This feature courtesy of Divorcing Football
Me and my pal Matty rolled into Dortmund via bus just as it was getting dark.
Its graffiti stained tower blocks and feral youths congregating around the train station had me questioning why I’d chosen an industrial German city for a spring weekend away.
Our hotel was fortunately opposite the main shopping street Westenhellweg so we didn’t have far to stroll for the centre of the action on a Friday. Dodging four drunken Brits, who’d clearly had the same idea as us, we headed for ‘Markt Square’ in the city centre for a beer.
There lit up in green was a bar called ‘Wenkers’ – was two Brits abroad going to go anywhere else?
In the pub were Borussia shirts dating back from the early 1990s as I scanned them I pointed one out to Matty ‘That’s the one I had. It was my first ever foreign kit and my parents bought it for me from a holiday’.
I’d always kept an eye out for Borussia Dortmund since that luminous Continentel branded kit, not a close eye however, more like how you would with a relative you’d had a couple of decent chats with. For the last couple of years they had been drawing my attention. After beating Manchester City at the Westfalenstadion I spent an entire evening watching YouTube clip after YouTube clip of their fans and the atmosphere. Shamefully had you’d ask me who Robert Lewandowksi was this time last year I would have scanned the local court lists for his name. I wasn’t interested in the success of BVB my focus was their fans, the colour, the passion, the fact this club was the city and the city was this club.
We’d bought tickets to Borussia against Mainz O5 a month earlier via an online agency and handed over enough change to choke a dozen donkeys. But for me and Matty it felt like a one-off. What had we to lose? If the game was bad we can say we’d been, we’d got to watch a top European side and can mark it off on our football team bedpost.
The next morning I looked out our hotel room window along the main high street and saw black and yellow flags hanging from outside one of the shops. A look at people in the street and it was splattered with Dortmund colours as folk went about their business – it wasn’t even 10am and the city was in gameday mode.
It was then I caught a glimpse out the corner of my eye at the side of an office block. There was a 50-foot-high art piece depicting the Borussia Dortmund Puma shirt with the slogan ‘Echt Ist Liebe Gelb’ translated to ‘True Love Is Yellow’ a play on words of Dortmund’s motto ‘True Love’.
I later discovered the thought process of Puma painting these on walls was in reference to BVB’s infamous ‘Yellow Wall’ the nickname to a fierce monster of a terrace at the Westfalonstadion which held a staggering 25,000 fans- the marketing was genius.
Having done a bit a research it turns out Borussia were formed in a Dortmund pub in 1909 after a priest tried to ban football in the city. Borussia comes from the Latin for ‘Prussia’ but there wasn’t any connection to the country it was named after a local brewery. It looked like we were going to watch the most successful pub team in the world.
Matty and I headed to the square with a rough idea how we’d get to the game. The square was full of Dortmund fans casually drinking away on table and chairs and enjoying the black and yellow clad waitress service of the bars.
BVB were 20 points behind rivals in Bayern in the Bundesliga and had seemingly forfeited the league with a whimper. Despite this there was no animosity, no tension, no calling for the heads of the establishment or coach Jurgen Klopp. People were simply there to enjoy being Dortmund and to hell what the result was.
A friendly local struck up a conversation with us and said we were lucky to get a chair because had this been against Bayern or the pending Real Madrid it is wall to wall fans happily drinking beers in the street and singing songs – I suddenly wished finding a seat was a struggle.
It was nearing noon and had this been back in Wolverhampton it would have been around the time I’d consider getting ready to head for town.
It was three-and-a-half hours to kick-off in Dortmund but we were advised the stadium starts to get full two hours before so we’d have to get a move on.
Travel to the stadium was a breeze. The subway allows BVB fans on for free with a matchday ticket (are you taking note of this Britain) and itwas no long than 15 minutes from the city centre to the ground.
As you come up the escalator from the subway the first thing you see are the iconic jagged yellow beams the 80,000 capacity ground is famed for.
Many walk to the ground in groups, casually swigging beers on the way. In all the time I was there I never saw one drunk person either at the match or out in the city – yet I always saw beer being served – it was already much different to a Wolves game.
