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Hannover sporting director Horst Heldt: 'Football without spectators is a catastrophe'

The proposed takeover of Hannover by Martin Kind has brought the issue of ownership back in to the spotlight, and a dark cloud continues to hover over the club. Sporting director Horst Heldt discussed the issues with DW.

DW: How concerned are you heading into the upcoming away game, a Lower Saxony derby at Wolfsburg [on Saturday], where many Hannover fans may refuse to support the team?

There will probably be almost more Hannover fans than Wolfsburg fans in the stadium. But once again, the absence of some support is likely to be noticeable - we experienced that in the game in Mainz [on the opening day of the season]. I'm very worried because the team doesn't deserve this. They have already delivered by winning promotion and in the first two games of the Bundesliga season, and they are focusing hard on reaching their goals. Despite the differences of opinion and the controversy, the common ground between the club and fans should always be the team.

Do you fear that the team will find itself at a competitive disadvantage if the fan groups' silent protests last through the entire season?

The team has dealt with the situation very professionally and try to block it out. But I was out there on the pitch for 16 years myself and I know how important the support from the stands is for a player. Even if you don't believe it as a fan, it's very noticeable to the players. It's absolutely essential to football.  Football without spectators - for example when teams are forced to play behind closed doors - is a catastrophe. The support of the fans is a building block that enables us at Hannover to reach our common goal. And if we lose one of those building blocks, if we are at a competitive disadvantage, it makes our life harder. But we have to accept that.

In the home game against Schalke [on August 27] the supporters who don't belong to these fan groups came together to loudly support the team. Even if the dialogue between the club and the more active fans is on hold at the moment, do you believe this reaction from other supporters can influence things.

That was definitely a positive experience which I didn't really expect to happen the way it did. However, it is really difficult to assess what kind of  impact this could have on other groups. I just hope that we regain the support of all of the fans.

Deutschland | Hannover 96 | Protest gegen Präsident Martin Kind | Kind muss weg (imago/O. Ruhnke)

Martin Kind's bid to assume full control of Hannover has angered many of the club's fans.

The abuse directed at [club president and longterm major investor] Martin Kind has been massive and often below the belt. Has the quality of these protests plunged to new depths? 

The kind of abuse that Mr. Kind has been subjected to recently goes well beyond what is acceptable. This shows a complete lack of respect. There have always been insults from individuals in the stands, which is probably just part of the culture of football - there are a lot of emotions at play. If it remains within those parameters, you can put up with it. But nobody deserves to be treated this way.

The DFB (German football association) has also had problems with a radical group who came to the fore in the national team's match against the Czech Republic. Do you think that the relationship between the clubs, the administrators and the fans has changed over the past few years?

It's important to ensure that football doesn't lose sight of its basic virtues. It is always about getting people on board and especially about taking them seriously. This doesn't mean, however, that everyone has to understand and be on board with every decision made by those in charge. But it is important that clubs and associations maintain and keep alive their culture, their basic values and their traditions.

Has professional football become too removed from the day-to-day reality of most fans?

Football is a sport of the masses and must always remain so. But football has always been about showbusiness too. Sometimes we tend to forget that Gerd Müller used to be a big star or that Franz Beckenbauer used to do television ads for noodle soup. This has always existed, footballers have always had a privileged life, but it has grown over the years. And you need to figure out at what point you simply cannot take things any farther. You can't allow the values of football to be pushed to one side in favor of the show. You have to find the right balance.

Horst Heldt is the sporting director of Bundesliga club Hannover, having previously held similar positions at Stuttgart and Schalke. The 47-year-old played 359 games in the Bundesliga for Cologne, 1860 Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt and Stuttgart, and had two appearances for the German national team. 

The interview was conducted by Jörg Strohschein