Germany's locked-out football fans ponder how to support their teams
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How do you support your football team when you are not allowed inside the stadium or even anywhere near it?
German football fans are having to come up with innovative ways to cheer on their clubs, with hopes the Bundesliga can return behind closed doors next month as the coronavirus pandemic forces supporters to stay away.
The German Football League (DFL) will meet Thursday to outline plans for the country's top flight to resume from May 9 having been halted in mid-March.
It is planned that the games will be held in near-empty stadiums without fans -- dubbed 'ghost games' in German.
With large public events banned in most of Germany until at least August 31, the DFL will also need special permission from Angela Merkel's government in order to resume.
To prepare for a potential restart, the Bundesliga's 18 clubs have been back in training for three weeks, and fans across the country are coming up with novel ways to support their team without setting foot on the terraces.
For 19 euros ($21), Borussia Moenchengladbach supporters can have life-sized cardboard figure of themselves, many decked in team colours, propped up on the terraces.
"We have over 6,500 orders. It's overwhelming, we never expected this", beamed Thomas Ludwig, chairman of Fanprojekt Moenchengladbach (FPMG), who came up with the novel idea.
Gladbach winger Patrick Herrmann has said the figures on the terraces give the players a morale boost during training sessions at Borussia Park.
Their rivals Cologne are also planning for a restart with part of their stadium covered for home games with banners and flags donated by fans.
- 'Step towards normality' -
"There are various ideas on how we could decorate the stadium for home ghost games," Cologne's CEO Alexander Wehrle told German daily Bild.
"We would then also like to involve the fans."
However, the fear among the clubs, politicians and the police union is that during 'ghost games' fans will gather outside stadiums to support their team despite the current ban on assemblies.
Current league leaders Bayern Munich have said they would take measures to stop fans congregating outside their Allianz Arena during matches.
One solution could be an idea by Danish club FC Midtjylland, who want to turn their stadium's car park into a drive-through cinema showing matches.
The league season has also ground to a halt in Denmark with no sign of a return date.
However Midtjylland are working on the idea of fans in 2,000 parked cars watching on screens outside the stadium and cheering to radio commentary.
Christian Ramrath, chairman of Borussia Dortmund fan club 'Schwarz-Gelbe Essener' told Bild that ghost games are "not the football many of us want to have".
However, if the Bundesliga returns, Ramrath plans to watch matches with other Dortmund fans via Skype or he even hopes the local drive-through cinema in Essen will show games live.
"Health has to be the priority and this (ghost games) is a good step towards normality," he added.
© 2020 AFP