Outside the ground we stopped and had a few snaps proudly showing off our ‘Dortmund Ay We?!’ t-shirts which was prompting puzzled looks from the Germans.
But soon after it was us who were puzzled as we hesitated before entry. ‘That’s the away end. You can see Mainz fans queuing up,’ said Matty. ‘Ermmm so are the Dortmund fans,’ was my reply.
It seems in Germany, or at the Westfalenstadion at least, both home and away fans are content to walk through the turnstile together, climb steps side-by-side and even urinate in the same toilets yet remain totally divided from their rivals while in their respective sections of the ground – It was incredible.
Almost as much as our view.
We were in the North Stand so could see the ‘Yellow Wall’ or Südtribüne in all its glory. There must have been 10,000 fans in that end of the ground and this was two hours before kick-off. The noise created from them was fantastic and was being orchestrated by one bloke with a megaphone who for 90 minutes had his back to the football – I wondered if he was season ticket holder it seemed a bit of a waste.
In the centre of the Südtribüne fans were waiving dozens and dozens of flags the most notable being a giant image of winger Marco Reus.
It was like a carnival for what in truth was a dead-rubber of a game at the end of the season yet it was being treated like a cup final. There was no apathy in the stadium, something that has plagued my home-town club for years it was fresh, electric, colourful and loud.
There’s the phrase in football used too often that fans can be the 12th man but as an opposing player looking up at the Südtribüne forget an extra man on the field, the passion from those supporters must look like 25,000 Lionel Messis coming for you.
Throughout the build-up there were two giant screens that counted down the minutes to the kick off. Reporters from the club go around interviewing fans before the game in an effort to whip up the atmosphere and display the footage on the screen– and it works.
In the stands fans are allowed to smoke and have a beer in their seats. While some will question this method the argument for it is it keeps fans from the concourses and in the stands chanting.
So there’s me and my mate surrounded by 80,000 football fans on a sunny day in Dortmund drinking beer and watching some top flight European football – heaven felt like a place on Earth I’m telling you.
Just before the game starts a familiar tune began to play over the tannoy and in unison the majority of the near capacity crowd held their scarves up as they bellowed out Liverpool and Celtic favourite ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
Out came the teams with the PA announcer getting fans to shout the surname of the each player as he read their first from the team sheet.
At all times fans were being involved. It wasn’t a case of going through the motions for these BVB fans where they’d turn up get drunk, sing songs and go home. It was clear that the fans, the players and the club fed off each other. They all knew the importance of the other and what more they respected one another.
Borussia took an early lead inside two minutes through Marco Reus with Robert Lewandowksi sealing the win late on in front of us in the ‘Nordtribüne’ to score for the 12th consecutive game in the Bundesliga.
At the end of the game rather than scampering off down the tunnel every BVB player walked to the Südtribüne held hands then lofted them back and forth in unison with the fans. This I’m told was tradition sported by a number a clubs throughout Germany. What a gesture it was. For that moment the fans and the players were one and how much does it cost? Nothing! What effort is involved? Not getting home to your WAG five minutes earlier but instead showing some TLC to the guys who pay your wages.
As I left the stadium I felt strangely angry. BVB and German football had got so much right that we hadn’t in England.
There was a genuine respect towards fans from the club (something non-existent at Wolves) and the fans responded in turn.
Little things like getting to a game free on public transport because you have a match ticket, getting fans involved in pre-match build up, waitress service in Dortmund shirts and 50ft high murals depicting the club around the city all of this I wanted for Wolves.
I wanted to grab the owners of my club and FA officials by the scruff of the neck and shout “This is how it’s done, so go do it.”
Instead there’s a strong feeling from the modern football fan in England that they’re simply pawns funding a money-making business which is happy to extract the maximum amount of cash from their wallets for a minimum return. In simple terms there’s no respect.
Borussia had really put the cat among the pigeons in terms of football loyalty. I had to admit they were my favourite foreign side and this was down to the fans and the people of Dortmund. As with Barcelona despite their size and success they still belonged to the city and the fans, and I felt privilege to sit among them.
There’s no question I will return to watch BVB it is a club which has set the benchmark on uniting fans, players and a city and others need to take note of this club as much off the pitch as on it.
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