German police are moving out of Schalke's stadium in a sign of growing tension between the team and authorities after a controversial match incident. Assistance to arena security will only be provided in an emergency.
"Until further notice the police won't be staying in the stadium anymore," North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) State Premier Ralf Jäger said Thursday in an interview with the local Radio Emscher Lippe station.
"The club has to ensure security. The police will, however, remain on standby in an area outside the club grounds. And, if there is physical or life-threatening danger, a risk to third parties, than they will obviously intervene."
Jäger's announcement came after Schalke officials harshly criticized the police response to fan unrest during the club's August 21 home match against Greece side PAOK (pictured above).
Around 100 police entered a fan block to remove a flag of the ultra supporters of Macedonian club Vardar Skopje, which was being flown by German fans to provoke their visiting Greek counterparts.
After stadium security had failed to remove the flag, police used batons and pepper spray to forcible take it, leaving more than 30 supporters injured.
Schalke had criticized the police response, condemning it as "disproportionate."
"If such a flag can create so much turmoil, it is the duty of those responsible to point that out early in the mandatory safety meetings," Schalke executive member Peter Peters said after the match. "In the tense atmosphere of a game is completely the wrong time."
"Schalke 04 could not have known that [about the flag]," Peters added, accusing Greek police of "twisting the facts" and German police of reacting to what Greek authorities had told them.
'Not a trustworthy cooperation partner'
Jäger lashed out at Schalke for criticizing NRW police when they are relied on - rather than the hired security - for protection in the club's stadium, the Veltins Arena.
"Whoever is not in the position to provide security for their own fans, then asks the police for help and subsequently criticizes it publicly, is not a trustworthy cooperation partner," he said.
"It can't be that for a multi-million dollar club like Schalke 04 the VIPs in the business lounges are more important than the ultras in the terraces."
Police union backs NRW
Germany's police union backed the state's decision, accusing Schalke of "speaking with a forked tongue" because club officials publicly criticized law enforcement while acknowledging internally to the interior ministry that they acted legally.
"This is the logical and right consequence of the behavior of the Schalke leadership," DPolG federal chairman Rainer Wendt told the SID news agency. "The police will obviously continue to fulfill their lawful duty, however they expect greater efforts from Schalke to ensure safety."
Schalke play at home to Mainz in the Bundesliga on Saturday, before hosting Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League next Wednesday and then Bayern Munich September 21.
Schalke Sports Director Horst Heldt responded with surprise to the news Thursday at a press conference, previewing the match against Mainz, saying such a reaction from authorities was hard for him to imagine.
The mayor of Gelsenkirchen, the city in which Schalke play, accused the authorities of specifically targeting the club.
"Either the interior minister moves the police out of all football stadiums in NRW [North-Rhine Westphalia] or not at all," said Frank Baranowski. "Moving the police solely out of the Veltins Arena is a completely unacceptable action."
Mainz also surprized
Mainz club manager Christian Heidel also expressed his surprise at the news, saying he could "not imagine" that police forces would move out of the stadium.
"It is the duty of the police to be at major events," he told broadcaster Sky. "It's worked like that since the beginning of recorded history. The clubs also pay a lot of taxes for that."
However, Jäger indicated that state officials were willing to negotiate with Schalke on the issue.
"The ball is in Schalke's half," he said. "Our door is open – we're ready to talk."