Schalke general manager Horst Heldt says he understood the point being made by the Greenpeace protesters suring his side’s Champions League encounter with FC Basel.
The match was delayed four minutes after kick-off as representatives of the environmental charity abseiled from the roof of Basel’s St Jakob-Park stadium and unfurled a giant banner criticising Gazprom, the natural gas company which sponsors Schalke’s shirts and the Champions League itself.
Proceedings were halted as the banner -- which read ‘Gazprom: Don’t Foul The Arctic -- was removed and the protesters arrested, before the match resumed. Schalke went on to win 1-0.
A Greenpeace statement explaining the protest read: "With this action, the defenders of the Arctic showed the red card to the Russian sponsors of the Champions League and German club, and to their oil-drilling and dirty tricks in the Arctic.”
Nadine Berthel, of Greenpeace's Arctic campaign, said: "With its oil drilling projects, Gazprom is putting the fragile Arctic ecosystem on the line. Gazprom has no experience on the high seas and is playing Russian roulette with the Arctic. The question is not if, but when, Gazprom will make history with a full-scale oil disaster in the Arctic."
While stopping short of upsetting his club’s major sponsors by directly supporting the protesters’ sentiment, Schalke chief Heldt did say he sympathised with Greenpeace's attempts to get publicity for their cause.
"It is important that there are organisations that are committed to things that concern all people. I can identify with it, these are topics that are important to everyone,” Heldt was quoted by the Bild newspaper as saying.
Basel may face disciplinary action from UEFA for failing to prevent the demonstration.
On the pitch, Julian Draxler settled the game with a stunning strike past Yann Sommer, winning the praise of his manager Jens Keller.
“Julian Draxler hit the ball perfectly,” Schalke coach Keller said. “But that’s no coincidence. He has the quality to do so. [It was] a dreamlike, wonderful goal.”
Draxler returned for Schalke after a knee injury had sidelined him for the past week and was delighted to bag the winner, saying: “I just took the chance. The ball had a perfect flying curve. And fortunately landed in the back of the net.
“We can be delighted with our performance as a team. We got the maximum out of the first two games. We, however, need to show as much dedication in Bundesliga as we have shown today. But if you record a 1-0 win in Basel, there are not a lot of things to moan about.”
Draxler is under contract at Schalke until 2018. The Germany international has a €45 million release clause in his contract and reportedly turned down offers from Premier League and La Liga clubs during the summer. He has not ruled out leaving the Royal Blues after the season.