Grandpa’s retiring – an interview with Marcus Haefs, stadium DJ at Fortuna Düsseldorf

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“One of the first songs that I played was ‘We are coming back’ by Cock Sparrer.”

It’s the end of an era for football club Fortuna Düsseldorf and its fans: Marcus Haefs, known as Opa (‘Grandpa’), is retiring after 20 years of service as the stadium’s DJ. In all that time, you could always count on Opa doing his thing. However, the sometimes provocative DJ’s actions did not always find favour with the fans. In an interview at the TuRU 1880 stadium in Oberbilk, we find out how Opa came to DJ at Fortuna, why he and his band Dead Dates are going to be playing in Guadeloupe and where he will be watching EURO 2024 matches.

Marcus Haefs leaves the TuRU stadium, passing under a sign saying ‘Auf Wiedersehen’.

Marcus, we’re currently at the home of TuRU 1880. After Fortuna, this is probably Düsseldorf’s second-most famous club. What does football mean to you?
Football is one of the best sports there is and has always played a big part in my life. Fortuna holds a special place in my heart but TuRU is my second love. I live just around the corner and like to come down on a Sunday if Fortuna aren’t playing. Or I cycle to Lohausener SV, the club where I once played myself.

You’re a well-known musician, and especially well known as Fortuna Düsseldorf’s stadium DJ. How did you get the gig?
It all started 22 years ago. It was a time when Fortuna had pretty much reached rock bottom and a few of us tried various things to keep the club going. At some point a spokesperson from the second team approached me and asked if I fancied being the stadium’s announcer for their games. I immediately agreed and put on quite a show. I took my records along, which went down well with the fans. When Dieter Bierbaum – the stadium’s announcer for the first team – retired, his successor, Ilja Ludenberg, asked me whether I’d like to be their stadium DJ. I jumped at the chance of course. Fortuna was playing in the northern regional league back then, the third highest tier at that time. My first game was against the amateur side from VfL Wolfsburg – a miserable nil-nil draw in the pouring rain. One of the first songs that I played was ‘We are coming back’ by Cock Sparrer – although it was looking nothing like a comeback (laughs).

Marcus Haefs talks to the author Katja Vaders, both are sitting in the stands.
Marcus Opa Haefs talking to Katja Vaders.

What particular challenges does a stadium DJ face?
It’s really important to me that I play music with attitude. I play a wide range, from Pink and hip-hop through to soul, and try to reach as many fans as possible, but you can’t please everyone.

What makes you different from stadium DJs in the Bundesliga?
Our DJ booth is right next to the edge of the pitch, so we can immediately hear what the fans are singing and pick up on it. And we don’t play your typical party anthems either. We like to play music with a connection to Düsseldorf, whether its a carnival song or something by Die Toten Hosen or Broilers. We also support lesser known regional bands and of course I also play my own stuff too from time to time (laughs).

Photographed over his shoulder, Marcus Haefs holds a Toten Hosen record in his hands.

You’ve been Fortuna Düsseldorf’s stadium DJ for 20 years. Looking back on that time, can you share some of your highlights?
It was always fun to have the right record to hand – for example against Hertha Berlin, when the fans started to mess about with pyrotechnics. The game was interrupted, and the Fortuna fans were blamed. Without further ado, I played ‘We didn’t start the fire’ by Billy Joel, which provoked a lot of laughter! The game against ‘plastic’ club RB Leipzig (see below for information) was also legendary, with me playing ‘Kauf mich’ [buy me] by Die Toten Hosen, ‘Money, Money, Money’ by ABBA, ‘Ich find’ dich scheiße’ [I think you’re shit] by Tic Tac Toe and, my favourite, Chopin’s ‘funeral march’. The manager of RB Leipzig, Ralf Rangnick, had a fair few insults for me after that. DFL, the German league association, even wrote to me and it was all over the European football news.
And I can’t forget when Borussia Dortmund had exited the Champions League and I welcomed the Dortmunders with the Champions League anthem. Even Jürgen Klopp really liked that. He came up to me and said “Respect! Not nice, but well played”.

Were there also any lows that you can tell us about?
Naturally, over the course of 20 years there were some moments that weren’t so nice. For example, there was a period when extreme right-wing hooligans tried to infiltrate Fortuna. A few of them ambushed me at the main train station at one point, hassling me and asking questions. Some Borussia Mönchengladbach fans who happened to be nearby immediately came to my rescue and intervened. My parents received some weird phone calls back then, anonymous emails… Luckily the whole thing only lasted a couple of months and then everything gradually calmed down again.

