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RB Leipzig: the unique club at the centre of Borussia Dortmund's planned weekend protests

The team were only founded in 2009 and are owned by drinks company Red Bull.

Image: Michael Probst

ON SATURDAY, BORUSSIA Dortmund will head to Leipzig to take on the local Bundesliga side.

But it’s no ordinary fixture.

In fact, many Dortmund fans are boycotting the game in protest at the opposition.

RB Leipzig were only formed in 2009 after the drinks company Red Bull (who also own a club in Salzburg) picked up the playing licence of a fifth-tier local side called SVV Markranstadt.

The changes were inevitable. There was a new crest and a new stadium. Under German rules, a club’s name can’t include reference to a sponsor. But that was easily circumnavigated. Leipzig’s owners prefaced the reference to the locale with the word RasenBallsport (‘Lawn Ball Sport’) and it was immediately shortened to ‘RB’. Clever.

Germany Soccer Bundesliga Second Division Source: Jens Meyer

German rules also stipulate the importance of a 50+1 rule which means supporters get vital voting rights. It ensures that sugar-daddy owners are deterred from sweeping in and easily attaining control. Membership of the club costs a nominal fee, normally. At Bayern Munich, for example, it’s about 80 euro. At Dortmund, it’s even less – around 60 euro per year. It creates a crucial sense of ownership among supporters and leads to a continued connection between fans and their teams that seems to be evaporating elsewhere.        

Leipzig charge 800 euro. And of their 17 current members, the majority have professional links to Red Bull.

However, the club has been on an upward curve for the last seven years, fueled by the deep pockets of the people who run it.

It’s created a huge controversy, even before they reached the top-flight in May. In an away fixture against Union Berlin two years ago, the home fans wore black plastic and held a 15-minute silence before kick-off.

Germany Soccer Bundesliga A large number of Dortmund fans will stay away from Leipzig this weekend. Source: Associated Press

Last season, they finished as runners-up in the second tier after spending more money than every other team combined. They brought former Schalke coach Ralf Rangnick in as a sporting director in 2012, though he combined it with a role at Salzburg too.

But, the Austrian club were embarrassed this week when their own fans said Red Bull’s involvement had turned them into a ‘laughing stock’ by selling eight players to Leipzig in the last two seasons.

This weekend, a number of Dortmund fans will watch their reserve side play in a fourth-tier fixture and listen to coverage of the Leipzig game on radio. They are refusing to travel for what will be Leipzig’s first ever Bundesliga home game.

And so the simmering story that’s eating away at German domestic football will rumble on for a while longer.

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Eoin O'Callaghan

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