Across Europe, the system of co-operation seen in the supporter ownership of football clubs in Germany is an example to many supporters across the continent who follow clubs that are blighted by debt, badly run, and refuse supporters’ influence over the game they love.

But even in Germany the fans have had to campaign – at times – to preserve this rare system of ownership of clubs by their communities, and the noticeably more respectful relationship seen between clubs – and even players – and fans.

In the early 1990’s, Hamburg fans recognised that the traditional democratic structures of football clubs in Germany gave them the ability to shape the club for the good of its fans and members. As a consequence the HSV Supporters Club (HSV SC) was founded in 1993 as the first official fan department at a German football club.

But in a system where clubs are traditionally owned by their members by way of German football’s ‘50%+1 Rule’, you could be understandably confused about the relevance of HSV SC. More than you might think.

As Director Jens Wagner points out, their role is very important in protecting this important sporting institution; unlike many German clubs, none of the potential 49% of the professional football club business (which under the rules is permitted to be sold off by the members of a club) has been sold to private investors: “We stopped this separation from happening in 2005, meaning the maximum influence of all the members in the club is still guaranteed.”

From this big success, the group has grown and now has around 70,000 members. It also carries out more traditional duties of a fan organisation, and was the catalyst behind a revival of the club in 2007 when, close to relegation and with the support of officials and players, they launched the “Jetzt erst recht” (Let´s act now) campaign that engendered what Jens calls a new “positive spirit” in the HSV fanbase. The club escaped demotion, and HSV SC’s reputation was secure.

Groups like HSV SC are, for Jens and many fans of German football, important if supporter-ownership of football clubs is to be maintained. Though he admits that compared to many other European countries the situation in Germany is pretty good, they must continue to be wary. As Jens says, “The German democratic football system has lost its innocence with clubs like RB Leipzig, Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg and Leverkusen (all to varying degrees controlled by private business, though only Wolfsburg and Leverkursen have traditionally been privately owned; an exception in the German system of member-ownership).”

“The fans are also deeply concerned at the recent change to the fan-ownership rule (which means that any business involved for more than 20 years as a sponsor can in theory make a bid to buy it). The way we can prevent a similar mess to what has happened in Spain, England or Italy is to ensure that members use their democratic rights and ensuring that the 50%+1 rule is robust in and clear in their club statutes. After all, the AGM still is the highest decision making body in every traditional German football club, and consequently the future of our clubs and our football system still lays in our own hands.”