The stands with the football pitch in the foreground under a cloudy grey sky.

Anyone who follows you on social media will notice that you continue to get a lot of backlash on Facebook, for example.
Yes, that’s right. I’m often accused of wanting to be in the limelight at all costs. That has never been my aim. It’s about me using the platform that my job as stadium DJ has given me to convey a message. And if you do that these days then, unfortunately, it seems that you have to live with the consequences. The atmosphere as a whole has become considerably harsher.

Are the abuse and aggressive atmosphere the reason why you're stepping down from the stadium’s decks at the end of the season?
It’s actually a combination of many things. Like many other fans, I became somewhat disengaged from professional football during the pandemic. Lots of things came to light that I didn’t like. Another reason is that I’m unable to come up with new ideas that I find amusing myself. After 20 years, it’s hardly a surprise when you start repeating yourself at some point. I’m looking forward to being able to choose whether I go to the stadium on a match day or not. The thought of rolling over and going back to sleep on a Saturday or Sunday morning is quite appealing.

Portrait of Marcus Haefs in the Fortuna stadium on his last day as stadium DJ.
Marcus Haefs at his farewell session as stadium DJ in April 2024. Photo: Christof Wolff

One thing is clear. When you stop, it will be the end of an era for Fortuna Düsseldorf. How did the club react to your decision?
The reactions were very mixed, I think a lot of the people who have anything to say in the club didn’t really care. But there were a few who were sad to hear about my decision. And others think it’s good that I’m finally leaving, which is also quite ok. I bet they thought they would never get rid of me (laughs)! Personally, I’m really looking forward to just being a fan, meeting friends on the morning of a game, having a beer and cycling to the stadium at my leisure.

Speaking of watching football, the city has its next big football event coming up, with Düsseldorf hosting several matches for UEFA EURO 2024. Will you follow the tournament?
I think it’s great that the Euros are coming to Düsseldorf. A brilliant opportunity for people from all around the world to visit our city. But I definitely won’t be watching in the stadium. If the weather’s nice, I’m sure I’ll still watch a game or two with friends − either at the Retematäng bar on Ratinger Strasse or at Blende on Bilker Allee.

We’ve basically only talked about football. But you also have another passion, music.
That’s right, I’m in a band called the Dead Dates. We’ve got a gig in Guadeloupe in May because Bolokos, a punk band that we’re friends with there, invited us. We’ll actually be the first German band to play there! That will be really exciting and we’re really looking forward to it.

Markus Haefs standing in front of vertical blinds in the TuRU 1880 clubhouse.

And where else in Düsseldorf might we bump into you?
You might find me having a beer with friends at Pitcher or Konvex. I like to go for something to eat beforehand at Scaramangas, just opposite. I get coffee at MuSaMe on Fürstenplatz. And I like to go to gigs at Der Hof.

You’re also a keen cyclist. Where do you head to when you want to go for a bike ride?
Mostly I just get on my bike and see where I end up. The best thing is that I’m Düsseldorf born and bred and always thought that I knew 98 per cent of the city. But then, one day, you decide to take a slightly different route and suddenly discover very nice spots that you’ve never seen before.

Let’s have a prediction to finish things off: who will win the Euros?
I’d really like to see England win. I’m known for being a bit of an anglophile but I really do think they deserve to win for a change!

Why are RB Leipzig known as a ‘plastic’ club
RB Leipzig was the first football club in Germany to be established primarily for marketing purposes. Its financial backer Red Bull had previously failed in its attempts to take over long-standing German clubs, including Fortuna Düsseldorf, due in part to the fact that it wanted to change the club name. Ultimately, Red Bull purchased the playing licence of fifth-tier SSV Markranstädt, bypassing the German Football Association’s licensing procedure, and changed the club’s name and crest. Thanks to a rapid series of promotions, RB Leipzig is now firmly established in the Bundesliga and regularly plays in the Champions League. The way in which they have achieved all this has been fiercely criticised by many German football fans and the club is often met with strong disapproval at games.

Interview: Katja Vaders
Photos: Kristina Fendesack
Many thanks to TuRu 1880 for allowing us to conduct the interview at their club.

You can find UEFA EURO 2024 new and tips here.

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