The game was long sold out, so there were no visible stay-aways. Meanwhile, Axel Hellmann, the spokesman for the club's board of directors, said they were in contact with PETA and listening to their concerns, but he "couldn't imagine that you could classify the way we handle Attila as animal torture. We consider very carefully what we do or don't do, but you'll never make everyone happy.”
Attila the Eagle was not available for comment. Which is part of the problem when it comes to the ethical treatment of animals. They don't have a voice. Attila might have said, "At last, I don't have to be tied up and paraded in front of 50,000 soccer fans on a Saturday afternoon. Set me free!" On the other hand, it could have been: "I missed a beautiful Jesper Lindström goal and a 3-0 win all thanks to some meddling, self-appointed moral guardians speaking on my behalf."
Some years ago, I was at a Swiss League game between FC Zürich and St. Gallen on the day that the home team presented its new mascot, Maradona the Bull. FC Zürich are actually nicknamed the Lions, but no doubt parading a live lion was one step too far for the club's marketing top dogs. In any case, Maradona was intended to represent "cleverness, speed, an unbridled will to win, and strength in the challenge." Just like the team, no doubt. With first-class metaphorical sporting rhetoric like that, what could possibly go wrong?
Quite a lot, as it turned out. Maradona was not that keen on his new sports arena environment, despite having been rescued from a local slaughterhouse at the cost of a few thousand Swiss francs. Once out on the field for pre-game display, he broke free of his tethers, sent the players who were warming up dashing for the tunnel (lots of speed and cleverness there, but not much will to win or strength in the challenge), made a charge for the photographers, then broke through security barriers and up into the main stand, scattering spectators before being felled by a tranquilizer. It was simultaneously Maradona's spectacular debut and tragic swansong. FC Zürich lost 2-0.
No one was injured that day other than the pride of the club's vice president who had initiated the caper ("Everyone thought it was a good idea at the time, now everyone says it's all my fault," he lamented), so the story made for jocose telling. It did raise the question, though: do we really need live animals in sports stadiums? Is there a single Eintracht Frankfurt fan who would claim that Saturday's win over Schalke would somehow have been less enjoyable had Attila the Eagle not been there to see it too?
I've nothing against marketing the game of soccer, as such. Clubs should make every effort to fill their stadiums and enhance their role and profile in the community. Yet there are multiple game-day initiatives that range from the pointless to the embarrassing to the plain annoying. Music blaring out of the PA system the second a goal is scored, for example. Lame halftime competitions where (possibly drunk) members of the public humiliate themselves. Kisscams, on-field marriage proposals, and all that gormless waving when your face shows up on the Big Screen.
That'll be Old Misery complaining again about people going out to have a good time, I hear you say. But there's only one way I'm going to have a good time in the stadium, and that's when Jesper Lindström, say, dribbles past three opponents and plants a shot into the far corner of the goal. There's nothing else that I'm there for, apart from camaraderie, a beer and a bratwurst. No gimmicks, no giveaways, no goats — drop them all in favor of goals. If that means an animal is spared a possible torture we can only guess at, then I'm fine with that too.