German soccer club pays tribute to deceased neo-Nazi fan
By CIARAN FAHEY
BERLIN (AP) - Tributes at a soccer game to a self-professed neo-Nazi hooligan who died last week have led to a spate of departures from an eastern German club.
Chemnitzer FC showed a portrait of known hooligan Thomas Haller on a screen in the stadium before its lower-league match against VSG Altglienicke. The team's fans dressed in black and held flares aloft behind a banner with the words "Rest in peace, Tommy" in gothic script, while a display with a white cross on a black background was unfurled.
Fans also observed a sort of minute's silence and the stadium announcer gave a speech paying tribute to Haller's support for the club.
"Family, friends and companions are in deep mourning," the announcer said. "He lived for Chemnitzer FC."
The praise for Haller even ended up on the field when Chemnitz forward Daniel Frahn held up a black T-shirt bearing the motto "Support your local Hools" after scoring in the 4-4 draw.
"I didn't know this T-shirt was so widely used in the Nazi scene," said Frahn, who said it was sold to help raise money for Haller's medical treatment.
Haller, the founder of the club's "HooNaRa" (Hooligans-Nazis-Racists) fan group in the early 1990s, died of cancer last week. His company, Haller Security, provided security for the club until 2006.
In 2007, Chemnitz banned "HooNaRa" and the "NS-Boys" group, which used a Hitler Youth as its logo. The "Kaotic Chemnitz" group was banned in 2012 but members remain active.
Energie Cottbus supporters also paid tribute to Haller with a banner at their game against Preussen Muenster on Saturday.
Local broadcaster MDR reported that Haller was a prominent member of the far-right scene in Chemnitz and that he took part in the racially motivated riots in the city last August.
Chemnitz fan representative and local politician Peggy Schellenberger honored Haller on Facebook, writing: "We had our differences but there was also another human side. We were always fair, straight, apolitical and cordial with each other - that set you apart. Rest in peace!"
Schellenberger, a member of the center-left SPD party, has since deleted the post.
Chemnitz said on Sunday it did not sanction the tributes to Haller, but that it had given its fans "the opportunity to mourn together."
On Monday, the club said it was removing Schellenberger from her duties at the club, while Maximilian Gloes, who had been in charge of communications, was also dismissed. The club also said it will no longer employ Olaf Kadner as stadium announcer.
Chemnitz chairman Thomas Uhlig resigned from the club on Sunday.
"In order to keep further damage away from Chemnitzer FC, I have decided to step down from all positions with immediate effect," said Uhlig, who said he was responsible for what happened on match days.
Main sponsor Sparkasse is withdrawing its support at the end of the season, though it had already informed the club before Haller was honored.
"The events from Saturday confirm that this was the right decision," Sparkasse spokesman Sven Muecklich said.
German soccer federation vice president Rainer Koch said Monday that the association was distancing itself from the events in the Chemnitz and that he hoped the local league association would take "the right measures."
The North East Football Federation, known as NOFV, is likely to sanction both the club and Frahn for his mid-game tribute to Haller.
"There was at least one incident in the game that does not belong in a regional league game," NOFV managing director Holger Fuchs told Kicker magazine. "It's conceivable that the sports court of the NOFV will be charged with preliminary investigations with the possibility of a subsequent court proceeding."
The club has already filed criminal charges against "unknown individuals" with the Chemnitz public prosecutor and says it will give its "full support" to the investigations.
"It is known that well-known people from the far-right scene traveled to Chemnitz and Saxony from other cities on this day," the club said in a statement, adding it rejects "every form of right-wing radicalism."
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