. They’re always singing and the safe standing areas add to the occasion. But there are also similarities in the way the fans hate each other. There were Rangers fans in the Hamburg crowd so there is a connection there.”
Bates is getting used to new extremes. When once he was playing in front of a few hundred people while turning out for the likes of East Stirlingshire and Brechin City, now there are four times that number gathering just to watch him and his team-mates train.
“The day before the first game (v St Pauli, in September) there were 2,000 fans at training the day before,” he recalled. “The fans love it over there and with it being a city rivalry it’s always good to get one over on them. We hadn’t beaten them in quite a long time (17 years) so it was big for the fans.
“When I was 17 or 18 there would have been no chance of 2,000 fans at my games. It is crazy when you think about it – 2,000 ultras at training singing their hearts out. It makes the atmosphere. The fans over there are really tops.”
Now a fully-fledged international with high hopes of starting tonight’s opening Euro 2020 clash against Kazakhstan, Bates has no regrets about quitting Rangers to start a new adventure abroad. It’s all very different to when he trained at the Michael Woods Sport and Leisure Centre in Kirkcaldy while with Raith Rovers. “It is some transformation from there to Hamburg but if you work hard you never know what can happen,” he said. “I’ve kept my head down, just kept plugging away, and I’ve got some benefits from it.”
Bates is relishing the new environment. His girlfriend has joined him in Hamburg, he is learning German and he still has more than three years left of the four-year contract he signed last summer. He fully intends to see it out, hopefully in Bundesliga 1. Hamburg were setting the pace earlier this season but have dropped to second behind Cologne.
“The top two go up and there’s a play-off between third top and third bottom of Bundesliga,” he explained. “We have a good chance of going up. We were top in January and have had a couple of slip ups since so we’re totally focused on getting back up there.”